Commanders on both Sides generally Veterans
of the Mexican War General Irvin McDowell's Preconceived
PlanJohnston reinforces Beauregard and approves his PlansGeneral
Bernard E. BeeAnalysis of the FightSuperb Work of the Federal
ArtilleryChristening of " Stonewall Jackson"McDowell's Gallant
Effort to recover Lost PowerBefore he was shorn of his Artillery he was
the Samson of the FieldThe floutCriticism of McDowellTyler's
Reconnoissance Ability of the Commanding Generals tested.
General Johnston and General Beauregard reached the field,
and busied themselves in getting the troops together and in lines of defence.
Other reinforcements were ordered from the right, including the reserve
brigades at McLean's and Union Mills Fords, and a number of batteries. Bee and
Evans reformed their lines upon Jackson's. After permitting Burnside's brigade
to retire for rest, McDowell pushed his battle by his strong artillery arm,
advancing against and turning the Confederate left, only giving some little
time to select positions for his batteries to plunge more effective fire into
the Confederate ranks. This time, so necessary for McDowell's renewal, was as
important to the Confederates in getting their reinforcements of infantry and
artillery in position, and proved of even greater value in lengthening out the
fight, so as to give Kirby Smith and Elzey, just off the train from the
Shenandoah Valley, time to appear at the last moment.
After arranging the new position of the troops about
Jackson, General Johnston rode back to the Lewis House, where he could better
comprehend the entire field, leaving Beauregard in charge of the troops engaged
on his left. McDowell gave especial care to preparing his batteries for renewal
against the Confederate left. He massed Ricketts's and Griffin's batteries, and
made their practice grand. So well executed was it that the Confederate left
was again in peril, and, seeing reinforcements approaching towards their rear,
General Johnston sent orders to the brigades at the lower fords revoking
authority given them to advance against Centreville, and ordering their return
to the south side, and the brigade at Union Mills was ordered to reinforce the
Confederate left. The brigade at Blackburn's Ford received the recall order in
ample time, but that at McLean's,Jones's,being a little farther
away, became partially engaged before the recall reached it. The brigades
resumed their former position, however, without serious trouble.
With this order came a message to me, saying that the
Federals were pressing severely on our left, and to the limit of its tension,
that reinforcements were in sight, approaching their right, which might prove
too heavy for our brave men, and force us back, for which emergency our
brigades should be held ready to cover retreat. These anxious moments were soon
relieved by the approach of General Kirby Smith's command, that had been
mistaken as reinforcements for the enemy. General Smith was wounded, but was
succeeded in command by the gallant Elzey, who by a well-timed attack
approached the rear of the massed batteries. At the same time a brave charge on
the part of Beauregard, in co-operation with this fortunate attack of Smith and
Elzey, captured the greater part of the batteries and turned some of the guns
upon the brave men who had handled them so well.
McDowell made a gallant effort to recover his lost power,
riding with his troops and urging them to brave efforts, but our convex line,
that he was just now pressing back upon itself, was changed. Though attenuated,
it had become concave by reinforcement, and in elliptical curve was delivering
a concentrated fire upon its adversary. Before the loss of his artillery he was
the Samson of the field; now he was not only shorn of his power, but some of
his mighty strength was transferred to his adversary, leaving him in desperate
plight and exposed to blows increasing in force and effectiveness. Although his
renewed efforts were brave, his men seemed to have given confidence over to
despair. Still a show of battle was made until General Johnston directed the
brigades of Holmes and Early to good positions for attack, when fight was
abandoned and flight ensued.
The regulars under Sykes maintained order, and with the
regular cavalry covered the confused retreat. The Confederates in the field and
approaching at the moment were ordered in pursuit. At the same time another
order was sent the brigades at the lower fords, explaining that the
reinforcements, supposed to be Federals, proved to be Confederates, and that
the former were not only forced back, but were then in full retreat, directing
our brigades to cross again and strike the retreating line on the turnpike. All
of D.R. Jones's brigade that had crossed at McLean's Ford under the former
order had not yet returned to its position under the order to that effect, and
Ewell had gone from Union Mills Ford to the battle on the extreme left, so that
neither of them came in position ready to take part in the pursuit. Those at
Mitchell's and Blackburn's Fords advanced, the former, under General Bonham,
with orders to strike at Cub Run, the latter at Centreville. Finding some
obstruction to his march, General Bonham kept the Centreville road, and joined
the brigade from Blackburn's, taking the lead as the ranking officer.
