Chapter 3: fall and winter of 1861
- Ordnance service. -- breech-loading small -- arms. -- Confederate Armaments. -- Richmond ordnance Bureau. -- secret service. -- McClellan's secret service. -- military situation. -- a council of War. -- Ball's Bluff. -- Occoquan battery. -- winter. -- army organization. -- Federal organization. -- lines of advance on Richmond. -- retreat from Manassas. -- the Valley. -- Kernstown.
On the day after Bull Run I was appointed Chief of Ordnance of Beauregard's corps, and within a few days Johnston extended my office over the whole army, which, about this period, took the name ever afterwards used,— ‘The Army of Northern Virginia.’ The enemy, about the same time, adopted their equally well-known title, ‘The Army of the Potomac.’ My new duties largely absorbed my time, but I remained in charge of the signal service, the work being now confined to sending instructed parties to all parts of the Confederacy where they might be of use. During the fall a ‘Department of Signals’ was organized in Richmond, and the charge of it, with the rank of colonel, was offered me, but declined, as I was unwilling to leave the field. As head of a department I was soon made Major, and, later, Lieutenant-Colonel of Artillery. Col. William Norris of Baltimore became the Chief Signal Officer. Briefly, my duties embraced the supply of arms and ammunition to all troops in the field, — infantry, artillery, and cavalry. I organized the department, with an ordnance officer or sergeant in every regiment, from whom I received weekly statements showing the arms and ammunition on hand in cartridge boxes and regimental wagons. Reserve storehouses were provided at the nearest railroad points, and reserve trains for brigades and divisions, to run between the storehouses and the troops. For emergency, under my own control was held a train of ammunition and battery wagons equipped with tools and expert mechanics for all sorts of repairs from a broken mainspring to a spiked  fieldpiece. I was fortunate in securing for superintendent of this train, Maj. George Duffy, an expert from Alexandria, who became an institution in the army, and remained with it throughout the war. In its early stages we had great trouble with the endless variety of arms and calibres in use, scarcely ten per cent of them being the muzzle-loading rifled musket, calibre 58, which was then the regulation arm for United States infantry. There were several breech-loading small-arms manufactured at the North, but none had secured the approval of the United States Ordnance Department, although many of them would have made more formidable weapons than any muzzle-loaders. The old idea was still widely entertained that, because the percentage of hits is always small, the fire of infantry should not be rapid, lest the men waste too much ammunition. After a year or two some of the best breech-loaders got admission among cavalry regiments, and common sense and experience gradually forced a recognition of the value of a heavy fire. By 1864, the Spencer breech-loading carbine had been adopted as the regulation arm for the Federal cavalry, and by the fall of that year brigades of infantry began to appear with it. On October 7, 1864, on the Darbytown road, Field's division was easily repulsed by two brigades armed with Spencers, with severe loss, including Genls. Gregg killed and Bratton wounded; and on Nov. 30, 1864, at Franklin, Tennessee, Casement's, brigade with these arms decided that battle with terrific slaughter, It was written of this fight that ‘never before in the history of war did a command, of the approximate strength of Casement's. in so short a period of time kill and wound as many men.’ There is reason to believe that had the Federal infantry been armed from the first with even the breech-loaders available in 1861 the war would have been terminated within a year. The old smooth-bore musket, calibre 69, made up the bulk of the Confederate armament at the beginning, some of the guns, even all through 1862, being old flint-locks. But every effort was made to replace them by rifled muskets captured in battle, brought through the blockade from Europe, or manufactured at a few small arsenals which we gradually fitted up. Not until  after the battle of Gettysburg was the whole army in Virginia equipped with the rifled musket. In 1864 we captured some Spencer breech-loaders, but we could never use them for lack of proper cartridges. Our artillery equipment at the beginning was even more inadequate than our small-arms. Our guns were principally smoothbore 6-Prs. and 12-Pr. howitzers, and their ammunition was afflicted with very unreliable fuses. Our arsenals soon began to manufacture rifled guns, but they always lacked the copper and brass, and the mechanical skill necessary to turn out first-class ammunition. Gradually we captured Federal guns to supply most of our needs, but we were handicapped by our own ammunition until the close of the war. No department of our government deserves more credit than our Ordnance Bureau in Richmond under Gen. Josiah Gorgas, for its success in supplying the enormous amount of ordinance material consumed during the war. Although always economical of ammunition, yet we never lost any action from the lack of it. We were, however, finally very near the end of our resources, in the supply of one indispensable article. To make percussion caps nitric acid, mercury, and copper were required. Our Nitre and Mining Bureau had learned to make saltpetre from caves, and the earth under old barns and smoke houses, and from all kinds of nitrogenous waste material. From the saltpetre our chemists could make nitric acid. Our quicksilver came from Mexico, but after the fall of Vicksburg we were cut off from it, and about the same time the supply of sheet copper was exhausted. The chemists found out a mixture of chlorate of potash and sulphuret of antimony which they could use in place of fulminate of mercury; and we collected all the turpentine and apple-brandy stills in the country and sent them to Richmond to be cut up and rerolled into copper strips. From this copper and the above chemical mixture all the caps were made which we used during the last year of the war, but at its close the copper stills were exhausted. It is hard to imagine what we would then have done had not the surrender at Appomattox relieved the quandary. In August our line of pickets was advanced within five miles  of the Potomac, opposite Washington, and it included two hills, Munson's and Mason's, from which many houses in Washington were plainly visible. This suggested opening a line of secret signals from a window in one of these houses to an observation room on the top of a residence on Mason's Hill. A powerful telescope was borrowed from Charleston, and