Tag Archives: Manassas

Davis Deals with Critical Commanders

August 4, 1861 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis responded to allegations made by Major General P.G.T. Beauregard, who joined with Major General Joseph E. Johnston in criticizing Davis’s administration.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this month, Davis began experiencing dissension among his two top commanders at Manassas. Davis hoped that the Confederate Army of the Potomac would maintain the strategic initiative by resuming the offensive after the Battle of Bull Run, but Johnston, the army’s ranking officer, cited a lack of supplies as a reason not to advance. Davis wrote to Johnston on the 1st:

“We are anxiously looking for the official reports of the battle of Manassas, and have present need to know what supplies and wagons were captured. I wish you would have prepared a statement of your wants in transportation and supplies of all kinds, to put your army on a proper footing for active operations…”

Davis urged Johnston to “be prompt to avail ourselves of the weakness resulting” from plummeting Federal morale due to their defeat last month.

That same day, a letter was read to the Confederate Congress from Beauregard arguing that “want of food and transportation has made us lose all the fruits of our victory. We ought to, at this moment, be in or about Washington… From all accounts, Washington could have been taken up to the 24th instant, by 20,000 men!” The press quickly published this letter in various newspapers, and taking the hero of both Fort Sumter and Bull Run at his word, most southerners put the blame on Davis for failing to adequately care for the troops.

Davis testified before Congress and asserted that the Commissary Department was working as well as it could with its limited resources, and that Beauregard’s letter may have exaggerated the issue. Davis acknowledged that Beauregard had informed him the week before that some regiments had no food, but Davis had shared a report with him from Colonel Lee at the Commissary stating that local citizens were making up the ration shortages by donating food. Davis conceded that if the army lacked rations, “the neglect of the subsistence department demands investigation and proper correction.”

Three days after Beauregard’s letter was read to Congress, Davis wrote a letter assuring him that the government was doing all it could to meet the army’s needs. Davis then stated:

“I think you are unjust to yourself in putting your failure to pursue the enemy to Washington to the account of short supplies of subsistence and transportation. Under the circumstances of our army, and in the absence of the knowledge since acquired, if indeed the statements be true, it would have been extremely hazardous to have done more than was performed… Enough was done for glory, and the measure of duty was full; let us rather show the untaught that their desires are unreasonable, than, by dwelling on possibilities recently developed, give form and substance to the criticisms always easy to those who judge after the event.”

Davis then wrote once more to Johnston regarding the complaints about inadequate food and medical care in the army. The president continued defending himself against criticisms and accusations from the public, Congress, and his commanders throughout the month.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6398-405, 6742; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 103-05, 110

From Robert McAllister, 1st New Jersey

Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Robert McAllister, 1st New Jersey Volunteer Infantry

Fort Albany

July 25, 1861

New Jersey State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

New Jersey State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

FRIEND WIESTLING:

In writing to you yesterday, I had to stop short, as the cry was: “The enemy are coming.” But it turned out to be only a troop of horse. Fire was exchanged and they disappeared.

The right wing of our Regiment have since been engaged in throwing up breastworks at the Arlington Mills, some three miles out from the river at a road and railroad crossing, where we are planting a battery to sweep the road. We hope the North will pour down her troops so that before long we may take up our line of march to Centreville and Manassas Junction and regain what we have lost.

No retreat should have been ordered at Bull Run, for the day was ours. The enemy were whipped. The men fought brave enough, but we have too many cowardly officers. Yet we have very many brave ones who did credit to our arms.

Sabbath morning, July 21st, the 1st and 2nd New Jersey Volunteers were encamped at Vienna. Col. McLean commanded the 2nd New Jersey. Being Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Regiment, I commanded that unit, as our Col. Montgomery outranked McLean and thus had command of the whole.

The roaring of artillery announced the opening of the battle of Bull Run. Three of our companies were absent on reconnaissance and had not returned when orders came from Headquarters for us to move up to Centreville. We were soon on our way and moving rapidly toward the scene of conflict. We passed Germantown, the artillery sounding louder and louder. Some miles on this side of Centreville, we met a gentleman who said all was right, the enemy were driven in toward Manassas Gap. On we went, feeling elated. After a while, the artillery ceased firing. We then knew that the battle was decided; but which way was the question.

