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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 2a - From New Mexico to Mannasas
The War-Cloud—The Journey Northward—Appointed Brigadier-General—Report to General Beauregard—Assigned to Command at the Scene of the First Conflict—Personnel of the Confronting Forces— Description of the Field of Manassas, or Bull Run—Beauregard and McDowell of the same West Point Class—Battle of Blackburn's Ford—Early's Mistake—Under Fire of Friend and Foe.


I WAS stationed at Albuquerque, New Mexico, as paymaster in the United States army when the war-cloud appeared in the East. Officers of the Northern and Southern States were anxious to see the portending storm pass by or disperse, and on many occasions we, too, were assured, by those who claimed to look into the future, that the statesman would yet show himself equal to the occasion, and restore confidence among the people. Our mails were due semi-monthly, but during winter seasons we were glad to have them once a month, and occasionally had to be content with once in six weeks. When mailday came the officers usually assembled on the flat roof of the quartermaster's office to look for the dust that in that arid climate announced the coming mail-wagon when five or ten miles away; but affairs continued to grow gloomy, and eventually came information of the attack upon and capture of Fort Sumter by the Confederate forces, which put down speculation and drew the long-dreaded line.

A number of officers of the post called to persuade me to remain in the Union service. Captain Gibbs, of the Mounted Rifles, was the principal talker, and after a long but pleasant discussion, I asked him what course he would pursue if his State should pass ordinances of secession and call him to its defence. He confessed that he would obey the call.

It was a sad day when we took leave of lifetime comrades and gave up a service of twenty years. Neither Union officers nor their families made efforts to conceal feelings of deepest regret. When we drove out from the post, a number of officers rode with us, which only made the last farewell more trying.

Passing Fort Craig, on the opposite side of the Rio Grande, we pitched our camp for the night. A sergeant of the Mounted Rifle Regiment came over to see me, and stated that he was from Virginia, and thought that he could go with us to his native State, and at the same time asked that several other soldiers who wished to return to their States might go as my escort. I explained that private soldiers could not go without authority from the War Department; that it was different with commissioned officers, in that the latter could resign their commissions, and when the resignations were accepted they were independent of military authority, and could, as other citizens, take such action as they might choose, but that he and his comrades had enlisted for a specified term of years, and by their oaths were bound to the term of enlistment; that I could not entertain the proposition.

We stayed overnight at Fort Fillmore, in pleasant meeting with old comrades, saddened by the reflection that it was the last, and a prelude to occurrences that must compel the ignoring of former friendships with the acceptance of opposing service.

Speaking of the impending struggle, I was asked as to the length of the war, and said, " At least three years, and if it holds for five you may begin to look for a dictator," at which Lieutenant Ryan, of the Seventh Infantry, said, " If we are to have a dictator, I hope that you may be the man."

My mind was relieved by information that my resignation was accepted, to take effect on the 1st of June. In our travel next day we crossed the line into the State of Texas. From the gloomy forebodings of old friends, it seemed at El Paso that we had entered into a different world. All was enthusiasm and excitement, and songs of "Dixie and the South" were borne upon the balmy air. But the Texas girl did not ascend to a state of incandescent charm until the sound of the first notes of " The Bonny Blue Flag" reached her ear. Then her feet rose in gleeful springs, her limbs danced, her hands patted, her eyes glowed, her lips moved, though she did not care to speak, or listen to any one. She seemed lifted in the air, thrilled and afloat, holding to the " Single Star" in joyful hope of Southern rights.

Friends at El Paso persuaded me to leave my family with them to go by a train that was to start in a few days for San Antonio, and to take the faster route by stage for myself.

Our travelling companions were two young men, returning to their Northern homes. The ride of our party of four (including the driver) through the Indian country was attended with some risk, and required vigilance, to be assured against surprise. The constant watchfulness and possible danger over a five-hundred-miles travel drew us near together, and in closer communion as to our identity and future movements, and suggested to the young men that it would be best to put themselves under my care, trusting that I would see them safely through the Confederate lines. They were of the laboring class, and had gone South to find employment. They were advised to be careful, and talk but little when among strangers. Nothing occurred to cause apprehension until we reached Richmond, Texas, where, at supper, I asked for a glass of milk, and was told there was none.

"What!" said one of my companions, "haven't the keows come up ?"

Signal was telegraphed under the table to be on guard. The nom de plume of the Texas bovine escaped attention, and it passed as an enjoyable lapsus linguoe.

