previous next

Chapter 8:


A day or two after sending to the President the communication given at the end of the preceding chapter, General Beauregard, still hoping to obtain the government's assent to the concentration of our forces, in view of the impending offensive movement of the enemy, despatched to Richmond an aide-de-camp, Colonel John S. Preston, of South Carolina, a gentleman of ability and much personal weight, with special instructions to urge the absolute and immediate necessity of adopting his plan of operations.

No sooner had Colonel Preston left Manassas, than General Beauregard, engrossed with the all-absorbing idea of concentration—and, from information hourly received, certain of its wisdom —felt it impossible to remain passively on the defensive, while he had the opportunity of dealing a series of aggressive blows on the enemy, likely to produce decisive results favorable to the Confederate States. He therefore enlarged his plan of campaign, basing it partly upon the increased strength of our army, and sent another of his aids, Colonel James R. Chestnut, to present and explain it to the President. A memorandum, written by General (then Colonel) Samuel Jones, under General Beauregard's dictation, and containing the substance of all the instructions given to Colonel Chestnut, had been handed to the latter, to assist his memory, and prevent any misconception as to the main features of the projected campaign.

It is well for the truth of history, that these precautionary measures [85] were taken at that time; for, as will be seen further on in this work, Mr. Davis, who claims, even now, ‘that the great question of uniting the two armies was decided at Richmond,’1 (which seems to mean ‘decided at Richmond’ by Mr. Davis), subsequently denied that any such plan had ever been presented to him, and that his alleged refusal to approve it could, in no manner or form, have thwarted General Beauregard's efforts at concentration.

General Beauregard's anxiety was intense while awaiting the return of his messengers. He knew that each moment was of vital importance, and that the fate of our cause hung in the balance. First came telegrams from Colonels Preston and Chestnut, stating that the communication was before the President, who was giving it his careful consideration.2 On the 16th of July, Colonel Chestnut, upon his return, presented his official report, containing a detailed account of his mission. So great has become the historical value of this paper, that we present it in full to the reader:

Headquarters army of the Potomac, Manassas, Va., July 16th, 1861.
Brigadier-General Beauregard, Commanding Army of the Potomac:
Sir,—In obedience to your order, I proceeded on Sunday last, 14th instant, to Richmond, with the purpose of laying before the President, for his consideration, your views and plans for the combined operation of the two armies under the commands of General Joseph E. Johnston and yourself respectively. I arrived at Richmond at 3.30 on the same day I left your quarters, and without delay reported to the President, who, although sick in bed, received me with great kindness and cordiality. After stating to him the object of my visit, he appointed an hour to meet him, that evening, in company with General R. E. Lee, and Adjutant and Inspector General Cooper. At the appointed time the President, Generals Lee and Cooper, and Colonel Preston, of your staff, met me in private conference. Being requested by the President to lay before those present the subject-matter with which I was charged, I submitted, on your part, the following proposition:

That the Confederate armies were in front of the enemy, with greatly inferior forces at all points; that it was desirable, by uniting a portion of our forces, to outnumber the enemy at some important point; that the point now occupied by you was, at present, in reference to the armies, considered the most important. I stated also that the enemy were at present at or near Falls Church, with eight or ten thousand men on the Alexandria, Loudon, and Hampshire Railroad, and also with some portion of his forces at Springfield, on the Alexandria and Orange Railroad, with every indication of a purpose to advance [86] on both lines, and that it was most probable the enemy would threaten our camps at Manassas with about ten thousand men, while with the main body, twenty thousand or more, would advance towards Vienna, Frying-pans, and Pleasant Valley to Hay Market, on the Manassas Gap Railroad, with a view to cut off our communications with General Johnston. To accomplish this, possession would be taken of passes of the Blue Ridge at Manassas, Ashby's, and Snicker's Gaps. He would then endeavor to cut off your communication with Richmond by the Alexandria and Orange Railroad, and force you either to fight in open field, with greatly inferior numbers, or to retire towards Fredericksburg by way of Brentsville to join forces with General Holmes, or to withdraw from the intrenched camp and retire by the Alexandria and Orange Railroad, before the enemy could reach it.

Under these circumstances, I stated, you would propose, and did propose, that General Johnston should, with the bulk of his forces, say twenty thousand, unite with you, leaving from three to five thousand men to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge and to hold Patterson in check. Then, with the combined forces of General Johnston and yourself, you would move rapidly forward on Fairfax Court-House, establish yourself between the two lines of the enemy, attack them separately with larger masses, and thus exterminate them or drive them into the Potomac. This being done, General Johnston, with ten thousand of your forces in addition to his own, and rallying, as he went, those left to guard the passes, would return at once to the [valley with] superior numbers, say thirty-five thousand, to attack and destroy Patterson, at Winchester, or wherever he might be. One week from the time of leaving Winchester would be sufficient to accomplish all this. You would then either occupy the enemy's works, in front of Washington, if he should abandon them, or fall back on your present position, according to circumstances. General Johnston having disposed of Patterson, would detach a sufficient number from his force to reinforce Garnett, and make him superior to McClellan. Having defeated McClellan, General Garnett could then unite with Johnston, and the two cross the Potomac, at the nearest point, for Maryland, and, arousing the people as they proceeded, march to the rear of Washington, while you would attack it in front.

To these propositions, respectful and earnest consideration was given by the President and the generals I have mentioned. The scheme was considered brilliant and comprehensive, but, to its adoption at this time, two leading objections were urged by the President and by General Lee. One was that General Johnston's force was not now sufficiently strong to allow of the withdrawal of numbers sufficient to effect your object, and, at the same time, leave enough to keep Patterson in check and keep him from coming down upon your left; and the other and main objection was, that the enemy was as yet too close to their cover to allow the reasonable expectation of the accomplishment of your object; that they would immediately fall back upon their intrenchments, or, being so close to their large reserves, would be quickly reinforced in numbers sufficient to regain the superiority of numbers, and thus defeat your purpose. That the combination might be made at a later period, when these objections would be removed by a sufficient increase of your armies, [87] and by the lengthening of the enemy's lines, and increase of distance from river, and reserves for quick reinforcements.

Respectfully submitted,

James Chestnut, Vol. A. D. C.

Before commenting upon this report, and to illustrate—as we think we should—the character of the military administration of the Confederate authorities, the following unofficial letter of General Beauregard to General Johnston is submitted to the reader. It was written on the day before Colonel Chestnut was sent to Richmond.

My dear General,—I write in haste. What a pity we cannot carry into effect the following plan of operations: That you should leave four or five thousand men to guard the passes of the Blue Ridge, and unite the mass of your troops with mine. We will probably have, in a few days, about forty thousand men to operate with. This force would enable us to destroy the forces of Generals Scott and McDowell, in my front. Then we would go back with as many men as necessary to attack and disperse General Patterson's army, before he could know positively what had become of you. We could then proceed to General McClellan's theatre of war, and treat him likewise, after which we could pass over into Maryland, to operate in rear of Washington. I think this whole campaign could be completed brilliantly in from fifteen to twentyfive days. Oh, that we had but one good head to conduct all our operations! We are laboring, unfortunately, under the disadvantage of having about seven armies in the field, under as many independent commanders, which is contrary to the first principles of the art of war. Wishing you, however, ample success in your operations, I remain,