Soon this sad story was told by the confused mass of the retreating army. We determined to do what we could to stop the panic. We threw our columns across the road, appealed to their patriotism, to their honor, to the Flag, and urged them to return and help us fight the battle. But the panic was so great that our appeals were for the time unheeded. We then charged bayonets and stopped the stampede, letting only the wounded pass on…

Cheer after cheer went up for us as we advanced, and solemn promises were made on the part of the stampeders that they would fall in our rear if we advanced through them and formed a line of battle. Others cried: “Go up yonder hill and you’ll get it! You will be cut to pieces!” Still others encouraged us with hopes that we would save their retreat and bear the brunt of the battle.

The stampede was now stopped and we were on the summit of a hill. Col. Montgomery had a conference with Genl. McDowell and urged the propriety of making a stand on the heights of Centreville–throwing up breastworks, holding the position, and not retreating to Washington. The General consented and ordered him to take his command to the other side of Centreville and form his lines for defense. We passed Centreville and took up a position on the hill with our right resting on the road along which the enemy would have to come. But when we had accomplished this and were ready for battle, we found that our 2nd New Jersey Regiment had retreated. Two regiments under the command of Col. Blenker were the only troops left besides…

After sitting some time on my horse in silence–the men having nearly all fallen asleep–I passed over to the left wing on the other side of the road in order to throw out additional pickets. One of our Captains asked me if I knew the danger we were in.

“Certainly,” I replied.

“Why don’t we retreat?” he then asked.

I told him my orders were to hold this position and that I was going to do it.

“We may as well surrender all at once,” he said, “as we will be cut to pieces.”

I told him we would never surrender and that we would give them a tremendous fight.

I then returned to my position and remained there until Maj. Hatfield returned and informed me that we had to retreat. Our orders were given in a low tone, almost a whisper…

I do contend that we–i.e., all the army–ought to have formed at Centreville, according to Montgomery’s idea. Had that plan been pursued, we would be in possession of it yet.

A great many claim the credit of protecting the retreat and being the last to leave the field. But it is all in the imagination, for we were the very last to leave Centreville. In confidence I tell you that when our Colonel called on Genl. McDowell, he could not be found. He had retreated without giving us order to retreat, and we would have been left to be cut to pieces had we not accidentally discovered that Col. Blenker was retreating. You see it stated that Blenker’s command saved the retreat, and yet we were in Centreville two hours after Col. Blenker left.

I have now given a fair, unvarnished statement of the whole matter, but have been so much interrupted that I fear it will be uninteresting…

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 13-18

From Philip Powers, 1st Virginia Cavalry

Letter from Sergeant Major Philip Powers, 1st Virginia Cavalry

Camp at Fairfax Courthouse

July 23, 1861

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

MY DEAREST WIFE:

Several Clark men, among them Knelles, were in our camp for a short time this evening but I was so busy I had not time even to drop you a line, and fearing lest the same thing may occur again, I write tonight, though excessively fatigued.

Yesterday we had a drenching rain all day and most of last night, and being without our tents we could not escape the rain and mud. We broke our camp however about midnight and marched to this place accompanied by two regiments of infantry and one battery of artillery. I was glad to leave, for as I wrote you we were near by a hospital of the enemy where (there were) over three hundred of their wounded, dead and dying. Many of them necessarily left out in all the inclemency of weathers to die. To pass by it was enough to soften and sicken the hardest heart. I will not dwell upon the awful scene.

The battle was nothing to this after piece. The excitement of the contest, the cheering of the soldiers, the triumph of victory and the whole field of many of its terrors–nothing could lessen the horrors of the field by moonlight. Enough–I cannot, I will not describe it. May God, in his infinite mercy, avert a second such calamity. Our march after we got beyond the scenes of he fight was rather cheering than otherwise. For twelve miles the road was literally strewn with every description of baggage, wagons, ambulances, barrels of sugar, crackers, ground coffee and thousands of axes, spades, shovels, picks, arms by the thousands, clothing of every description, cooking utensils–in fact, everything–and all left behind to expedite their flight, which was never stopped until they reached Washington.

Our troops have been busily engaged in appropriating everything they might possibly need, from a pin cushion to the finest army tent. In this place we found in several houses clothing enough to fill every room in our house. Their army was splendidly equipped with every possible convenience and comfort. But I cannot account for their utter confusion and panic. Their own papers give our regiment the credit of turning the tide of victory on our side. The papers if you can see them will give you all the particulars…

I do not know what our next move will be but suppose it will be upon Alexandria. All I desire is to drive them from our soil and secure peace–I would not shed another drop…

I cannot write now. Farewell! I pray that my wife and little children may be protected and comforted at all times.

