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Chapter 20:

Around the Confederate capital, as early as June, 1861, exciting rumors of McDowell's advance began to spread with the lighter gossip of the fair grounds. Richmond, with that brave smile which in storm or sunshine never left her war-scarred features, had ceased to be a Capua. The Louisiana regiments, once so petted, had not been spoiled for active service. Hearing the drum beat, they struck tents with shouts of joy and took up a ‘quickstep.’ Beauregard was posted somewhere ahead—that was what the Washington artillery on their caissons had gaily said—somewhere on the road to Washington.

Louisiana showed a considerable forge in this campaign, beginning with the battle of July 18, 1861, and culminating in the picturesque victory of First Manassas on the 21st. At that time there were present in Beauregard's army the Sixth Louisiana volunteers, Col. I. G. Seymour; First Special battalion, Maj. C. R. Wheat; Seventh regiment, Col. Harry T. Hays; Eighth regiment, Col. H. B. Kelly; and the Washington artillery, Maj. John B. Walton.

On the 18th the Louisianians, Ewell's brigade, occupying position in vicinity of the Union Mills ford, included Seymour's regiment. Wheat's battalion was with Evans, who, holding the left flank, watched over the Stone bridge across Bull run. Hays' Seventh was attached to Early's [205] brigade; Kelly, just arrived, was ordered to Bonham's brigade. Walton had four howitzers under Lieutenant Rosser at Union Mills ford; three rifles under Lieut. C. W. Squires, with Early, later reinforced by four guns under Lieutenants Whittington and Garnett; and two guns under Captain Miller at McLean's ford.

Beauregard, about 10 a. m., established his headquarters at a central point below McLean's and Blackburn's fords, and ordered up reinforcements. The enemy on the north bank of Bull run seemed to coquet with Confederates on the south bank. Ricketts' battery, ‘the pride of the Federals,’ because handled with peculiar skill, was occupying a hill over one and a half miles from Bull run. The shriek of its shells was a direct challenge to the Washington artillery who heard it. It was accepted on the spot with 6-pounders, smooth. It needed only six solid shots to silence Ricketts and drive back its support. A new attack was opened by the enemy about 11:30 a. m., supported by the artillery and cavalry. The ford was not left to itself. Keen eyes watched it, scanning every foot in front and every yard up and down the stream. Two of Walton's 6-pounders under Lieutenant Garnett were stationed to command the passage—with conditional orders to retire to the rear as soon as the ford itself should be commanded by the foe. The northern bank, in front of Longstreet, rose with a steep slope at least 50 feet above the water level. A hazardous difference! This ridge, rising from a narrow berme, formed for the enemy what General Beauregard styled ‘an admirable natural parapet.’ Behind this parapet the enemy approached under shelter, in strength, within less than one hundred yards of Longstreet's skirmishers. The southern bank was fairly level, forming almost a plain. This plain gradually rose at a distance from the stream.

Of a sudden, the artillery on both sides awoke. It was a question between the hill and the plain. The Federals pointed their guns down upon the Confederates, from a [206] vantage height which seemed to assure success. On their side, the Louisianians squinted up at the enemy's battery with their pieces on the level. Let General Beauregard speak of the result:

‘It was at this stage of the affair that a remarkable artillery duel was commenced and maintained on one side with a long trained professional opponent, superior in the character as well as in the number of his weapons, provided with improved munitions and every artillery appliance, and at the same time occupying the commanding position. The results were marvelous and fitting precursors to the artillery achievements of the 21st of July. In the outset our fire was directed against the enemy's infantry, who indicated their presence and force. This drew the attention of a battery placed on a high commanding ridge, and the duel began in earnest. ... Shot fell and shells burst thick and fast in the midst of our battery—wounding in the course of the combat Captain Eshleman, five privates, and the horse of Lieutenant Richardson ... By direction of General Longstreet, his battery (two 6-pounder brass guns of Walton's battery) was then advanced by hand, out of the range now ascertained by the enemy. .. .From the new position our guns—fired as before, with no other aim than the smoke and flash of their adversaries' pieces—renewed and urged the conflict with such signal vigor and effect that gradually the fire of the enemy slackened, the intervals between their discharges grew longer and longer finally to cease, and we fired a last gun at a baffled, flying foe, whose heavy masses in the distance were plainly seen to break and scatter in wild confusion and utter rout.’

Though occupying an inferior position, though serving guns of far lighter metal and though without any advantage of shelter, the Louisianians, in the conflict of battle so graphically described, stood at the last erect upon the field where the duel had been fought. The officers immediately in command were Captain Eshleman [207] and Lieutenants Squires, Richardson, Garnett and Whittington.1

In the same battle gallant Colonel Hays, of the Seventh Louisiana, whose regiment was with Early's brigade, handled his men with skill and coolness while relieving Corse's Virginians at Blackburn's ford. This movement, never other than a hazardous one, was made under a pouring fire of bullets from a force of infantry vastly superior to his own. The elan of General Hays, first shown at Bull Run, was to find voice in a proverb which ran like a red line through the fighting years of the Confederacy— ‘Dashing as Harry Hays’ shouted the army and echoed the newspapers. In 1861-65 army and press combined made a war proverb.

On the evening of July 20th, Beauregard, bidding good night to his generals at his headquarters at McLean's, said in a loud tone: ‘Now, gentlemen, let to-morrow be their Waterloo.’

On the morning of July 21st, the Louisiana regiments occupied the same general ground as on the evening of the 18th. In the early hours of that victorious Sunday several encounters had taken place between the Louisianians and the enemy possessing as before, heavier odds in men and guns. At 8 a. m. Wheat's battalion, deployed as skirmishers, were eyeing an extended line of the enemy in their front. Of the attack upon Wheat; of the cool courage with which he met it, and of the formidable odds united against Evans' line which he was protecting, Beauregard says:

‘The enemy, galled and staggered by the fire and pressed by the determined valor with which Wheat handled 2 [208] his battalion until he was desperately wounded,3 hastened up three other regiments of the brigade and two Dahlgren howitzers—making in all quite 3,000 men and 8 pieces of artillery, opposed to less than 800 men and two 6-pounder guns.’

Though the hours by the battle clock look to the afternoon, victory for us was still lost in the smoke.4 For the Federals had been the forenoon with its gains. Now came to the Confederates the afternoon with its promise. The fate of First Manassas was operating. It was the hour after noon. The hands of the battle clock were pointing to Confederate success. The enemy, bewildered by the skill and precision with which our guns were fired, wildly threw forward regiment after regiment to dislodge the Confederates, only to fall back in added confusion. Still always in dense columns, they were vainly essaying to outflank our left. Victory, hovering undecided in the thick air since noon, proudly revealed herself at 4:30 p. m. It was the hour of First Manassas! The road to Washington was already filling up with fleeing men and the wrecks of luxurious belongings—a great army utterly despoiled.

In a work on Louisiana, three points for the greater honor of the soldiers at their first battle find a proper place (bearing in mind his compliments to the other Louisiana commands already quoted): [209]

1. General Beauregard praised the Eighth Louisiana volunteers and the section of Walton's artillery under Lieutenant Garnett, as having-whether in holding their post, or taking up the pursuit—‘discharged their duty with credit and promise.’ Always generous of his praise of the Washington artillery, he says: ‘The skill, the conduct, and the soldierly qualities of the Washington artillery engaged, were all that could be desired. The officers and men attached to the seven pieces . . . won for their battalions a distinction which, I feel assured, will never be tarnished, and which will ever serve to urge them and their corps to high endeavor. Lieutenant Squires worthily commanded the pieces in action. The commander of the battalion was necessarily absent from the immediate field, under orders in the sphere of his duties, but the fruits of his discipline, zeal, and instruction, and capacity as an artillery commander, were present, and must redound to his reputation.’ (Report of battle of 18th.)