Through the abandoned camps of the Federals we found their
pots and kettles over the fire, with food cooking; quarters of beef hanging on
the trees, and wagons by the roadside loaded, some with bread and general
provisions, others with ammunition. When within artillery range of the
retreating column passing through Centreville, the infantry was deployed on the
sides of the road, under cover of the forest, so as to give room for the
batteries ordered into action in the open, Bonham's brigade on the left, the
other on the right.
As the guns were about to open, there came a message that
the enemy, instead of being in precipitate retreat, was marching around to
attack the Confederate right. With this report came orders, or reports of
orders, for the brigades to return to their positions behind the Run. I
denounced the report as absurd, claimed to know a retreat, such as was before
me, and ordered that the batteries open fire, when Major Whiting, of General
Johnston's staff, rising in his stirrups, said,
" In the name of General Johnston, I order that the
batteries shall not open."
I inquired, " Did General Johnston send you to communicate
that order ?"
Whiting replied, " No; but I take the responsibility to give
I claimed the privilege of responsibility under the
circumstances, and when in the act of renewing the order to fire, General
Bonham rode to my side and asked that the batteries should not open. As the
ranking officer present, this settled the question. By that time, too, it was
near night. Colonel G. W. Lay, of Johnston's staff, supported my views,
notwithstanding the protest of Major Whiting.
Soon there came an order for the brigades to withdraw and
return to their positions behind the Run. General Bonham marched his brigade
back, but, thinking that there was a mistake somewhere, I remained in position
until the order was renewed, about ten o'clock. My brigade crossed and
recrossed the Run six times during the day and night.
It was afterwards found that some excitable person, seeing
Jones's brigade recrossing the Run, from its advance, under previous orders,
took them for Federal troops crossing at McLean's Ford, and, rushing to
head-quarters at the Junction, reported that the Federals were crossing below
and preparing for attack against our right. And upon this report one of the
staff-officers sent orders, in the names of the Confederate chiefs, revoking
the orders for pursuit.
From the effective service of the two guns of Latham's
battery, at short range, against the odds brought against them, the inference
seems fair that the Imboden battery, had it moved under Bee's orders, could
have so strengthened the position on the Matthews plateau as to hold it and
give time for them to retire and meet General Jackson on tile Henry plateau.
Glorious Victory spread her generous wings alike over heroes and delinquents.
The losses of the Confederates in all arms were 1982.
Federal losses in all arms, 3333 officers and soldiers, twenty-five cannon.
On the 22d the cavalry troop of Captain Whitehead was sent
forward with Colonel Terry, volunteer aide, on a ride of observation. They
picked up a number of prisoners, and Colonel Terry cut the lanyards of the
Federal flag over the court-house at Fairfax by a shot from his six-shooter,
and sent the bunting to head-quarters.
The plan of the Union campaign was that their army in the
Valley of the Shenandoah, under General Patterson, should stand so surely
against the Confederates in that field, under General Johnston, as to prevent
the withdrawal of the latter through the Blue Ridge, which goes to show that
the concentration was considered, and thought possible, and that McDowell was,
therefore, under some pressure to act in time to gain his battle before
Johnston could have time for his swoop from the mountains. At Centreville on
the 18th, McDowell was within five miles of his immediate
objective,Manassas Junction,by the route of Tyler's reconnoissance.
The Sudley Ford route involved a march of twenty miles and drew him nearer the
reach of Johnston's forces. So, if Tyler's reconnoissance proved the route by
Blackburn's Ford practicable, it was imperative on McDowell to adopt it. If it
was proved impracticable, the route by Sudley's Ford was necessary and
justified the delay. But it has been claimed that the Union commander did not
intend to have the reconnoissance, and that he could have made his move a
success by that route if he had adopted it; which, if true, would put him in a
more awkward position than his defeat. He was right in his conclusion that the
Confederates were prepared for him on that route, but it would have been a
grave error to leave the shorter, more direct line for the circuitous route
without first so testing the former as to know if it were practicable, knowing
as he did that the Confederate left was in the air, because of leaven looked
for from over the Blue Ridge. After the trial of General Tyler on the 18th, and
finding the route closed against him, he should have given credit to the
division commander and his troops for their courageous work, but instead he
disparaged their efforts and put them under criticism. The experiment and
subsequent events go to show that the route was not practicable except for
McDowell's first mistake was his display, and march for a
grand military picnic. The leading proverb impressed upon the minds of young
soldiers of the line by old commanders is, "Never despise your enemy." So
important a part of the soldier's creed is it, that it is enjoined upon
subalterns pursuing marauding parties of half a dozen of the aborigines. His
over-confidence led him to treat with levity the reconnoissance of General
Tyler on the 18th, as not called for under his orders, nor necessary to justify
his plans, although they involved a delay of three days, and a circuitous march
around the Confederate left. Then, he put upon his division commander the odium
of error and uncalled-for exposure of the troops. This broke the confidence
between them, and worked more or less evil through the ranks in the afterpart
of the campaign. Had he recognized the importance of the service, and
encouraged the conduct of the division commander, he would have drawn the
hearts of his officers and soldiers towards him, and toned up the war spirit
and morale of his men. Tyler was right in principle, in the construction of
duty, under the orders, and in his more comprehensive view of the military
zodiac. In no other way than by testing the strength along the direct route
could McDowell justify delay, when time was power, and a long march with raw
troops in July weather was pending.
The delay gave Beauregard greater confidence in his
preconceived plan, and brought out his order of the 21st for advance towards
McDowell's reserve at Centreville, but this miscarried, and turned to advantage
for the plans of the latter.
Had a prompt, energetic general been in command when, on the
20th, his order of battle was settled upon, the division under Tyler would have
been deployed in front of Stone Bridge, as soon after nightfall as darkness
could veil the march, and the divisions under Hunter and Heintzelman following
would have been stretched along the lateral road in bivouac, so as to be
prepared to cross Sudley's Ford and put in a good day's work on the morrow. Had
General Tyler's action of the 18th received proper recognition, he would have
been confident instead of doubting in his service. McDowell's army posted as it
should have been, a march at daylight would have brought the columns to the
Henry House before seven o'clock, dislodged Evans, busied by Tyler's display at
the bridge, without a chance to fight, and brought the three divisions,
reunited in gallant style, along the turnpike with little burning of powder.
Thus prepared and organized, the compact battle-order of twenty thousand men
would have been a fearful array against Beauregard's fragmentary left, and by
the events as they passed, would have assured McDowell of victory hours before
Kirby Smith and Elzey, of the Army of the Shenandoah, came upon the field.
Beauregard's mistake was in failing to ride promptly after
his five-o'clock order, and handling his columns while in action. As events
actually occurred, he would have been in overwhelming numbers against
McDowell's reserve and supply depot. His adversary so taken by surprise, his
raw troops would not have been difficult to conquer.
As the experience of both commanders was limited to staff
service, it is not surprising that they failed to appreciate the importance of
prompt and vigorous manuvre in the hour of battle. Beauregard gave
indications of a comprehensive military mind and reserve powers that might,
with experience and thorough encouragement from the superior authorities, have
brought him into eminence as a field-marshal. His adversary seemed untoward,
not adapted to military organization or combinations. Most of his men got back
to Washington under the sheltering wings of the small bands of regulars.
The mistake of supposing Kirby Smith's and Elzey's
approaching troops to be Union reinforcements for McDowell's right was caused
by the resemblance, at a distance, of the original Confederate flag to the
colors of Federal regiments. This mishap caused the Confederates to cast about
for a new ensign, brought out our battle-flag, led to its adoption by General
Beauregard, and afterwards by higher authority as the union shield of the
Confederate national flag.
The supplies of subsistence, ammunition, and forage passed
as we marched through the enemy's camps towards Centreville seemed ample to
carry the Confederate army on to Washington. Had the fight been continued to
that point, the troops, in their high hopes, would have marched in terrible
effectiveness against the demoralized Federals. Gaining confidence and vigor in
their march, they could well have reached the capital with the ranks of
McDowell's men. The brigade at Blackburn's Ford (five regiments), those at
McLean's and Mitchell's Fords, all quite fresh, could have been reinforced by
all the cavalry and most of the artillery, comparatively fresh, and later by
the brigades of Holmes, Ewell, and Early. This favorable aspect for fruitful
results was all sacrificed through the assumed authority of staff-officers who,
upon false reports, gave countermand to the orders of their chiefs.
On the 21st a regiment and battery were discharged from the
Union army, reducing its aggregate to about 34,000. The Confederates had
31,860. McDowell crossed Bull Run with 18,500 of his men, and engaged in battle
There seem to be no data from which the precise figures can
be had. These estimates, though not strictly accurate, are justified by returns
so far as they have been officially rendered.