Page images
PDF
EPUB

HISTORY OF THE GREAT REBELLION.

Accompanying the army were fifty-five pieces of artillery, and an unnecessarily large train. Owing to the inexperience of the troops in marching, and the obstructions placed in the way by the retiring rebels, the progress of the army was slow, and it was not until noon of the 18th that the division of General Tyler, forming the advance, entered Centreville, a small village about seven miles north-east from Manassas Junction, and separated from it by Bull Run, which is a fordable stream flowing in a south-easterly direction into the Potomac. From Centreville two roads diverge towards Bull Run, of which the more easterly and direct strikes the stream at Blackburn's Ford, not far from the Junction; while the other, known as the Warrenton Turnpike, follows a westerly course and crosses Bull Run at the Stone Bridge, four miles higher up. The village itself lies on the west side of an elevated ridge, and is capable of being strongly fortified.

Without waiting for the main body to come up, General Tyler immediately pushed forward a reconnoissance to Blackburn's Ford, where, rather unexpectedly, the rebels were found in large force. A heavy skirmish ensued, with considerable artillery firing; but the enemy's position, sheltered by dense woods, being considered too strong to be carried without developing a general engagement, the Federal troops were ordered back to Centreville, having experienced a loss of about one hundred. That of the enemy was somewhat less. During the 18th and 19th, McDowell's army, with the exception of Runyon's division, which was left at Fairfax Court-House, seven miles in the rear, to protect the Federal communications, was concentrated in and around Centreville, with a view of attacking the rebels along Bull Run, and between the stream and Manassas Junction, on Saturday, the 20th. Here again the dilatoriness, which seemed to be inseparable from the movements of this army, manifested itself. The subsistence, which should have been ready on the evening of the 18th, did not arrive until twenty-four hours later, so that the forward movement was postponed to Sunday, the 21st. The intervening time was occupied in reconnoitring Bull Run above and below the Stone Bridge. By the evening of the 20th McDowell had arranged his plan of battle, which in general terms contemplated a flanking movement in force against the enemy's left wing, with feints As it was found impracticable to cross the on his right and centre. stream at Blackburn's Ford or the Stone Bridge, on account of the steepness of the opposite bank and the obstructions accumulated by the enemy, he decided that Hunter's and Heintzelman's divisions should make the passage at Sudley Spring, two miles above the Stone Bridge, while Tyler demonstrated at the latter place and Blackburn's Ford, in readiness to cross and support the main attacking column when occasion should offer. Miles's division was to be stationed as a reserve at Centreville. The rebel forces, on the 20th, were distributed along the right bank of Bull Run from Union Hill, two miles below Blackburn's Ford, to the Stone Bridge, and on that day comprised probably not far from twenty-five thousand men, under the command of General Beauregard. By the culpable, if not criminal, negligence of General Patterson, Johnston's troops had been permitted to slip away from Winchester in the Valley, and a considerable portion of them had already arrived with their commander.

Although the latter ranked Beauregard, he waived his privilege of assuming the chief direction of the rebel army, upon seeing the dispositions made by his associate. As an illustration of the wide-spread treachery then pervading the Federal War Department, it may be stated that the rebel generals were not only thoroughly informed of the strength of McDowell's army and of his plan of attack, but had even obtained possession of a map of the region west of Washington, which was completed only two days before the advance reached Centreville. This sort of thing was of frequent occurrence during the first year of the war; but notorious as it was, no clue to the perpetrators of the acts has ever been discovered, or at least made public.

Every thing being now prepared for an advance, the Federal troops, supplied with three days' rations, were ordered to move at 2 A. M. of the 21st. But neither officers nor men seemed aware of the importance of adhering to the strict letter of their orders, and so much valuable time was wasted in getting ready to march, and in the march itself, that it was nearly 10 o'clock before the head of the flanking column reached Sudley Spring, a distance of not above nine miles, whereas it should have been there, according to General McDowell's calculation, three or four hours earlier. Arriving at the stream, the men halted to fill their canteens, which caused another delay; so that when the leading brigade of Hunter's division, commanded by Colonel Burnside, marching down the right bank of Bull Run towards the Stone Bridge, debouched from the shelter of the woods into a rolling plain, which skirted the Warrenton Turnpike, it was well upon noon. The slowness with which the flanking movement was executed afforded an excellent opportunity to Beauregard to bring up to the neighborhood of the Stone Bridge that portion of his forces which was stationed below Blackburn's Ford. He judged wisely that the Federal troops left in front of both places were not intended to make a serious attack, and the heavy clouds of dust arising in the direction of Sudley Spring seemed to indicate beyond doubt that thither the main body of the opposing army was marching. He even projected a flank movement of his own from Blackburn's Ford against Centreville, which failed through a miscarriage of the order. Since the preceding day further instalments of Johnston's troops had arrived, so that more than thirty thousand rebels were now concentrated near the Junction.

