Tag Archives: Army of Northeastern Virginia

Bull Run Aftermath: Federal Command Changes

July 26, 1861 – Major General George B. McClellan arrived in Washington to take command of all Federal troops around the capital. This was the most significant of several command changes made by the Lincoln administration this month.

In the West, Major General John C. Fremont took over the Western Department, moving his headquarters from Fort Leavenworth to St. Louis. Most operations within his jurisdiction took place in Missouri. Fremont had some 23,000 troops in his department, over a third of whom were 90-day volunteers whose services was about to end.

In the Shenandoah Valley, Major General Robert Patterson learned from a newspaper that he had been relieved as commander of the Federal Army of Pennsylvania. The administration had finally run out of patience with his lack of initiative in keeping Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates from joining Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard at Bull Run. General George Cadwallader, one of Patterson’s brigade commanders, was also relieved.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks replaced Patterson in command of the new Department of the Shenandoah. Banks became the fourth ranking general in the Federal army (behind only Scott, John C. Fremont, and George B. McClellan). He had been a prominent Massachusetts Republican and former U.S. House speaker who once proclaimed that he was “not acquainted with the details of military matters, and personally have no pride in them.” The department consisted of the Valley, along with Maryland’s Washington and Allegheny counties.

Major General John A. Dix replaced Cadwallader in command of the new Department of Maryland, which absorbed the Department of Pennsylvania and included all Maryland counties within 20 miles of both sides of the railroad from Annapolis to Washington.

McClellan’s Promotion

Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

At 2 a.m. on July 22, General McClellan received a telegram ordering him to report to Washington and take command of Major General Irvin McDowell’s army straggling around Alexandria and the Federal capital. McClellan, whose army faced multiple Confederate forces in western Virginia, responded that he would have to somehow break through Monterey to get to Staunton en route to Washington. McClellan suggested that he should instead stay put and have his army reinforced since Johnston and Beauregard would expect no immediate threat from McDowell.

General-in-Chief Winfield Scott initially agreed, but then sent him another message later that morning: “Circumstances make your presence here necessary. Charge (General William S.) Rosecrans or some other general with your present department and come hither without delay.” McClellan relented, leaving Rosecrans to take over the Department of the Ohio.

The Lincoln administration sought a young, energetic leader for the army that had been demoralized at the Battle of Bull Run, and McClellan had recently enjoyed highly publicized success in western Virginia (even though those victories had been small compared to Bull Run). McDowell could no longer lead the army due to his defeat, even if it was not entirely his fault, and Scott was too old and infirmed to take active field command.

McClellan arrived in Washington late on the afternoon of the 26th, having hurried from his northwestern Virginia headquarters to the nearest railroad station on the Baltimore & Ohio line and traveling 150 miles by rail. McClellan wrote that he found “no army to command–only a mere collection of regiments cowering on the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by the recent defeat.”

The 34 year-old McClellan met with President Lincoln and the cabinet at the White House the next day and officially received command of the new Military Division of the Potomac, which included the Departments of Northeastern Virginia and Washington. McClellan’s responsibilities included protecting the capital while reorganizing the army for a new drive on Richmond.

Lincoln asked McClellan to attend the afternoon cabinet meeting. McClellan agreed but first met with General-in-Chief Scott. The aging commander, hurt by charges from younger officers (including McClellan) that he was no longer competent enough to retain his rank (and stung that he had not been invited to the cabinet meeting), kept McClellan occupied long enough to prevent him from attending. Before he left, McClellan received advice from Scott’s aide, Colonel Townsend:

“You will find splendid material for soldiers sadly in need of discipline. You will be beset on all sides with applications for passes, and all sorts of things, and if you yield to the pressure your whole time will be taken up at a desk, writing. You can from the outset avoid this; another officer can do it as well in your name. The troops want to see their commanding general, and to be often inspected and reviewed by him. Another thing: there is here a fine body of regulars; I would keep that intact, as a sort of ‘Old Guard.’ It may some time save you a battle.”

The new commander spent the rest of the day riding through the soldiers’ camps and observing the undisciplined men. To his dismay, none of the approaches to Washington were guarded, and troops left their units to seek entertainment or drink whenever they pleased. McClellan met with Lincoln that night and informed him that Scott had intentionally kept him from attending the cabinet meeting. Lincoln expressed amusement at such petty behavior and asked McClellan to develop a strategy to win in Virginia and quickly end the war.