an intelligent signal employee, E. P. Bryan, of Maryland, was sent in disguise to Washington to find a room with an available window, and to install himself therein. The scheme was entirely feasible, but before it could be put into operation Johnston decided that it was unwise to hold our lines so close to the enemy, and they were withdrawn, giving up the positions on the two hills. Bryan then established a signal line across the Potomac, some 15 miles below Alexandria, with messengers from its termini to Manassas and to our secret agents in Washington. The principal business of these agents was to supply us with the Northern papers, although for some time careful account was kept of arrivals of new troops at Washington. But this was found less reliable than the accounts in the daily papers. From them we learned not only of all arrivals, but also of assignments to brigades and divisions, and, by tabulating these, we always knew quite accurately the strength of the enemy's army. Why the enemy, by similar obvious methods, did not, also, always know our strength, remains a mystery. But McClellan had a bureau under Pinkerton to estimate for him, from the reports of spies, prisoners, and deserters, and implicitly believed, by preference, the most absurd and impossible of all their reports. As an illustration may be taken his report in October, 1861, in which he estimates the Confederate army on the Potomac as ‘not less than 150,000 strong, well-drilled and equipped, ably commanded and strongly intrenched.’ In fact, the Confederate army at the time was only about 40,000 strong. It was very poorly drilled and wretchedly equipped, and it had, practically, no intrenchments whatever. And although it numbered able officers among its generals, it was badly commanded, in that it was not organized into divisions, and could not have been well handled either on a march or in action.  McClellan, though unfit to command in battle, had no superior in organizing an army to take the field as a thoroughly fit machine, able to concentrate its energies wherever needed. By the end of October he might easily have advanced upon the Confederates with a force three to one in numbers and twice better armed and organized. Public opinion would have forced McClellan into making an attack, but for the moral effect of the imaginary battalions which Pinkerton's Bureau had conjured into existence and drilled and equipped so easily. And as so good a fighting machine of American soldiers would do hard fighting, even without a general at their head, as was abundantly shown by McClellan's subsequent career, it is entirely possible that the Confederates may owe their escape from a defeat in November, 1861, as much to yarns spun by their deserters as to their own impudent attitude in the field. After the battle of Bull Run it was apparent that if the South sat quietly in a defensive attitude until the enemy was ready to advance again, he would come in overwhelming force. Consequently the burden was upon us to bring on the collision while our comparative resources were greatest. Johnston and Beauregard recognized this, but deferred action from day to day, hoping to receive reenforcements worth waiting for, and to accumulate transportation and supplies. President Davis recognized it also, and sent some new regiments from time to time, but the demands upon him were very great. He had urgent appeals for more troops from every quarter, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. And, as scarce as men were, arms were even scarcer. He divided out all he had according to his best judgment, but it must be admitted that this was often mistaken. Troops were certainly held at Pensacola, Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk, and in West Virginia, which might have given the needed strength to the army at Manassas to enable it to take the offensive. As it was, the new troops sent were little more than enough to make good the losses from sickness which befell the army in the summer of 1861. The entire country about Bull Run was malarial, and the troops were badly equipped and ignorant about sanitary  measures. All our new regiments from country districts were great sufferers from measles, which often reduced their effective force one-half. In the latter part of Sept., feeling that the opportunity was about to pass, President Davis was induced to visit Johnston, Beauregard, and Smith at Manassas, and this matter was discussed. The three generals asked for 10,000 or 20,000 more men than the 40,000 they had. With this addition to their numbers they proposed to cross the Potomac and make an offensive campaign in Maryland. Mr. Davis seemed greatly disappointed to find so few troops available. He acknowledged the force of the argument for the offensive, but he could not see his way to taking troops from other points, and he could not provide more men until he could procure more arms. On Oct. 21 an accidental affair took place at Ball's Bluff, near Leesburg, Virginia, which greatly elated the Confederates. Evans's brigade, of four regiments and a battery, was held at Leesburg in observation of the Potomac, and of a force under Gen. Stone on the Maryland shore. On Oct. 19, McClellan had sent out a strong reconnaissance toward Leesburg from his main body covering Washington. The reconnaissance was scarcely extended half-way to Leesburg, but McClellan thought that it might alarm Evans and cause him to fall back nearer to Manassas; so on Oct. 20 he wired Stone, suggesting a demonstration on his part. Stone made it by crossing the river at two points, Edward's Ferry and Ball's Bluff, about three miles apart. Both parties crossed without opposition, but the Ball's Bluff party, having occupied the high bluff on the Virginia shore, pushed out a reconnaissance through the woods toward Leesburg, some two miles off. Evans, with three of his regiments and his battery, was observing the Edward's Ferry body, which had taken a strong position and intrenched itself. His fourth regiment, the 18th Miss., came in contact with the Ball's Bluff advance, and drove it back to the main body at the top of the bluff. There the fight grew hotter. Gen. Baker, commanding the Federals, brought up his whole brigade of five regiments and three pieces of artillery, — about 3000 men, — and Evans sent two of his three regiments, the  8th Va. and 17th Miss., from in front of Edward's Ferry, making the Confederate force engaged about 1600. After a sharp and well-conducted fight under the inspiration of Col. Jenifer, Baker was killed, his artillery captured, and his entire force driven into the river, many being drowned. The casualties were:—
|Federal:||Killed 49,||wounded 158,||missing 714,||total 921|
|Confederate:||Killed 36,||wounded 117,||missing 2,||total 155|