Yours very truly,

He was striking at every door, as it were; for he believed in his plan, and felt that he could accomplish it. But the rigor of military usage—so inexorable at times—compelled him to seek assistance and support from those whose right it was to adopt or reject his views. A high tribunal, composed of the President, Generals Cooper and Lee, took upon itself to check and render barren the strategic powers so greatly developed in General Beauregard, and in which the immortal Jackson alone is acknowledged to have been his peer. Who can forget that, at the period of which we write, the Confederate commander at Manassas was looked up to as the first and, unquestionably, the most promising of our generals? His prestige was undeniable. Success, ‘the criterion of merit’ in military affairs, had already built up for him a reputation [88] thus far unrivalled. The President knew this, as did the whole South; as did even the North, whose apprehension of the untiring activity and engineering ability of General Beauregard was a se cret to none. How Mr. Davis, with all this before his mind, could have assumed the responsibility of declining so far-sighted and far-reaching a campaign as was proposed to him, is more than we can well explain. But, exercising the right which a thorough knowledge of what then transpired affords us, we assert it as an incontrovertible truth, fully proved by later events, that the President of the Confederacy, by neglecting to compel his Quarter master-General to procure the transportation which could have been easily procured, more than a month before the battle of Manassas; by refusing, as early as the 13th of June, to assent to General Beauregard's urgent request that authority should be given to concentrate our forces at the proper moment, at Manassas Junction; by again refusing, on the 15th of July, to allow him to execute his bold, offensive plans against the enemy, the certain result of which would have been the taking of Washington; that the President of the Confederacy, by thus persisting in these three lamentable errors, lost the South her independence. We write this in no spirit of detraction. But, after a lapse of more than twenty-two years, President Davis must expect to stand before the public merely on the merits of his acts and omissions. Personal friendships, which would kindly palliate errors, have faded away or disappeared. The tribunal of public opinion, occupied by just and impartial men, will study the events of which we are now treating by the light of truth alone, and, in seeking for the causes of our failure, will unerringly place the finger on Mr. Davis's want of foresight, on his incapacity to appreciate and reward merit, on his upholding of incompetent men in offices of responsibility and trust, and, above all, on his unwillingness to allow others to achieve greatness. The words, ‘Letat, c'est moi,’—the haughty maxim of the French monarch-unconsciously, perhaps, to President Davis, but not the less fatally, must have governed his course in the council-chamber on more than one occasion. His book, now before the public, whatever its merits in other respects may be, is powerless in its vain attempt to cover his fatal mistakes, or to change the merciless logic of facts and events.

Before leaving Richmond, Colonel Chestnut had telegraphed to General Beauregard that his recommendations would not be approved. [89] This was a heavy disappointment to him; but, nothing daunted, he began at once to provide for the possible contingency of being compelled, by the greatly superior force of the enemy, to retire behind the Rappahannock. He sent one of his engineers to the crossings of that river, with orders to throw up such fieldworks as would command them.

Colonel Chestnut had returned deeply impressed by the views and ideas of the Richmond authorities, particularly by those of General Lee—to wit, that the army should fall back behind the Rappahannock; and, not wishing to move, himself, in the matter, endeavored to persuade Adjutant-General Jordan to urge the point upon General Beauregard; which, however, the former positively declined to do.

The extension of McDowell's pickets had now interrupted our ‘underground mail,’ between Washington and Manassas; but it had fortunately happened, a few days before, that a gentleman, Mr. D——, formerly a clerk in one of the departments at Washington, was introduced at headquarters by Colonel Chestnut as perfectly trustworthy, and capable of performing the delicate office of communicating with the friendly agencies we had managed to establish in Washington. He was provided with a paper, having neither signature nor address, but upon which was written the ciphered message, ‘Trust the bearer,’ and with it immediately despatched to the residence of Mrs. G——, our secret emissary in the Federal capital. The result was that, at about 8 o'clock P. M., on the 16th, a sealed communication was received at headquarters, despatched by relays from General Holmes's picket line, near Eastport. It had been brought that morning from Washington, to a point on the opposite shore, by Mr. D——, from Mrs. G——, and announced, in cipher, this simple but important piece of news: ‘McDowell has been ordered to advance to-night;’ confirming General Beauregard's belief as to the intended Federal movement, which was otherwise apparent to him.

