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Chapter 6:

  • Secession of Virginia.
  • -- Confederate troops sent to her assistance. -- arrival of General Beauregard in Richmond. -- he assumes command at Manassas. -- position of our forces. -- his proclamation and the reasons for it. -- Site of ‘camp Pickens.’ -- his letter to President Davis. -- our deficiencies. -- mismanagement in Quartermaster's and Commissary's Departments. -- how he could have procured transportation. -- manufacture of cartridges. -- secret service with Washington.

Not until Fort Sumter had surrendered to the South Carolina troops under General Beauregard; not until Mr. Lincoln, misapprehending the attitude of those Southern States still nominally belonging to the Union, had made his requisition on them for their quota of men to aid in suppressing the ‘Rebellion,’ did Virginia, faithful to her old-time traditions, openly proclaim her adhesion to the Southern cause, and assume her rightful place among the seceded States. Hers was a disinterested step; one taken with a full appreciation of the inevitable dangers and devastation in store for her, owing to her geographical position. Her hesitation was but another instance of the historic firmness and deliberation which had always characterized her official acts, and it was, no doubt, her example which shortly afterwards determined the withdrawal of Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

No sooner had Virginia's voice, through her assembled convention, pronounced her severance from the North, than the seven States forming the Confederacy, anxious to welcome her among them, hurried forward to her support a portion of their best troops. As a natural sequence to this provident measure, it followed that the most experienced and successful of our military leaders were selected to be placed at the head of such commands. Hence the order transferring General Beauregard to Virginia. Pollard, in his work entitled ‘Lee and his Lieutenants,’ when writing on this subject, says: ‘Called for by the unanimous voice of the Southern people, he was now ordered to take command of the main portion of the Confederate army in northern Virginia.’ Pollard's [66] later description of the apprehension and flurry existing in the Northern mind, concerning General Beauregard's whereabouts, is, indeed, most singular, and shows the appreciation in which he was held by our enemies.

Many writers, in describing the traits of General Beauregard's character, have commented upon his very retiring disposition, amounting almost to bashfulness, which forms so strong a contrast to his boldness and indomitable spirit in the field. This was instanced upon his arrival at Richmond, May 30th, where a large concourse of people awaited him, anxious to see and welcome the Confederate commander who had already drawn upon himself the attention and admiration of the whole country. A carriageand-four was in readiness at the Richmond depot to convey him to the apartments which had been prepared for him at the Spotswood Hotel. But no sooner had he been apprised of this unexpected honor—which, though gratifying, interfered with his desire for privacy—than he, wishing to avoid all public demonstration, insisted upon taking an ordinary carriage, in which, with one or two officers of his staff, he quietly drove to other quarters.

The next day, May 31st, he called on President Davis, who was in conference with General Robert E. Lee, then commanding the Virginia State forces. General Lee had just returned from Manassas, about twenty-seven miles below Alexandria, where he had left Brigadier-General Bonham, of South Carolina, with some five thousand men of all arms. This position had been taken at the instance of Colonel Thomas Jordan, of the Virginia forces, who, in a carefully written memoir on the subject, had shown the importance of at once occupying Manassas Junction, to prevent its seizure, and the severance of communication by rail with the lower valley of Virginia.

After a full interchange of views, which lasted several hours, it was determined that General Beauregard should leave on the next morning to assume command at Manassas, whither reinforcements would be forwarded as soon as obtained. At first it had been intended to send him to Norfolk, but General Lee's report of the condition of affairs on the Alexandria line, and the probability of an early advance of the enemy on that point, caused the President to change his mind.

From the moment General Beauregard had left New Orleans, until the time of his arrival in Richmond, he had been so unremittingly [67] occupied with public affairs as to preclude all attention to his personal interests and even his military outfit. He would have willingly remained a day or two in Richmond, in order to prepare himself better for the field; but the juncture was considered so urgent by the President and General Lee, that no such leisure was granted him, and he departed at once, with two of his aids, leaving other members of his staff, including his adjutant, to effect such arrangements as were necessary. He left Richmond on the 1st of June, and reached Manassas the same night, under the following orders:

Headquarters of the Virginia forces, Richmond, Virginia, May 31st, 1861.

Special orders, no. 149.

General P. G. T. Beauregard, of the Confederate States army, is assigned to the command of the troops on the Alexandria line. He is referred to the orders heretofore given to his predecessors in that command, for the general direction of operations.

By order of Major-General Lee, ‘R. S. Garnett, Adjt.-Gen.

We copy below an extract from the orders alluded to, as given to General Beauregard's predecessors, and transferred, as we have seen, to himself:

The policy of the State, at present, is strictly defensive. No attack or provocation for attack will therefore be given, but every attack resisted to the extent of your means. Great reliance is placed on your discretion and judgment in the application of your force, and I must urge upon you the importance of organizing and instructing the troops as rapidly as possible, and preparing them for active service. For this purpose it will be necessary to post them where their services may be needed and where they can be concentrated at the points threatened. The Manassas Junction is a very important point on your line, as it commands the communication with Harper's Ferry, and must be firmly held. Intrenchments at that point would add to its security; and in connection with its defence, you must watch the approaches from either flank, particularly towards Occoquan. Alexandria, in its front, will of course claim your attention as the first point of attack, and as soon as your force is sufficient, in your opinion, to resist successfully its occupation, you will so dispose it as to effect this object, if possible, without appearing to threaten Washington city. The navigation of the Potomac being closed to us, and the United States armed vessels being able to take a position in front of the town, you will perceive the hazard of its destruction unless your measures are such as to prevent it. This subject being one of great delicacy, is left to your judgment. The railroad communications must be secured, however, and their use by the enemy prevented. . . .


That such instructions, so vague as a whole, and yet so minute in some respects, should have embarrassed Brigadier-General Bonham, as was asserted, is not, we submit, to be much wondered at. To obey them implicitly was clearly an impossibility under the circumstances. They were calculated to destroy every vestige of discretion on the part of the commanding general, without lessening, in any way, the weight of his responsibility. That General Lee meant well in adopting such a programme of operations, no one who knew him will for a moment question; but that it must have puzzled, to no inconsiderable degree, the minds of most of those who were to be guided by it, to us appears no less evident. And how, more than a month after the withdrawal of Virginia from the Union, a State Major-General (for such was General Lee at the time), and not the Confederate War Department, could have given instructions and issued orders to Confederate generals and to Confederate troops, is more than we can well understand. True, the Secretary of War, with a view to avoid confusion, had, on May 10th, authorized Major-General Lee, of the Virginia troops, ‘to assume the control of the forces of the Confederate States in Virginia, and assign them to such duties as he might indicate;’ but that authority emanated from Montgomery, while the Confederate government was still there, and while no Confederate general officer had, as yet, been sent to Virginia. This was far from being the case at the time to which we now allude, to wit, the 31st of May. Brigadier-General Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, had, then, already been assigned to duty in Virginia, and, furthermore, the Confederate government itself was at that date transferred to Richmond. Even the President was there in person, and could have acted with all authority had he chosen to do so.

The measures of extreme caution suggested in General Lee's instructions, and the solicitude manifested to soothe the ire of the North, would have been admirably proper if the orders had been issued before the first gun was fired at Sumter, and while negotiations for a peaceful solution of our difficulties were still pending. But in May, 1861, war already existed. Virginia was threatened by three Northern armies, the immediate advance of one of which was then almost daily expected. Why were we to avoid ‘appearing’ even to threaten the enemy's positions, when the invasion of our soil was openly declared to be the prime object actuating [69] the hostile forces arrayed against us? Orders and instructions such as these could have no other effect than to depress our people, bewilder our commanders, and embolden the enemy.

The two or three days following his arrival in his new department were spent by General Beauregard in examining the troops and the various positions they occupied, at and in advance of Manassas. He then assumed command in the following orders:

New series. General orders, no. 1.

Headquarters, Department of Alexandria, camp Pickens, June 2d, 1861.
In obedience to Special Orders, No. 149, from Headquarters Virginia forces, Richmond, dated May 31st, 1861, assigning me to the command of the troops on the Alexandria line, I have this day relieved Brigadier-General M. L. Bonham of said command.

