Having assembled the batteries in the night, I began the march at day-dawn of Saturday, July 20, the day before the battle. About eight in the morning we were passng through a village in Fauquier County -- Salem, I think it was.
The whole population turned out to greet us. Men, women, and children brought baskets, trays, and plates loaded with their own family breakfasts, snatched from the tables, coffee-pots and all, to treat the soldiers. With the improvidence of raw campaigners, we had already, the night before, finished our three days' cooked rations, and were hungry. I ordered a halt for thirty minutes to enjoy the feast.
Ruins of the Henry House, from a Photograph Probably taken in March, 1862. The tree on the right was nearly cut in two by shot and bullets. In the distance to the right of the tree is the Lewis house.
The Staunton Artillery (my own battery) was at the head of the column, and being largely composed of young men of high social standing, was especially honored by the ladies of the village, conspicuous among whom were the young daughters of Colonel John A. Washington, late of Mount Vernon. The Staunton Artillery numbered 140 officers and men. Six of them were college graduates and several of them had left college to enter the army. The majority were either young men of leisure or mercantile clerks. About forty were young mechanics whose mechanical skill was of much service. I had provided them with red flannel shirts at Harper's Ferry, because our uniforms were too fine for services in the field. I noticed that some of the yourng fellows of the battery, lingering around the baskets borne by these young ladies, who bade them die or conquer in the fight, seemed very miserable during the remainder of the march that day. No doubt many of them, during the battle, felt that it were better to die on the field than retreat and live to meet those enthusiastic girls again. I make special note of that breakfast because it was the last food any of us tasted till the first Bull Run had been fought and won, thirty-six hours later.
It was one o'clock that night when the head of my little column reached General Bee's headquarters, about one mile north east of Manassas Junction, on the Centreville road, at a point where the latter was intersected by a road running northward, parallel to the Sudley road and crossing Bull Run near Stone Bridge. General Bee was established in a log-cabin, back to which he was brought when he was mortally wounded, and to which I shall again allude. General Bee ordered us to unharness the horses and bivouac in the fence corners, adding, "You will need all the rest you can get, for a great battle will begin in the morning."
A little after daybreak we were aroused by the sharp, ringing report of a great Parrott gun across Bull Run, two miles away, and the whizzing of a thirty-pounder elongated shell over the tree-tops, four or five hundred yards to our left. Instantly every man was on his feet, and in five minutes the horses were harnessed and hitched to the guns and caissons. General Bee beckoned to me to come up to the porch, where he was standing in his shirt sleeves, having also been aroused by the shot. He rapidly informed me of the disposition of our troops of Johnston's army so far as they had arrived at Manassas. His own brigade had been brought forward by rail the evening before. Above all, he was dissatisfied at the prospect of not participating prominently in the battle, saying he had been ordered to the Stone Bridge, three or four miles away on our extreme left, to cover the left flank of the army from any movement that might be made against it. And as he had been directed to take a battery with him, he had selected mine, and wished me to move at once. He gave me a guide, and said he would follow immediately with his infantry. When I told him we had been twenty-four hours without food for men and horses, he said he would order supplies to follow, remarking, "You will have plenty of time to cook and eat, to the music of a battle in which we will probably take little or no part."
Away we went, retracing our steps to the junction, and by a westerly detour striking into the Sudley road, at a point half-way between the Junction and the scene of the battle. After an hour or so we were ascending the hill to the Lewis house, or "Portici," where Brigadier-General St. George Cocke, of Virginia, was camped with a small brigade.
Here a courier at full speed met us with news that the whole Federal army seemed to be marching north-westerly on the other side of Bull Run. Halting my men, I rode to the top of the hill, and had a full view of a long column of glittering bayonets moving up on he north side of the creek. Glancing down the valley, I saw Bee's brigade advancing, and galloped to meet him and report what I had seen. He divined the plans of McDowell, and, asking me to accompany him, rode rapidly past the Lewis house, across the hollow beyond it, and up the next hill through the pines, emerging on the summit immediately east of the Henry house, where the beautiful open landscape in front burst upon his vision.
