previous next

Incidents of the battle.

From the positions of our forces, it will be perceived, that after our repulse on the afternoon of Sunday, if we had had five fresh regiments in addition to Col. Blenker's brigade, which, however, did not reach the field of battle in time to afford any relief, and an additional force of five or ten [26] regiments with a battery behind Centreville on the road to Fairfax, and in the rear of the wagons, the field would have been saved, for there is no doubt the rebels were stunned by the force of our charges and the extent of their losses, which must have been comparatively much heavier than ours. This is almost conclusive, from the fact that they did not pursue in any considerable body, supposing us, undoubtedly, to be occupying the ground at Centreville in sufficient force to maintain ourselves, and following out their apparently settled policy of keeping behind their intrenchments, and risking nothing in the open field. I omitted to state yesterday, as another proof of the confidence which Gen. McDowell appears to have felt in the success of the attack, that while the engagement was going on, say at 3 1/2 o'clock, in addition to the army wagons with which the Warrenton road was encumbered, there were six wagons heavily loaded with oak timber, about midway between Centreville and the “run,” intended for rebuilding the bridge which the rebels had undermined. One of these was abandoned on the road before the retreat commenced, the horses being unable to draw it up the hill.

These multiplied incumbrances, in such unusual and unnecessary situations, added greatly to the confusion; for teamsters with only whips in their hands can hardly be expected to preserve the steadiness of troops on the field.

And now, with regard to the retreat, I was at the hospital near the scene of action, for three-quarters of an hour, and left the ground only ten minutes before, as it is reported, the rebel cavalry made a very loose and ineffective charge — assisting the wounded who were being constantly brought in; and while there, before any alarm was spread, my attention was called by an officer to clouds of dust on the right of the rebel line, and I was told that an attack was expected on our flank by the rebel cavalry. One of the Vivandieres standing near us observed it first, but the dust soon subsiding, I did not think more of it. We started soon after on the road to Centreville, and there was then no confusion apparent, when about half a mile from the hospital we were overtaken by an officer, and desired to convey a message from the general to Col. Blenker, desiring him to look out for a cavalry attack on our flank. We met Blenker a mile further on at the head of his brigade, marching to the scene of action; we gave him the message, and lie immediately quickened the pace of his column, and if he did not get in soon enough to encourage our men to stand, he at least covered the retreat, and displayed the conduct of a good and brave officer. I ought to say here, in justice to the few civilians who went to this extreme post, and who, within my personal observation, sought by every possible effort to rally the men; that the very officer on horseback who brought us the message to Blenker, was afterwards overtaken by us, far ahead of the troops, riding leisurely to the rear on the Fairfax road. I confidently believe that there was a repulse, after the almost superhuman exertions of our men, who had been fighting on empty stomachs, by fresh cavalry; and I think it will be found that a retreat had been ordered. It was not a panic of baggage wagons, or civilians; or if it was, if the wagons had been in the rear of Centreville and properly supported, there would have been no panic at all.

The reason why I conclude that a retreat had been ordered, is, that on our approach to Centreville Gen. McDowell was leading his reserves across the road, and to a position where he could make a stand, either to cover the retreat of his advanced corps, or to resist a cavalry attack. Simultaneously with this movement a large drove of cattle had come up on the side of the road, and from being pressed forward as they had been towards the “run,” were immediately headed to the rear, and driven at a rapid rate back over the road which they had just left. This could not have taken place without orders, and was before the stampede of tho wagons.

The conclusion of all this is, that the battle ought not to have been fought under the circumstances. If Gen. McDowell had been content to intrench himself at Centreville, of which he seems to have had some intention, for his men were at work upon an intrenchment which was not occupied, a successful day would have come for us, and our troops would have been saved from the demoralizing influence, not of defeat, but of a disorganization and retreat almost unparalleled, considering the comparatively short distance, for fatigue and suffering. Having been separated from the wagons, the men were necessarily without food.

We rode out of the stable yard shortly after the rush of wagons commenced; we did this for the purpose of getting out of the way of the movements of the troops. There were then ahead of us at least one hundred to one hundred and fifty wagons, with four horses to each, and half as many behind, rushing down the road like a torrent. We got wedged in among them, and were obliged to follow or be crushed. Ahead of us was one containing a soldier wounded in the foot, which a comrade beside him was holding up and trying to keep from being hurt by the movements of the wagon. Another wounded soldier clung upon the back of our carriage for a considerable distance, until we were able to place him on one of the wagons. Soon tho drivers commenced throwing out the contents of their wagons, until the road was filled with bags of grain, boxes, coils of rope, shovels, pickaxes, and every imaginable thing. Over all this litter we were obliged to drive, with no chance to turn out, there being a constant pressure behind. It was a scene to be remembered, but not to be experienced, I would hope, a second time.

As to where the responsibility should rest for this great waste of human life and valuable materials of war, which were so necessary to our progress, that must be determined by those who have a right to inquire.--Boston Daily Advertiser.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Centreville (Maryland, United States) (7)
Fairfax, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Warrenton (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Louis Blenker (4)
McDowell (3)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: