General Joseph E. Johnston, who had an army of about 8,000 men in the valley of the Shenandoah, beyond the mountains of the Blue Ridge was immediately informed by telegraph from the War Department, at Richmond, of the situation; and directed to pursue such course as he might think best under the circumstances. He, by a movement with hardly a parallel in the annals of war, joined General Beauregard with his command in time to meet and drive back the advancing, threatening and formidable hosts! It was on this occasion that he displayed those qualities which so distinguished him throughout the war, and which so endeared him to the soldiers and people of the Confederate States. Of this first great battle between the opposing sides, which may very properly be noticed here somewhat in detail, I will let him give the account himself. He being the senior in command, the control of all subsequent operations devolved on him as soon as he reached the field. This was on the evening of Saturday, the 20th. The bloody conflict came off on Sunday, the 21st. In his rapid movement to Manassas, he had pushed forward at the head of only, a part of his forces, leaving the others to follow as quickly as possible. Here is his report of what ensued. I will print such parts as will give a clear and accurate account of the whole. . . .
"The enemy, under cover of a strong demonstration on our right, made a long detour through the woods on his right, crossed Bull Run two miles above our left, and threw himself upon the flank and rear of our position. This movement was fortunately discovered in time for us to check its progress, and ultimately to form a new line of battle nearly at right angles with the defensive line of Bull Run.
"On discovering that the enemy had crossed the stream above him, Colonel Evans moved to his left with eleven companies and two field pieces, to oppose his advance, and disposed his little force under cover of the wood, near the intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike and the Sudley Road. Here he was attacked by the enemy in immensely superior numbers, against which he maintained himself with skill and unshrinking courage. General Bee, moving toward the enemy, guided by the firing, had, with a soldier's eye, selected the position near the Henry House, and formed his troops upon it. They were the 7th and 8th Georgia, 4th Alabama, 2d Mississippi, and two companies of the 11th Mississippi Regiments, with Imboden's battery. Being compelled, however, to sustain Colonel Evans, he crossed the valley and formed on the right and somewhat in advance of his position. Here the joint force, little exceeding five regiments, with six field-pieces, held the ground against about 15,000 United States troops for an hour, until, finding themselves outflanked by the continually arriving troops of the enemy, they fell back to General Bee's2 first position, upon the line of which Jackson, just arriving, formed his brigade and Stanard's battery. Colonel Hampton,3 who had by this time advanced with his legion as far as the turnpike, rendered efficient service in maintaining the orderly character of the retreat from that point; and here fell the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson, his second in command.
"In the meantime I awaited with General Beauregard near the center, the full development of the enemy's designs. About 11 o'clock the violence of the firing on the left indicated a battle, and the march of a large body of troops from the enemy's center toward the conflict was shown by clouds of dust. I was thus convinced that his great effort was to be made with his right. I stated that conviction to General Beauregard, and the absolute necessity of immediately strengthening our left as much as possible. Orders were, accordingly at once sent to General Holmes and Colonel Early, to move with all speed to the sound of the firing, and to General Bonham to send up two of his regiments and a battery. General Beauregard and I then hurried at a rapid gallop to the scene of action, about four miles off. On the way I directed my chief of artillery, Colonel Pendleton, to follow with his own and Alburtis's batteries. We came not a moment too soon. The long contest against five-fold odds and heavy losses, especially of field-officers, had greatly discouraged the troops of General Bee and Colonel Evans. Our presence with them under fire, and some example, had the happiest effect on the spirit of the troops. Order was soon restored, and the battle reestablished, to which the firmness of Jackson's brigade greatly contributed.
Then, in a brief and rapid conference, General Beauregard was assigned to the command of the left, which, as the younger officer, he claimed, while I returned to that of the whole field. The aspect of affairs was critical, but I had full confidence in the skill and indomitable courage of General Beauregard, the high soldierly qualities of Generals Bee and Jackson, and Colonel Evans, and the devoted patriotism of their troops. Orders were first despatched to hasten the march of General Holmes's, Colonel Early's, and General Bonham's regiments. General Ewell was also directed to follow with all speed. Many of the broken troops, fragments of companies, and individual stragglers, were reformed and brought into action with the aid of my staff and a portion of General Beauregard's. Colonel (Governor) Smith, with his battalion, and Colonel Hunton, with his regiment, were ordered up to reenforce the right. I have since learned that General Beauregard had previously ordered them into the battle. They belonged to his corps. Colonel Smith's cheerful courage had a fine influence, not only upon the spirit of his own men, but upon the stragglers from the troops engaged.
The largest body of these, equal to about four companies, having no competent field-officer, I placed under command of one of my staff, Colonel F. J. Thomas, who fell while gallantly leading it against the enemy. These reenforcements were all sent to the right to reestablish more perfectly that part of our line. Having attended to these pressing duties at the immediate scene of conflict, my eye was next directed to Colonel Cocke's brigade, the nearest at hand. Hastening to his position, I desired him to lead his troops into action. He informed me, however, that a large body of the enemy's troops, beyond the stream and below the bridge, threatened us from that quarter. He was, therefore, left in his position.
