« PreviousContinue »
at Winchester, was moved on Charlestown-a step which all critics, judging after the event, will agree to have been unfortunate, in consequence of which no effectual coöperation with the Manassas movement was rendered. On the same day, (Thursday) McDowell resumed his march in the direction of Centreville, aud a premature engagement was brought on at Blackburn's Ford, by a portion of Gen. Tyler's division. The slight repulse which followed ended an immediate advance, and detained the army, inactive, at and near Centreville, for the next two days.
The plan of battle, as now seen in the published order of Gen. McDowell, for Sunday the 21st, was a good one, but the execution of some of its details was imperfect, and the delay of troops in moving to the scene of action prepared the way for the final disaster, through the arrival of Rebel reënforcements from Johnston, whom Patterson had failed to occupy as ordered. The immediate purpose of giving battle at this time, was to force the enemy from his position commanding the Warrenton road, and to destroy the railroad from Manassas to the Valley of Virginia, preventing communication with the large Rebel force in the latter locality.
The stream named Bull Run passes in a southeasterly direction through the ravine at the foot of the slope beyond Centreville. Three roads lead from the latter place to the South and West-one nearly due south, crossing Bull Run at Blackburn's Ford; a second due west toward Groveton, over the Stone Bridge; and a third, about midway between these two, at an angle of forty-five degrees, to cach, extending more directly to Newmarket, (near Manassas Junction), where Beauregard, commanding the Rebel forces, had his headquarters. This last road is known as the Warrenton turnpike. Beyond the run are the Manassas Plains, extending for miles, mostly an open country, like a Western prairie. On the rolling ground near the stream the woods are dense, and there are occasional groves farther away. The Rebel lines extended for a distance of six to ten miles along the right bank of Bull Run, from near Blackburn's Ford to the Stone Bridge, and beyond the Groveton road. The Rebel lines were two or three miles distant, at
the nearest point, from Newmarket, and visible from the headquarters of Beauregard. The number of his men, on Sunday morning, is believed to have been about forty thousand in line, with fifteen or twenty thousand in reserve, exclusive of reënforcements arriving during the day.
A large portion of Johnston's forces had previously reached Manassas Junction, and that General was present in person, but waiving his seniority of rank, allowed Beauregard to conduct the engagement, his dispositions having already been made.
Leaving part of the division under Miles-two brigades with two batteries—as a reserve at Centreville, together with Richardson's brigade, temporarily assigned to the same division, which was to threaten Blackburn's Ford, covered by the enemy's right, McDowell ordered Tyler's division to take position on the Warrenton road, menacing the Rebel center. To Hunter's division was intrusted the important work of turning the Rebel left, going to the right of the Groveton road, and crossing Bull Run above Sudley's Spring. This force was to be followed by Heintzelman's division, which was to cross lower down, after Hunter had effected his crossing and descended the right bank to a point nearly opposite, driving away any force that might be there to dispute the passage. These two divisions were the ones most actively engaged in the ensuing battle. The necessity of strongly guarding against the contingency of a Rebel movement to occupy Centreville, either by Blackburn's Ford or the Warrenton road, was strongly impressed on the mind of the Commanding General. This led to the detachment of one of Heintzelman's brigades, after the movement commenced, to be added to the force on our left. The event showed the wisdom of his action in protecting this position, which the Rebel General had deliberately planned to assail, if we may credit his report, written long afterward, and which, but for McDowell's precautions, might have been taken at the close of the battle, to the much more serious discomfiture of our army.
More time was consumed in getting the men in position, on the morning of the 21st, than had been anticipated. Tyler opened with his artillery at half past six o'clock, eliciting no
reply. Burnsido's brigade, under Hunter, successfully crossed the stream, and emerged from the wooded bank into the open plain beyond. Almost immediately, the head of the column encountered a heavy Rebel force, but Tyler and Heintzelman had each, from their respective positions, succeeded in throwing part of their force across, and presently nearly all but the reserves before mentioned were brought into action. The ground was hotly contested from half past ten o'clock until three. The advantage at the latter hour was clearly on the side of our arms, and the victory seemed assured. That such was the view taken by the Rebel commanders even, is seen from the accounts of the battle from that side.
At this important juncture, a further reënforcement from Johnston's army at Winchester (perhaps, in fact, "the residue" of that army, as supposed by Gen. McDowell) arrived on the field. Our men, who had been up since two o'clock, had marched several miles, and had fought for many hours, were exhausted by the privations they had necessarily undergone, and from the fatigue incident to such labors in an excessively hot day. Most were inexperienced troops. This was their first engagement. The new masses now hurled upon them decided the event. The battle was lost. Panic and pell-mell retreat ensued. Only on reaching Centreville was any degree of order restored, after the first falling back. The official report of Gen. McDowoll states his loss as 481 killed, and 1,011 wounded, without an enumeration of prisoners. Beauregard stated his own losses as 269 killed, and 1,438 wounded, and estimated McDowell's entire loss (including prisoners) at over 4,500. The battle field remained in possession of the insurgents, yet, in spite of their superior numbers, they failed to improve their victory by either a destructive pursuit or an early movement upon Washington. The Rebel General confesses, in his official report, that he was intending, before the battle, to attack McDowell, instead of awaiting his farther advance, manifestly hoping, after uniting Johnston's forces and his own, to gain possession of the Federal Capital. The hardcontested field of Bull Run postponed farther attempts to accomplish this purpose, and the prompt and efficient measures
taken for the defense of Washington rendered the joint campaign of Johnston and Beauregard as unproductive of material results, as the advance of McDowell, unsustained by Patterson, had been wanting in military success. It was chiefly in its moral effect, at home and abroad, that this battle had any special significance