At Galveston we took a small inland sailing-craft, but were a little apprehensive, as United States ships were reported cruising outside in search of all vessels not flying the Stars and Stripes. Our vessel, however, was only boarded once, and that by a large Spanish mackerel that made a misleap, fell amidships, and served our little company with a pleasant dinner. Aboard this little vessel I first met T. J. Goree, an intelligent, clever Texan, who afterwards joined me at Richmond, and served in faithful duty as my aide-de-camp from Bull Run to Appomattox Court-House.

At New Orleans, my companions found safe-conduct to their Northern lines, and I journeyed on to Richmond. Relatives along the route, who heard of my approach, met me at the stations, though none suggested a stop overnight, or for the next train, but after affectionate salutations waved me on to join " Jeff Davis, for Dixie and for Southern rights."

At every station old men, women, and children assembled, clapping hands and waving handkerchiefs to cheer the passengers on to Richmond. On crossing the Virginia line, the feeling seemed to culminate. The windows and doors of every farm-house and hamlet were occupied, and from them came hearty salutations that cheered us on to Richmond. The spirit electrified the air, and the laborers of the fields, white and black, stopped their ploughs to lift their hats and wave us on to speedy travel. At stations where meals were served, the proprietors, in response to offers to settle, said, " Meals for those going on to join Jeff Davis are paid."

On the 29th of June, 1861, I reported at the War Department at Richmond, and asked to be assigned for service in the pay department, in which I had recently served (for when I left the line service, under appointment as paymaster, I had given up all aspirations of military honor, and thought to settle down into more peaceful pursuits). On the 1st of July I received notice of my appointment as brigadier-general, with orders to report at Manassas Junction, to General Beauregard.

I reported on the 2d, and was assigned to command of the First, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Regiments of Virginia Volunteers, to be organized as a brigade. The regiments were commanded respectively by Colonels— Moore, Samuel Garland, and M. D. Corse, all active, energetic, and intelligent officers, anxious to acquire skill in the new service in which they found themselves. Lieutenant Frank Armstead was assigned to duty at brigade head-quarters, as acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Peyton T. Manning as aide-de-camp. Dr. J. S. D. Cullen, surgeon of the First Virginia Regiment, became medical director. The regiments were stationed at Manassas Junction.

On the 6th they were marched out, formed as a brigade, and put through the first lessons in evolutions of the line, and from that day to McDowell's advance had other opportunities to learn more of the drill and of each other. General Beauregard had previously settled upon the stream of Bull Run as his defensive-aggressive line, and assigned his forces accordingly. A brigade under Brigadier-General R. S. Ewell was posted at Union Mills Ford, on the right of the Confederate lines; one under Brigadier-General D. R. Jones at McLean's Ford; Brigadier-General Bonham's brigade was placed on outpost duty at Fairfax Court-House with orders to retire, at the enemy's approach, to Mitchell's Ford, and Brigadier General P. St. George Cocke was to hold the fords between Mitchell's and the Stone Bridge, the latter point to be defended by a regiment and a battalion of infantry, and a battery, under Brigadier-General N. G. Evans.

Between Mitchell's and McLean's Fords, and about half a mile from each, is Blackburn's Ford. The guard at that point was assigned to my command,—the Fourth Brigade,—which was ordered to be ready, at a moment's warning, to march to position, and prepare for battle. In the mean time I was to study the ground and familiarize myself with the surroundings and avenues of approach and retreat. Bull Run rises from the foot-hills of the Blue Ridge and flows southeast through deeps and shallows into the Potomac, about forty miles south of Alexandria. The swell of the tide-waters up to Union Mills gives it the depth and volume of water of a river. Blackburn's Ford is in a great bend of the river, the north bank holding the concave of the turn. On the convex side was a strip of alluvial soil about seventy feet wide, covered by large forest-trees and some tangled undergrowth. Outside and extending some three hundred yards from the edge of the woodland was an arable field upon a pretty ascending plain, beyond which was a second growth of pine and oak. On the north bank stood bluff of fifteen feet, overhanging the south side and ascending towards the heights of Centreville. Below Blackburn's Ford the bluff extended, in more or less ragged features, far down to the southeast. Just above my position the bluff graded down in even decline to Mitchell's Ford, the position assigned for Bonham's brigade, the latter being on the concave of the river, six hundred yards retired from my left and at the crossing of the direct road between Centreville and Manassas Junction. At the Junction well-constructed battery epaulements were prepared for defence.

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