the three months campaign.
I. War in embryo.
By the express terms of the ordinance of secession, passed by the Virginia Convention on the 16th of April, 1861, the decree that was to link the fortunes of that State with the Confederacy
became valid only on being ratified by the popular vote, appointed to be given on the fourth Thursday of May.
The Administration at Washington
respecting this provision, awaited the action of the people before advancing its armed force to ‘repossess the places and property’ of the Federal Government
But it was soon manifest that this stipulation was destined to be a nullity in face of the swift—advancing realities of war. Virginia
immediately threw herself into an attitude of defence.
issued a proclamation calling out the militia of the State
, and Colonel Robert E. Lee
was appointed major-general and commander of the ‘Virginia
More than this: the Convention
having, on the 24th of April, decreed that pending the popular vote on the question of secession, ‘military operations, offensive and defensive, in Virginia
, should be under the chief control and direction of the President
of the Confederate States
,’ Confederate troops, from South Carolina
and the States of the Gulf
, were rapidly thrown forward into Virginia
Meantime, the United States arsenal at Harper's Ferry
had been evacuated and partially destroyed by the commander of the post; and the United States navy-yard at Norfolk
had been abandoned by the
Federal officer in command, and several men-of-war, with a vast accumulation of war materiel
, consigned to the flames.
Save from the fortress that guards the entrance of James River
, the Federal
flag floated nowhere within the boundaries of the ‘Old Dominion.’
The Confederates, with much energy, pushed forward preparations for the defence of Virginia
; and the middle of the month of May reveals the growing outlines of a definite military policy.
This policy, however, so far as it touched the distribution of force, seems to have been shaped rather by the Austrian principle of covering every thing, than by any well-considered combination of positions.
between the James
and the York rivers
was held by a Confederate force of about two thousand men, under Colonel J. B. Magruder
, who took position near Hampton
, where he confronted the Federal
force at Fortress Monroe
, which had lately been placed under command of Major-General B. F. Butler
The defence of the highland region of Western Virginia
had been assumed by General Lee
of the State
forces, who had dispatched to that section Colonel Porterfield
, with instructions to raise a local volunteer force—not a promising undertaking among the hardy, Union-loving mountaineers—and hold the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the direct line of communication with the States west of the Alleghanies
Between these outlying members was placed the main body of the Confederate
force, in two camps—the one located at Manassas Junction
, twenty-seven miles southwest from Alexandria
, and the point of intersection of the great Southern railroad route between Washington
and the Manassas Gap Railroad, leading to the Valley of the Shenandoah
; the other posted at the outlet of this valley, at Harper's Ferry
The force assembled and assembling at the former of these camps was at first under the orders of General Bonham
, of South Carolina
; but before the close of May, the obvious importance of the position, as confronting any direct advance from Washington
, caused the Confederate
authorities to assign to its command the man enjoying the first military reputation in the South
This man was General Beauregard
, and the region of country under his control was named the ‘Department of the Potomac.’
The body of troops collected at Harper's Ferry
, and which, at the close of the month of May, consisted of nine regiments and two battalions of infantry, four companies of artillery, and about three hundred troopers,1
had been formed under the hand of a man, then of no name, but destined to become one of the foremost figures of the war—Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson
, better known in the world's bead-roll of fame as ‘Stonewall Jackson
A lieutenant of artillery in the United States
service during the Mexican
war, he had at its close retired to a professorship in the Virginia Military Institute, beyond whose walls he was quite unknown, and within which he was marked only for his personal eccentricities, stern puritanism, and inflexible discipline.
Upon the secession of Virginia
, Professor Jackson
resigned his chair, and being appointed by Governor Letcher
to a colonelcy in the Virginia
line, he was immediately sent forward to command the Confederate
troops at Harper's Ferry
About the time, however, that Bonham
was replaced by Beauregard
, the command of the force at Harper's Ferry
, which bore the style of the ‘Army of the Shenandoah,’ was committed to the hands of General J. E. Johnston
; and Colonel Jackson
, assigned a subordinate command under that able soldier, devoted himself to moulding into form and stamping with the qualities of his own genius that famous ‘Stonewall brigade,’ whose battle-flag led the van in that series of audacious enterprises that afterwards rendered the Valley of the Shenandoah
's other subordinates were men of scarcely inferior ability to Jackson
Colonel A. P. Hill
, subsequently one of Lee
's ablest lieutenants, was at the head of another of his brigades; Pendleton
was chief of artillery; and his few squadrons of Virginia
horsemen were under command of Colonel J. E. B. Stuart
, whom even then Johnston
styled ‘the indefatigable,’ and who was also destined to a greater fame.
Thus far, the line of the Potomac
had not been crossed.
The soil of Virginia
, which her inhabitants loved proudly to style ‘sacred,’ had felt the tread of no invading force.
Popular notions hardly went beyond simply defending the capital; and not only many men who were supposed to be skilled in the calendar of state, but even the shepherds of the people, still flattered themselves with the hope that there would be no war—that all that was needed to quell the ‘rebellion’ was an imposing display of force.2
Meanwhile, volunteers, burdening all the railways that, from the North and East and West, converge on Washington
, continued to accumulate on the Potomac
The insurrection that for a time had threatened to involve Maryland
, and had broken out in open attack upon the first Federal troops that passed through Baltimore
, had been subdued by the firm policy of the Administration, and direct railroad communication between the national capital and the North
, for a time interrupted, had now been restored.
By the middle of May, between forty and fifty regiments were encamped about Washington
; and, at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
, a large force was accumulating under General Patterson
, which by its position menaced Harper's Ferry
The presidential call had been for seventy-five thousand volunteers for a term of three months; but through the persuasion of General Scott
, who well knew that it was no three months affair the Government
had on its hands, a supplementary call for forty thousand men, to serve for three years or the war was made.
An increase of the force of the Regular army was also ordered.
These troops were raised with the greatest alacrity, and each
State soon so greatly outran its assigned quota, that energetic measures had to be taken to stop recruiting, until Congress, having assembled in extra session on the 4th of July, authorized a levy of Five Hundred Thousand Men. Meantime, the frontier had not been passed; and the pickets lounging at the bridges that span the Potomac
to the Virginia
shore, and the gray-uniformed videttes on the southern bank, observed each other without any hostile meaning in their opposing eyes.
