Stonewall Jackson at Battle of Bull Run
By effective range is meant the distance where, under ordinary conditions, the enemy’s losses are sufficient to stop his advance. The effective range of Brown Bess was about 60 yards. The American rifled artillery was effective, in clear weather, at 2,000 yards, the 12-pounder smooth-bore at 1,600, the 6-pounder at 1,200.
Union Mills on the right. Besides these two points of passage there were no less than six fords, to each of which ran a road from Centreville. The country to the north was undulating and densely wooded, and it would have been possible for the Federals, especially as the Southern cavalry was held back south of the stream, to mass before any one of the fords, unobserved, in superior numbers. Several of the fords, moreover, were weakly guarded, for Beauregard, who had made up his mind to attack, had massed the greater part of his army near the railroad. The Shenandoah troops were in reserve; Bee’s and Bartow’s brigades between McLean’s and Blackburn’s fords, Jackson’s between Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords, in rear of the right centre.
The position south of Bull Run, originally selected by General Lee,1 was better adapted for defence than for attack. The stream, with its high banks, ran like the ditch of a fortress along the front; and to the south was the plateau on which stands Manassas Junction. The plateau is intersected by several creeks, running through deep depressions, and dividing the high ground into a series of bold undulations, level on the top, and with gentle slopes. The most important of the creeks is Young’s Branch, surrounding on two sides the commanding eminence crowned by the Henry House, and joining Bull Run a short distance below the Stone Bridge. That part of the field which borders on Flat Run, and lies immediately north of Manassas Junction, is generally thickly wooded; but shortly after passing New Market, the Manassas-Sudley road, running north-west, emerges into more open country, and, from the Henry House onward, passes over several parallel ridges, deep in grass and corn, and studded between with groves of oak and pine. Here the large fields, without hedges, and scantily fenced, formed an admirable manœuvre ground; the wide depressions of the creeks, separating the crests of the ridges by a space of fifteen or sixteen hundred yards, gave free play to the artillery; the long easy slopes could be swept by fire, and the groves were no obstruction to the view.
1 O.R., vol. ii, p. 505.
The left flank of the Confederate position, facing north, on either side of the Manassas-Sudley road, was thus an ideal battle-field.
July 21, 6.30 a.m. Sunday morning, the 21st of July, broke clear and warm. Through a miscarriage of orders, the Confederate offensive movement was delayed; and soon after six o’clock the Federals opened with musketry and artillery against the small brigade commanded by Colonel Evans, which held the Stone Bridge on the extreme left of the Confederate line. An hour later the Shenandoah brigades, Bee’s, Bartow’s, and Jackson’s, together with Bonham’s, were ordered up in support.
8.30 a.m. The attack was feebly pressed, and at 8.30 Evans, observing a heavy cloud of dust rising above the woods to the north of the Warrenton road, became satisfied that the movement to his front was but a feint, and that a column of the enemy was meanwhile marching to turn his flank by way of Sudley Springs, about two miles north-west.
9 a.m. Sending back this information to the next brigade, he left four companies to hold the bridge; and with six companies of riflemen, a battalion called the Louisiana Tigers, and two six-pounder howitzers, he moved across Young’s Branch, and took post on the Matthews Hill, a long ridge, which, at the same elevation, faces the Henry Hill.
Evans’ soldierly instinct had penetrated the design of the Federal commander, and his ready assumption of responsibility threw a strong force across the path of the turning column, and gave time for his superiors to alter their dispositions and bring up the reserves.
The Federal force opposite the Stone Bridge consisted of a whole division; and its commander, General Tyler, had been instructed to divert attention, by means of a vigorous demonstration, from the march of Hunter’s and Heintzleman’s divisions to a ford near Sudley Springs. Part of the Fifth Division was retained in reserve at Centreville, and part threatened the fords over Bull Run below the Stone Bridge. The Fourth Division had been left upon the railroad, seven miles in rear of Centreville, in order to guard the communications with Washington.
Already, in forming the line of march, there had been much confusion. The divisions had bivouacked in loose order, without any regard for the morrow’s movements, and their concentration previous to the advance was very tedious. The brigades crossed each other’s route; the march was slow; and the turning column, blocked by Tyler’s division on its way to the Stone Bridge, was delayed for nearly three hours.
9.30 a.m. At last, however, Hunter and Heintzleman crossed Sudley Ford; and after marching a mile in the direction of Manassas Junction, the leading brigade struck Evans’ riflemen. The Confederates were concealed by a fringe of woods, and the Federals were twice repulsed. But supports came crowding up, and Evans sent back for reinforcements. The fight had lasted for an hour. It was near eleven o’clock, and the check to the enemy’s advance had given time for the Confederates to form a line of battle on the Henry Hill. Bee and Bartow, accompanied by Imboden’s battery, were in position; Hampton’s Legion, a regiment raised and commanded by an officer who was one of the wealthiest planters in South Carolina, and who became one of the finest soldiers in the Confederacy, was not far behind; and Jackson was coming up.1
Again the situation was saved by the prompt initiative of a brigade commander. Bee had been ordered to support the troops at the Stone Bridge. Moving forward towards the Henry Hill, he had been informed by a mounted orderly that the whole Federal army seemed to be moving to the north-west. A signal officer on the plateau who had caught the glint of the brass field-pieces which accompanied the hostile column, still several miles distant, had sent the message. Bee waited for no further instructions. Ordering Bartow to follow, he climbed the Henry Hill. The wide and beautiful landscape lay spread before him; Evans’ small command was nearly a mile distant, on the Matthews
1 Hunter and Heintzleman had 13,200 officers and men; Tyler, 12,000. Bee and Barrow had 3200 officers and men; Hampton, 630; Jackson, 3,000.
Hill; and on the ridges to the far north-west he saw the glitter of many bayonets.
11 a.m. Rapidly placing his battery in position near the Henry House, Bee formed a line of battle on the crest above Young’s Branch; but very shortly afterwards, acceding to an appeal for help from Evans, he hurried his troops forward to the Matthews Hill. His new position protected the rear of the companies which held the Stone Bridge; and so long as the bridge was held the two wings of the Federal army were unable to co-operate. But on the Matthews Hill, the enemy’s strength, especially in artillery, was overwhelming; and the Confederates were soon compelled to fall back to the Henry Hill. McDowell had already sent word to Tyler to force the Stone Bridge; and Sherman’s brigade of this division, passing the stream by a ford, threatened the flank of Bee and Evans as they retreated across Young’s Branch.