Ever Yours,

P.H. POWERS

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 11-13

From Eugene Blackford, 5th Alabama

Letter from Major Eugene Blackford, 5th Alabama Volunteer Infantry

Bivouac Camp of the Advanced Guard, on the railroad near Union Mills

Above Manassas

22nd July, 1861

Alabama State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

Alabama State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

MY DEAR FATHER:

We are very much fatigued and jaded by our late movements. I must relieve your anxiety by letting you know that I am alive and well. I was in the great battle of yesterday, tho our regt. arrived too late to take any considerable part in the action. But I will go back and let you know what I have been doing since this day a week.

Last Monday the enemy advanced their lines considerably and caused our pickets to fall back some two miles. We were up all Tuesday night expecting to march down to the battery to defend it. At 8 o’clock Wednesday, the advance guard of the enemy appeared, and we went out to give battle. We all took our positions behind our entrenchments, and remained there some time while parties of our men were skirmishing in front.

At last they were driven in, and the firing commenced upon our line. The enemy, having minie muskets, could fire upon us long before we could think of returning the compliment, and so we had to take it coolly. No wound was sustained by our men (in my company) except one pretty badly wounded. The balls make a very loud singing noise when they pass near you, and at first caused me to duck my head, but I soon became used to it. I never expected to be alarmed or excited in battle, but really it is a very different affair from what I thought it. I never was cooler in my life, and have ever since been very much pleased therefore, as I shall have no trouble hereafter…

Yesterday morning, about daylight, word was brought that the enemy was advancing on all sides, and that we must be ready to advance to the support of any point that might be seriously threatened. We had an alarm about 8 o’clock and set out immediately, but were ordered back before we had proceeded far, because the order was countermanded. We stood some eight hours in the sun on the road awaiting further orders. Since seven in the morning, heavy cannonading has been heard on all sides, mingled with a perfect roar of musketry. At eleven o’clock we set off at double quick to reinforce our men at Mitchell’s Ford and so, after crossing a dozen creeks, in the same creek a dozen times, we came upon the enemy. While retreating, they had been informed of our coming and had set off double quick, so we had our march of three miles for nothing.

We then came right about and set off to reinforce our men in the great battle (not yet named) about ten miles from us. This distance we marched at double time and came on the field about five o’clock, too late as I said to do much service, but early enough to smell a little gunpowder and receive a little of the enemy’s fire. We went over the battlefield several miles in extent. T’was truly awful, an immense cloud of smoke and dust hung over the whole country, and the flashing of the artillery was incessant tho none of the balls struck my company. One bomb burst a little above me, and killed and wounded several. This was our only loss. Had we been an hour earlier, many would not have lived to tell of it.

I shan’t attempt to describe the appearance of the field, literally covered with bodies, and for five miles before reaching it I saw men limping off, more or less wounded. We met wagon loads of bodies coming off to Manassas, where they are now piled in heaps. While we were looking over the field, an order came for us to go back to our batteries ten miles off, and defend them from the enemy who were advancing upon them, so we had to go back, tired as we were, to our holes, where we arrived half dead at twelve o’clock last night, having marched twenty-six miles heavily loaded. We have no protection against the rain, which has been falling all day. I have no blanket, not having seen my baggage since leaving Fairfax; I never was so dirty before in my life and besides I have scurvy in my mouth, not having anything but hard bread and intensely salty meat to eat, and not enough of that.

I do not however complain, nor do my men, tho I never thought that such hardships were to be endured. We have our meat in the blaze, and eat it on our bread. A continual firing is now going on around us.

Your affectionate son,

EUGENE BLACKFORD

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 8-13

The Bull Run Aftermath

July 22, 1861 – News of yesterday’s Confederate victory spread throughout North and South. Southerners celebrated while northerners resolved to continue the fight.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Rain began pouring on the battlefield on the night of July 21. The chaotic Federal retreat had compelled Confederate President Jefferson Davis to order a pursuit all the way to Washington, reasoning that such panicked troops could not defend the capital. But the rain prompted Davis to modify his order to begin the pursuit the next morning.

In a late-night meeting between Davis and his top commanders, Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, the commanders argued against any pursuit at all. They explained that their men were too disorganized and exhausted to advance, especially in the heavy rain and mud. They did not have enough food or ammunition for another major battle, and they lacked the equipment needed for what could be a long campaign against Washington. Moreover, the Davis administration had maintained that the Confederacy would fight only to secure independence, not to conquer the U.S.