McClellan immediately set about reorganizing the army, seeking to boost morale while training the new recruits streaming into Washington every day. He resisted Lincoln’s urgings to launch a new offensive in conjunction with a Federal thrust into Tennessee, insisting that the troops be fully trained before moving out. The new commander wrote, “I see already the main causes of our recent failure; I am sure that I can remedy these, and am confident that I can lead these armies of men to victory once more.” He told his wife:

“I find myself in a new and strange position here–President, Cabinet, Genl Scott & all deferring to me–by some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land. I almost think that were I to win some small success now, I could become Dictator, or anything else that might please me—but nothing of that kind would please me—therefore I won’t be Dictator. Admirable self-denial!”

And meeting with members of Congress at the Capitol did nothing to deflate McClellan’s ego, as he wrote that he was “quite overwhelmed by the congratulations I received and the respect with which I was treated.” The politicians expressed eagerness “to give me my way in everything.”

One of McClellan’s initial confidants at the outset was Allan Pinkerton, the famous detective who had guarded Lincoln on his trip from Springfield to Washington in February. Pinkerton, alias Major E.J. Allen, reported: “It is beyond a doubt that from some source the rebels have received early, and to them, valuable notice of the intended actions of the government.” Pinkerton soon began supplying McClellan with regular, though questionable, intelligence on Confederate operations.

Military Strategy

Meanwhile, President Lincoln drafted a memorandum of “military policy suggested by the Bull Run defeat.” It included the following points:

  • The Federal blockade would be strengthened
  • Troops defending Washington would be reorganized
  • Federal forces in Virginia would be readied for a new invasion
  • Reinforcements would be sent to the Shenandoah Valley now that the ineffective Patterson had been replaced
  • Baltimore would be held under occupation while Maryland would be ruled “with a gentle(!), but firm, and certain hand”
  • Federals in the Western Theater would begin advancing, “giving rather special attention to Missouri”
  • Volunteer troops would receive proper training, with those ending their service being replaced by long-term enlistments

Whether or not the Federal commanders would agree with these points remained to be seen.

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Sources

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 49; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8, 14-16; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 108; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-60; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 60-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 50-51; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 98-102; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 348, 350, 359; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 131; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 561-62, 805-06; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8, 22; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 62-69, 75; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 12, 18, 478-79, 537, 573, 598-99, 676, 814-15

The Battle of Bull Run

July 21, 1861 – The first major battle of the war took place in northern Virginia.

Major General Irvin McDowell’s 30,000-man Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia, the largest force ever assembled on the continent, began advancing around 2 a.m. Brigadier General Daniel Tyler’s division took the lead, with the men struggling to march in the dark. The force included the 12,000 Federals moving from their camps at Centreville southwest down the Warrenton Pike to launch a surprise attack the Confederate left flank.

McDowell had a solid battle plan, but exhaustion, lack of discipline, rough roads, and obstructed night vision impeded its execution. Moreover, McDowell was unaware that spies had informed Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Army of the Potomac, of the Federal advance. This had enabled Beauregard to send for Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah to reinforce him.

Before dawn, McDowell sent troops to feint toward the Stone Bridge over Bull Run, a tributary of the Potomac River. Meanwhile, the two Federal flanking divisions conducted a roundabout march toward Confederates along the Sudley Springs Road. At 5:15 a.m., Tyler’s artillery opened fire on Confederates behind the Stone Bridge, initiating the contest. Confederate Colonel Nathan G. Evans responded by moving his small force to meet the threat.

Beauregard’s army held a line along Bull Run and guarded the vital intersection at Manassas Junction, with most of his troops on the right. Johnston’s reinforcements continued arriving from the Shenandoah Valley, and although Johnston outranked Beauregard, he approved the latter’s plan to attack the Federal right. The plan was based on Napoleon’s tactics at Austerlitz, but misinterpreted orders and a lack of coordination among inexperienced troops prevented the Confederates from attacking first. Thus, the Confederates were compelled to take the defense, which virtually negated Beauregard’s plan.

In Washington, Congress adjourned to allow members to stroll out to Centreville and witness the battle. Politicians, ladies, adventurers, newspaper correspondents, and many other spectators clogged the roads from the capital with carriages, gigs, omnibuses, and other conveyances that interfered with Federal operations. Some witnesses brought picnic baskets, wine, and binoculars with them, eager to see a decisive Federal victory.