The Federals now swarmed over the Matthews Hill; but Imboden’s battery, which Bee had again posted on the Henry Hill, and Hampton’s Legion, occupying the Robinson House, a wooden tenement on the open spur which projects towards the Stone Bridge, covered the retirement of the discomfited brigades. They were not, however, suffered to fall back unharassed.
A long line of guns, following fast upon their tracks, and crossing the fields at a gallop, came into action on the opposite slope. In vain Imboden’s gunners, with their pieces well placed behind a swell of ground, strove to divert their attention from the retreating infantry, now climbing the slopes of the Henry Hill. The Federal batteries, powerful in numbers, in discipline, and in materiel, plied their fire fast. The shells fell in quick succession amongst the disordered ranks of the Southern regiments, and not all the efforts of their officers could stay their flight.
The day seemed lost. Strong masses of Northern infantry were moving forward past the Stone House on the Warrenton turnpike. Hampton’s Legion was retiring on the right. Imboden’s battery, with but three rounds remaining for each piece, galloped back across the Henry Hill, and
this commanding height, the key of the battle-ground, was abandoned to the enemy. But help was at hand. Jackson, like Bee and Bartow, had been ordered to the Stone Bridge. Hearing the heavy fire to his left increasing in intensity, he had turned the head of his column towards the most pressing danger, and had sent a messenger to Bee to announce his coming. As he pushed rapidly forward, part of the troops he intended to support swept by in disorder to the rear. Imboden’s battery came dashing back, and that officer, meeting Jackson, expressed with a profanity which was evidently displeasing to the general his disgust at being left without support. “I’ll support your battery,” was the brief reply; “unlimber right here.”
11.30 a.m. At this moment appeared General Bee, approaching at full gallop, and he and Jackson met face to face. The latter was cool and composed; Bee covered with dust and sweat, his sword in his hand, and his horse foaming. “General,” he said, “they are beating us back!” “Then, sir, we will give them the bayonet;” the thin lips closed like a vice, and the First Brigade, pressing up the slope, formed into line on the eastern edge of the Henry Hill.
Jackson’s determined bearing inspired Bee with renewed confidence. He turned bridle and galloped back to the ravine where his officers were attempting to reform their broken companies. Riding into the midst of the throng, he pointed with his sword to the Virginia regiments, deployed in well-ordered array on the height above. “Look!” he shouted, “there is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” The men took up the cry; and the happy augury of the expression, applied at a time when defeat seemed imminent and hearts were failing, was remembered when the danger had passed away.
The position which Jackson had occupied was the strongest that could be found. He had not gone forward to the crest which looks down upon Young’s Branch, and commands the slopes by which the Federals were advancing. From that crest extended a wide view, and a wide field of fire; but both flanks would have been exposed. The
Henry House was nothing more than a cottage; neither here nor elsewhere was there shelter for his riflemen, and they would have been exposed to the full force of the Federal artillery without power of reply. But on the eastern edge of the hill, where he had chosen to deploy, ran a belt of young pines, affording excellent cover, which merged into a dense oak wood near the Sudley road.
Along the edge of the pines Jackson placed his regiments, with six guns to support them. Lying in rear of the guns were the 4th and 27th Virginia; on the right was the 5th; on the left the 2nd and 33rd. Both flanks were in the woods, and Stuart, whom Jackson had called upon to secure his left, was watching the ground beyond the road. To the front, for a space of five hundred yards, stretched the level crest of the hill; and the ground beyond the Henry House, dipping to the valley of Young’s Branch, where the Federals were now gathering, was wholly unseen. But as the tactics of Wellington so often proved, a position from which the view is limited, well in rear of a crest line, may be exceedingly strong for defence, provided that troops who hold it can use the bayonet. It would be difficult in the extreme for the Federals to pave the way for their attack with artillery. From the guns on the Matthews Hill the Virginia regiments were well sheltered, and the range was long. To do effective work the hostile batteries would have to cross Young’s Branch, ascend the Henry Hill, and come into action within five hundred yards of Jackson’s line. Even if they were able to hold their ground at so short a range, they could make no accurate practice under the fire of the Confederate marksmen.
12 noon In rear of Jackson’s line, Bee, Bartow, and Evans were rallying their men, when Johnston and Beauregard, compelled, by the unexpected movement of the Federals, to abandon all idea of attack, appeared upon the Henry Hill. They were accompanied by two batteries of artillery, Pendleton’s and Alburtis’. The colours of the broken regiments were ordered to the front, and the men rallied, taking post on Jackson’s right. The
moment was critical. The blue masses of the Federals, the dust rolling high above them, were already descending the opposite slopes. The guns flashed fiercely through the yellow cloud; and the Confederate force was but a handful. Three brigades had been summoned from the fords; but the nearest was four miles distant, and many of the troops upon the plateau were already half-demoralised by retreat. The generals set themselves to revive the courage of their soldiers. Beauregard galloped along the line, cheering the regiments in every portion of the field, and then, with the colour-bearers accompanying him, rode forward to the crest. Johnston was equally conspicuous. The enemy’s shells were bursting on every side, and the shouts of the Confederates, recognising their leaders as they dashed across the front, redoubled the uproar. Meanwhile, before the centre of his line, with an unconcern which had a marvellous effect on his untried command, Jackson rode slowly to and fro. Except that his face was a little paler, and his eyes brighter, he looked exactly as his men had seen him so often on parade; and as he passed along the crest above them they heard from time to time the reassuring words, uttered in a tone which betrayed no trace of excitement, “Steady, men! steady! all’s well!”