He exclaimed with enthusiasm: "Here is the battle-field, and we are in for it! Bring up your guns, as quickly as possible, and I'll look round for a good position."
In less than twenty minutes I and my battery had passed the Lewis house, when I discovered Bee coming out of the pines. He stopped, and, placing his cap on his swordpoint, waved it almost frantically as a signal to hurry forward. We went at a gallop, and were guided to a depression in the ground about one hundred yards to the north-east of the Henry house, where we unlimbered. With his keen military eye, General Bee had chosen the best possible position for a battery on all that battle-field. We were almost under cover by reason of a slight swell in the ground immediately in our front, and not fifty feet away. Our shot passed not six inches above the surface of the ground on this "swell," and the recoil ran the guns back to still lower ground, where only the heads of my men were visible to the enemy when loading.
We were none too soon in position; for, by the time we had unlimbered, Captain Ricketts, appearing on the crest of the opposite hill, came beautifully and gallantly into battery at a gallop, a short distance from the Matthews house on our side of the Sudley road, and about fifteen hundred yards to our front. I wanted to open on him whilst he was unlimbering, but General Bee objected till we had received a fire, and had thus ascertained the character and caliber of the enemy's guns. Mine, six in number, were all smoothbore six-pounders, brass.
The first round or two from the enemy went high over us. Seeing this, General Bee directed us to fire low and ricochet our shot and shrapnel on the hard, smooth, open field that sloped towards the Warrenton turnpike in the valley between us. The effect was very destructive to the enemy.
The rapid massing of troops in our front soon led to very heavy fighting. My little battery was under a pitiless fire for a long time. Two guns from an Alexandria battery -- Latham's, I think -- took part in the conflict on the north side of Young's Branch to our right and across the turnpike, so long as Bee, Bartow, Evans, and Wheat were on that side, we firing over their heads; and about eleven o'clock two brass twelve-pounder Napoleons from the New Orleans Washington Artillery unlimbered on our right, but only remained for a few rounds, and then retired.
We were hardly more than fairly engaged with Ricketts when Griffin's splendid battery appeared in our front, and took position full five hundred yards nearer to us, in a field on the left of the Sudley road, counting from our position on the right of that road. Ricketts had six Parrott guns, and Griffin had as many more, and, I think, two twelve-pounder howitzers besides. These last hurt us more than all the rifles of both batteries, since the shot and shell of the rifles, striking the ground at any angle over fifteen or twenty degrees, almost without exception bored their way in several feet and did no harm. It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of shells from these fine rifle-guns exploded in front of and around my battery that day, but so deep in the ground that the fragments never came out. After the action the ground looked as though a drove of hogs had been rooting there for potatoes. I venture the opinion here, after a good deal of observation during four years, that in open ground at l000 yards a six pounder battery of smooth guns, or at 1,500 to 1,800 yards, a similar battery of twelve pounder Napoleons, well handled, will in one hour whip double their number of the best rifles ever put in the field. A smooth-bore gun never buries its projectiles in the ground, as the rifle does invariably when fired against sloping ground. Of course, this advantage of the smooth-bore gun is limited to its shorter range, and to an open field fight, unprotected by defensive works.
For at least a half hour after our forces were driven across Young's Branch no Confederate soldier was visible from our position near the Henry house. The Staunton Artillery, so far as we could see, was "alone in its glory." General Bee's order had been, "Stay here till you are ordered away." To my surprise, no orders had come, though, as I afterward learned, orders to withdraw had been sent three-quarters of an hour before through Major Howard, of Bee's staff. Howard fell, desperately wounded, on the way, and could not deliver the message.
Infantry was now massing near the Stone house on the turnpike, not 500 yards away, to charge and capture us. On making this discovery and learning from the sergeants of pieces that our ammunition was almost entirely exhausted, there remained but one way to save our guns, and that was to run them off the field. More than half of our horses had been killed, one or two, only, being left in several of my six-horse teams. The living animals were quickly divided amongst the guns and caissons, and we limbered up and fled. Then it was that the Henry house was riddled, and the old lady, Mrs. Henry, was mortally wounded; for our line of retreat was so chosen that for two or three hundred yards the house would conceal us from Griffin's battery, and, in a measure, shelter us from the dreaded fire of the infantry when they should reach the crest we had just abandoned. Several of Griffin's shot passed through the house, scattering shingles, boards, and splinters all around us. A rifle-shot from Ricketts broke the axle of one of our guns and dropped the gun in the field, but we saved the limber. The charging infantry gained the crest in front of the Henry house in time to give us one volley, but with no serious damage.
