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Chapter 11: conferences after the battle of Manassas.

Mr. Davis thus continued the narrative:

At a late hour of the night, I had a conference with Generals Johnston and Beauregard; the Adjutant-General of the latter, Colonel Jordan, was present, and sat opposite to me at the table.

When, after some preliminary conversation, I asked whether any troops had been sent in pursuit of the enemy, I was answered in the negative. Upon further inquiry as to what troops were in the best position for pursuit, and had been least fatigued during the day, General Bonham's brigade was mentioned. I then suggested that he should be ordered in pursuit; a pause ensued, until Colonel Jordan asked me if I would dictate the order. I at once dictated an order for immediate pursuit. Some conversation followed, the result of which was a modification of the order by myself, so that, instead of immediate pursuit, it should be commenced at early dawn. Colonel Jordan spoke across the table to me, saying, “ If you will send the [103] order as you first dictated it, the enemy won't stop till he gets into the Potomac.” I believe I remember the words very nearly, and am quite sure that I do remember them substantially. On March 25, 1878, I wrote to General Beauregard as follows:

Dear Sir: Permit me to ask you to recall the conference held between General Johnston, yourself, and myself, on the night after the close of the battle of Manassas; and to give me, if you can, a copy of the order which I dictated, and which your Adjutant-General, T. J. Jordan, wrote at my dictation, directing Brigadier-General Bonham to follow the retreating enemy. If you cannot furnish a copy of the order, please give me your recollection of its substance.

Yours respectfully,

Jefferson Davis.

To this letter General Beauregard courteously replied that his order-book was in New York, in the hands of a friend, to whom he would write for a copy of the order desired if it be in said book, and that he would also write to his adjutant, General Jordan, for his recollection of the order, if it had not been inscribed in the order-book.

On April 29th, General Beauregard forwarded [104] to me the answer to his inquiries in my behalf, as follows:

New York, 63 Broadway, April 18, 1878.
my dear General: In answer to your note, I hasten to say that, properly, Mr. Davis is not to be held accountable for our failure to pursue McDowell from the field of Manassas on the night of July 21, 1861.

As to the order, to which I presume Mr. Davis refers in his note to you, I recollect the incident very distinctly.

The night of the battle, as I was about to ascend to your quarters over my office, Captain E. P. Alexander, of your staff, informed me that Captain--, attached to General Johnston's army of the Shenandoah, reported that he had been as far forward as Centreville, where he had seen the Federal army completely routed, and in full flight toward Washington.

This statement I at once repeated to Mr. Davis, General Johnston, and yourself, whom I found seated around your table-Mr. Davis at the moment writing a despatch to General Cooper.

As soon as I made my report, Mr. Davis, with much animation, asserted the necessity for an urgent pursuit that night by Bonham, who, with his own brigade and that of Longstreet, [105] was in close proximity to Centreville at the moment. So I took my seat at the same table with you, and wrote the order for pursuit, substantially at the dictation of Mr. Davis. But while writing, either I happened to remember, or Captain Alexander himself — as I am inclined to believe---called me aside to remind me, that his informant was known among us of the old army as because of eccentricities, and in contradistinction with others of the same name. When I repeated this reminder, Mr. Davis recalled the sobriquet, as he had a precise personal knowledge of the officers of the old army. He laughed heartily, as did all present.

The question of throwing General Bonham forward that night, upon the unverified report of Captain -- , was now briefly discussed, with a unanimous decision against it; therefore, the order was not despatched.

It is proper to add in this connection that, so far as I am aware-and I had the opportunity of knowing what occurred-this was the only instance during Mr. Davis's stay at Manassas in which he exercised any voice as to the movement of the troops. Profoundly pleased by the junction of the two Confederate armies upon the very field of battle, his bearing toward the generals who commanded them was eminently proper, as I have testifled [106] on a former occasion; and, I repeat, he certainly expressed or manifested no opposition to a forward movement, nor did he display the least disposition to interfere by opinion or authority touching what the Confederate forces should or should not do.

You having, at the close of the day, surrendered the command, which had been left in your hands, over both Confederate armies during the engagement, General Johnston was that night in chief command. He was decidedly averse to an immediate offensive, and emphatically discountenanced it as impracticable.

Very truly your friend,

General Beauregard, in his letter forwarding the above, wrote: “The account given herewith by General Jordan of what occurred there respecting further pursuit that night, agrees with my own recollection.”

It was a matter of importance, as I regarded it, to follow closely on the retreating enemy, but it was of no consequence then or now as to who issued the order for pursuit, and, unless requested, I should not have dictated one, preferring that the generals to [107] whom the operations were confided would issue all orders to the troops. I supposed the order, as modified by myself, had been sent. I have found, however, since the close of the war, that it was not, but that an order to the same effect was sent on the night of July 21st, for a copy of which I am indebted to the kindness of that chivalrous gentleman, soldier, and patriot, General Bonham. It is as follows:

(special order, no. 140.)

headquarters of the army of the Potomac, Manassas, July 21, 1861.
I. General Bonham will send, as early as practicable in the morning, a command of two of his regiments of infantry, a strong force of cavalry, and one field battery, to scour the country and roads to his front, toward Centreville. He will carry with him abundant means of transportation for the collection of our wounded, all the arms, ammunition, and abandoned hospital stores, subsistence, and baggage, which will be sent immediately to these headquarters.

General Bonham will advance with caution, throwing out an advanced guard and skirmishers on his right and left, and the utmost caution must be taken to prevent firing into our own men. [108]

Should it appear, while this command is occupied as directed, that it is insufficient for the purposes indicated, General Bonham will call on the nearest brigade commander for support.

II. Colonel P. St. George Cooke, commanding, will despatch at the same time, for similar purposes, a command of the same size and proportions of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, on the road via Stone Bridge; and another command of two companies of infantry and one of cavalry on the road by which the enemy retreated, toward and via Sudley's Mills.

By command of Brigadier-General Beauregard.

Thomas Jordan, A. A. Adjutant-General. To Brigadier Bonham.

Impressed with the belief that the enemy was very superior to us, both in numbers and appointments, I had felt apprehension that, unless pressed, he would recover from the panic under which he fled from the field, rally on his reserves, and renew the contest. Therefore it was that I immediately felt the necessity for a pursuit of the fugitives, and insisted that the troops on the extreme left should retain their position during the night [109] of the 21st, as has been heretofore stated. In conference with the generals that night, this subject was considered, and I dictated an order for a movement on the rear of the enemy at early dawn, which, on account of the late hour at which it was given, differed very little from one for an immediate movement. A rainfall, extraordinary for its violence and duration, occurred on the morning of the succeeding day, so that, over places where during the battle one could scarcely get a drink of water, rolled torrents which, in the afternoon of the 22d, it was difficult to cross.

From these and other causes, the troops were scattered to such an extent, that but few commands could have been assembled for immediate service. It was well for us that the enemy, instead of retiring in order so as to be rallied and again brought to the attack, left hope behind, and fled in dismay to seek for safety beyond the Potomac.

Each hour of the day following the battle added to the evidence of a thorough rout of the enemy. Abandoned wagons, stores, guns, caissons, small-arms, and ammunition, proved his complete demoralization. As far as our cavalry went, no hostile force was met, and all the indications favored the conclusion that the purpose of invasion had for the time been abandoned. [110]

The victory, though decisive and important, both in its moral and physical effect, had been dearly bought by the sacrifice of the lives of many of our bravest and best, who at the first call of their country had rushed to its defence.

When riding to the front, I met an ambulance bearing General Barnard Bee from the field, where he had been mortally wounded, after his patriotism had been illustrated by conspicuous exhibitions of skill, daring, and fortitude. Soon after, I learned that my friend, Colonel Bartow, had heroically sealed with his life-blood his faith in the sanctity of our cause. He had been the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs in the Provisional Congress, and after the laws were enacted to provide for the public defence, he went to the field to maintain them. It is to such virtuous and devoted citizens that a country is indebted for its prosperity and honor, as well in peace as in war.

Reference has been made to the dispersion of our troops after the battle, and in this connection the following facts are mentioned: In the afternoon of the 22d, with a guide supposed to be cognizant of the positions at which the different commands would be found, I went to visit the wounded, and among them a youth of my family, who, it was reported to me, was rapidly sinking. [111] After driving many miles, and witnessing very painful scenes, but seldom finding the troops in the position where my guide supposed them to be, and always disappointed in discovering him I particularly sought, I was, at the approach of night, about to abandon the search, when, accidentally meeting an officer of the command to which the youth belonged, I was directed to the temporary hospital to which the wounded of that command had been removed. It was too late; the soul of the young soldier had just left the body; the corpse lay before me.1 Around him were many gentle boys, suffering in different degrees from the wounds they had received. One bright, refined-looking youth from South Carolina, severely, if not fatally, wounded, responded to my expression of sympathy by the heroic declaration that it was “sweet to die for such a cause.” 2

Many kindred spirits ascended to the Father from that field of their glory. The roll need not be recorded here; it has a more enduring depository than the pen can make --the traditions of a grateful people. [112]

On the night of the 22d, I held a second conference with Generals Johnston and Beauregard. All the revelations of the day were of the most satisfactory character, as to the completeness of our victory. The large amount gained of fine artillery, small-arms, and ammunition, all of which were much needed by us, was not the least gratifying consequence of our success. The generals, like myself, were all content with what had been done.

I propounded to them the inquiry as to what it was practicable to do. They concurred as to their inability to cross the Potomac, and to the further inquiry as to an advance to the south side of the Potomac, General Beauregard promptly stated that there were strong fortifications there, occupied by garrisons which had not been in the battle, and were therefore not affected by the panic which had seized the defeated army. He described these fortifications as having wide, deep ditches, with palisades which would prevent the escalade of the works. Turning to General Johnston, he said, “They have spared no expense.” It was further stated in explanation that we had no sappers and miners, nor even the tools requisite to make regular approaches. If we had possessed both, the time required for [113] such operations would have more than sufficed for General Patterson's army and other forces to have been brought to that locality, in such numbers as must have rendered the attempt, with our present means, futile.

This view of the matter rests on the supposition that the fortifications and garrisons described did actually exist, of which there seemed then to be no doubt. If the reports which have since reached us be true, that there was at that time neither fortifications nor troops stationed on the south bank of the Potomac; that all the enemy's forces fled to the north side of the river, and even beyond; that the panic of the routed army infected the whole population of Washington City; and that no preparation was made, or even contemplated, for the destruction of the bridge across the Potomac-then it may have been, as many have asserted, that our army, following close upon the flying enemy, could have entered and taken possession of the United States capital. These reports, however, present a condition of affairs altogether at variance with the information on which we had to act. Thus it was, and, so far as I knew, for the reasons above stated, that an advance to the south bank of the Potomac was not contemplated as the immediate sequence of the victory at Manassas.

1 While in the agonies of pain, and parched by thirst, some of the ambulance corps came to take private Edward Anderson to the hospital, but he pointed to a wounded man near him, saying, “Take him, he may recover, I cannot.”

2 These two incidents were never mentioned by my husband without glistening eyes and faltering voice,

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