It was at this juncture, while the confusion of taking up a new position with shattered and ill-drilled troops was at the highest, that the battle lulled. The Federal infantry, after defeating Bee and Evans, had to cross the deep gully and marshy banks of Young’s Branch, to climb the slope of the Henry Hill, and to form for a fresh attack. Even with trained soldiers a hot fight is so conducive of disorder, that it is difficult to initiate a rapid pursuit, and the Northern regiments were very slow in resuming their formations. At the same time, too, the fire of their batteries became less heavy. From their position beyond Young’s Branch the rifled guns had been able to ply the Confederate lines with shell, and their effective practice had rendered the work of rallying the troops exceedingly difficult. But when his infantry advanced, McDowell ordered one half of his artillery, two fine batteries of regulars, made up
principally of rifled guns, to cross Young’s Branch. This respite was of the utmost value to the Confederates. The men, encouraged by the gallant bearing of their leaders, fell in at once upon the colours, and when Hunter’s regiments appeared on the further rim of the plateau they were received with a fire which for a moment drove them back. But the regular batteries were close at hand, and as they came into action the battle became general on the Henry Hill. The Federals had 16,000 infantry available; the Confederates no more than 6,500. But the latter were superior in artillery, 16 pieces confronting 12. The Federal guns, however, were of heavier calibre; the gunners were old soldiers, and both friend and foe testify to the accuracy of their fire, their fine discipline, and staunch endurance. The infantry, on the other hand, was not well handled. The attack was purely frontal. No attempt whatever was made to turn the Confederate flanks, although the Stone Bridge, except for the abattis, was now open, and Johnston’s line might easily have been taken in reverse. Nor does it appear that the cavalry was employed to ascertain where the flanks rested. Moreover, instead of massing the troops for a determined onslaught, driven home by sheer weight of numbers, the attack was made by successive brigades, those in rear waiting till those in front had been defeated; and, in the same manner, the brigades attacked by successive regiments. Such tactics were inexcusable. It was certainly necessary to push the attack home before the Confederate reinforcements could get up; and troops who had never drilled in mass would have taken much time to assume the orthodox formation of several lines of battle, closely supporting one another. Yet there was no valid reason, beyond the inexperience of the generals in dealing with large bodies, that brigades should have been sent into action piecemeal, or that the flanks of the defence should have been neglected. The fighting, nevertheless, was fierce. The Federal regiments, inspirited by their success on the Matthews Hill, advanced with confidence, and soon pushed forward past the Henry House. “The contest that ensued,”
says General Imboden, “was terrific. Jackson ordered me to go from battery to battery and see that the guns were properly aimed and the fuses cut the right length. This was the work of but a few minutes. On returning to the left of the line of guns, I stopped to ask General Jackson’s permission to rejoin my battery. The fight was just then hot enough to make him feel well. His eyes fairly blazed. He had a way of throwing up his left hand with the open palm towards the person he was addressing. And, as he told me to go, he made this gesture. The air was full of flying missiles, and as he spoke he jerked down his hand, and I saw that blood was streaming from it. I exclaimed, ”General, you are wounded.” “Only a scratch—a mere scratch,” he replied, and binding it hastily with a handkerchief, he galloped away along his line.”1
1.30 p.m. When the battle was at its height, and across that narrow space, not more than five hundred yards in width, the cannon thundered, and the long lines of infantry struggled for the mastery, the two Federal batteries, protected by two regiments of infantry on their right, advanced to a more effective position. The movement was fatal. Stuart, still guarding the Confederate left, was eagerly awaiting his opportunity, and now, with 150 troopers, filing through the fences on Bald Hill, he boldly charged the enemy’s right. The regiment thus assailed, a body of Zouaves, in blue and scarlet, with white turbans, was ridden down, and almost at the same moment the 33rd Virginia, posted on Jackson’s left, charged forward from the copse in which they had been hidden. The uniforms in the two armies at this time were much alike, and from the direction of their approach it was difficult at first for the officers in charge of the Federal batteries to make sure that the advancing troops were not their own. A moment more and the doubtful regiment proved its identity by a deadly volley, delivered at a range of seventy yards. Every gunner was shot down; the teams were almost annihilated, and several officers fell killed or wounded. The Zouaves, already much shaken by Stuart’s well-timed
1 Battles and Leaders, vol. i, p. 236.
charge, fled down the slopes, dragging with them another regiment of infantry.
Three guns alone escaped the marksmen of the 33rd. The remainder stood upon the field, silent and abandoned, surrounded by dying horses, midway between the opposing lines.
This success, however, brought but short relief to the Confederates. The enemy was not yet done with. Fresh regiments passed to the attack. The 33rd was driven back, and the thin line upon the plateau was hard put to it to retain its ground. The Southerners had lost heavily. Bee and Bartow had been killed, and Hampton wounded. Few reinforcements had reached the Henry Hill. Stragglers and skulkers were streaming to the rear. The Federals were thronging forward, and it seemed that the exhausted defenders must inevitably give way before the successive blows of superior numbers. The troops were losing confidence. Yet no thought of defeat crossed Jackson’s mind. “General,” said an officer, riding hastily towards him, “the day is going against us.” “If you think so, sir,” was the quiet reply, “you had better not say anything about it.” And although affairs seemed desperate, in reality the crisis of the battle had already passed. McDowell had but two brigades remaining in reserve, and one of these—of Tyler’s division—was still beyond Bull Run. His troops were thoroughly exhausted; they had been marching and fighting since midnight; the day was intensely hot; they had encountered fierce resistance; their rifled batteries had been silenced, and the Confederate reinforcements were coming up. Two of Bonham’s regiments had taken post on Jackson’s right, and a heavy force was approaching on the left. Kirby Smith’s brigade, of the Army of the Shenandoah, coming up by train, had reached Manassas Junction while the battle was in progress. It was immediately ordered to the field, and had been already instructed by Johnston to turn the enemy’s right.
But before the weight of Smith’s 1,900 bayonets could be thrown into the scale, the Federals made a vigorous effort to carry the Henry Hill. Those portions of the Confederate
line which stood on the open ground gave way before them. Some of the guns, ordered to take up a position from which they could cover the retreat, were limbering up; and with the exception of the belt of pines, the plateau was abandoned to the hostile infantry, who were beginning to press forward at every point. The Federal engineers were already clearing away the abattis from the Stone Bridge, in order to give passage to Tyler’s third brigade and a battery of artillery; “and all were certain,” says McDowell, “that the day was ours.”