When the artillery barrage subsided, McDowell issued orders for the Federals to assault the enemy left. Two Federal brigades under General Samuel P. Heintzelman did not arrive at Sudley Ford until 9:30 a.m. This gave Evans time to assemble about 900 Confederates to meet the Federals’ advance. Meanwhile, Federals feinted as planned toward the Stone Bridge and Mitchell’s Ford.

Evans’s men held strong against the Federals at Matthews Hill, where the war’s first heavy fighting took place. Confederate reinforcements from Bull Run led by General Barnard Bee and Colonel Francis Bartow soon arrived to strengthen the defense. However, Heintzelman’s third brigade came up with other reinforcements around 12 p.m., and the Confederate line wavered. The Confederates were then flanked and compelled to withdraw. McDowell rode along his lines, standing in his stirrups and hollering, “Victory! Victory! The day is ours!”

Battle of Bull Run | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Battle of Bull Run | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

McDowell sent telegrams to Washington proclaiming a Federal victory. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott expressed satisfaction to President Abraham Lincoln, who took his customary Sunday carriage ride with his son Tad and attended church. Lincoln visited Scott’s office later that afternoon, where Scott woke from a nap and reassured Lincoln that the Federals would be victorious. Late editions of northern newspapers reported a great victory.

Meanwhile, Confederates under Evans, Bee, and Bartow fell back to Henry House Hill, a key position on the field. Confusion over Beauregard’s orders had nearly left the hill undefended until Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson’s five Virginia regiments took it. Jackson employed tactics used in the Battle of Waterloo by placing his men just below the hill’s crest so they could fire over it without being exposed to enemy fire.

Evans, Bee, and Bartow joined Jackson on the hill after two hours of hard fighting on Matthews Hill. Jackson withstood an onslaught from some 18,000 Federals, enabling the other three commanders to rally their forces behind him. Bee hollered to his men, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally on the Virginians! Let us determine to die here and we will conquer!” Bee fell mortally wounded soon afterwards, but the nickname “Stonewall” stuck for Jackson.

The Confederates held firm against the attacks. McDowell, personally directing troop movements, deployed his men piecemeal rather than in one main thrust, which could have dislodged the Confederates. Meanwhile, Johnston’s Shenandoah Valley reinforcements continued arriving on the field.

While the Federals could not take the hill, more hard luck befell them at around 2:30 p.m. when they had two of their artillery batteries near Henry House Hill captured by the 33rd Virginia, a Confederate unit wearing blue coats. The Federal gunners, mistaking them for comrades, had held their fire until the enemy was upon them. This turned the battle’s tide.

McDowell committed more Federal reinforcements, but they could not break the enemy line. Around 4 p.m., a Confederate brigade led by Colonel Philip St. George Cocke arrived and helped drive the remaining Federals from Henry House Hill. Meanwhile, a separate struggle developed west of the hill along Chinn Ridge. Colonel Oliver O. Howard’s Federal brigade, McDowell’s last fresh unit, stormed the ridge in hopes of flanking the Confederates on Henry House Hill. However, they were soon outflanked themselves by Confederates attacking from the southwest under Generals Arnold Elzay and Jubal A. Early.

The Federals, stunned by their reversal of fortune and exhausted in the sweltering heat, began an orderly withdrawal around 4:30. Beauregard sensed victory and ordered an attack all along the line. The Federals began breaking when the enemy advanced upon them hollering the “Rebel yell” for the first time. When a Confederate artillery shell destroyed a wagon to block Cub Run Bridge, the withdrawal became a chaotic rout, as panicked soldiers crashed into the civilian spectators in a mad dash back to Washington.

Many soldiers returned to Washington within a day, which was a day and a half quicker than it had taken them to march to the battlefield. Confederates captured some troops as well as some spectators, including Congressman Albert Ely of New York, who was hiding behind a tree. A Confederate soldier quipped, “The Yankee Congressman came down to see the fun, came out for wool and got shorn.” President Jefferson Davis sent Ely blankets in a gentlemanly gesture toward a prisoner of war.

Davis took a train from Richmond and Manassas to join in the fight, arriving in mid-afternoon. He tried to rally the remaining Confederates on Henry House Hill, many of whom were wounded: “I am President Davis! All of you who are able follow me back to the field!” Jackson also urged a renewal of the attack and an advance all the way to Washington. But rain began falling, turning roads to mud. Moreover, Johnston explained that the Confederates were just as disorganized and exhausted as the enemy. This evening, McDowell finally managed to establish a defensive line at Centreville made up of reserves.