"My headquarters were now established near the Lewis house. From this commanding elevation my view embraced the position of the enemy beyond the stream, and the approach to the Stone Bridge, a point of especial importance. I could also see the advances of our troops, far down the valley, in the direction of Manassas, and observe the progress of the action and the maneuvers of the enemy.
"We had now sixteen guns and 260 cavalry, and a little above nine regiments of the Army of the Shenandoah, and six guns, and less than the strength of three regiments of that of the Potomac, engaged with about 35,000 United States troops, among whom were full 3,000 men of the old regular army. Yet this admirable artillery and brave infantry and cavalry lost no foot of ground. For nearly three hours they maintained their position, repelling five successive assaults by the heavy masses of the enemy, whose numbers enabled him continually to bring up fresh troops as their preceding columns were driven back. Colonel Stuart contributed to one of these repulses by a well-timed and vigorous charge on the enemy's right flank, with two companies of his cavalry. The efficiency of our infantry and cavalry might have been expected from a patriotic people, accustomed, like ours, to the management of arms and horses, but that of the artillery was little less than wonderful. They were opposed to batteries far superior in the number, range and equipment of their guns, with educated officers, and thoroughly instructed soldiers. We had but one educated artillerist, Colonel Pendletonthat model of a Christian soldieryet they exhibited as much superiority to the enemy in skill as in courage. Their fire was superior, both in rapidity and precision.
"The expected reenforcements appeared soon after. Colonel Cocke was then desired to lead his brigade into action, to support the right of the troops engaged, which he did with alacrity and effect. Within a half hour the two regiments of General Bonham's brigade (Cash's and Kershaw's), came up, and were directed against the enemy's right, which he seemed to be strengthening. Fisher's North Carolina regiment was soon after sent in the same direction. About 3 o'clock, while the enemy seemed to be striving to outflank and drive back our left, and thus separate us from Manassas, General E. K. Smith arrived with three regiments of Elzey's brigade. He was instructed to attack the right flank of the enemy now exposed to us. Before the movement was completed he fell, severely wounded. Colonel Elzey at once taking command, executed it with great promptitude and vigor. General Beauregard rapidly seized the opportunity thus afforded him, and threw forward his whole line. The enemy was driven back from the long-contested hill, and victory was no longer doubtful. He made yet another attempt to retrieve the day. He again extended his right, with a still wider sweep, to turn our left. Just as he reformed to renew the battle, Colonel Early's three regiments came upon the field. The enemy's new formation exposed his right flank more even than the previous one. Colonel Early was, therefore, ordered to throw himself directly upon it, supported by Colonel Stuart's cavalry and Beckham's battery. He executed this attack bravely and well, while a simultaneous charge was made by General Beauregard in front. The enemy was broken by this combined attack. He lost all the artillery which he had advanced to the scene of the conflict. He had no more fresh troops to rally on, and a general rout ensued.
"Our victory was as complete as one gained by infantry and artillery can be. An adequate force of cavalry would have made it decisive. . . .
"The loss of the Army of the Potomac was 108 killed, 510 wounded, 12 missing. That of the Army of the Shenandoah was 270 killed, 979 wounded, 18 missing. Total killed, 378; total wounded, 1,489; total missing, 30.
"That of the enemy could not be ascertained. It must have been between four and five thousand. Twenty-eight pieces of artillery, about 5,000 muskets, and nearly 500,000 cartridges; a garrison flag and ten colors were captured on the field or in the pursuit. Besides these, we captured 64 artillery horses with their harness, 26 wagons, and much camp equipage, clothing, and other property, abandoned in their flight."4
The result of this battle between forces so unequal in numbers as well as so unequal in arms and equipments is to be attributed mainly to the relative spirit by which the officers and men on the opposing sides were moved and animated in the terrible conflict. Great as was the skill of Generals Johnston and Beauregard, in the disposition and movements of their squadrons, that of General McDowell was also very great. His whole plan of operations, from the beginning to the end, showed military genius of the highest order. The result, therefore, did not depend so much upon the superior skill of the commanders on the Confederate side as upon the high objects and motives with which they, as well as those under them, were inspired.
1 From Stephens's "History of the War Between the States." The first battle of Bull Run was fought on July 21, 1861, the Confederates being commanded by Beauregard and the Federals by McDowell. A second battle was fought near the same place in August, 1862. The battle takes its name from a small river tributary to the Potomac. The field of conflict lies about twenty-five miles southwest of Washington. In the South both battles then were, and still are, known as the battles of Manassas.
2 Bernard E. Bee, of South Carolina. He was killed at Bull Run.
3 Wade Hampton, of South Carolina, Governor of the State at the end of the Reconstruction period.
4 The "Century Dictionary of Names" says the Confederate force in this battle numbered 31,000, and the Federals 28,000. The Federals lost 2,952, the Confederates 1,752.