2.45 p.m. Jackson’s men were lying beneath the crest of the plateau. Only one of his regiments—the 33rd—had as yet been engaged in the open, and his guns in front still held their own. Riding to the centre of his line, where the 2nd and 4th Virginia were stationed, he gave orders for a counterstroke. “Reserve your fire till they come within fifty yards, then fire and give them the bayonet; and when you charge, yell like furies!” Right well did the hot Virginian blood respond. Inactive from the stroke of noon till three o’clock, with the crash and cries of battle in their ears, and the shells ploughing gaps in their recumbent ranks, the men were chafing under the stern discipline which held them back from the conflict they longed to join. The Federals swept on, extending from the right and left, cheering as they came, and following the flying batteries in the ardour of success. Suddenly, a long grey line sprang from the ground in their very faces; a rolling volley threw them back in confusion; and then, with their fierce shouts pealing high above the tumult, the 2nd and 4th Virginia, supported by the 5th, charged forward across the hill. At the same moment that the enemy’s centre was thus unexpectedly assailed, Kirby Smith’s fresh brigade bore down upon the flank,1 and Beauregard, with ready judgment, dispatched his staff officers to order a general advance. The broken remnants of Bee, Hampton, and Evans advanced upon Jackson’s right, and victory, long wavering, crowned the standards of the South. The Federals were driven past
1 General Kirby Smith being severely wounded, the command of this brigade devolved upon Colonel Elzey.
the guns, now finally abandoned, past the Henry House, and down the slope. McDowell made one desperate endeavour to stay the rout. Howard’s brigade was rapidly thrown in. But the centre had been completely broken by Jackson’s charge; the right was giving way, and the Confederates, manning the captured guns, turned them on the masses which covered the fields below.
Howard, although his men fought bravely, was easily repulsed; in a few minutes not a single Federal soldier, save the dead and dying, was to be seen upon the plateau.
3.30 p.m. A final stand was made by McDowell along Young’s Branch; and there, at half-past three, a line of battle was once more established, the battalion of regular infantry forming a strong centre. But another Confederate brigade, under General Early, had now arrived, and again the enemy’s right was overthrown, while Beauregard, leaving Jackson, whose brigade had lost all order and many men in its swift advance, to hold the plateau, swept forward towards the Matthews Hill. The movement was decisive. McDowell’s volunteers broke up in the utmost confusion. The Confederate infantry was in no condition to pursue, but the cavalry was let loose, and before long the retreat became a panic. The regular battalion, composed of young soldiers, but led by experienced officers, alone preserved its discipline, moving steadily in close order through the throng of fugitives, and checking the pursuing troopers by its firm and confident bearing. The remainder of the army dissolved into a mob. It was not that the men were completely demoralised, but simply that discipline had not become a habit. They had marched as individuals, going just so far as they pleased, and halting when they pleased; they had fought as individuals, bravely enough, but with little combination; and when they found that they were beaten, as individuals they retreated. “The old soldier,” wrote one of the regular officers a week later, “feels safe in the ranks, unsafe out of the ranks, and the greater the danger the more pertinaciously he clings to his place. The volunteer of three months never attains this instinct of discipline. Under danger, and
even under mere excitement, he flies away from his ranks, and hopes for safety in dispersion. At four o’clock in the afternoon of the 21st there were more than 12,000 volunteers on the battle-field of Bull Run who had entirely lost their regimental organisation. They could no longer be handled as troops, for the officers and men were not together. Men and officers mingled together promiscuously; and it is worthy of remark that this disorganisation did not result from defeat or fear, for up to four o’clock we had been uniformly successful. The instinct of discipline which keeps every man in his place had not been acquired. We cannot suppose that the enemy had attained a higher degree of discipline than our own, but they acted on the defensive, and were not equally exposed to disorganisation.”1
“Cohesion was lost,” says one of McDowell’s staff; “and the men walked quietly off. There was no special excitement except that arising from the frantic efforts of officers to stop men who paid little or no attention to anything that was said; and there was no panic, in the ordinary sense and meaning of the word, until the retiring soldiers, guns, waggons, Congressmen and carriages, were fired upon, on the road east of Bull Run.”2
At Centreville the reserve division stood fast; and the fact that these troops were proof against the infection of panic and the exaggerated stories of the fugitives is in itself strong testimony to the native courage of the soldiery.
A lack of competent Staff officers, which, earlier in the day, had prevented an advance on Centreville by the Confederate right, brought Johnston’s arrangements for pursuit to naught. The cavalry, weak in numbers, was soon incumbered with squads of prisoners; darkness fell upon the field, and the defeated army streamed over the roads to Washington, followed only by its own fears.
Why the Confederate generals did not follow up their success on the following day is a question round which controversy raged for many a year. Deficiencies in
1 Report of Captain Woodbury, U.S. Engineers, O.R., vol. ii,
2 General J. B. Fry, Battles and Leaders, vol. i, p. 191.
commissariat and transport; the disorganisation of the army after the victory; the difficulties of a direct attack upon Washington, defended as it was by a river a mile broad, with but a single bridge, and patrolled by gunboats; the determination of the Government to limit its military operations to a passive defence of Confederate territory, have all been pressed into service as excuses. “Give me 10,000 fresh troops,” said Jackson, as the surgeon dressed his wound, “and I would be in Washington to-morrow.” Before twenty-four hours had passed reinforcements had increased the strength of Johnston’s army to 40,000. Want of organisation had undoubtedly prevented McDowell from winning a victory on the 19th or 20th, but pursuit is a far less difficult business than attack. There was nothing to interfere with a forward movement. There were supplies along the railway, and if the mechanism for their distribution and the means for their carriage were wanting, the counties adjoining the Potomac were rich and fertile. Herds of bullocks were grazing in the pastures, and the barns of the farmers were loaded with grain. It was not a long supply train that was lacking, nor an experienced staff, nor even well-disciplined battalions; but a general who grasped the full meaning of victory, who understood how a defeated army, more especially of new troops, yields at a touch, and who, above all, saw the necessity of giving the North no leisure to develop her immense resources. For three days Jackson impatiently awaited the order to advance, and his men were held ready with three days’ cooked rations in their haversacks. But his superiors gave no sign, and he was reluctantly compelled to abandon all hope of reaping the fruits of victory.