This battle was enormous compared to the war’s earlier engagements in western Virginia and Missouri. Federals suffered 2,896 casualties (460 killed, 1,124 wounded, and 1,312 missing). The 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment suffered 180 killed or wounded, the highest casualty count of any Federal regiment. Even so, the Minnesotans had refused to retreat until ordered to do so three times. Confederates lost 1,982 (387 killed, 1,582 wounded, and 13 missing). They captured 28 cannon, 37 caissons, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, and nine regimental flags. While Confederates brimmed with confidence after the victory, the defeated Federals realized this would not be a “90-day war.”

When news of the defeat reached Washington, shock and panic prevailed, especially considering McDowell’s earlier assurances of victory. Lincoln returned from his carriage ride after 6 p.m. and read a message Secretary of State William H. Seward had left him from McDowell stating that the army was falling back in defeat. Lincoln hurried to the War Department, where a telegram awaited: “General McDowell’s army in full retreat through Centreville. The day is lost. Save Washington and the remnants of this army… The routed troops will not re-form.”

Lincoln and his cabinet met in Scott’s office to review the details of the disaster as they trickled in. Scott ordered reinforcements to defend the capital. Later that evening, they met with eyewitnesses who relayed horrific accounts of what had happened. But after further assessment, a glimmer of hope came when the War Department reported: “Our loss is much less than was at first represented, and the troops have reached the forts in much better condition than we expected… the capital is safe.” Nevertheless, Lincoln did not sleep.

In Richmond, citizens celebrated victory as the official dispatches arrived. One dispatch came from the president himself: “We have won a glorious though dear-bought victory. Night closed on the enemy in full flight and closely pursued. JEFFERSON DAVIS.”

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Sources

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 46-49; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 94-95, 102, 104-05, 108; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 40-43; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6177-87; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 128-29, 133-35, 141, 146-48, 150; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 59-60; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6444-55; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 84-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 47-49; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2675-87; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 97-100; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 498, 675; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 345; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 105, 107, 130; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 498; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 62-69; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 90-92, 537

Sparring and Final Planning in Northern Virginia

July 18, 1861 – The Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia arrived at Centreville, unaware that troops of the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah were en route by rail to reinforce their outnumbered comrades at Manassas.

By the 18th, it had taken the Federals two days to march 22 miles in the sweltering 90-degree heat. Major General Irvin McDowell, army commander, directed a reconnaissance in force led by Brigadier General Daniel Tyler and Colonel Israel B. Richardson, with orders not to bring on a general engagement. They advanced toward Blackburn’s Ford on Bull Run to probe near the Confederate right-center, but they went too far, and skirmishing erupted with Confederates defending both Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords.

Federal Gen Irvin McDowell and Confederate Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal Gen Irvin McDowell and Confederate Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Richardson ordered a withdrawal when Colonel James Longstreet’s three Confederate brigades stopped his 1st Massachusetts and two cannon. But Tyler defied McDowell’s orders by sending more infantry and artillery into the fight. Longstreet counterattacked with support from General Jubal A. Early, but the green troops bungled the effort. Nevertheless, the Confederates prevented the Federals from reaching Bull Run, and both sides fell back to reorganize. The Federals suffered 83 casualties, while Confederates lost 15 killed and 53 wounded.

Colonel William T. Sherman, whose brigade was part of Tyler’s force, described the combat: “From our camp, at Centreville, we heard the cannonading, and then a sharp musketry-fire… We marched the three miles at the double-quick, arrived in time to relieve Richardson’s brigade, which was just drawing back from the ford, worsted, and stood for half an hour or so under fire of artillery, which killed four or five of my men…”

Confederates celebrated this minor victory, as President Jefferson Davis wired Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, overall commander: “God be praised for your successful beginning.” McDowell expressed annoyance at Tyler’s disobedience, and the Federals had been forced to retreat. However, they gained important intelligence regarding Confederate strength, and from this McDowell deemed the Confederate front too strong to penetrate. He spent another two days collecting supplies and reconnoitering the Confederate lines before finally deciding on a flank attack.

While Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac held an eight-mile line along Bull Run, Major General Joseph E. Johnston prepared to reinforce him with his 11,000-man Army of the Shenandoah. Johnston wrote to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper on the 18th: “(Federal) General (Robert) Patterson, who had been at Bunker Hill since Monday, seems to have moved yesterday to Charlestown, 23 miles to the east of Winchester. Unless he prevents it, we shall move toward General Beauregard to-day…”

Federal Gen Robert Patterson and Confederate Gen J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal Gen Robert Patterson and Confederate Gen J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Patterson’s move to Charles Town made him too far from Johnston’s forces at Winchester to stop them from reinforcing Beauregard. Patterson had planned to attack the Confederates on the 18th, but he reported to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott that not only had Johnston been neutralized at Winchester, but “he had also been reinforced.” Patterson also expressed reluctance to attack because his 90-day enlistments would expire soon, and he complained that orders from Washington did not clearly state whether he should attack or merely keep Johnston occupied.

Before Patterson could get his Federals in motion to do anything, Colonel J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s Confederate cavalry created a diversion in their front near Charles Town. Meanwhile, Johnston had his troops moving out of Winchester by 12 p.m., with Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade in the lead. Officers read a general proclamation to their men, explaining that Beauregard needed help to repel an impending attack.

The troops, initially excited about going into battle, soon became exhausted by the eastward march through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Confederates stopped at Piedmont, the nearest stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad, and boarded train cars to finish their journey to Beauregard. This marked the first large-scale strategic troop movement by railroad in military history. By day’s end, four of Johnston’s brigades totaling some 8,300 men were on eastbound trains.

Meanwhile, Scott in Washington received intelligence that Johnston had given Patterson the slip. Scott asked his general: “Has he not stolen a march and sent reinforcements to Manassas Junction?”

McDowell spent July 19th resupplying and reorganizing his army at Centreville, as well as reworking his plan of attack based on yesterday’s engagement at Blackburn’s Ford. Stragglers trickled in and out of camps throughout the day. Meanwhile, Beauregard spent the day strengthening his defenses along Bull Run.

Johnston continued moving his army eastward on the eight-hour train ride from the Piedmont Station to Manassas Junction. Excessive traffic on the single-track railroad prevented more reinforcements from arriving, but they would be coming soon. Jackson’s men arrived near 4 p.m., and their commander surprised Beauregard and his staff by entering their headquarters at the Wilmer McLean house and announcing his arrival.

During the day, a messenger delivered instructions for Johnston from Beauregard to move his forces via Aldie and arrange them on the Federal right flank. Johnston disregarded this, staying with his railroad transport plan. He then wrote to President Davis, asking him to clarify whether Johnston or Beauregard would be the ranking officer over the combined force. Davis made it clear that Johnston outranked Beauregard:

“You are a general in the Confederate Army, possessed of the power attaching to that rank. You will know how to make the exact knowledge of Brigadier-General Beauregard, as well of the ground as of the troops and preparation, avail for the success of the object in which you cooperate. The zeal of both assures me of harmonious action.”

Johnston arrived at Manassas Junction around 12 p.m. on the 20th with another 1,400 reinforcements in three brigades led by Colonel Francis S. Bartow, and Brigadier Generals Barnard E. Bee and Edmund Kirby Smith. By this time, some 9,000 of Johnston’s Confederates had traveled 50 miles by rail in just two days. Brigadier General Theophilus H. Holmes’s brigade also arrived from Aquia Creek, as did Colonel Wade Hampton’s Legion.

Since Beauregard had been at Manassas for nearly two months and had better knowledge of the region, Johnston allowed him to retain top command. Johnston also approved his plan to mass the Confederates on the right and attack the Federal left, despite its complexity for such green troops. Ironically, McDowell also finalized a plan to move right and attack the Confederate left. Had both armies moved at the same time, they would have swung in a circle. But if one moved before the other, the moving army would put the other on the defensive.

McDowell initially planned to move out on the 20th, but delays in supply delivery compelled him to postpone until the next day. Secretary of War Simon Cameron, visiting McDowell’s headquarters, sent a report on the army to President Lincoln. Other politicians and notable civilians came out from Washington to mingle with the Federals and witness the impending battle. Most Federals expressed confidence, despite hearing the train whistles at Manassas Junction; they believed that the trains carried small bodies of troops from Richmond, not Johnston’s entire army.

McDowell met with his division and brigade commanders that night. He issued final orders for tomorrow’s action, basing his decision to assault the enemy left on the repulse at Blackburn’s Ford two days ago. The Federals would move against an unguarded crossing on the Confederate left, with one division feigning an attack on the Stone Bridge while two divisions crossed Bull Run north of the bridge, near Sudley Springs.