But when the day came that the popular vote on the question of secession was taken, the war, which had thus far ‘drifted,’ took definite shape.
Though there were yet no tidings what the vote had been, there was, nevertheless, no room for illusion as to its scope and purport; and that night, the night of the 23d of May, the van of the ‘grand army’ passed the Potomac
After midnight, fifteen thousand troops were transferred by the Long Bridge
, by the Aqueduct, and by steamers to Alexandria
, situate on the right bank of the Potomac
, and four or five miles below Washington
The city of Alexandria
, and the Heights of Arlington
, opposite Washington
, with the intermediate connecting points, were seized without opposition.
A few troopers, that held the town as an outpost of the force at Manassas
, were captured; the remainder galloped off to bear the weighty tidings.
The bloodless initiation of operations was beclouded by but one event, the murder of the young Colonel Ellsworth
, of the Fire Zouaves
, who was shot by a citizen within a hotel of the town of Alexandria
, while bearing away a Confederate flag, which he had hauled down from the cupola of the building.
Powerful earthworks, as tetes-de-pont
to the Long Bridge
and Aqueduct, were immediately constructed by the engineers; and forts were laid out to cover the approaches to Alexandria
These formed the initiation of the system of ‘Defences of Washington
The active force south of the Potomac
was placed under the command of Brigadier-General Irvin McDowell
and held a position threatening advance against the Confederates
, by the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
Leaving it for the present in that attitude, I must now detail a series of initial operations in other parts of the theatre of war in Virginia
The first of these operations is the affair, or, as it was at the time named, the battle
, of Big Bethel,—an affair which, insignificant in itself, had a considerable moral effect in elating the Southern
troops, and a correspondingly depressing effect upon the people of the North
This expedition, which is as remarkable for the crudity of its conception as for the blunders that marked its execution, was devised by General Butler
for the purpose of capturing the Confederate
posts at Little and Big Bethel, a few miles up the Peninsula
from Fortress Monroe
The execution of the project was intrusted to one General Pierce
, who, as it appears, had never been mustered into the United States
service, and had no right to any command.
The advance was made in two columns—the regiment of Duryea
's Zouaves, followed by the Third New York Volunteers, under Colonel Townsend
, on the right, by way of Hampton
; and Bendix
's New York regiment and a Vermont battalion on the left, by way of Newport News.
The movement was begun during the night of the 9th of June, and it was designed to surprise the enemy before daylight next morning.
The marches of the two columns were based on the showing of an old and incorrect map; and as from this the troops that had to move from Newport News were three miles nearer the point aimed at than the other column, it was arranged that they should start an hour after the others.
The true state of the case, however, was, that they were four miles further; and just before daybreak the rear regiment of the left column, under Colonel Bendix
, and the rear regiment of the right column, under Colonel Townsend
(which had followed Duryea
's regiment at an interval of two hours), met at a junction of roads near Little Bethel; and the former, mistaking the latter for an enemy, opened a fusilade, by which Townsend
's regiment suffered a loss of twenty-nine in killed
and wounded before the contretemps
The enemy at Little Bethel, getting the alarm, took flight, and the expedition then advanced on Big Bethel.
This position, as it appears, was occupied as an outpost of Magruder
's main body at Yorktown
, and was held by a force of eleven hundred North Carolina
troops, under Colonel D. H. Hill
, then in command of the First North Carolina regiment.5
The position was rather advantageous for defence, being covered by a swampy creek, and further strengthened by some guns placed under cover.
It was liable, however, to be easily turned by the right.
displayed a great incompetence in his dispositions; but it happened that there was one man there who saw the course of action suited to the case.
suggested that a regiment should be sent round on each side to take the position in flank, and when these became engaged, those in front, lying in shelter in a wood, should attack.
This operation, if carried out, would probably have been successful.
But the regiment that was to make the movement on the enemy's right, instead of being directed by a detour through the woods, was advanced right across an open field, in front of the position, whereby it became exposed to an artillery fire.
It happened, too, that the left company became separated from the rest of the regiment by a thicket; and Colonel Townsend
not being aware of this, and seeing the glistening of bayonets in the woods, concluded the enemy was outflanking him, and so fell back to his first position.
The regiment that had gone round on the other flank found itself in a difficult situation, where being exposed to pretty severe fire, it was found hard to bring the men up; and Major Winthrop
, aid to General Butler
, a young man of superior culture and promise,
was killed while rallying the troops to the assault.
, of the regular artillery, who had handled his guns very skilfully and caused the enemy to withdraw a battery posted to command the road leading to Bethel
, was also killed; and the aggregate loss was found to be about a hundred men. General Pierce
then ordered a retreat, and the regiments marched off as on parade.
, who alone protested against the retreat, voluntarily remained on the ground, and together with Dr. Winslow
, of his regiment, brought off the wounded.
While he yet remained on the ground, the Confederates
abandoned the position; and the reason for this step assigned by Colonel Hill
is, that he feared re-enforcements would be sent up from Fortress Monroe
The affair of Big Bethel really proved nothing, except that an attempt, involving failure in its very conception, had
Yet it was magnified as a great victory by the South
; was put forth as a test of what was called ‘relative manhood;’ and produced throughout the North
a deep feeling of mortification and humiliation.7
This feeling was kept alive by a trivial fiasco which occurred shortly after in General McDowell
had been ordered to make a reconnaissance up the Loudon and Alexandria Railroad to Leesburg
; and setting out with a few hundred troops, upon a train of cars, he proceeded upon that novel kind of reconnaissance.
The excursion was made uninterruptedly until the train neared Vienna
, thirteen miles from Alexandria
, when, turning a curve, it was suddenly opened upon by two guns planted near the track, the fire killing and wounding some twenty men. The troops immediately sprang from the cars and took to the woods; and the engineer having detached the locomotive, made all speed to Alexandria
, leaving the excursionists to get back as best
might be, and the cars to be burnt by the enemy.
The hostile force consisted of a small scouting party under Colonel Gregg
, and did not pursue in the least.
The adverse guns were, like those of Big Bethel, immediately set down as a ‘masked battery,’—a phantom of the imagination that played a really considerable part during the early stages of the war.8
But the discouragement caused by these lapses was destined soon to disappear under the influence of a series of very different operations in Western Virginia
, from whose mountains was flashed the first gleam of positive victory upon the Union
It has been seen, in an earlier part of this narrative, that the defence of Western Virginia
, on the side of the Confederates
, had been undertaken by General Lee
, who had dispatched Colonel Porterfield
to that region, for the purpose of raising there a local force.