It is true that the Confederates were no more fit for offensive operations than McDowell’s troops. “Our army,” says General Johnston, “was more disorganised by victory than that of the United States by defeat.” But it is to be remembered that if the Southerners had moved into Maryland, crossing the Potomac by some of the numerous fords near Harper’s Ferry, they would have found no organised opposition, save the débris of McDowell’s army, between them
and the Northern capital. On July 26, five days after the battle, the general who was to succeed McDowell arrived in Washington and rode round the city. “I found,” he wrote, “no preparations whatever for defence, not even to the extent of putting the troops in military position. Not a regiment was properly encamped, not a single avenue of approach guarded. All was chaos, and the streets, hotels, and bar-rooms were filled with drunken officers and men, absent from their regiments without leave, a perfect pandemonium. Many had even gone to their homes, their flight from Bull Run terminating in New York, or even in New Hampshire and Maine. There was really nothing to prevent a small cavalry force from riding into the city. A determined attack would doubtless have carried Arlington Heights and placed the city at the mercy of a battery of rifled guns. If the Secessionists attached any value to the possession of Washington, they committed their greatest error in not following up the victory of Bull Run.” On the same date, the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, wrote as follows: “The capture of Washington seems now to be inevitable; during the whole of Monday and Tuesday [July 22 and 23] it might have been taken without resistance. The rout, overthrow, and demoralisation of the whole army were complete.”1
Of his own share in the battle, either at the time or afterwards, Jackson said but little. A day or two after the battle an anxious crowd was gathered round the post-office at Lexington, awaiting intelligence from the front. A letter was handed to the Reverend Dr. White, who, recognising the handwriting, exclaimed to the eager groups about him, “Now we shall know all the facts.” On opening it he found the following, and no more:
“My dear Pastor,—In my tent last night, after a fatiguing day’s service, I remembered that I had failed to send you my contribution to our coloured Sunday school. Enclosed you will find my check for that object, which please acknowledge at your earliest convenience, and oblige yours faithfully, T. J. Jackson.”
1 McClellan’s Own Story, pp. 66, 67.
To his wife, however, he was less reserved. “Yesterday,” he wrote, we “fought a great battle and gained a great victory, for which all the glory is due to God alone. . . . Whilst great credit is due to other parts of our gallant army, God made my brigade more instrumental than any other in repulsing the main attack. This is for your information only—say nothing about it. Let others speak praise, not myself.”
Again, on August 5: “And so you think the papers ought to say more about your husband. My brigade is not a brigade of newspaper correspondents. I know that the First Brigade was the first to meet and pass our retreating forces—to push on with no other aid than the smiles of God; to boldly take up its position with the artillery that was under my command—to arrest the victorious foe in his onward progress—to hold him in check until the reinforcements arrived—and finally to charge bayonets, and, thus advancing, to pierce the enemy’s centre. I am well satisfied with what it did, and so are my generals, Johnston and Beauregard. It is not to be expected that I should receive the credit that Generals Johnston and Beauregard would, because I was under them; but I am thankful to my ever-kind Heavenly Father that He makes me content to await His own good time and pleasure for commendation—knowing that all things work together for my good. If my brigade can always play so important and useful a part as it did in the last battle, I trust I shall ever be most grateful. As you think the papers do not notice me enough, I send a specimen, which you will see from the upper part of the paper is a ‘leader.’ My darling, never distrust our God, Who doeth all things well. In due time He will make manifest all His pleasure, which is all His people should desire. You must not be concerned at seeing other parts of the army lauded, and my brigade not mentioned. Truth is mighty and will prevail. When the official reports are published, if not before, I expect to see justice done to this noble body of patriots.”1
These letters reveal a generous pride in the valour of his
1 Both Johnston and Beauregard, in their official reports, did full justice to Jackson and his brigade.
troops, and a very human love of approbation struggles with the curb which his religious principles had placed on his ambition. Like Nelson, he felt perhaps that before long he would have “a Gazette of his own.” But still, of his own achievements, of his skilful tactics, of his personal behaviour, of his well-timed orders, he spoke no word, and the victory was ascribed to a higher power. “The charge of the 2nd and 4th Virginia,” he wrote in his modest report, “through the blessing of God, Who gave us the victory, pierced the centre of the enemy.”1
And Jackson’s attitude was that of the Southern people. When the news of Bull Run reached Richmond, and through the crowds that thronged the streets passed the tidings of the victory, there was neither wild excitement nor uproarious joy. No bonfires lit the darkness of the night; no cannon thundered out salutes; the steeples were silent till the morrow, and then were heard only the solemn tones that called the people to prayer. It was resolved, on the day following the battle, by the Confederate Congress: “That we recognise the hand of the Most High God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, in the glorious victory with which He has crowned our arms at Manassas, and that the people of these Confederate States are invited, by appropriate services on the ensuing Sabbath, to offer up their united thanksgivings and prayers for this mighty deliverance.”
The spoils of Bull Run were large; 1,500 prisoners, 25 guns, ten stand of colours, several thousand rifles, a large quantity of ammunition and hospital stores, twenty-six waggons, and several ambulances were left in the victors’ hands. The Federal losses were 460 killed and 1,124 wounded; the Confederate, 387 killed, 1,582 wounded, and 13 missing. The First Brigade suffered more severely than any other in the Southern army. Of 3,000 officers and men, 488 were killed or wounded, nearly a fourth of the total loss.
A few days after the battle Johnston advanced to Centreville, and from the heights above the broad Potomac his cavalry vedettes looked upon the spires of Washington.
1 O.R., vol. ii, p. 482.
But it was in vain that the Confederate troopers rode to and fro on the river bank and watered their horses within sight of the Capitol. The enemy was not to be beguiled across the protecting stream. But it was not from fear. Although the disaster had been as crushing as unexpected, it was bravely met. The President’s demand for another army was cheerfully complied with. Volunteers poured in from every State. The men were no longer asked to serve for three months, but for three years. Washington became transformed into an enormous camp; great earthworks rose on the surrounding heights; and the training of the new levies went steadily forward. There was no cry for immediate action. Men were not wanting who believed that the task of coercion was impossible. Able statesmen and influential journalists advised the President to abandon the attempt. But Lincoln, true to the trust which had been committed to his keeping, never flinched from his resolve that the Union should be restored. He, too, stood like a wall between his defeated legions and the victorious foe. Nor was the nation less determined. The dregs of humiliation had been drained, and though the draught was bitter it was salutary. The President was sustained with no half-hearted loyalty. His political opponents raved and threatened; but under the storm of recrimination the work of reorganising the army went steadily forward, and the people were content that until the generals declared the army fit for action the hour of vengeance should be postponed.