2. At about 5 p. m. on Sunday, President Davis, who had just then reached the field, passed the spot where the guns of the Washington artillery were halted. Turning to his aides, he said, as he raised his hat: ‘Don't they look like little game-cocks?’ President Davis' words for the Washington might be enlarged to cover every Louisiana command composed of the native troops. Throughout all the armies, they became known as ‘game-cocks.’ Small of frame, compact of muscle, elastic of step, eager in movement, they were full of the élan which showed the French blood of many of them. As then in war, now in peace the National Guard of Louisiana will compare more than favorably with competitors from other States, far and wide.

3. The last gun of the battle of Manassas was fired from one of the guns of the Washington artillery. Its shell followed a fleeing army. One who may read the story of the Louisiana troops on the field of Bull Run will [210] not find it hard to cry with General Beauregard: ‘Three cheers for Louisiana.’5

Our battleflag springs from the field of the First Manassas. The striking resemblance between the rival flags in that battle rendered it often difficult to tell friend from foe. To obviate similar confusion on future fields, General Beauregard, thus early in the war, proposed the adoption of a ‘battle’ as well as a ‘peace or parade’ flag. The design he presented to the committee in charge was accepted. It presents the blue cross with its complement of stars resting on a red ground. This, in our day, is well known as the battleflag button of the United Confederate Veterans.

On July 25th, the Ninth regiment, Col. Richard Taylor, having arrived, the Louisiana commands were organized in the Eighth brigade, soon to be commanded by Brigadier-General Taylor. Following the victory at Manassas, occurred some minor affairs at the front. At Lewinsville, September 12th, J. E. B. Stuart, with some Virginia companies, and two guns of the Washington artillery commanded by Capt. T. L. Rosser and Lieut. C. H. Slocomb, put a sudden stop to a Federal reconnoissance. Here Rosser had an encounter with Charles Griffin's six guns. Of the two artillerists, both to be generals, Rosser seems to have had the advantage in aim. Longstreet reported that it was difficult to say whether the work of the infantry or the destructive fire of the Washington artillery was the most brilliant part of the affair. From this time there was comparative quiet in eastern Virginia until the spring of 1862.

McClellan's landing on the Virginia peninsula, early in 1862, concentrated 110,000 men in and near Fortress Monroe. True to his system, he began without [211] delay to erect fortifications and to complete scientific parallels. With all his army, he was afraid to attack in force. Magruder, with less than 8, 000 to oppose him, itched to fight, but had not enough men. In the few skirmishes on the Yorktown line the Louisianians with Magruder bore off their share of honors. On April 5th, when the enemy attacked the redoubts, his attempt to flank by crossing the Warwick river was foiled in part by the unerring volleys of the First Louisiana battalion. On the 16th a determined attack was made on the Confederate line at Dam No. 1, where Col. William M. Levy, of the Second Louisiana, was in command. A Vermont regiment threw itself into the rifle-pits of a North Carolina regiment, and in the brilliant charge which dislodged the Green Mountain boys, the companies of Capts. A. H. Martin and R. E. Burke went in with ‘fixed bayonets and the steadiness of veterans,’ while the companies of Captains Flournoy and Kelso poured a biting fire into the intrusive Federals. In the same fight, the Fifth, Col. T. G. Hunt, and the Tenth, Col. Mandeville de Marigny, were commended by their superior officers. The success of the Confederates was largely attributed to the coolness and courage of Colonel Levy. The Donaldsonville battery, Captain Maurin, and Rosser's battery, Washington artillery, did effective service on the lines, as well as other commands not mentioned in the reports.

One day during these ‘clamorous reports of war’ Magruder favored his men with a new march—somewhat longer than his wont on the peninsula. On April 21st he retreated from the Warwick line in silence and mystery, with Richmond for his ‘objective.’ McClellan, though fairly surprised, quickly followed on our rear with his entire army. He attacked the Confederate rear guard near Williamsburg. During the day, Magruder succeeded in keeping the swarming masses in check. Here the Fourteenth Louisiana, Colonel Jones, was actively engaged, and the gallantry of its commanding officer as well as of [212] Lieutenant-Colonel York and Captains Leech and Bradley, is mentioned in the reports. A battalion of the Chasseurs-à--pied, Capt. M. G. Goodwyn commanding, which held one of the redoubts, and three pieces of the Donaldsonville artillery, under Lieutenant Fortier, are mentioned. At New bridge, on the Chickahominy, some days later (May 24th), the Fifth Louisiana, on picket duty, was suddenly attacked by a force which crossed the river, but was speedily driven back. The Fifth lost 13 killed, 23 wounded, and 34 missing. Lieutenant Pindell was killed in the gallant charge.