The generals provided intelligence showing that Washington’s defenses were too strong to penetrate. Davis, not wanting to override the commanders who knew their troops best, relented. Meanwhile, Confederates continued gathering their wounded, burying their dead, and rounding up prisoners. The captured Federals and civilians would be transported to Richmond and treated as prisoners of war as leverage against threats from the Lincoln administration to execute Confederate captives as traitors or pirates.

Davis awarded Beauregard a promotion from brigadier to full general for his battle performance:

“Sir: Appreciating your services in the battle of Manassas, and on several other occasions during the existing war, as affording the highest evidence of your skill as a commander, your gallantry as a soldier, and your zeal as a patriot, you are promoted to be a general in the army of the Confederate States of America, and, with the consent of Congress, will be duly commissioned accordingly.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln met with his cabinet on the night of the 21st and listened to eyewitness accounts of the Federal disaster. Emma S. Edmonds, a Federal field nurse at Georgetown Hospital, described the post-battle chaos:

“Washington at that time presented a picture striking illustrative of military life in its most depressing form… Every bar-room and groggery seemed filled to overflowing with officers and men, and military discipline was nearly, or quite, forgotten for a time… The hospitals in Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown were crowded with wounded, sick, discouraged soldiers. That extraordinary march from Bull Run, through rain, mud, chagrin, did more towards filling the hospitals than did the battle itself… Measels, dysentery and typhoid fever were the prevailing diseases after the retreat…”

Federal troops continued straggling into Washington the following day. Walt Whitman, poet and correspondent for the Brooklyn Standard, wrote:

“The defeated troops commenced pouring into Washington over the Long Bridge at daylight on Monday, 22nd–day drizzling all through with rain… The sun rises, but shines not. The men appear, at first sparsely and shame-faced enough, then thicker, in the streets of Washington–appear in Pennsylvania Avenue, and on the steps and basement entrances… Amid the deep excitement, crowds and motion, and desperate eagerness, it seems strange to see many, very many, of the soldiers sleeping–in the midst of all sleeping sound…”

Many panicked soldiers hurried to the railroad station to take trains back home, but Federals officials put the railroads under heavy guard. Some troops nearly swamped a boat coming from Alexandria by rushing onto its decks. Northerners learned of the Federal fiasco in the newspapers, and gloom pervaded the northern states. A New Yorker wrote, “Today will be known as BLACK MONDAY. We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped.”

Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federals at Bull Run, rode into Arlington and issued orders posting troops to defend Washington, just across the Potomac. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott also ordered Federals to garrison the forts surrounding the capital and assigned 15,000 men for McDowell to post on the Virginia side of the river in defense. The rest of McDowell’s army now fell under Major General Joseph Mansfield, who commanded all troops in the capital.

Northern pundits and officials offered many reasons for the defeat. Some blamed Major General Robert Patterson for failing to stop Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard; this had been remedied just before the battle when Scott removed Patterson from command. Others blamed Scott for going through with the battle even though the green Federals troops were not prepared; few acknowledged that Scott had not wanted to fight in the first place but only succumbed to pressure from the northern public and the Lincoln administration. Others blamed McDowell and his officers for a lack of leadership. McDowell had actually performed well during the battle, but his strategy had been too complicated for such inexperienced soldiers to execute.

Lincoln finally concluded that the Federals had fought bravely and would have won the battle had Johnston not arrived with reinforcements. The Federals may have been routed, but they could be reorganized and trained to fight again. A correspondent for the London Times reflected most northerners’ sentiment by predicting: “This prick in the great Northern balloon will let out a quantity of poisonous gas, and rouse the people to a sense of the nature of the conflict on which they have entered.”

In the Confederacy, southerners celebrated the dramatic victory on the 22nd. Confederates at Manassas collected the vast quantity of arms, supplies, and equipment that the retreating Federals had left behind. Many soldiers expressed astonishment at the extravagant stores they found, especially since they were almost out of food.

Davis met with Johnston and Beauregard once more on the night of the 22nd, where the question of whether to pursue the Federals came up again. The rains had turned the roads to mud, and the Potomac River had swelled, making it very difficult to cross. Not only were the Confederate troops just as inexperienced as the Federals, but they were hungry and tired as well. And regarding Washington’s fortifications, Beauregard said, “They have spared no expense.” Unaware of the chaos and panic sweeping the capital at that time, the men resolved once and for all not to pursue.

In Richmond, the Provisional Confederate Congress received Davis’s dispatches from the battlefield. Based on these, Congress approved resolutions thanking God and calling on citizens to offer thanksgiving and praise to God for the victory at Manassas. The resolutions also condemned the bloodshed caused by the Federal invasion and offered to the families of those who died in battle assurance that “the names of the gallant dead as the champions of free and constitutional liberty” would be remembered in the people’s hearts.