To the South, Bull Run was a Pyrrhic victory. It relieved Virginia of the pressure of the invasion; it proved to the world that the attitude of the Confederacy was something more than the reckless revolt of a small section; but it led the Government to indulge vain hopes of foreign intervention, and it increased the universal contempt for the military qualities of the Northern soldiers. The hasty judgment of the people construed a single victory as proof of their superior capacity for war, and the defeat of McDowell’s army was attributed to the cowardice of his volunteers. The opinion was absolutely erroneous. Some
of the Federal regiments had misbehaved, it is true; seized with sudden panic, to which all raw troops are peculiarly susceptible, they had dispersed before the strong counterstroke of the Confederates. But the majority had displayed a sterling courage. There can be little question that the spirit of the infantry depends greatly on the staunchness of the artillery. A single battery, pushed boldly forward into the front of battle, has often restored the vigour of a wavering line. Although the losses it inflicts may not be large, the moral effect of its support is undeniable. So long as the guns hold fast victory seems possible. But when these useful auxiliaries are driven back or captured a general depression becomes inevitable. The retreat of the artillery strikes a chill into the fighting line which is ominous of defeat, and it is a wise regulation that compels the batteries, even when their ammunition is exhausted, to stand their ground. The Federal infantry at Bull Run had seen their artillery overwhelmed, the teams destroyed, the gunners shot down, and the enemy’s riflemen swarming amongst the abandoned pieces. But so vigorous had been their efforts to restore the battle, that the front of the defence had been with difficulty maintained; the guns, though they were eventually lost, had been retaken; and without the assistance of their artillery, but exposed to the fire, at closest range, of more than one battery, the Northern regiments had boldly pushed forward across the Henry Hill. The Confederates, during the greater part of the battle, were certainly outnumbered; but at the close they were the stronger, and the piecemeal attacks of the Federals neutralised the superiority which the invading army originally possessed.
McDowell appears to have employed 18,000 troops in the attack; Johnston and Beauregard about the same number.1
A comparison of the relative strength of the two armies, considering that raw troops have a decided advantage on the defensive, detracts, to a certain degree, from the credit of the victory; and it will hardly be questioned that had
1 For the strength of divisions and brigades, see the Note at the end of the chapter.
the tactics of the Federals been better the victory would have been theirs. The turning movement by Sudley Springs was a skilful manœuvre, and completely surprised both Johnston and Beauregard. It was undoubtedly risky, but it was far less dangerous than a direct attack on the strong position along Bull Run.
The retention of the Fourth Division between Washington and Centreville would seem to have been a blunder; another 5,000 men on the field of battle should certainly have turned the scale. But more men were hardly wanted. The Federals during the first period of the fight were strong enough to have seized the Henry Hill. Bee, Bartow, Evans, and Hampton had been driven in, and Jackson alone stood fast. A strong and sustained attack, supported by the fire of the regular batteries, must have succeeded.1 The Federal regiments, however, were practically incapable of movement under fire. The least change of position broke them into fragments; there was much wild firing; it was impossible to manœuvre; and the courage of individuals proved a sorry substitute for order and cohesion. The Confederates owed their victory simply and solely to the fact that their enemies had not yet learned to use their strength.
The summer months went by without further fighting on the Potomac; but the camps at Fairfax and at Centreville saw the army of Manassas thinned by furloughs and by sickness. The Southern youth had come out for battle, and the monotonous routine of the outpost line and the parade-ground was little to their taste. The Government dared not refuse the numberless applications for leave of absence, the more so that in the crowded camps the sultry heat of the Virginia woodlands bred disease of a virulent type. The First Brigade seems to have escaped from all these evils. Its commander found his health improved by his life in the open air. His wound
1 “Had an attack,” said General Johnston, “been made in force, with double line of battle, such as any major-general in the United States service would now make, we could not have held [the position] for half an hour, for they would have enveloped us on both flanks.”—Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, W. Swinton, p. 58.
had been painful. A finger was broken, but the hand was saved, and some temporary inconvenience alone resulted. As he claimed no furlough for himself, so he permitted no absence from duty among his troops. “I can’t be absent,” he wrote to his wife, “as my attention is necessary in preparing my troops for hard fighting, should it be required; and as my officers and soldiers are not permitted to visit their wives and families, I ought not to see mine. It might make the troops feel that they are badly treated, and that I consult my own comfort, regardless of theirs.”
In September his wife joined him for a few days at Centreville, and later came Dr. White, at his invitation, to preach to his command. Beyond a few fruitless marches to support the cavalry on the outposts, of active service there was none. But Jackson was not the man to let the time pass uselessly. He had his whole brigade under his hand, a force which wanted but one quality to make it an instrument worthy of the hand that wielded it, and that quality was discipline. Courage and enthusiasm it possessed in abundance; and when both were untrained the Confederate was a more useful soldier than the Northerner. In the South nearly every man was a hunter, accustomed from boyhood to the use of firearms. Game was abundant, and it was free to all. Sport in one form or another was the chief recreation of the people, and their pastoral pursuits left them much leisure for its indulgence. Every great plantation had its pack of hounds, and fox-hunting, an heirloom from the English colonists, still flourished. His stud was the pride of every Southern gentleman, and the love of horse-flesh was inherent in the whole population. No man walked when he could ride, and hundreds of fine horsemen, mounted on steeds of famous lineage, recruited the Confederate squadrons.
But, despite their skill with the rifle, their hunter’s craft, and their dashing horsemanship, the first great battle had been hardly won. The city-bred Northerners, unused to arms and uninured to hardship, had fought with extraordinary determination; and the same want of discipline that had driven them in rout to Washington had
dissolved the victorious Confederates into a tumultuous mob.1 If Jackson knew the worth of his volunteers, he was no stranger to their shortcomings. His thoughts might be crystallised in the words of Wellington, words which should never be forgotten by those nations which depend for their defence on the services of their citizen soldiery.