On May 31st, the battle of Seven Pines6 was fought—a noisy prelude to the Seven Days colossal shock of arms. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Confederates, now numbering less than 80,000 men. McClellan, having sufficiently ‘organized’ his army around Yorktown, was in direct command of the Federals. His force was always in preponderance—125,000 effectives, with 280 guns.

Briefly it may be said that McClellan had, at Seven Pines, committed a blunder. On the morning of May 31st he had rashly placed two of his best corps on the Richmond side of the Chickahominy, and the river, flood. ing its banks, cut them off from the rest of his army. Johnston at once hurled the bulk of his force against the isolated enemy. Throughout the first day the Confederates were doing their best to profit by the blunder. But steady Sumner crossed the river in force to help Keyes and Heintzelman, and, through his desperate effort, the Federals recovered on the second day what they had lost on the first. Both armies claimed the victory. The loss on both sides was heavy and about equally divided. In our number of casualties, however, we suffered a greater [213] loss than they in the severe wound which, during the battle, had incapacitated General Johnston.

Among the troops at Seven Pines, the Chasseurs-à--pied, of New Orleans, after rendering excellent service, had come out with the loss of Edgar Macon, killed, and M. Goodwyn wounded. Colonel Coppens, of the Zouave battalion, was also wounded.

On June 1st, R. E. Lee was assigned to command of the army, vice J. E. Johnston wounded. Such was the first association, bringing together Robert Edward Lee and that army of Northern Virginia which for three years he led, with unsurpassed genius, to ever-widening renown for it, and for himself immortal fame. General Lee's first order was to direct Jackson to rejoin him from the valley. Jackson was about seeing the end of hopelessly confusing the enemy in that region. Suppose we follow in the footsteps of the great soldier. We do so the more freely, since Richard Taylor, now in command of the Louisiana brigade, is riding the same stirring road, whose mile posts are to become victories. [214]

1 At Blackburn's Ford occurred the death of the first Louisiana artillerist during the war—Private George W. Muse,. First company, Washington artillery.

2 Adjutant Owen, of the Washington artillery, lying on the grass near by heard these words to report them.

3 Though badly beaten Maj. Robert Wheat left his mark on the memories of the beaten army. In Washington, on the morning of the 22d, the soldiers explained the rout by gasping—‘D—n those Louisiana Tigers—born devils, every one of them!’

4 Near the Henry house, on the plateau around which the battle flowed for hours in the forenoon to ebb in the afternoon — the Washington artillery, with Colonel Walton in command, was doing excellent service. Whilst the fire was at its hottest, General Beauregard and staff rode up. He called out: ‘Colonel Walton, do you see the enemy?’ ‘Yes!’ was the reply. ‘Then hold this position and the day is ours. Three cheers for Louisiana!’ Cheers were given with the voice of many-throated men.

5 The loss of the Louisiana commands participating in the battle of Manassas, July 21st, was as follows: Wheat's battalion, killed 8; wounded, officers 5, men 33, missing, 2; total, 48, Seventh regiment, killed 3, wounded 23, total, 26. Washington artillery, killed x, wounded 5.

6 The details of this battle as, indeed, of all the battles in Virginia, are left to the distinguished writer who himself hails from that commonwealth, so rich in strong men and inspiring memories. The present author's pleasant duty is to get on the track of his brother Louisianians wherever he can find them in the smoke of each battle fought on her soil. He sincerely trusts that he may miss no comrade, whose duty is told in the reports of his superior officers.

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