Although McDowell sought no advice, some officers expressed concerns that Johnston may have reinforced Beauregard. McDowell, who himself had originally advised against such a hasty campaign as this, would not consider any further objections; the time for fighting had arrived. The Federals began moving in the evening darkness.

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 93; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6090-102; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-24; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 58-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 46-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 96-98; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 339; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 102-05; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 573

Federals Mobilize in Northern Virginia

July 16, 1861 – The largest army ever assembled in North America went into motion at 2 p.m., targeting the Confederate army at Manassas.

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia around Alexandria and Washington, had been planning his march on Richmond since conferring with President Lincoln and other top advisors at the White House on June 29. The initial invasion launch date had been July 8, but delays in fulfilling supply requisitions and organizing troops pushed it back over a week.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac guarded the vital railroad depot at Manassas Junction. When Beauregard received intelligence that 40,000 Federals were poised to attack his army, he wrote to his friend, Congressman Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, “How can it be expected to that I shall be able to maintain my ground unless reinforced immediately?”

Beauregard asked Wigfall to convince President Jefferson Davis to send reinforcements. Then, he wrote, “If I could only get the enemy to attack me… I would stake my reputation on the handsomest victory that could be hoped for.” Beauregard then ordered his forward units, particularly Brigadier General Milledge Bonham’s Confederates at Fairfax Court House, to fall back if pressured to avoid having the army defeated in detail.

A Confederate spy named Bettie Duval delivered important information to Bonham. Duval worked for prominent Washington socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow, an attractive widow who ran a spy ring in the capital and gained valuable intelligence from politicians eager to make time with her; these politicians allegedly included Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee.

Greenhow’s message came pinned in Duval’s hair. It informed Bonham that General McDowell planned to begin moving his army into northern Virginia on July 16. This message was forwarded to Colonel Thomas Jordan, Beauregard’s chief of staff.

Around Washington, the Federals continued preparing to move. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott met with Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, commanding McDowell’s 1st division, and informed him that the army would begin moving on the 14th. Tyler expressed concern that Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah could move eastward and join forces with Beauregard.

Scott took issue with Tyler’s concern, saying, “(Major General Robert) Patterson will take care of Joe Johnston.” Tyler replied that he would be “agreeably surprised if we do not have to go against both (Johnston and Beauregard).” The Federals spent the 14th reconnoitering the area around Alexandria as McDowell planned to move out the next day.

In Richmond, President Davis met with Major General Robert E. Lee, his military advisor, and Congressman James Chesnut, Jr. of South Carolina, representing General Beauregard, in the parlor of Davis’s temporary residence at the Spotswood Hotel. This was the first Confederate council of war. Chesnut conveyed an elaborate plan devised by Beauregard in which he needed 20,000 reinforcements from Johnston to destroy McDowell’s army. Then he would transfer the reinforcements plus another 10,000 men back to Johnston so he would destroy Patterson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. Johnston would then invade Maryland and threaten Washington from the north while Beauregard advanced and threatened Washington from the south.

Lee opposed the plan because he doubted that Johnston could overcome the Federals’ numerical superiority in the Valley. He also doubted that any Confederate army could penetrate the massive defensive fortifications surrounding Washington. Davis sided with Lee. The men also considered an alternate plan that had been submitted earlier in which Beauregard and Johnston would conduct coordinated operations.

July 15th came and went with no Federal movement; instead McDowell held another meeting with his top subordinates to finalize plans for moving the next day. Each division commander received separate orders, with their units to begin moving by 3 p.m. One division would advance along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad toward Brentsville, two divisions would move down the Little River Turnpike to Fairfax Court House, and the fourth division would cut off any retreating Confederates at Vienna and Germantown.

On the morning of the 16th, McDowell issued marching orders to the officers and men: “The troops will march to the front this afternoon. The three following things will not be pardonable in any commander: 1st. To come upon a battery or breastwork without a knowledge of its position. 2d. To be surprised. 3d. To fall back. Advance guards, with vedettes well in front and flankers and vigilance, will guard against the first and second.”