General Bonham was at once informed of the impending event, and directed to execute his retreat on the appearance of the enemy in force, as prescribed by the order of the 20th of June, unchanged, though issued nearly a month previously. Colonel Rhodes, at Fairfax Station, received like instructions through General Ewell, his brigade commander; and, in view of the exigency, Colonel J. L. Kemper, whose energy and efficiency had already been [90] tested, was again detached from his command and sent to Fairfax Court-House, to provide all necessary means of transportation.

During the night which followed (16th-17th July), General Beauregard sent an urgent request to Richmond by telegram, asking that Generals Johnston and Holmes be now ordered to make a junction with him.

He also published General Orders No. 41, announcing to his command the expected advance of the enemy, and expressing his confidence in their ability to drive him beyond his intrenched lines. It contained the names of his general and personal staff,3 and enjoined obedience to all orders conveyed through them to the troops.

The news of the enemy's movement was true. On the morning of the 17th McDowell's advance was reported to be approaching; and before noon, General Bonham's pickets being driven in, he began his retreat, as had been previously agreed upon.

The enemy made a strong demonstration against him, and sought to strike his communication with Germantown, which was very nearly effected—General Bonham's rear having just passed through the junction of the two roads at the hamlet, as the head of the Federal column came within sight. He retired in fine order to Centreville, and though at night he was enveloped, he was quiet ly withdrawn between 12 o'clock and daylight, behind Mitchell's Ford, fully carrying out the detailed instructions of the general commanding. Rhodes, after a sharp brush with the enemy, fell back to Union Mills Ford, where Ewell was in command of the heaviest brigade of the army.

The enemy had no sooner attacked General Bonham's line, than General Beauregard forwarded the following telegram to the President:

Headquarters, Manassas, July 17th, 1861.
The enemy has assailed my outposts in heavy force. I have fallen back on the line of Bull Run and will make a stand at Mitchell's Ford. If his force is overwhelming I shall retire to the Rappahannock railroad bridge, saving my command for defence there and future operations. Please inform Johnston of this, via Stanton, and also Holmes. Send forward any reinforcements, at the earliest possible instant, and by every possible means.

Towhich the President answered: [91]

Richmond, July 17th, 1861.
General G. T. Beauregard:
We are making all efforts to reinforce you. Cannot send to day, but afterwards they will go regularly, daily, railroads permitting. Hampton's Legion, McRae's regiment, and two battalions, Mississippi and Alabama, under orders.

Later in the day, however, Adjutant-General Cooper sent this telegram:

Richmond, July 17th 1861.
General Beauregard:
You are authorized to appropriate the North Carolina regiment on its route to General Johnston. If possible, send to General Johnston to say he has been informed via Staunton that you were attacked, and that he will join you, if practicable, with his effective force, sending his sick and baggage to Culpepper Court-House, by rail or through Warrenton.

S. Cooper, Adj.-Genl.

General Beauregard, though gratified that such an order had at last been given, was much annoyed at the thought that it had been too long delayed to effect any substantial good. He so informed the War Department, but lost no time in communicating with General Johnston, through telegram and by means of a special messenger, Colonel Chisolm, one of his aids. The latter was instructed to say to General Johnston that there was not a moment to lose, and that all the available transportation of the Manassas Gap Railroad would be in waiting at Piedmont, to assist in conveying his troops. Colonel Chisolm carried also a proposition that at least a portion of General Johnston's forces should march by the way of Aldie, so as to assail McDowell's left flank and rear, at Centreville. But, for reasons General Johnston must have thought important, based, as he alleges, on the difficulty of directing the movements of troops so distant from each other, no action was taken by him about this suggestion.

The feigned resistance and retreat from Fairfax Court-House, had had the desired effect of leading the enemy to believe in the abandonment of our position at Manassas. ‘We had expected to encounter the enemy at Fairfax Court-House, seven miles this side of Centreville,’ says Major Barnard, United States Engineer,4 ‘and our three right columns were directed to co-operate, on that point. We entered that place about noon of the 17th, finding the intrenchments abandoned, and every sign of a hasty retreat.’ [92] Hence the loud exultation of the Federal troops, and the predictions, in the Northern journals, of the certain defeat of the Confederate army.