The object of this, it is probable, was not so much to undertake offensive operations across the Ohio River
, as to coerce the loyal inhabitants into the secession movement.9
Now about the middle of May, the States of Ohio
, and Illinois
had been formed into a department named the Department of the Ohio, and its control had by General Scott
been intrusted to General George B. McClellan
, formerly of the Corps
of Engineers in the regular army, who having a short time previously been made major-general of the Ohio
contingent under the three months call, was now raised to the same rank in the regular army.
His command being bounded on one side by the Ohio River
's attention was naturally attracted to the events passing on the other side of the frontier, within the limits of West Virginia
Finding the position of the Confederates
both oppressive to the loyal inhabitants and menacing in a military point of view, General McClellan
, about the end of May, without instructions from Washington
, threw over a force to the Virginia
side of the Ohio
; and hearing of a secession camp at Phillippi
, he ordered it to be broken up. The movement to this end was under way, when Porterfield
, becoming aware of it, abandoned his position.
having determined to occupy the whole region, had his Ohio
regiments, as they were in succession equipped, transferred to the Virginia
But the Confederates
were indisposed to give up this mountain fastness; and accordingly, to meet the Union
occupation, strong reenforcements, to the amount of six thousand men, were directed upon Western Virginia
, and the command given to General Garnett
, an old officer of the regular army.
took up advantageous positions at Laurel Hill
, a westward-facing sentinel of the Alleghany
range, where he held command of the great road from Wheeling
,—the main highway of communications for the region west of the Alleghanies
with that to the east of that mountain-wall,—and began a system of very active and very annoying partisan operations.
In the course of a month General McClellan
had on foot a considerable army, and he then determined to take the field against Garnett
The theatre of operations was that portion of Western Virginia
contained between the Ohio
and Cheat rivers
in one direction, and the Baltimore
Railroad and Great Kanawha and Gauley rivers
in the other.
The affluents of the Monongahela
and the two Kanawhas divide this region into a number of narrow valleys, separated by rough and difficult hills, which rise into true mountains as they approach the heads of the Little Kanawha and the west fork of the Monongahela
The country here becomes alpine in its character.
The roads practicable for wagons are few, narrow, and difficult.
As cultivation is generally confined to the valleys, and the mountain-sides are obstructed by rocks and a dense growth of timber and underbrush, it is difficult even for skirmishers to move across the country, and it is not possible for troops and trains to march elsewhere than on the narrow roads.
Positions suitable for handling artillery are rare, and cavalry is useful in that district only to convey intelligence.
The resources of the country are inconsiderable.10
These characteristics of ground, which are the common characteristics of mountain regions, give to mountain warfare certain principles particular to it, and different from those that obtain in military operations in the plain.
Thus mountain warfare readily admits of combined marches, which can seldom be employed in the plain.
Such marches offer, in highland regions, no real danger, since the enemy is unable to throw himself between the columns: it is therefore sufficient that each column be strong enough to defend the valley in which it operates.11
But the facility of the tactical defence of highlands renders it necessary for the assailant to seek to dislodge the enemy by manoeuvres rather than direct attack: in other words, he should manoeuvre offensively while he fights defensively; or, as Napoleon
sums up the theory in one pregnant sentence, ‘the genius of mountain warfare consists in occupying camp on the flanks or on the rear of the enemy,
so as to leave him only the alternative of evacuating his position without fighting, or of issuing to attack.’12
I make this exposition of the theory of mountain warfare, because, as will presently appear, the operations of General McClellan
in Western Virginia
afford a very happy application of all the cardinal principles here laid down.
The main turnpike from Staunton
, which is the great highway across the mountains, was held by Garnett
in an intrenched position, at Laurel Hill
This road, which here runs nearly southward, was his direct and natural line of retreat, and if cut off from that, his only chance of escape was by difficult roads over the mountains, eastward.
Five miles below Garnett
's main position at Laurel Hill
, a road from the west passes through this spur at a defile known as Rich Mountain
, and strikes the main road.
To guard this approach against any menace directed upon his line of retreat, Garnett
had placed here his second in command, Colonel Pegram
, with a force of about one thousand men. McClellan
, whose line of march was from the west, from the direction of the Ohio River
, determined to dislodge Garnett
by striking their main line of retreat below the position held by the latter.
Then, to make the operation decisive, he resolved to direct another column from the north to seize the only other avenue of escape, and thus, if possible, capture or destroy the whole adverse force.13
With the main column of two brigades, under Brigadier Generals Scheich
, the afterwards illustrious commander of the Army of the Cumberland and victor of Stone River
, General McClellan
moved from the west, by way of Clarksburg
to Buchanon (July 2), twenty miles west of the hostile position.
From here, several divergent expeditionary
columns were sent out to mislead the enemy.
Another column, composed of the brigade of General Morris
, held position at Phillippi
, about the same distance north of the enemy's stronghold, as General McClellan
, at Buchanon, with his other two brigades, was west of it. The 7th of July, Morris
was directed to advance southward to a position within a mile and a half of Garnett
's camp at Laurel Hill
, and by strong demonstrations give the enemy the impression that the main attack was to be made by him. The 8th, Mc-Clellan, with the brigades of Rosecrans
, moved eastward from Buchanon, and on the following afternoon came within two miles of Pegram
's position at Rich Mountain
Having reconnoitred it, he resolved, instead of making a direct attack, to hold one of his brigades in front, while he sent Rosecrans
by a detour by the right and southward, to lay hold of the enemy's main line of retreat, the turnpike, and then take Pegram
's position in the rear.
Setting out early in the morning, Rosecrans
moved partly by mountain bridle-paths, and partly through rough and trackless woods and thickets of laurel.
It rained incessantly.
By noon he had gained Pegram
's rear; but the latter, having captured a dragoon carrying dispatches from the Union
commander, became aware of the plan, and effecting a partial change of front, posted a force of six hundred men and three guns to hold the crest of the mountain in his rear, while with the remainder he confronted the force McClellan
held in his front.
After a sharp fusilade, Rosecrans
carried the crest, driving the defenders in upon Pegram
's intrenchments; but against this force he did not push his advance, and as McClellan
, awaiting the sounds of his musketry before joining in with a front attack heard none, the day passed by. During the night, Pegram
evacuated his position, and attempted to join Garnett
's main body, five miles north.