[ocr errors]

Shortly before noon the action commenced by an attack of the rebel batteries, well protected by woods, upon Burnside's brigade, which for a few minutes was subjected to a severe fire. But Porter's brigade, with Griffin's battery and the battalion of regulars, coming up to its support, the rebels were pushed back beyond the Warrenton Turnpike, thus enabling Sherman's and Keyes's brigades of Tyler's division to cross Bull Run a short distance above the Stone Bridge and take part in the engagement. This division, in accordance with the plan of the battle, had been demonstrating during the morning against the Stone Bridge, and one of its brigades, Schenk's, still remained in position on the left bank of the stream. The remaining brigade, under Colonel Richardson, conducted the feint at Blackburn's Ford. Heintzelman's division, which crossed at Sudley Spring in the rear of Hunter's, now

came up, and the united Federal force on the right bank of Bull Run, amounting to about eighteen thousand men, pressed the rebels fiercely up the slopes of a hill beyond the Warrenton Turnpike, whence some wellposted batteries played with effect upon the advancing columns. The contest for the possession of this hill soon waxed exceedingly hot, and the raw Federal troops, though fighting on unknown ground against an enemy for the most part protected by woods and other natural cover, showed unquestionable pluck, and considerable steadiness, notwithstanding some regiments failed to keep their order under heavy firing. Colonel Hunter, who led the flanking column, having been severely wounded early in the action, the command devolved upon Colonel Heintzelman. Inch by inch the enemy was pushed back, making many gallant attempts to rally, and aiming particularly to disable or capture Ricketts's and Griffin's batteries of the regular army, which had boldly advanced to within a few hundred yards of his line of battle. Three desperate charges were made upon the former, the horses of which had been killed or disabled, and as often repelled, and at their third repulse the rebels were driven completely out of sight within the shelter of the adjoining woods. The brigade of Keyes had meanwhile made a detour of the hill to take the enemy on his right flank, and operations had commenced to clear the obstructions in front of the Stone Bridge, so as to allow the remaining brigade of Tyler's division to cross and co-operate with the main body.

It was now three P. M., and victory had thus far attended the Federal arms. The enemy had been driven upwards of a mile and a half from his original position, and his final disappearance gave his opponents a few moments of much needed rest. But the latter were scarcely in a condition to reap the fruits of victory, and considering that for twelve hours they had been on the march or in line of battle, it is not to be wondered that they were exhausted. "They had been up," says General McDowell in his official report, "since two o'clock in the morning, and had made, what to those unused to such things, seemed a long march, before coming into action, though the longest distance gone over was not more than nine and a half miles; and though they had three days' provisions served out to them the day before, many, no doubt, either did not eat them or threw them away on the march or during the battle, and were therefore without food. They had done much severe fighting. Some of the regiments which had been driven from the hill in the first two attempts of the enemy to regain possession of it, had become shaken, were unsteady, and had many men out of the ranks." On the other hand, the rebels had marched a comparatively short distance, and were still tolerably steady, although, as was the case with the Federals, such of their troops as had been under hot fire were considerably shaken. But they fought under the advantage of knowing that every hour would add to their strength, and would correspondingly weaken their enemy. With every train from the Valley came, by regiments or brigades, portions of Johnston's army, while no re-enforcements had been sent by McDowell to his weary troops, and none seemed likely to be sent. Hence the position of the rebels, even after they had been driven into the woods,

was really less critical than that of the Federals, for relief was at hand.

Their line of battle, in fact, had scarcely disappeared from the open field, when dense clouds of dust, rising from the direction of the railroad, indicated the arrival of fresh troops, and from their position on the hill the exhausted Union soldiers could perceive long and wellordered infantry columns hurrying up in the rebel rear. Instantly it was surmised that Patterson had come to their assistance, and as the word passed from mouth to mouth, the men gave vent to cheering. Their surprise and consternation can be imagined, when they heard still louder cheers breaking out along the whole rebel front, followed by a sharp fire from the woods on their right, which rapidly extended to their rear. So far from Patterson coming to aid them, that General had never budged from his position, and the troops, whose appearance had called forth such demonstrations of enthusiasm, were the remaining brigade of Johnston, under General Kirby Smith, which arrived in time to turn the scale of battle in favor of the Confederates.