On the morning of the next day, the 18th, the enemy was reported advancing on Mitchell's and Blackburn's Fords. As the former was the only point even partially intrenched, and the latter had natural defensive advantages, General Beauregard was gratified that the attack, as he had hoped, was made there. His line now extended some five miles, from Union Mills Ford, on the right, to the stone bridge, on the left, as follows: at Union Mills Ford, Ewell's brigade, with four 12-pounder howitzers and three companies of Virginia cavalry; at McLean's Ford, D. R. Jones's brigade, with two brass 6-pounders and one company of cavalry; at Blackburn's Ford, Longstreet's brigade, with two brass 6-pounders at Mitchell's Ford, Bonham's brigade, with Shields's and Delaware Kemper's batteries, and six companies of cavalry under Colonel Radford; in the rear of Island, Ball's and Lewis's Fords, Cocke's brigade, with Latham's battery and one company of cavalry; while Evans's demi-brigade, with four 6-pounders and two companies of cavalry, held the left flank, and protected the stone-bridge crossing. Early's brigade stood in the rear of, and as support to, Ewell's.

Bull Run is a small stream running in this locality, nearly from west to east. Its banks, for the most part, are rocky and steep. The country on either side, much broken and wooded, becomes gently rolling and open as it recedes from the stream. On the northern side the ground is much the higher and completely commands the southern bank. Roads traverse and intersect the surrounding country in every direction.

About noon, the enemy opened fire in front of Mitchell's Ford, with several 20-pounder rifled guns, at a range of one and a half miles, to which we had no means of replying, with any effect. But a Federal light battery, afterwards sent forward, was soon repulsed, with its supporting force, by Kemper's battery, which occupied a ridge about six hundred yards in advance of the ford.

Major Barnard, in his work already quoted, speaking of the untoward incident we have alluded to, says (page 48): ‘We had the tables turned upon us by a sudden and rapid discharge from a battery near the ford, invisible except by the smoke of its guns.’ And he adds: ‘However, our 20-pounders, assisted by a battery [93] of rifled 6-pounders, proved too much for it, and we soon succeeded in silencing its fire.’ So well did they succeed, that, further on, Major Barnard himself is compelled to use the following language: ‘This ought to have been the end of the affair, but General Tyler, . . . persisting in the belief that the enemy would run whenever menaced by serious attack, had determined, I believe, to march to Manassas that day. Had he made a vigorous charge and crossed the stream at once, it is quite possible . . . that he might have succeeded.’ Here, Major Barnard's and General Tyler's success is evidently dwindling into something else. He proceeds thus: ‘But he only filed his brigade down to the stream, drew it up parallel to the other shore, and opened an unmeaning fusilade, the results of which were all in favor of the enemy, and before which, overawed rather by the tremendous volley directed at then than suffering heavy loss, one of the regiments broke in confusion and the whole force retired. This foolish affair (called by the Confederates the battle of Bull Run, they applying the term Manassas to the ensuing battle of the 21st, which we style the battle of Bull Run), had a marked effect upon the morale of our raw troops.’

Here we fail to comprehend Major Barnard's conclusions; that he attempts to palliate the defeat of the Federal forces on that day, by calling such a forward movement ‘a foolish affair,’ is not to be wondered at, and for this reason: the enemy's attack and its result could only have been termed ‘battle’ if our troops had ‘broken in confusion,’ instead of those opposing them. Major Barnard would have shown better grace, however, had he frankly admitted that attacking columns, which, ‘overawed by the tremendous volleys directed at them,’ ‘break in confusion’ and retire from the field—as did the ‘whole Federal force’ on that occasion—are unquestionably defeated.