After a day's wandering through the woods, being surrounded, he was compelled to surrender with six hundred men, the few remaining hundreds escaping.
, alarmed at the forces gathering around him on all sides, also abandoned his position at Laurel Hill
But, attempting with about four thousand men to make good his escape southward, he found McClellan
already grasping his line of retreat, and he then fled eastward over the mountains.
Being vigorously pursued, he was twice brought to a stand and severely handled; but forces that the Union
commander had directed to move from the north and east to intercept the flying enemy, did not act with sufficient promptness,14
so that the operation was not as decisive as it otherwise must have been.
The last stand made by Garnett
was at Carrick's Ford, at the passage of the Cheat River
, where he was attacked by the advance of General Morris
on the 13th, driven in disorder, losing all his guns and baggage, and General Garnett
himself, while gallantly striving to rally his rear-guard, was killed.
This ended the brief and brilliant campaign in the mountains, and General McClellan
was able to telegraph to Washington
as its result the capture of a thousand prisoners, with all the enemy's stores, baggage, and artillery, and the complete disruption of the hostile force.
‘Secession,’ he added, ‘is killed in this country.’
The result of this miniature campaign was most inspiriting to the people of the North
, and had an effect far beyond its intrinsic importance, just as had in another way the fiascos of Big Bethel and Vienna
It is the moral influence of small successes and small defeats, that in the first stages of a war makes their importance and forms the real measure of their value.
All great commanders have understood this well.
The campaign in West Virginia
was conducted agreeably to military principles,—a characteristic that did not belong to other operations thus far; and its execution, as well as the fact that it was undertaken by General McClellan
of his own motion, and without countenance from Washington
, stamped him as a man of superior ability.
the battle of Bull Run.
When in a national crisis the thoughts of men, and even the policy of the Government
are in that condition which is expressed by the term drifting
, wonderful is the effect of a phrase that crystallizes the floating and half-formed sentiments of the people into a definite theory.
Such a phrase, about the time reached by this narrative, arose in the North
Thus far, no well-defined military policy guided the conduct of the war. The series of small outlying operations already sketched were, with the exception of those in West Virginia
, crude in conception, undertaken at haphazard, and aimed at no definite result.
But when Congress assembled in extra session, on the 4th of July, the effervescent enthusiasm of the country found expression in a phrase that, as it perfectly embodied the popular sentiment, was presently echoed throughout the whole North
This phrase was, ‘On to Richmond
Now, in such popular cries there is always a certain element of the ideal; and hence we may suppose that this one did not so much imply a literal movement ‘on to Richmond
,’ as it expressed with emphasis and in definite shape the conviction of the popular mind that immediate action should be taken against the rebellious force that had ensconced itself in the Manassas
stronghold, only a few miles in front of the Federal
No doubt there were many that actually believed the Union
force might not only drive the enemy from Manassas
, but really follow ‘on to Richmond
It need hardly be said, however, that an overland march to Richmond
by the force then assembled at Washington
would have been an impossibility, even had there been no enemy to oppose the adventure.
The people, conscious of great earnestness and enthusiasm, were unconscious either of the nature of the task they had set themselves to do, or the nature of the means
needed to carry it through.
They knew that the rebels were at Manassas
They saw around Washington
an imposing martial array, which they fondly named the ‘Grand Army of the United States;’ and they could not understand what, after almost three months of preparation, could possibly hinder the advance of that army against the confronting enemy, and even on to the capital seat of the rebellion.16
The veteran soldier who, burdened with years and the infirmities of nature, remained at the head of the United States army, and to whom, by consequence, it fell to direct the military councils at Washington
, was ill-fitted to grapple with the tremendous problem forced upon him. General Scott
knew well war and war's needs.
He knew that the imposing array of patriotic citizens who, dressed and armed to represent soldiers, lay around Washington
, was but the simulacrum of an army;
that to this mass were wholly wanting the organization, discipline, experience, whatever, in fact, goes to the fashioning of that most complex of living organisms.
But it was little that he should know this, when those in power, who knew it not, nor would not know it, were determined to act as if it were not. Indeed he had himself to assume that it was not, and proceed in the work of forming a plan of campaign for immediate action.
Now, a plan of campaign General Scott
could well devise; for he was a man that knew generalship and grand war; had himself plucked laurels on the field of battle before the present generation of men was born; and long years ago, in Europe
, had discussed the highest principles of the military art with the great marshals of Napoleon
But all this only served to separate him and his views and plans the more hopelessly from those with whom he had to deal.
He was opposed to what he called ‘a
little war by piecemeal.’
He was averse to fighting at all in Virginia
, which he did not regard as a theatre for decisive action, and thought that the Union
army should strike its first blow in the basin of the Mississippi
But what were such views to the ardent congressmen and cabinet councillors to whom Beauregard
's blazon at Manassas
was the picador's flag to the infuriate bull?
has confessed it: his moral firmness gave way under the pressure of an Administration that was in turn goaded almost to frenzy by a press and people demanding action
at all hazards.
There was, therefore, to be an advance of the army in front of Washington
; and early in July the duty of planning and executing a movement against Beauregard
devolved upon General McDowell
, who, since the transfer of the Union
force into Virginia
, had been put in command of the column of active operation south of the Potomac
, and of the Department of Northeastern Virginia.
This column numbered about thirty thousand men.
The officer to whom it thus fell to lead the main army to its first field was a man of no mean capacity as a soldier.
Of the staff of the old regular army, McDowell
was distinguished for his fine professional acquirements; and having studied the theory of war and seen European
armies, he was, of the small body of trained soldiers, perhaps the man best qualified for the command.
That he had never commanded any considerable body of men on the actual field was a drawback shared by every other officer in the service.
knew perfectly well the kind of material with which he had to work, and its greenness and unfitness to take the field; and he did his best to improve it. This he might readily have done, had he had to grapple merely with this work; but his main struggle was elsewhere: and he has left a picture, half pathetic and half ludicrous, of his unavailing plea for a little common sense with those whose ardor was only equalled by their ignorance.
‘I wanted,’ says he, ‘very much a little time—all of us wanted it. We did not have a bit of it.’