We crossed the summit at the edge of the pines, midway behind the Henry and Robinson houses, and there met "Stonewall" Jackson at the head of his brigade, marching by the flank at a double-quick. Johnston and Beauregard had arrived upon the field and were hurrying troops into position, but we had not yet seen them.
When I met Jackson I felt very angry at what I then regarded as bad treatment from General Bee, in leaving us so long exposed to capture, and I expressed myself with some profanity, which I could see was displeasing to Jackson. He remarked, "I'll support your battery. Unlimber right here." We did so, when a perfect lull in the conflict ensued for twenty or thirty minutes -- at least in that part of the field.
It was at this time that McDowell committed, as I think, the fatal blunder of the day, by ordering both Ricketts' and Griffin's batteries to cease firing and move across the turnpike to the top of the Henry Hill, taking position on the west side of the house. The short time required to effect the change enabled Beauregard to arrange his new line of battle on the highest crest of the hill, south-east of the Henry and Robinson houses, in the edge of the pines. If one of the Federal batteries had been left north of Young's Branch, it could have so swept the hill-top where we re-formed, that it would have greatly delayed, if it had not wholly prevented, us from occupying the position. And if we had been forced back to the next hill, on which stands the Lewis house, Sherman, who had crossed Bull Run not far above the Stone Bridge, would have had a fair swing at our right flank, to say nothing of the effect of artillery playing upon us from beyond Bull Run.
When my retiring battery met Jackson, and he assumed command of us, I reported that I had left only three rounds of ammunition, for a single gun. I wanted to send the caissons to the rear for a supply. He said, "No, not now -- wait till other guns get here, and then you can withdraw your battery, as it has been so torn to pieces, and let your men rest."
For a time thereafter everything was quiet in our front; my men were lying round, nearly dead for water and food, and black with powder, smoke, and dust. Lieutenant Harman and I had been amusing ourselves training one of the guns on a heavy column of the enemy, who were advancing towards us, in the direction of the Chinn house, but were still twelve to fifteen hundred yards away. Whilst we were thus engaged, General Jackson rode up and said that three or four batteries were approachng rapidly; and we might soon retire. I again asked permission to fire the three rounds of shrapnel left to us. He said: "Go ahead." I picked up a charge (the fuse was cut and ready ) and rammed it home myself, remarkng to Harman, "Tom, put in the primer and pull her off." I forgot to step back far enough from the muzzle, and, as I wanted to see the shell strike, I squatted to be under the smoke, and gave the word "Fire." Heavens! what a report! I thought the gun had burst, and in a moment of consciousness felt as if my head was blown off. But it was only the pent-up gas, escaping sideways as the shot cleared the muzzle, that struck my side and head, and threw me full twenty feet away. I recovered in time to see the shell explode in the enemy's ranks at a spot where, the next day, we found five or six bodies badly mangled. The blood gushed out of my left ear, and from that day to this it has been totally deaf. The men fired the other two rounds, and limbered up and moved away, just as the Rockbridge artillery, under Lieutenant Brockenbrough, came into position, and, a moment later, the Leesburg artillery, under Lieutenant Henry Heaton. Pendleton, captain of the first, and Rogers, of the second, were not with their batteries when they unlimbered, nor at any time afterwards, as long as I was with them, during the action. But Heaton and Brockenbrough were more than equal to the occasion. Heaton particularly, who had been under my command with his battery at the Point of Rocks, below Harper's Ferry, the previous May, was a brave and skillful young officer. Several other batteries soon came into line, so that by the time Griffin and Ricketts were in position near the Henry house, we had, as I now remember, twenty-six fresh guns ready for them.