All orders and instructions from these Headquarters will be obeyed accordingly.

The Brigadier-General Commanding feels assured that all the troops under his orders will display, on all occasions, the discipline, patience, zeal, and gallantry of their forefathers, when defending, like ourselves, their sacred rights and liberties.

The troops were located at the following points: one regiment at Mitchell's Ford, where the country road, from Manassas to Centreville, crosses Bull Run, at a point midway between the two. Another regiment was stationed at Union Mills Ford, not far from where the railroad to Alexandria crosses the same stream. Another regiment was placed at Centreville, and some detached companies of cavalry and infantry were in the vicinity of Fairfax Court-House, about six miles in advance of Centreville. The remaining forces were at and about Manassas.

The enemy was then engaged in collecting a large force in front of Washington and Alexandria, with its advance at Falls Church, half-way to Fairfax Court-House, and it was currently reported by the Northern press that this army, under Major-General Mc-Dowell, would soon advance on Manassas, on its way to Richmond.

General Beauregard was not satisfied with the grounds selected for our troops, nor with the condition of things at Camp Pickens, Manassas. There was no running water near enough; the plan of works was too extensive; the fords were too numerous to be easily [70] guarded by such a small force as was at his disposal. These facts and observations he at once reported to the President, as may be seen by the following letter:

Department of Alexandria, Va., Provisional A. C. S., June 3d, 1861.
To his Excellency President Jefferson Davis, Richmond, Va.:

Dear Sir,—I arrived here on the 1st at 2 P. M., and immediately examined the site of this encampment and the plans of its proposed defences. The former is in an open country, traversed by good roads in every direction, without any strong natural features for the purposes of defence, and without running water nearer than three miles, except a few small springs at half that distance. The plans of the works are good, but too extensive to be finished in less than two or three weeks, and cannot be garrisoned with less than from three to four thousand men. As this position can be turned in every direction by an enemy, for the purpose of destroying the railroads intended to be defended by it, it becomes a question whether these works could be held more than a few days, when thus isolated.

I have reconnoitred closely several of the fords on Bull Run, and one on Occoquan Run (about three miles from here), which offer strong natural features of defence, but they are so numerous and far apart, that only a much larger force than I have here at my command (say not less than ten to fifteen thousand men) could hope to defend them all, against a well-organized enemy of about 20,000 men, who could select his point of attack. I must therefore either be reinforced at once, as I have not more than about six thousand effective men; or I must be prepared to retire (upon the approach of the enemy) in the direction of Richmond, with the intention of arresting him whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself; or I must march to meet him at one of said fords, to sell our lives as dearly as practicable.

Badly armed and badly equipped as my command is at present (several regiments having but one or two field officers), and having hardly any means of transportation, it would be expecting too much, that I could meet successfully the foe who is preparing to attack us in a few days, with all the advantages of number, arms, and discipline. I beg, however, to remark, that my troops are not only willing, but anxious, to meet the enemies of our country, under all circumstances.

I remain, dear Sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

From what precedes it is easy to see why Bull Run did not naturally afford a strong defensive line. In fact, the ground on the Federal side of the run commanded, in most places, the ground occupied by the Confederates. Still, Manassas Junction, as a strategic point, was one of superior importance, as it secured communication with the valley of Virginia, and the army of the Shenandoah, [71] under General Joseph E. Johnston, at Harper's Ferry. Hence General Beauregard's determination to hold it at all hazards; and he began, without delay, to throw up works around it, so as to make it a depot of supplies and a point d'appui for ulterior operations. But it was with great difficulty that, at this period, work on the fortifications could be procured from the troops, as most of their time was necessarily taken up with drills, and manual labor was in itself no light task for them, composed, as the commands generally were, of young men of good position at home, who had responded to the first call of the country, many of them having come with no small amount of luggage and even with body-servants. Their answer to company officers was, that they were there to fight, and not to handle the pick and shovel. Appreciating such a feeling in men of their position, new to arduous duties of that kind, and wishing to avoid whatever might at that moment cause disaffection, General Beauregard abstained from employing them on any but the most essential works, and procured, as far as possible, negro labor, which was furnished at his call, by the comparatively small number of slave-owners of the Piedmont region of Virginia, with great readiness.