To his plea of the
‘greenness’ of his troops, the answer, more specious than well taken, was constantly returned—‘You are green, it is true; but they
are green also: you are all green alike.’17
So far from having time to mould his army, many of his regiments were brought across the Potomac
at the last moment, without his even seeing them, and without being even brigaded.
He had, therefore, no opportunity to test his machinery—to move it round and see whether it would work smoothly or not; and such was the feeling, that when, on one occasion, McDowell
had a body of eight regiments reviewed together, he was censured for ‘trying to make a show.’18
Even the special circumstance that should have caused delay,—to wit, the fact that a large part of the best, that is, the best-armed, drilled, officered, and disciplined troops in front of Washington
consisted of three months volunteers whose term of service was about to expire,—was an incentive to precipitate action.
These troops had fulfilled the duty for which they were called out, which was to assure the safety of the national capital; their presence had given time to organize a force for the war; Congress had authorized a call for five hundred thousand three years volunteers, and these were thronging to the Potomac
It is certainly easy to see that the dictate of prudence was this: not to attempt to employ the three months men in active operations, but to organize and mobilize, from the three-year troops, an adequate army for the field.
Other counsels prevailed, and the army with which McDowell
took the field was an army without organization, or a staff, or a commissariat, or an organized artillery.19
The wonder, indeed, is not that he
should not have done more, but that he did so much; and the spirit of forbearance and alacrity with which he entered upon and carried through his trying task, entitles him to great credit.
In entering upon the special problem assigned him, it was not possible for General McDowell
to avoid taking into account not only his immediate enemy at Manassas
, but whatever other hostile forces, distributed over the theatre of war in Virginia
, might influence the fortunes of his projected expedition.
The occupation of Manassas
had been recommended to the Confederates
, from the very fact that it was the centre of the railroad system of Northern Virginia
—at the junction of the great southern railroad route connecting Washington
, and the Manassas Gap Railroad leading to the Valley of the Shenandoah
The former highway connected Beauregard
with the forces on the Peninsula
and at Richmond
(distant by railroad about seventy-five miles); the latter, with the army under Johnston
, in the Shenandoah Valley (distant by railroad about seventy miles). The Confederates, in fact, held a line interior to the forces of Butler
, and Patterson
—respectively at Fortress Monroe
, in front of Washington
, and on the Upper Potomac
This distribution of the Union
armies was a fault to which General McDowell
was quite alive; but he had assurances from the lieutenant-general
that the enemy on the Peninsula
should be occupied by General Butler
, and that Johnston
's forces in the Shenandoah Valley should be held there by General Patterson
On expressing his fears in regard to Johnston
, a few days before the opening of the campaign, General McDowell
was assured by General Scott
that, ‘if Johnston
, he should have Patterson
on his heels.’20
With this understanding, McDowell
projected a plan of operations against Manassas
, which was substantially to
advance by Fairfax Courthouse, there make a sudden movement to the left, and, crossing the Occoquan
just below the junction of that stream with Bull Run
(thus turning Beauregard
's right), strike at the enemy's railroad communications.
This project was submitted to the cabinet and agreed to, and the 9th of July was fixed as the day when the army should move.
Owing, however, to the deficiency of transportation and supplies, the advance was not begun till a week later.
With the view of giving effect to that part of the military programme which provided that Johnston
's force in the Shenandoah Valley should be neutralized, General Patterson
was, on the 2d of July, again ordered across the Potomac
He made the passage of the river at Williamsport
, and took position at Martinsburg
then held post near Winchester
with a force of about eight thousand men.21
The specific duty assigned to Patterson
was, in view of the impending battle in front of Washington
, to defeat Johnston
or prevent his making a junction with Beauregard
For this purpose, the force of twelve thousand men with which General Patterson
had crossed the Potomac
was augmented to an effective of about eighteen thousand.22
Now, from the relative position of the contending forces, it is evident that the only method of accomplishing the latter purpose, to wit, preventing Johnston
from reenforcing Beauregard
, was to adopt the former course—namely, to attack Johnston
, therefore, was not in condition to do this, his force should immediately have been withdrawn to the front of Washington
and united with McDowell
's. General Scott expected Patterson
to attack Johnston
but he gave no imperative order to do so; and Patterson
, who though more than doubly outnumbering his opponent, fancied Johnston
had ‘at least forty thousand men,’ and that the
wily enemy ‘had a trap set somewhere
’ for him,24
feared either to demonstrate or attack.
His conduct was certainly feeble; and his marches and countermarches, made far from the enemy, were ridiculous.
his position was a false one, where, instead of threatening the enemy, the enemy threatened him. At length, when informed that the army in front of Washington
was actually under way, he (July 15th) advanced his force from Martinsburg
to Bunker's Hill
, from which point he, on the 17th, fell off upon Charlestown
, near Harper's Ferry
, and Johnston
was left free to move to form a junction with Beauregard
This was precisely what Johnston
now found occasion to do. As will presently appear, McDowell
's reconnoitring parties appeared in front of Bull Run
on the 18th of July.
On the same day a message reached Johnston
: ‘If you wish to help me, now is the time.’
promptly availed himself of the opportunity to escape unmolested.
Making a rapid flank march by way of Ashby's Gap, he took cars on the Manassas Gap Railroad at Piedmont
, and joined Beauregard
with his advance brigades on Saturday, the 20th.
What part they played in the coming battle will presently appear.
moved his army from the banks of the Potomac
on the afternoon of July 16th.
The movable column consisted of four divisions—the First Division, under General Tyler
; the Second, under General Hunter
; the Third, under General Heintzelman
; the Fifth, under Colonel Miles
The Fourth Division, under General Runyon
, was left in the works on the south bank of the Potomac
These divisions made an
aggregate of about thirty-five thousand men. They moved in four columns: one by the turnpike; one by the lateral country roads on the right; one on the left of the railroad; and another between the turnpike and railroad, following what is known as the ‘Braddock
It was known that Fairfax Courthouse was held as an outpost by a brigade of South Carolina
troops, and the three right columns were directed to co-operate on that point with the view of capturing this force; but on entering the place, at three o'clock on the afternoon of the 17th, it was found abandoned.
had hoped to have his columns concentrated at Centreville
that night, but the troops being unused to march, did not arrive till the following day. As it was, however, the march was really made with a good deal of rapidity.