About the same hour (noon, on the 18th), the Federals were discovered advancing also in strong columns of infantry, with artillery and cavalry, on Blackburn's Ford, near which General Beauregard now took position. Here the ground on the northern side of the Run, after a narrow level, ascends by a steep slope to a line of heights commanding the entire southern side, which, for several hundred yards, is almost a plain, and thence rises by a gentle slope to a wooded country, undulating back to Manassas. After a halfhour's cannonade from a battery of rifled guns, the column of [94] attack (Richardson's brigade), over three thousand strong, with Sherman's brigade in immediate reserve, appeared over the brow of the height which covered their approach, and advanced until they were but a hundred yards from our skirmishers, who were posted among the trees that lined the southern bank. A large portion of the Federal force approached through the woods, near the border of the stream, which on that side presented a thick cover of trees and undergrowth, and the remainder advanced along the road, to force the passage. Longstreet met the attack with about twelve hundred men, of the 1st, 17th, and 11th Virginia Volunteers, and, after quite a brisk contest, repulsed the opposing forces. They rallied for a second attack, but were again driven back, with the aid of the reserve companies.

Two regiments and two rifled guns from Early's brigade, which had been brought from the right and held at even supporting distance from the three threatened fords, were now ordered up. The guns, placed in position under concealment of the trees that fringed the stream, directed their fire by the sound of the enemy's musketry, already active in a third attempt to force the crossing; which proved as unsuccessful as had the others. One of the attacking regiments gave way, and was rallied a mile and a half to the rear. When the remaining companies of Early's brigade were brought forward, and his five additional guns were placed in rear of the other two—firing wherever the glitter of bayonets along the slope above the tree-tops showed the Federals to be thickest-the contest soon passed into an artillery duel, which lasted until the enemy abandoned his ground, in full retreat. The Confederate loss was but sixty-eight killed and wounded; that of the enemy seventy-three, besides one hundred and seventy-five stands of arms and a quantity of accoutrements.

The result of that action was of great value to us, as it gave to our army the prestige of success, and the confidence which is ever an important element of victory.

General Beauregard at once reported the result of the day to Richmond; and Mr. Davis telegraphed back an expression of his gratification, informing General Beauregard also that a regiment was on its way to reinforce him, and that more would go as soon as possible.

It would seem, however, that this first stroke of good fortune was unduly estimated at the Confederate capital; for General [95] Cooper, on the following day, telegraphed, saying that General Johnston had not been heard from, and that, if the enemy had abandoned an immediate attack, and General Johnston had not yet moved, he (General Beauregard) had better withdraw his call on him, as the enemy was advised, at Washington, of the projected movement of Generals Johnston and Holmes, and might vary his plans in consequence.5

How can this telegram be made to tally with the following passage, taken from Mr. Davis's book? ‘As soon as I became satisfied that Manassas was the objective point of the enemy's movement, I wrote to General Johnston, urging him to make preparations for a junction with General Beauregard,’ etc.6 Was he no longer ‘satisfied,’ on the 19th of July, that Manassas was the enemy's objective point? If he was not—as we are inclined to believe is the case—the fact clearly shows how little he knew of the movements of the enemy, at that time; if he was, why was he bent upon reconsidering his action of July 17th, as shown by his telegram of that day, to General Johnston?

General Beauregard was too far-seeing, and had made too many fruitless attempts to force the concentration which was, at last, to be granted him, to be willing, of his own accord, to countermand the long-delayed order—contingent though it was—forwarded to General Johnston. He declined to act upon General Cooper's strange suggestion. Two days later he covered the Southern arms with glory, and won for himself the proud and immortal title of ‘Hero of Manassas.’

1 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. i. p. 347.

2 See Appendix to Chapter VIII.

3 See Appendix to this chapter.

4 See his book entitled ‘The C. S. A. and the Battle of Bull Run,’ p. 46.

5 See Appendix to this chapter.

6 Vol. i. pp. 345, 346.

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 Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 17th, 1861 AD (3)
July 17th (2)
July 16th, 1861 AD (1)
July 13th, 1861 AD (1)
July 19th (1)
July 16th (1)
July 15th (1)
June 20th (1)
June 13th (1)
18th (1)
17th (1)
16th (1)
14th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: