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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 3b - Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run.
Commanders on both Sides generally Veterans of the Mexican War— General Irvin McDowell's Preconceived Plan—Johnston reinforces Beauregard and approves his Plans—General Bernard E. Bee—Analysis of the Fight—Superb Work of the Federal Artillery—Christening of " Stonewall Jackson"—McDowell's Gallant Effort to recover Lost Power—Before he was shorn of his Artillery he was the Samson of the Field—The flout—Criticism of McDowell—Tyler'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 it."

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 seasoned troops.

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 manœuvre 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 18,053 Confederates.

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.

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