, General McDowell
proceeded to push out reconnoissances, with a view to the projected manoeuvre by his left; but examination soon proved the impracticability of the ground for this purpose.
Moreover, the character of General McDowell
's move was revealed to Beauregard
by an affair which the silly ambition of a division commander brought on that afternoon at Blackburn's Ford, on Bull Run
. General Tyler
had been ordered with his division to occupy Centreville
, and thence ‘observe the roads to Bull Run
,’ but was cautioned ‘not to bring on any engagement.’26
In obedience to this he pushed a brigade forward to Blackburn's Ford, which proved to be about the centre of Beauregard
's true defensive line along Bull Run
Reaching the heights on the northern side of the stream, he opened an artillery fire with two twenty-pounder rifle-guns, which had the effect of first developing and afterwards silencing the enemy's battery near the ford.
Thus far he had not exceeded his instructions; but he got it into his head that the enemy would run whenever seriously menaced; and he declared that ‘the great man of the war would be the
man that got to Manassas
, and he meant to go through that night.’27
His notion of the method of executing this project was to file his brigade down to the stream, draw it up parallel to the other shore, and open an unmeaning fusilade.28
While engaged in this foolery, a force crossed the stream from the other side, and striking his left flank (the Twelfth New York), disrupted it completely.
This admonished General Tyler
to defer his intended visit to Manassas
that night, and he withdrew.
The loss was inconsiderable, but the effect on the morale
of the raw troops was bad.
In consequence of the abandonment of the plan of operation on the Confederate
right, the next two days (July 19th and 20th) were spent by the engineers in reconnoitring and determining how and where the attack should be made.
It was found that there was a good ford over Bull Run
at Sudley Spring
, two miles above the point where the direct road from Centreville
crosses Bull Run
by the Stone Bridge
It was also found that this ford was unguarded by the enemy, and that above that point the stream was almost everywhere easily passable.
On these data was based the plan of attack, which was as follows: The Fifth Division (Miles) to remain in reserve at Centreville
, and to make with one of its brigades, added to Richardson
's brigade of Tyler
's division, a false attack at Blackburn's Ford; the First Division (Tyler
) to move by the turnpike up to the Stone Bridge
at daybreak, threaten that point, and, at the proper time, to carry it or cross if uncovered from above.
Meantime, the principal column, consisting of the two divisions of Hunter
, of about twelve thousand men, was to diverge from the turnpike to the right a mile beyond Centreville
, and, by a detour, reach Sudley Ford; thence, descending the right bank of Bull Run
, it would take the defences of the Stone Bridge
The united force would then give
battle, strike at the enemy's railroad communications, or act otherwise as circumstances might dictate.29
It was an excellent plan of battle.
The execution of this plan was set on foot three hours after midnight of the 20th, when the troops, breaking camp at Centreville
, launched on their novel adventure, and, in a dewy moonlight night, took up the march destined to bring them into presence of the enemy.
The divisions had been ordered to march at half-past 2 A. M., with the view of getting on the ground early in the morning of the 21st.
's division had the advance on the main road from Centreville
; and, as the two divisions under Hunter
, to which was intrusted the turning movement, had to follow on this road up to the point where they were to diverge to the right, it was especially urgent that no obstruction should bar their march.
Nevertheless, there was delay in getting Tyler
's division out of camp and on to the road, and delay in its advance, which, of course, retarded the turning column.
Then the road over which Hunter
had to pass was found to be longer than was expected; so that, instead of getting into position by six in the morning, it was, as will subsequently appear, nine before this column debouched on the thither side of Bull Run
, at Sudley's Spring.
, meanwhile, had pushed on, and, by six, drew up his division in front of Stone Bridge
, where he opened an artillery fire on the enemy on the opposite side of Bull Run
While the columns of McDowell
were thus under way, events of equal moment were passing within the Confederate
in person had joined Beauregard
during the night of the 20th (his troops, however, not having yet arrived), and, being the ranking officer, he assumed command of all the Confederate forces.
Nevertheless, as Beauregard
knew his ground, the plans he had formed were adopted, and Johnston
directed their execution under him. This plan contemplated an offensive movement before
should be able to strike; but, as a body of five thousand troops of Johnston
's force, that were expected to arrive during the night from the Shenandoah Valley, did not reach the ground till some hours later, other dispositions had to be made.30
, in positioning his forces, had committed the error of treating the line of Bull Run
as a real defensive line that could be passed only at the fords; and hence he had stationed his brigades at these several fords—the brigades of Ewell
, at Union Mills Ford, forming his right; the brigades of Jones
, at McLean's Ford; the brigades of Longstreet
, at Blackburn's Ford; and Bonham
's brigade, at Mitchell's Ford.
Other commands were in reserve and between these forces, while Colonel Evans
, with a demi-brigade, held Stone Bridge
, which formed the Confederate
Meantime, he had neglected to note that on his left, from Sudley Springs
up, Bull Run
could be passed anywhere.
When, therefore, at six o'clock of the morning of the 21st, Beauregard
learned from Colonel Evans
that a Federal force (which was the head of Tyler
's column) had drawn up opposite Stone Bridge
, he assumed the attack would be made there—that is, against his left.
He was ignorant that the real menace was a turning movement to take his whole line in the rear.
's military inspirations were, however, always essentially aggressive; and, on learning the appearance of the hostile force at Stone Bridge
(being still unaware of the flanking operation in execution above), he resolved to assume the offensive to relieve his left.
He judged the most effective method of accomplishing this, .to be a counter move by his right and centre on the Union
flank and rear at Centreville
; and with this view orders were dispatched to General Ewell
, whose brigade formed the right of the Confederate
line at Union Mills Ford, to begin the movement, which was to be followed up by the brigades of Jones
, at McLean's Ford; Longstreet
, at Blackburn
; and Bonham
, at Mitchell's Ford.31
I must add here a fact which is an evidence that the staff-organization of the Confederate Army was, at this time, little better than that of the Union Army
—these orders did not reach their destination for four hours after the time they were sent; and this, as will presently appear, gave a very peculiar turn to the whole earlier part of the battle.
Meanwhile, the force of Tyler
had deployed in front of Stone Bridge
, and a scattering skirmish fire was opened between his troops and those of Evans
on the opposite side of Bull Run
This served as an excellent mask for the column executing the turning move, as it occupied the attention of the force behind Stone Bridge
for a couple of hours—that is, till about half-past 8. But, about that time, Evans
becoming satisfied of the counterfeit character of the demonstrations on his front, and persuaded of an attempt to turn his left flank,32
changed front, and marched towards Sudley Springs
, leaving a skirmish line to observe for the while the Federal
force opposite the Stone Bridge
Thus it was that the opposing forces were moving to meet each other; and when, towards ten o'clock, the head of Hunter
's column, having passed to the yonder side of Bull Run
, by way of Sudley Ford, and advanced for a mile through a thick wood, debouched into the open country beyond, the gray-jackets could be descried already drawn up in line of battle.
, with his demi-brigade, had taken up a position west of the Warrenton
road, almost at right angles to Bull Run
, and considerably in advance of the ridge on which the main Confederate line was afterwards drawn.
Had now, at the first encounter, a moderate degree of skill or energy marked the conduct of the Union
commander present on the field, there is little doubt that success was at this moment in the hands of General McDowell
, who deserved
success for the excellence of his generalship.
A powerful body was, by a flank movement, planted on the thither side of Bull Run
, and Beauregard
's defensive line was taken in reverse.
It is true this part of the plan should have reached this stage of development by six o'clock in the morning, and it was now ten; but this was not enough to jeopardize the success of the scheme, for Beauregard
was ignorant of what had taken place.
It is also true that Colonel Evans
, divining the move, had effected his change of front to meet the Federal
advance; but his entire force consisted of but nine weak companies, and Hunter
had twelve thousand men.
But there was present neither the skill nor the energy to take advantage of these circumstances; and the manner in which the troops were brought up affords a striking illustration of the then greenness of even the foremost officers of the army.
In place of making proper dispositions in a line of battle, General Hunter
caused a feeble fusilade to be opened from the head of the column; and Colonel Burnside
's Rhode Island regiments, thrown in alone, were speedily cut up. This wasted an hour.
To aid Burnside
's hard-pressed command, the brigade of Colonel A. Porter
was ordered up and deployed on his right, and Sykes
' battalion of Regulars relieved him on the left.
A serious advance of this line soon began to press the handful of Confederates back; but Evans
was speedily re-enforced by portions of the brigades of Colonels Bee
, who were at hand near the Stone Bridge
, and, by these united forces, a fresh stand was made on a position still west of Young's Branch
But the increasing pressure of the Union
line, strengthened now by the addition of portions of Heintzelman
's division coming in on the left, compelled the Confederates
to yield ground, and they were presently forced back sufficiently to allow Tyler
's force near Stone Bridge
to commence crossing to the south side and join in the combat.
Commanding one of Tyler
's brigades was one Colonel W. T. Sherman
, afterwards of some repute in the world as the man who led the armies that marched from Chattanooga
, and from Atlanta
to the sea. This officer, who displayed even in the war's infancy something of that same military talent that, developed by experience, made him among the foremost of Union commanders, had discovered, while reconnoitring in the morning, an unknown ford, half a mile above the Stone Bridge
Being ordered to cross Bull Run
to the assistance of the forces on the other side, he was enabled to do so by this ford long before the Stone Bridge
was uncovered for the passage.
' brigade of the same division followed, and both succeeded in making a junction with the force engaged.
This done, the whole advanced, and drove the enemy back across Young's Branch
and over the Warrenton
road and up the slopes on the other side.
The Confederates went back in much disorder, and were only rallied on an elevated ridge or table-land beyond Young's Branch
While these events, in the prelude of the battle, were going on, Beauregard
, from their headquartes, near the centre of the line, marked the outburst of battle on their left flank, and listened eagerly and anxiously for similar sounds from the direction of Centreville
, resulting from the prescribed counter-attack in that quarter by the Confederate
‘To my profound disappointment,’ adds the Confederate
commander, ‘I learned, just about the time that the force on the left had been driven back by the advance of the Federals
, that my order to General Ewell
Judging it too late for the effective execution of the contemplated move, Beauregard
found himself, as he states, ‘forced to depend on new combinations to meet the enemy on the field upon which he had chosen to give us battle.’35
, and Bonham
at their positions along
the lower fords to make demonstrations against the Federal
forces opposite and prevent their going to re-enforce Mc-Dowell's right, the reserves, consisting of Holmes
' two regiments and a battery, Early
's brigade, and two of Bonham
's regiments and a battery, were immediately ordered up to support the Confederate
left flank, now so seriously imperilled.
, who with his brigade of five regiments had been in reserve not far from the Stone Bridge
, went up just at the time that Evans
, and Bee
, and Barton
, who had been holding the advance position, had given way, and were attempting to rally and reform their troops on the plateau.36
At this juncture, Beauregard
reached the field, and it required their best personal efforts to hold the men to their work.
This accomplished, Beauregard
took command on the field, while Johnston
went to the rear to hurry up reenforcements from his army arriving from the Valley
The Confederates had now been forced back a mile and a half, and the Union
force had cleared its front completely across the Warrenton
road; the Stone Bridge
was uncovered, and McDowell
drew up his line on the crest gained, with Heintzelman
's division (brigades of Wilcox
) on the right, supported by part of Porter
's brigade and the cavalry under Palmer
, and Franklin
's brigade of Heintzelman
's division; Sherman
's brigade of Tyler
's division in the centre; and Keyes
' brigade of Tyler
's division on the left.
reformed his forces on the plateau beyond.
His line of battle consisted of about six thousand five hundred men, thirteen pieces of artillery, and two companies of Stuart
The definitive possession of this plateau now became the
prize eagerly contested by the opposing force.
This height is on three sides inclosed by small water-courses, which empty into Bull Run
within a few yards of each other, and half a mile to the south of Stone Bridge
Rising to an elevation of quite one hundred feet above the level of Bull Run
at the bridge, it falls off on these sides to the level of the inclosing streams in gentle slopes, but which are furrowed by ravines of irregular direction and length, and shaded with clumps and patches of young pines and oaks.
The general direction of the crest of the plateau is oblique to the course of Bull Run
Around its eastern and southern brow an almost unbroken fringe of second-growth pines gave excellent shelter to the Southern
To the west, adjoining the fields, directly across the crest, on both sides of the Sudley
road, extends a broad belt of oaks, in which, during the battle, regiments of both armies met and contended for the mastery.
