Chapter 11: conferences after the battle of Manassas.
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
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:
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
to me the answer to his inquiries in my behalf, as follows:
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.