As soon as new regiments arrived they were armed and equipped as well as the means at hand allowed, and at once drilled and organized into brigades.

This organization of an army, out of troops for the most part wholly undisciplined, in the presence of an enemy composed of a well-trained militia, superior in numbers and thoroughly appointed, whose threatened advance was expected at every moment, apart from being in itself a difficult and anxious task, was beset with obstacles resulting from the narrow methods, slowness, and, in some respects, unaccountable mismanagement, of the authorities at Richmond.

General Beauregard's attention was at once seriously turned to those two important staff departments, the Quartermaster's and Commissary's, which, he thought, could never be too closely attended to. ‘An army’—he was wont to say—‘without means of transportation and sustenance is like a ship at sea without spars or canvas, and with famine on board.’ His first step was to order the collection of wagons and twenty-five days rations for about twenty thousand men. To this end his chief quartermaster, Major Cabell, and his chief commissary, Captain Fowle, who was well [72] acquainted with the resources of that region, were directed to draw all their supplies of forage, grain, and provisions from the fertile country stretching from Manassas to the Potomac, as far northwest as Leesburg, so as to exhaust that district first, and compel the enemy to carry their own supplies in their advance against our forces. This system, which would have left all the region in rear of us with resources untouched, to meet the contingency of a forced withdrawal from Manassas, was most strenuously opposed by the Commissary-General, Colonel Northrop. In a letter, singularly ill-tempered and discourteous, that functionary arraigned General Beauregard for ‘thwarting’ his plans for maintaining the army, and went so far as to prohibit Captain Fowle from obeying the orders of his commanding general. Through this vagary the provisions drawn from the vicinity of Manassas and the neighboring counties of Loudon and Fauquier, after being carried, directly, from General Beauregard's department to Richmond, were thence returned to the chief commissary of the army of Manassas, for distribution to the troops, and as there were hardly enough cars to transport the men, guns, ammunition, and other material to the army of the Potomac and the army of the Shenandoah, which received its ordnance supplies by the same railroad, the result was that the troops at Manassas never had more than two or three days supplies on hand, even when they numbered no more than fifteen thousand men. This almost incredible mismanagement, so hurtful to the morale and efficiency of the army, was persisted in, notwithstanding General Beauregard's earnest remonstrances, and embarrassed and clogged the conduct of the whole campaign.

Captain Fowle, finding that the army could not be supplied from Richmond, was compelled to resort to the system ordered by General Beauregard; whereupon he was summarily superseded, and Colonel R. B. Lee appointed in his stead. This last officer, it may be added, possessed undoubted merit, and by his previous rank in the commissariat of the United States army, was entitled to the position of Commissary-General of the Confederate States army.

With such facts before us, and others that we shall have occasion to notice further on, the following eulogy of Colonel Northrop, by Mr. Davis, seems unwarranted and altogether out of place: ‘To the able officer then at the head of the Commissariat [73] Department, Colonel L. B. Northrop, much credit is due for his well-directed efforts to provide both for immediate and prospective wants.’1

There was a great deficiency also in the means of transportation. It was insufficient, and of such poor quality as to break down even in ordinary camp service. This evil, which continued long after the battle of Manassas, was partially remedied before that event, but the remedy was applied independently of the Quartermaster's Department at Richmond. That department having declared itself unable to procure transportation in the country, General Beauregard called to his aid Colonel James L. Kemper (7th Virginia Volunteers), whose knowledge of the resources of that portion of the State enabled him to gather, within a few days, at least two hundred effective wagons and teams. Three times that number, and even more, could easily have been collected, but General Beauregard, wishing to avoid collision with the views of the administration at Richmond, limited Colonel Kemper to the number stated above.

On the 5th of June, upon pressing application to that effect, General Beauregard issued a proclamation to the people of the counties of Loudon, Fairfax, and Prince William, which has been much commented upon, but, outside of the South, where the facts were known, has never been well understood.

The reason for issuing the proclamation was, that a deputation of citizens, headed by a prominent lawyer of Alexandria, who, before the secession of Virginia, was noted for his Union sentiments, had presented a formal complaint, of very grave outrages practised on the people by Federal troops.

General Beauregard, believing it to be his duty to take immediate steps in the matter, appointed a commission of inquiry, composed of Colonels Thomas Jordan, his Adjutant-General, and John S. Preston, and William Porcher Miles, 2 his volunteer aids, both eminent citizens of South Carolina.

That committee, after careful investigation of the charges made, reported that the allegations were true. Though General Mc-Dowell solicitously repressed all acts of violence—which, as was afterwards proved, were committed then only by marauding parties [74] from his army—yet the facts elicited were naturally construed, at the time, as indicative of a truculent spirit animating a large number of his troops, and produced the deepest indignation among the people of the surrounding country.

This proclamation (others similar to which, in substance, were afterwards issued by several Confederate officers, including General Lee) was drawn up by the gentleman referred to, and, after some slight modifications by the members of the commission, through Colonel Preston, was signed and published by General Beauregard in his name, as commander of the army. It became known and was criticised in the Northern papers as the ‘Beauty and Booty Proclamation’—words which were found by the commission, upon the evidence given, to have been loudly used by the marauding troops whose acts of violence were so indignantly denounced. Our readers no doubt remember that these identical words, accompanying like conduct, on the part of the British troops at New Orleans, in the war of 1812, provoked vehement reprobation throughout the country. However true it might be to say that such a proclamation would have better fitted many subsequent phases of the war, yet, with charges so fully substantiated before the commission appointed by General Beauregard, no one can deny that the measures adopted and the language used in relation thereto were justifiable and imperatively necessary.

Besides being badly armed and suffering from the irregularity and inefficiency of the Quartermaster's and Commissary's Departments, the troops were also deficient in accoutrements, particularly in cartridges and cartridge-boxes, and were lacking in proper camp equipments. Alarmed at the delay in adequately supplying his forces with ammunition, General Beauregard proposed to the government to establish a cartridge factory at Manassas, if certain necessary appliances were furnished him; which was not done. His letter to that effect, dated Manassas Junction, June 23d, contained the following passage:

I must call the attention of the department to the great deficiency of my command in ammunition—not averaging more than 20 rounds in all per man. If I were provided with the necessary materials, moulds, etc., I think I could establish here a cartridge manufactory, which could supply all our wants in that respect.

Could not a similar arrangement be made at all hospital depots, State arsenals, penitentiaries, etc.? [75]

To go into battle, each soldier ought to be provided with at least 40 rounds of cartridges and not less than 60 rounds in reserve.

I remain, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

As the Confederate troops had yet no uniform proper, it was necessary that they should be distinguished from the enemy by some clearly visible mark. To meet this requirement, a few days after his arrival in camp General Beauregard asked that his men should be provided with colored scarfs, to be worn, in battle, from the shoulder to the waist, suggesting that a call on the ladies of Richmond would no doubt secure their prompt supply, as the scarfs might be made of any material of the proper shade. As many of the regiments were then without Confederate colors, and the blue and the gray uniforms were common to the North and the South, the importance of this matter, particularly in the event of flank and rear attacks, was urged again upon the President, at a later period. Although the expedient was as simple as the need was great, the demand was complied with only after a long delay, and then with so imperfect a contrivance—a sort of rosette, to be pinned on the arm or breast—that on the field of Manassas, in the critical moment, the troops themselves were confused as to identity; and when the rout was in full tide the pursuit was more than once checked because of the difficulty of distinguishing friends from foes.

During this period a thorough secret-service communication was maintained between Washington and the Confederate headquarters at Manassas, whereby trustworthy private information was received through cipher despatches, while regular files of all the important Northern journals reached our lines in the same way; those from New York, particularly, rendering unconscious assistance to our cause.

1 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 315.

2 William Porcher Miles was afterwards Chairman of the Military Committee of the House of Representatives, Confederate Congress.

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