Having obtained possession of the ridge, the main effort of the Union
forces was made to work round and envelop the left flank of the Confederate
This was a manoeuvre which promised well, but, unfortunately, the army was hardly in a condition to execute it; for, worn out in the hot day's work, it had already lost its cohesion, and errors were committed of which the Confederates
speedily took advantage.
The batteries of Griffin
, which had played a brilliant part during the conflict, had been ordered by General McDowell
to the top of the ridge on the right, so as to take advantage of the success gained.
These batteries were supported by the Fire Zouaves
and Marines, while the Fourteenth New York regiment was directed into a skirt of wood on the right, to protect that flank.
The quick eye of Jackson
, who held position in front, saw the exposed position and feeble support of Griffin
's battery, and he threw forward the Thirty-third Virginia to take it. Nor till they emerged from the skirt of woods, not a thousand yards distant, was the danger known; and when Griffin
was about to open on them, the chief of artillery
, Major Barry
, restrained him from so doing, conceiving they were the Fourteenth New York,
that had been thrown into the woods on the right in support.
's men made a dash on the battery, and the supports giving way, took possession of the guns, many of the cannoniers being shot down and the horses killed.
Fresh forces were, however, brought up, the Confederates
were driven back, and the guns retaken.
then advanced the right of his line in an attempt to recover the plateau and the guns.
This effort was partially successful, but it was met by a fresh rally of the Union
forces; and thus the tide of battle repeatedly surged backwards and forwards, with varying success to each combatant.
Finally, towards three in the afternoon, a fresh accession of force having arrived from the incoming troops of Johnston
made a determined effort to recover the disputed plateau.
The attack was vigorously made, and swept back the Union
forces from the whole open ground—the batteries of Griffin
being again and finally captured.
Still, the Union
line, though shaken and giving ground, did not yield the field.
A fresh effort was even made to extend the right so as to envelop the Confederate
While this movement was in execution, the brigade of Early
, the rear of the army of the Shenandoah, reached the field from Manassas Junction
, and coming in on the Union
right flank (exposed and badly placed),37
determined the action.
Many of the regiments, especially on that wing, were already badly used up, and had lost their organization.
The fire from the fresh arrivals doubled up this flank and drove it back in a confusion which, presently, involved the whole line, extending even to the left, which had hitherto shown more consistency, and was even advancing.
The whole force was thrown back in disorder, across and over the ridge, and over Young's Branch
, and, in extreme confusion, made in all available directions towards Bull Run
Every effort was made to rally the troops, even beyond the
reach of fire, but in vain.
The battalion of Regulars, alone justifying the traditions of military discipline, made a brief stand on the margin of the ridge, to allow the volunteers to reach the Warrenton
But the troops were rapidly reaching that condition when it escapes the power of man to hold them: there was running through them that mysterious terror which the Greeks ascribed to the presence of Pan.
‘The retreat,’ says McDowell
, ‘soon became a rout, and this presently degenerated into a panic.’
The troops fled across Bull Run
; and once on the road, the different bodies coming together, and without officers, became intermingled, and all organization was lost; while army trains and artillery blocking the road, produced a hideous delavle
. At the same time, Colonel Miles
, who commanded the division of reserves, and to whom was intrusted the duty of holding the Centreville ridge
up to Blackburn's Ford, withdrew his troops from these positions, uncovering the passage of the stream to the Confederates
, and exposing the whole retreating mass to capture or destruction,—a fate which was averted by the arrival of General McDowell
, who ordered back Miles' troops to their position, and by the inactivity of the Confederates
Nothing like systematic pursuit was made, although a small party of cavalry followed the retreat as far as Cub Run
By sundown, most of the army was safe behind the Centreville ridge
There was, however, no question of halting there; for the condition of the army and the absence of supplies left no alternative but to fall back; and during the night the army made its way to the Potomac
The retreat was marked by great disorder, all semblance of military organization being lost.
Many did not even stop on reaching the camps south of the Potomac
, but fled by the bridges and ferries to Washington
This, however, was at length stopped by Colonel Sherman
, who posted strong guards at the points of passage.
The Confederate loss in this action was 1852, of whom 269 were killed and 1438 wounded. The Union loss must have been above 2000; for the prisoners, well and wounded, left in Beauregard
's hands, numbered 1460.
It is hardly necessary to seek any explanation of the events of Bull Run
, other than what arises from the consideration of the simple fact that the battle was fought at all. McDowell
's plan of battle was well-considered, and even bold; but the faults of execution were innumerable.
Owing to the absence of any thing like a staff, the attack was made in a most fragmentary way, without order or ensemble
. Since the close of the war, the writer of these pages has had with General Johnston
a very full conversation on this action; and on the question of the general management of the battle of Manassas
, he spoke as follows: ‘The key-point was a flat, bare crest.
It was here that the Federals
made their attacks.
But they were made by a brigade at a time.
The position was really hardly tenable, and had an attack been made in force, with double line of battle—such as any major-general in the United States
service would now make—we could not have held it half an hour, for they would have enveloped us on both flanks.’
So far as regards the mere physical fact of fighting
, which was at the time the all-important question, there was nothing of which the Union
soldiers had to be ashamed—they stood up to it with the blood of their race.
The fault lay in the inherently vicious organization of the force—in the great number of miserable subordinate officers, which in turn was the natural result of the method of raising regiments.
Yet, with all the faults, the action was for a time almost a success, which shows that the Confederates
were really in not much better condition.
Their chief point of advantage was in the better class of officers created by their system.
Nevertheless, the victory long hung in the balance, and might readily have declared itself on either side.38
At the close of the action, the
Southerners were hardly less demoralized than their opponents, so that the idea of pursuit was not to be entertained.
On this point, again, the testimony of General Johnston
is of the highest value.
‘In our condition,’ said he, ‘pursuit could not be thought of; for we were almost as much disorganized by our victory as the Federals
by their defeat.
Next day, many, supposing the war was over, actually went home.
A party of our soldiers, hearing that a friend lay wounded twenty miles off, would start out to go and see him; or that another acquaintance was dead, and they would go and bury him. Our men had in a larger degree the instinct of personal liberty than those of the North
; and it was found very difficult to subordinate their personal will to the needs of military discipline.’39
Both sides, in fact, had much to learn; and it is the fact that the battle of Bull Run
was the first great lesson which the two armies received, that makes the events which transpired on the plains of Manassas
that July Sunday, forever memorable in the history of the War