Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

and dauntless Heintzelman galloped among the broken ranks in vain. Porter, Burnside, and others were helpless in the loosened, refluent flood. Griffin, raging like a young lion at, as he believed, the useless loss of his guns, turned savágely back, powerless to stay the reverse tide of battle. The gallant young governor of Rhode Island, seeing that all was lost, spiked, with his own hands, the guns of his regiment before he fled. McDowell, hearing heavy cannonading down by Blackburn ford, and fearing his left flank would be turned, which would secure the total annihilation of his force, galloped thither, and drew up the reserve under Miles to arrest the progress of the enemy. The spectacle now in the center was painful in the extreme-hosts of Federal troops--some detached from their regiments, all mingled in one disorderly rout, were fleeing along the road and through the fields on either side. Army wagons, sutlers' teams, and private carriages, choked the passage, tumbling against cach other amid clouds of dust. Hacks, containing unlucky spectators of the battle, were smashed like glass, and the occupants lost sight of in the debris. Horses flying wildly from the battle-field, many of them in death agony, galloped at random forward, swelling the tumult, while wounded men, lying along the banks, appealed with raised hands to those who rode horses to be lifted behind. Then the artillery such as was saved, came thundering along, smashing and overturning everything in its passage. The regular cavalry joined in the melee, adding to the accumulated terrors, for they rode down footmen without mercy. The trains from Hunter's division soon came rushing in from a branch road, and from every side fresh torrents swelled the confused and onrolling tide. The wounded were left to the tender mercies of the victors, and the roads and fields, along which, on this early Sabbath morning such a confident imposing array had passed, were black with terrified fugitives, and cumbered with abandoned cannon,

THE KILLED AND WOUNDED

119

army could

wagons, arms, and accoutrements. It was a wild flight. The calm presence of the reserve under Blencker, drawn

up

in line of battle at Centreville, checked the hitherto uncontrollable terror, but not sufficient to allow McDowell to make a stand there, and the turbulent stream rolled on towards Washington. As night deepened the rain came down in torrents, drenching the living and dead alike. All night long the weary, straggling army, toiled on, and at morning began to pour in tumultuous masses over Long bridge, carrying consternation to the Capital. Some regiments, however, preserved their order, and marched into Washington with ranks unbroken.

The news of this terrible disaster traveling over the electric wires, made every cheek turn pale, and sent a shudder throughout the north. Not only was a great battle lost, but “the Capital is lost,” trembled on every tongue. On the heels of such a routed host, a mere section of the rebel enter Washington. But it did not follow up its success. Whether the severe beating it had received up to the last moment, or ignorance of the extent of the panic, or fear of losing all it had gained by pressing forward in the darkness on unknown dangers, restrained it—at all events it attempted no pursuit, and the discomfited army had nothing but its own terrors, the darkness, storm, and hunger, and weariness to contend with.

The battlefield presented a sickening appearance-the dead and wounded were everywhere, and citizens of a common country, of the same lincage-the blooming youth and the gray-haired man lay, side by side, sprinkled with each other's blood. The pitiless rain came down upon the sufferers whose low moans loaded the midnight air.

Our loss in killed, and wounded, and missing, amounted to nearly two thousand, of which one thousand four hundred and twenty-three were taken prisoners. Among the killed were Colonel Cameron, brother of the Secretary of War

120

FEELING AT THE NORTH.

and Colonel Slocum of Rhode Island, whose bodies were left on the battle field. Among the prisoners taken, were Colonel Corcoran of New York city, and Mr. Ely, Member of Congress from Rochester. Beside other trophies which the enemy secured, were twenty-three cannon of various sizes, four thousand muskets, artillery wagons, ammunition, and a large quantity of equipments and stores. Of our whole army, not twenty thousand had been in the fight, while the number of the rebels actually engaged at first was probably not much greater. We had the largest force in the field previous to Johnston's arrival, when they both together outnumbered and outflanked us.