The effect upon the Federal troops was disastrous in the extreme. The first line recoiled before the fire of the enemy, and, confused by the shots and shouts issuing from the woods, and by vague apprehensions of untold numbers environing them and cutting off escape, became panic-stricken, and fell into disorder. The example was contagious. Regiment after regiment broke and retired in confusion down the hill, the panic momentarily increasing, until the greater part of the but recently victorious army had become a mass of fugitives, rushing pellmell across the Warrenton Turnpike to the fords at which they had crossed in the morning, and deaf or indifferent to the commands of their officers. The battalion of regulars, of all the organizations on the field, alone retreated in good order. The best of the militia or volunteer regiments showed more or less confusion, though not all of them exhibited the same unseemly haste in getting away. As the fugitives approached Bull Run, the miscellaneous crowd of teamsters and civilians on the other side, who had not crossed the stream, canght the infection and started in the direction of Washington, notwithstanding the enemy was several miles distant, and full ten thousand fresh Federal troops, who had not participated in the battle, were in readiness to withstand his attack. But the enemy, whether too much exhausted himself, or intimidated by what General Johnston called the "apparent firmness" of the Federal reserves, made no attempt to pursue his advantage, and beyond the sending of a few squadrons of cavalry to harass the retreat, contented himself with driving the Federal troops from the field. By nightfall the latter had all regained their encampments at Centreville, although a steady stream of fagitives poured onward during the night through Fairfax Court-House to the Potomac. After a few hours' rest, the retreat was continued, and on the evening of the 23d the beaten army had regained the shelter of the fortifications of Washington. Such was the lax discipline then prevalent, that for several days afterwards the city was filled with stragglers, who were only by degrees gathered up and sent to their commands.

The Federal loss, according to the official reports, was four hundred and eighty-one killed, one thousand and eleven wounded, and twelve hundred and sixteen missing; the casualties being almost exclusively confined to the troops which crossed Bull Run. Twenty-three pieces of artillery were abandoned during the retreat, including the batteries of Ricketts and Griffin, which, through loss of horses, fell into the enemy's hands at the commencement of the panic. But so inefficient was the pursuit, that several pieces abandoned on the north side of Bull Run were on the succeeding day brought safely off the field. A vast amount of material of war was also left on the field. It is worthy of notice, as an exceptional occurrence during the war, that the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment of volunteers, and a battery attached to the Eighth New York militia, demanded their discharge, to which they were entitled, on the eve of the battle, and moved away, in the scornful language of General McDowell, "to the sound of the enemy's cannon." Other regiments, whose terms of service had also expired, cheerfully volunteered to remain until the issue of the battle should be determined. The rebel loss, as stated by General Johnston, was three hundred and seventy-eight killed, fourteen hundred and eightynine wounded, and thirty missing. On the Federal side, Colonel Cameron, of the Seventy-ninth New York Volunteers, a brother of the Secretary of War, was killed, Colonels Hunter and Heintzelman wounded, and Colonels Corcoran and Wilcox, and Captain Ricketts, of Ricketts's battery, were taken prisoners. The rebel Generals Bee and Bartow were killed, and Kirby Smith wounded. Having recovered from the exhaustion of the conflict, the rebels followed the retreating army at a respectful distance, and thenceforth, for many months, practically invested the southern side of the National Capital. Such was the famous battle of Bull Run, of which more absurd misstatements have been circulated than of almost any other conflict of modern times, and the result of which filled the rebels with an idea of their invincibility and a contempt for their enemy, for which they were subsequently destined to pay dear. Abroad it was considered to have settled the superiority of Southern over Northern soldiers, and at once the Confederacy acquired a prestige of no little value, besides gaining hosts of aristocratic admirers. That the defeat was more the result of an untoward and disgraceful accident than of any special skill or bravery of the enemy, must have been sufficiently apparent from our description. The Federal troops, fighting under many disadvantages, were uniformly successful until demoralized by their sudden panic; and the vigor with which they pushed the enemy may be seen in the rebel lists of killed and wounded, and in the utter failure of the latter to pursue the beaten army. Too many instances are on record of causeless panics among veteran troops to single out this occurrence for special opprobrium, and criticism may better deal with those causes which paved the way for a disastrous defeat of our arms. Two of these only need be mentioned here: the numerous delays experienced from the inception of the campaign to its close, and the failure of Patterson to prevent Johnston from going to the assistance of Beauregard. Had the battle been fought a day or even a few

« PreviousContinue »