By the time I reached the top of the hill, the retreat, the panic, the hideous headlong confusion, were now beyond a hope. I was near the rear of the movement, with the brave Captain Alexander, who endeavored by the most gallant but unavailable exertions to check the onward tumult. It was difficult to believe in the reality of our sudden reverse. "What does it all mean?" I asked Alexander. "It means defeat," was his reply. "We are beaten; it is a shameful, a cowardly retreat! Hold up, men!" he shouted; "don't be such infernal cowards!" and he rode backward and forward, placing his horse across the road and vainly trying to rally the running troops. The teams and wagons confused and dismembered every corps.
We were now cut off from the advance body by the enemy's infantry, who had rushed on the slope just left by us, surrounded the guns and sutlers' wagons, and were apparently pressing up against us. "It's no use, Alexander," I said, " you must leave with the rest." "I'll be dd if I will!" was his sullen reply, and the splendid fellow rode back to make his way as best he could. Meantime, I saw officers with leaves and eagles on their shoulder-straps, majors and colonels, who had deserted their commands, pass me galloping as if for dear life. No enemy pursued just then; but I suppose all were afraid that his guns would be trained down the long, narrow avenue, and mow the retreating thousands, and batter to pieces army wagons and everything else which crowded it. Only one field-officer, so far as my observation extended, seemed to have remembered his duty. Lieutenant-Colonel Speidel, a foreigner attached to a Connecticut regiment, strove against the current for a league.
I positively declare that, with the two exceptions mentioned, all efforts made to check the panic before Centreville was reached, were confined to civilians. I saw a man in citizen's dress, who had thrown off his coat, seized a musket, and was trying to rally the soldiers who came by at the point of the bayonet. In a reply to a request for his name, he said it was Washburne,2 and I learned he was the member by that name from Illinois. The Hon. Mr. Kellogg made a similar effort. Both these Congressmen bravely stood their ground till the last moment, and were serviceable at Centreville in assisting the halt there ultimately made. And other civilians did what they could.
But what a scene! and how terrific the onset of that tumultuous retreat. For three miles, hosts of Federal troopsall detached from their regiments, all mingled in one disorderly routwere fleeing along the road, but mostly through the lots on either side. Army wagons, sutlers' teams, and private carriages choked the passage, tumbling against each other, amid clouds of dust, and sickening sights and sounds. Hacks, containing unlucky spectators of the late affray, were smashed like glass, and the occupants were lost sight of in the débris. Horses, flying wildly from the battle-field, many of them in death agony, galloped at random forward, joining in the stampede.
Those on foot who could catch them rode them bareback, as much to save themselves from being run over, as to make quicker time. Wounded men, lying along the banksthe few neither left on the field nor taken to the captured hospitalsappealed with raised hands to those who rode horses, begging to be lifted behind, but few regarded such petitions. Then the artillery, such as was saved, came thundering along, smashing and overpowering everything. The regular cavalry, I record it to their shame, joined in the melée, adding to its terrors, for they rode down footmen without mercy. One of the great guns was overturned and lay amid the ruins of a caisson, as I passed it. I saw an artilleryman running between the ponderous fore- and after-wheels of his gun-carriage, hanging on with both hands, and vainly striving to jump upon the ordnance. The drivers were spurring the horses; he could not cling much longer, and a more agonized expression never fixt the features of a drowning man. The carriage bounded from the roughness of a steep hill leading to a creek, he lost his hold, fell, and in an instant the great wheels had crusht the life out of him.
Who ever saw such a flight? Could the retreat at Borodino3 have exceeded it in confusion and tumult? I think not. It did not slack in the least until Centreville was reached. There the sight of the reserveMiles's Brigadeformed in order on the hill, seemed somewhat to reassure the van. But still the teams and footsoldiers pushed on, passing their own camps, and heading swiftly for the distant Potomac, until for ten miles the road over which the grand army had so lately passed southward, gay with unstained banners, and flushed with surety of strength, was covered with the fragments of its retreating forces, shattered and panic-stricken in a single day. From the branch route the trains attached to Hunter's Division had caught the contagion of the flight, and poured into its already swollen current another turbid freshet of confusion and dismay.
Who ever saw a more shameful abandonment of munitions gathered at such vast expense? The teamsters, many of them, cut the traces of their horses, and galloped from the wagons. Others threw out their loads to accelerate their flight, and grain, picks, and shovels, and provisions of every kind lay trampled in the dust for leagues. Thousands of muskets strewed the route, and when some of us succeeded in rallying a body of fugitives, and forming them in a line across the road, hardly one but had thrown away his arms. If the enemy had brought up his artillery and served it upon the retreating train, or had intercepted our progress with 500 of his cavalry, he might have captured enough supplies for a week's feast of thanksgiving. As it was, enough was left behind to tell the story of the panic. The rout of the Federal army seemed complete.
1 Stedman, afterward the well-known poet and critic, was then the war correspondent of the New York World, in which paper this account was published.
2 Elihu B. Washburne, a close friend of General Grant, who, when President, made him Minister to France.
3 The great battle lost by Napoleon in Russia.