With 35,000 troops, McDowell commanded the largest army the U.S. had ever assembled (by comparison, General-in-Chief Scott led only 14,000 during the Mexican War). Outnumbering Beauregard by over 10,000 men, McDowell had 50 infantry regiments, 49 cannon in 10 field batteries, and one cavalry battalion. Among McDowell’s troops were nearly 10,000 Regular Army officers and men; all five division commanders and eight of the 11 brigade commanders were Regulars, and most had combat experience. Moreover, McDowell himself had one of the finest reputations in the Federal military.

After over a week of delay, the troops finally began moving out of Alexandria at 2 p.m., marching west, away from the Potomac River. Their first objective was to reach Fairfax Court House, 13 miles away, by 8 a.m. tomorrow. Their final objective was Manassas Junction, 30 miles southwest of Washington, where the Manassas Gap and Orange & Alexandria Railroad crossed.

Cheerful soldiers sang “John Brown’s Body” as they marched. Most of them, unlike their officers, were volunteers with no marching experience, especially in summer heat. Many drank all their water right away without realizing there was no way to get more. They broke ranks to find shade or pick berries, tossing away their heavy equipment to ease their burden. The army covered just six miles on the first day, giving the Confederates much-needed time to prepare.

Colonel William T. Sherman, one of the experienced officers, later wrote: “The march demonstrated little save the general laxity of discipline, for with all my personal efforts I could not prevent the men from straggling for water, blackberries, or any thing on the way they fancied.”

At 8 p.m. on the 16th, Beauregard received a message from Rose O’Neal Greenhow: “McDowell has been ordered to advance.” At this time, Beauregard’s 22,000-man army was posted along an eight-mile line. He immediately ordered his outposts to pull back and began arranging his army in defenses behind Bull Run while awaiting reinforcements from Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Federal army resumed its march early on the 17th. Colonel Sherman wrote about his brigade: “I selected for the field the 13th New York, Col. Quimby; the 69th New York, Col. Corcoran; the 79th New York, Col. Cameron; and the 2nd Wisconsin, Lt.-Col. Peck. These were all good strong volunteer regiments, pretty well commanded; and I had reason to believe that I had one of the best brigades in the whole army… The other regiment, the 29th New York, Col. Bennett, was destined to be left behind in charge of the forts and camps during our absence, which was expected to be short…”

Advance troops from the middle column, led by Brigadier General David Hunter, began entering Fairfax Court House around 10 a.m., two hours after the entire army was supposed to be there. McDowell had hoped to surprise the Confederates stationed there, but General Bonham had already pulled back seven miles west to Centreville, leaving large quantities of supplies behind.

Federals did not fully occupy Fairfax Court House until that night; troops raised the U.S. flag and looted the town until Regular soldiers finally restored order. The army lacked cohesion, even at the top, as McDowell did not even know where Brigadier General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s southern column was until it reached Fairfax. McDowell halted the men for the night, asserting that they needed rest. The next objective was Centreville, nine miles further and within striking distance of the final objective of Manassas Junction.

On the Confederate side, Beauregard wired President Davis: “The enemy has assailed by outposts in heavy force. I have fallen back on the line of Bull Run near Manassas, and will make a stand at Mitchell’s Ford.” Beauregard said that he would fall back to the Rappahannock River if necessary and requested reinforcements.

Davis promptly sent three regiments and an artillery battery from Fredericksburg to Manassas. He then directed Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper to telegraph Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley: “General Beauregard is attacked. To strike the enemy a decisive blow, a junction of all your effective force will be needed. If practicable, make the movement, sending your sick and baggage to Culpepper Court-House, either by railroad or by Warrenton. In all the arrangements exercise your discretion.”

Beauregard sent a wire on the afternoon of the 17th: “I believe this proposed movement of General Johnston is too late. Enemy will attack me in force tomorrow morning.” However, Johnston easily disengaged from “Granny” Patterson, who had disregarded orders by withdrawing to Charles Town and not keeping pressure on Johnston near Winchester. This gave Johnston freedom to move wherever he wished.

Patterson believed that McDowell had already fought the big battle on the 16th and there was no longer any need to keep Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard. However, General-in-Chief Scott notified Patterson that the battle had been delayed and, unaware that Patterson had fallen back to Charles Town, reminded Patterson to keep Johnston occupied. Patterson replied that he would attack the next day.

However, Johnston planned to move eastward and join forces with Beauregard at dawn on July 18, before Patterson could stop him.

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 100; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6067-78; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111, 113, 117; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 57-58; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 57-58, 70-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 45-46; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2675; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 95-96; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 246-47; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 339; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 101; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 472; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361