“They want,” said the great Duke, speaking of the Portuguese in 1809, “the habits and the spirit of soldiers,—the habits of command on one side, and of obedience on the other—mutual confidence between officers and men.”
In order that during the respite now offered he might instil these habits into his brigade, Jackson neither took furlough himself nor granted it to others. His regiments were constantly exercised on the parade-ground. Shoulder to shoulder they advanced and retired, marched and countermarched, massed in column, formed line to front or flank, until they learned to move as a machine, until the limbs obeyed before the order had passed from ear to brain, until obedience became an instinct and cohesion a necessity of their nature. They learned to listen for the word of the officer, to look to him before they moved hand or foot; and, in that subjection of their own individuality to the will of their superior, they acquired that steadiness in battle, that energy on the march, that discipline in quarters which made the First Brigade worthy of the name it had already won. “Every officer and soldier,” said their commander, “who is able to do duty ought to be busily engaged in military preparation by hard drilling, in order that, through the blessing of God, we may be victorious in the battles which in His all-wise providence may await us.”
Jackson’s tactical ideas, as regards the fire of infantry, expressed at this time, are worth recording. “I rather think,” he said, “that fire by file [independent firing] is best on the whole, for it gives the enemy an idea that the
1 Colonel Williams, of the 5th Virginia, writes that the Stonewall Brigade was a notable exception to the general disintegration, and that it was in good condition for immediate service on the morning after the battle.
fire is heavier than if it was by company or battalion (volley firing). Sometimes, however, one may be best, sometimes the other, according to circumstances. But my opinion is that there ought not to be much firing at all. My idea is that the best mode of fighting is to reserve your fire till the enemy get—or you get them—to close quarters. Then deliver one deadly, deliberate fire—and charge!”
Although the newspapers did scant justice to the part played by the brigade in the battle of Bull Run, Bee’s epithet survived, and Jackson became known as Stonewall throughout the army. To one of his acquaintances the general revealed the source of his composure under fire. “Three days after the battle, hearing that Jackson was suffering from his wound, I rode,” writes Imboden, “to his quarters near Centreville. Of course the battle was the only topic discussed during breakfast. ‘General,’ I remarked, ‘how is it that you can keep so cool, and appear so utterly insensible to danger in such a storm of shell and bullets as rained about you when your hand was hit?’ He instantly became grave and reverential in his manner, and answered, in a low tone of great earnestness: ‘Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.’ He added, after a pause, looking me full in the face: ‘That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.’ ”1
Although the war upon the borders had not yet touched the cities of the South, the patriotism of Virginia saw with uneasiness the inroads of the enemy in that portion of the State which lies beyond the Alleghenies, especially the north-west. The country was overrun with Federal soldiers, and part of the population of the district had declared openly for the Union. In that district was Jackson’s birth-place, the home of his childhood, and his mother’s grave. His interest and his affections were bound by many ties to the country and the people, and in
1 Battles and Leaders, vol. i, pp. 122, 123.
the autumn of 1861 he had not yet come to believe that they were at heart disloyal to their native State. A vigorous effort, he believed, might still restore to the Confederacy a splendid recruiting-ground, and he made no secret of his desire for employment in that region. The strategical advantages of this corner of Virginia were clearly apparent, as will be seen hereafter, to his perception. Along its western border runs the Ohio, a river navigable to its junction with the Mississippi, and giving an easy line of communication into the heart of Kentucky. Through its northern counties passed the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the main line of communication between Washington and the West; and alongside the railway ran the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, a second and most important line of supply. Above all, projecting as it did towards the great lakes of the North, the north-western angle, or Virginia Panhandle, narrowed the passage between East and West to an isthmus not more than a hundred miles in breadth. With this territory in the possession of the Confederates, the Federal dominions would be practically cut in two; and in North-western Virginia, traversed by many ranges of well-nigh pathless mountains, with few towns and still fewer roads, a small army might defy a large one with impunity.
Nov. 4 On November 4 Jackson’s wish was partially granted. He was assigned to the command of the Shenandoah Valley District, embracing the northern part of the area between the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge. The order was received with gratitude, but dashed by the fact that he had to depart alone. “Had this communication,” he said to Dr. White, “not come as an order, I should instantly have declined it, and continued in command of my brave old brigade.”
Whether he or his soldiers felt the parting most it is hard to say. Certain it is that the men had a warm regard for their leader. There was no more about him at Centreville to attract the popular fancy than there had been at Harper’s Ferry. When the troops passed in review the eye of the spectator turned at once to the trim carriage of Johnston
and of Beauregard, to the glittering uniform of Stuart, to the superb chargers and the martial bearing of young officers fresh from the Indian frontier. The silent professor, absent and unsmiling, who dressed as plainly as he lived, had little in common with those dashing soldiers. The tent where every night the general and his staff gathered together for their evening devotions, where the conversation ran not on the merits of horse and hound, on strategy and tactics, but on the power of faith and the mysteries of the redemption, seemed out of place in an army of high-spirited youths. But, while they smiled at his peculiarities, the Confederate soldiers remembered the fierce counterstroke on the heights above Bull Run. If the Presbyterian general was earnest in prayer, they knew that he was prompt in battle and indefatigable in quarters. He had the respect of all men, and from his own brigade he had something more. Very early in their service, away by the rippling Shenandoah, they had heard the stories of his daring in Mexico. They had experienced his skill and coolness at Falling Waters; they had seen at Bull Run, while the shells burst in never-ending succession among the pines, the quiet figure riding slowly to and fro on the crest above them; they had heard the stern command, “Wait till they come within fifty yards and then give them the bayonet,” and they had followed him far in that victorious rush into the receding ranks of their astonished foe.
Little wonder that these enthusiastic youths, new to the soldier’s trade, should have been captivated by a nature so strong and fearless. The Stonewall Brigade had made Jackson a hero, and he had won more from them than their admiration. His incessant watchfulness for their comfort and well-being; the patient care with which he instructed them; his courtesy to the youngest private; the tact and thoughtfulness he showed in all his relations with them, had won their affection. His very peculiarities endeared him to them. Old Jack or Stonewall were his nicknames in the lines of his own command, and stories went round the camp fire of how he had been seen walking in the woods round Centreville absorbed in prayer, or lifting
his left hand with that peculiar gesture which the men believed was an appeal to Heaven, but which, in reality, was made to relieve the pain of his wounded finger. But while they discussed his oddities, not a man in the brigade but acknowledged his ability, and when the time came not a man but regretted his departure.
His farewell to his troops was a striking scene. The forest, already donning its gorgeous autumnal robes, shut in the grassy clearing where the troops were drawn up. There stood the grey columns of the five regiments, with the colours, already tattered, waving in the mild November air. The general rode up, their own general, and not a sound was heard. Motionless and silent they stood, a veritable stone wall, whilst his eye ran along the ranks and scanned the familiar faces. “I am not here to make a speech,” he said, “but simply to say farewell. I first met you at Harper’s Ferry, at the commencement of the war, and I cannot take leave of you without giving expression to my admiration of your conduct from that day to this, whether on the march, in the bivouac, or on the bloody plains of Manassas, where you gained the well-deserved reputation of having decided the fate of battle.
“Throughout the broad extent of country through which you have marched, by your respect for the rights and property of citizens, you have shown that you are soldiers not only to defend, but able and willing both to defend and protect. You have already won a brilliant reputation throughout the army of the whole Confederacy; and I trust, in the future, by your deeds in the field, and by the assistance of the same kind Providence who has hitherto favoured our cause, you will win more victories and add lustre to the reputation you now enjoy. You have already gained a proud position in the future history of this our second War of Independence. I shall look with great anxiety to your future movements, and I trust whenever I shall hear of the First Brigade on the field of battle, it will be of still nobler deeds achieved, and higher reputation won!” Then there was a pause; general and soldiers looked upon each other, and the heart of the leader
went out to those who had followed him with such devotion. He had spoken his words of formal praise, but both he and they knew the bonds between them were too strong to be thus coldly severed. For once he gave way to impulse; his eye kindled, and rising in his stirrups and throwing the reins upon his horse’s neck, he spoke in tones which betrayed the proud memories that thronged upon him:—
“In the Army of the Shenandoah you were the First Brigade! In the Army of the Potomac you were the First Brigade! In the Second Corps of the army you are the First Brigade! You are the First Brigade in the affections of your general, and I hope by your future deeds and bearing you will be handed down to posterity as the First Brigade in this our second War of Independence. Farewell!”
For a moment there was silence; then the pent-up feeling found expression, and cheer upon cheer burst forth from the ranks of the Valley regiments. Waving his hand in token of farewell, Jackson galloped from the field.
Second Division: HUNTER
Third Division: HEINTZLEMAN
Total 18,000, and 30 guns.
Army of the Shenandoah [JOHNSTON]
Army of the Potomac [BEAUREGARD]
Total 18,000, and 21 guns.
THE COST OF AN INADEQUATE ARMY
Lord Wolseley has been somewhat severely criticised for asserting that in the Civil War, “from first to last, the co-operation of even one army corps (35,000 men) of regular troops would have given complete victory to whichever side it fought on.” Whatever may be argued as to the latter period of the conflict, it is impossible for anyone who understands the power of organisation, of discipline, of training, and of a proper system of command, to dispute the accuracy of this statement as regards the year 1861, that is, for the first eight months.
It is far too often assumed that the number of able-bodied men is the true criterion of national strength. In the Confederate States, for instance, there were probably 750,000 citizens who were liable for service in the militia, and yet had the United States possessed a single regular army corps, with a trained staff, an efficient commissariat, and a fully-organised system of transport, it is difficult to see how these 750,000 Southerners could have done more than wage a guerilla warfare. The army corps would have absorbed into itself the best of the Northern militia and volunteers; the staff and commissariat would have given them mobility, and 60,000 or 70,000 men, moving on Richmond directly Sumter fell, with the speed and certainty which organisation gives, would have marched from victory to victory. Their 750,000 enemies would never have had time to arm, to assemble, to organise, to create an army, to train a staff, or to arrange for their supplies. Each gathering of volunteers would have been swept away before it had attained consistency, and Virginia, at least, must have been conquered in the first few months.
And matters would have been no different if the army corps had been directed against the Union. In the Northern States there were over 2,000,000 men who were liable for service; and yet the Union States, notwithstanding their superior resources, were just as vulnerable as the Confederacy. Numbers, even if they amount to millions, are useless, and worse than useless, without training and organisation; the more men that are collected on the battle-field, the more crushing and far-reaching their defeat. Nor can the theory be sustained that a small army, invading a rich and populous country, would be “stung to death” by the numbers of its foes, even if they dared not oppose it in the open field. Of what avail were the stupendous efforts of the French Republic in 1870 and 1871? Enormous armies were raised and equipped; the ranks were filled with brave men; the generals were not unskilful; and yet time after time they were defeated by the far inferior forces of their seasoned enemies. Even in America itself, on two occasions, at Sharpsburg in 1862, and at Gettysburg in 1863, it was admitted by the North that the Southerners were “within a stone’s throw of independence.” And yet hundreds of thousands of able-bodied
NOTE II 170
men had not yet joined the Federal armies. Nor can Spain be quoted as an instance of an unconquerable nation. Throughout the war with Napoleon the English armies, not only that under Wellington, but those at Cadiz, Tarifa, and Gibraltar, afforded solid rallying-points for the defeated Spaniards, and by a succession of victories inspired the whole Peninsula with hope and courage.
The patriot with a rifle may be equal, or even superior, man for man, to the professional soldier; but even patriots must be fed, and to win victories they must be able to manœuvre, and to manœuvre they must have leaders. If it could remain stationary, protected by earthworks, and supplied by railways, with which the enemy did not interfere, a host of hastily raised levies, if armed and equipped, might hold its own against even a regular army. But against troops which can manœuvre earthworks are useless, as the history of Sherman’s brilliant operations in 1864 conclusively shows. To win battles and to protect their country armies must be capable of counter-manœuvre, and it is when troops are set in motion that the real difficulty of supplying them begins.
If it is nothing else, the War of Secession, with its awful expenditure of blood and treasure, is a most startling object-lesson in National Insurance.
Site Copyright 2003-2008 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,
Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.