The north, though at first stunned by the defeat, showed no discouragement. The press, however, was filled with clamors against this and that person, or set of persons, who had been instrumental in bringing it upon us. Less, however, than might have been expected was visited on McDowell. There seemed to be an instinctive consciousness that he had been ruined by either the inefficiency, or cowardice, or treachery of Patterson ;—and the latter for some time after would scarcely have been safe in any northern city. Others turned their wrath on the papers and the party whose cry “On to Richmond” had filled the land for weeks. General Scott, it was declared, had been forced to consent to a movement which his judgment disapproved; and fierce denunciations were kurled at the heads of those who had attempted to control the military authorities. The administration came in for its share of abuse, and the want of confidence everywhere felt in its ability to conduct us safely through the war, threatened for a while to produce a greater calamity than the defeat itself. But as the smoke of the conflict cleared away, it became easier to fix the blame. It was evident, notwithstanding the many criticisms to the contrary, that McDowell had planned and conducted the battle

CAUSES OF THE DEFEAT.

121

wisely. The charge of overtasking the men was, perhaps, true, but it is not shown how it could have been prevented. That the troops were not provided with sufficient food, was owing to the negligence of the subordinate officers, and still more to the carelessness of the men who, not believing that the task of whipping the rebels was to be a serious one, did not prepare for their work, as older soldiers would have done. Many regiments were not properly officered, no doubt, but that was an evil that could not have been avoided. McDowell thought if he could have been supplied with the means of transportation, so as to have started earlier, as he designed to do, defeat might have been prevented, notwithstanding the other difficulties he had to contend with. But the enemy were thoroughly acquainted with his movements; and it is more than probable, if it had been necessary for Johnston to be at Manassas earlier, he would have been there. But it is unquestionably true that Patterson's failure to take care of Johnston, made defeat certain, whether Beauregard, as he intended to do, had attacked McDowell, or waited as he did to receive him in position. To the believer in an over-ruling Providence, there will appear reasons for this defeat that are not laid down in military books.

To say nothing of the utter ruin that would assuredly havo overtaken an army of that size and composition, had it succeeded then, and attempted to march on Richmond—as it must have done unđer the pressure of pubiic opinion, and of the consequent greater peril to our cause, or of other re. sults that would have happened—that defeat was necessary to crush out the rash, headlong, and too confident spirit with which we had entered on our task. Scarcely any price was too great to pay to secure such a result. Its permanent establishment over the government would have driven us into such desperate straits that no avenue of escape would have been left us but by the way of military despotism. The

[blocks in formation]

struggle on which we had entered, was too mighty; the war before us of too vast proportions to be disposed of without the most careful and ample preparations. A battle was well enough to punish the audacity of the rebels, and secure the Capital, but the blind confidence and arrogant boastfulness that demanded it, would not have been content with such a result. It had become a condition of our success that the public press and politicians should cease to direct the management of the war, and that it should fall into the legitimate and proper hands. This the defeat at Bull Run secured at least for a time. The nation took the attitude of calm reflection, and began to measure somewhat the mighty task before it. It unquestionably hurt us abroad, but that could not be helped.

The huge blunder of taking three month's men now became apparent. It was seen that a grand army, in all its appointments and preparatory drill, must be had before any important movement could be made. We found that there was a great difference between offensive and defensive war. The latter can be carried on in a country difficult of access, without much previous drill; the former never. The New England farmers fought like veterans behind their temporary. breastworks on Bunker Hill, but had affairs been reversed, and they been called to mount the naked slope, in face of a murderous fire, as were the British regulars, they never would have moved with unbroken ranks for the last and third time as the latter did into the face of death. Here was the cause of our error-we forgot that we were to wage an offensive war-carry intrenchments, and storm strong positions held by our own flesh and blood.

On the top of this disaster came the news that on the twenty-fifth of this month Major Lynde surrendered Fort Fillmore in New Mexico, with seven hundred men, to a body of Texans without firing a shot, and under circumstances that left no doubt of premeditated treason.

« PreviousContinue »