In the North, the mood was balanced between grim determination to continue the struggle and hopeless despair. Horace Greeley, influential editor of the New York Daily Tribune, exemplified the latter. Greeley had been one of the most vocal supporters of destroying the Confederacy before the battle; his newspaper had published the war cry, “On to Richmond!” But on July 29, Greeley wrote to Lincoln stating that he now had a change of heart after “my seventh sleepless night–yours, too, doubtless.”

He wrote, “You are not considered a great man, and I am a hopelessly broken one… Can the rebels be beaten after all that has occurred, and in view of the actual state of feeling caused by our late awful disaster?” If the Confederacy could not be defeated, Greeley advised, “do not fear to sacrifice yourself to your country… every drop of blood henceforth shed in this quarrel will be wantonly, wickedly shed, and the guilt will rest heavily on the soul of every promoter of the crime.”

Greeley recommended negotiating an armistice “with a view to a peaceful adjustment.” He then asserted that in New York City, “the gloom… is funereal–for our dead at Bull Run were many, and they lie unburied yet. On every brow sits sullen, scorching, black despair. If it is best for the country and for mankind that we make peace with the rebels at once and on their own terms, do not shrink even from that.”

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 95; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6177-87, 6293, 6305-16, 6730; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-52; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 59-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6455; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 98-100, 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. 345, 347; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 121, 130; 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

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

The Bull Run Campaign Begins

June 29, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln held a special cabinet meeting in which Major General Irvin McDowell explained his plan to invade northern Virginia, crush the Confederate army, and capture Richmond.

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Five days earlier, McDowell had responded to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s request to submit a strategy on how to defeat the Confederates in Virginia. McDowell’s plan was very specific, with two assumptions:

  • Major General Robert Patterson’s Federals in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia were too far west to join forces with him;
  • Patterson would occupy Leesburg, Virginia and thus keep General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah from linking with the Confederate Army of the Potomac in northern Virginia under General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Estimating Beauregard’s strength at 25,000 men, McDowell proposed to first advance on Vienna and then on to Manassas with at least 30,000 troops plus 10,000 in reserve. The Federals would march in three columns:

  • The first would move from Vienna to disperse Confederates around Centreville and Fairfax Court House;
  • The second would move from Alexandria on the Little River Turnpike to cut the Confederates’ retreat;
  • The third would move down the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to Manassas.

This plan required McDowell’s army to be heavily reinforced and the railroad to be rebuilt. It made little note of the earlier plans suggested by either Patterson or Scott, and it greatly relied on Patterson preventing Johnston from moving east.

McDowell further explained this plan at the cabinet meeting on the 29th, as the growing impatience among northerners had prompted Lincoln to call his commanders together to finalize plans and set a date for when the offensives would begin.

Scott expressed uncertainty about McDowell’s strategy; the general-in-chief reiterated his unpopular “Anaconda Plan” to blockade the coastline and seize control of the vital Mississippi River. However, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs argued that by the time that Scott’s plan was implemented, northern fervor for the war would wane. With McDowell’s plan, the 90-day volunteers would be used before their service terms expired.

McDowell tacked a map to the wall and offered several invasion options. Lincoln and his advisors approved one: based on the presumption that Beauregard would gather up to 35,000 Confederates at Manassas, McDowell would lead his army in three columns westward to seize Fairfax Court House, 16 miles away, and then Centreville, five miles further.

Two of three columns would create a diversion before the supposed enemy center at a creek called Bull Run, while the third column would move around the Confederate right, cut off the railroad to Richmond, and threaten the enemy rear. This would force the Confederates to fall back to the Rappahannock River. However, it had a heavy dependence on Patterson’s 15,000 Federals occupying Leesburg to prevent Johnston’s 11,000 Confederates from moving east to reinforce Beauregard.

This was a sound plan for a veteran army, but it would be difficult for inexperienced officers and soldiers to execute. Scott still expressed skepticism that this single campaign would end the war, and McDowell requested more time to train his three-month volunteers.

Ultimately Lincoln overrode Scott’s objections and denied McDowell’s extension request, telling him, “You are green, it is true, but they are green, also; you are all green alike.” McDowell’s request for 30,000 men was granted, and his campaign was to begin by July 9.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 110-11; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 53; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6433; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 40-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 88-89; 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. 335