The fighting was renewed, and 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. He threw up his hand as he told me to go. The air was full of flying missiles, and as he spoke he jerked down his hand, and I saw the blood was streaming from it. I exclaimed, "General, you are wounded." He replied, as he drew a handkerchief from his breast pocket, and began to bind it up, " Only a scratch -- a mere scratch," and galloped away along his line.
To save my horse, I had hitched him to a persimmon tree in a little gully some fifty yards or more in the rear. I had become a little careful of the faithful beast on account of two narrow escapes. Whilst readjusting the teams at our first position, I had ridden to my left, nearly in front of the Henry house. Several of Griffin's guns appeared to be trained on me. A rifle shell burrowed under the horse, and, exploding in the ground, covered him with dirt, but did no damage. A fragment of another shell from overhead cut my canteen open, and wasted a pint of very good brandy, that would have been a boon a little later on. His other escape was during our flight after we got behind the Henry house. An unexploded rifle shell grazed his neck, taking off a little of the mane about a foot from his head, bringing him to his knees by the concussion.
To reach my horse after Jackson had given me permission to rejoin my battery, I had to pass the infantry of Hampton's Legion, who were lying down in supporting distance of our artillery, then all in full play. (Colonel Wade Hampton's "Legion" at that time, as I remember, consisted of a regiment of infantry, a battalion of cavalry, and a four-gun battery of horse artillery.) Whilst untying my horse, a shell exploded in the midst of Hampton's infantry, killing several and stampeding fifteen or twenty nearest the spot. I tried to rally them; but one huge fellow, musket in hand with bayonet fixed, had started on a run. I threw myself in his front with drawn sword, and threatened to cut him down, whereupon he made a lunge at me. I threw up my left arm to ward off the blow, but the bayonet-point ran under the wristband of my red flannel shirt, and raked the skin of my arm from wrist to shoulder. The blow knocked me sprawling on the ground, and the fellow got away. I tore off the dangling shirt-sleeve, and was bare armed as to my left, the remainder of the fight.
I overtook my battery on the hill near the Lewis house (used as a hospital), in a field in front of which I saw General Johnston and staff grouped on their horses, and under fire from numerous shells that reached that hill. I rode up to General Johnston, reported our ammunition all gone, and requested to know where I could find the ordnance wagons and get a fresh supply. Observing the sorry plight of the battery and the condition of the surviving men and horses, he directed me to remove them farther to the rear to a place of perfect safety for men and horses, and return myself to the field, where I might be of some service. I took the battery back perhaps a mile, where we found a little stream of water, so welcome to men and horses. Being greatly exhausted, I rested for perhaps an hour, and returned to the front with Sereant Thomas Shumate, a favorite in the battery, and always eager for action. When we regained the crest of the Henry plateau, the enemy had been swept from it, and the retreat had begun all along the line. We gazed upon the scene for a time, and, nearing firing between the Lewis house and the Stone Bridge, we rode back to see what it meant. Captain Lindsay Walker had arived from Fredericksburg with his six-Parrott-gun battery, and from a high hill was shelling the fugitives beyond Bull Run as they were fleeing in wild disorder to the shelter of the nearest woods. General J. E. B. Stuart, at the head of a body of yelling cavalry with drawn sabers, was sweeping round the back of the hill we were on, to cross the Run and fall upon the mob hurrying toward Centreville. When Stuart disappeared in the distance, Sergeant Shumate and I rode slowly backtoward where I had left my battery. Nearing the Lewis house, we saw General Johnston and his staff coming toward us slowly, preceded a little by a solitary horseman some paces in advance, who was lifting his hat to every one he met. From the likeness I had seen of President Jefferson Davis, I instantly recognized him and told Shumate who it was. With the impulsiveness of his nature, Shumate dashed up to the President, seized his hand, and huzzahed at the top of his voice. I could see that Mr. Davis was greatly amused, and I was convulsed with laughter. When they came within twenty steps of me, where I had halted to let the group pass, Shumate exclaimed, to the great amusement of all who heard him: "Mr. President, there's my captain, and I want to introduce you to him."
The President eyed me for a moment, as if he thought I was an odd-looking captain. I had on a battered slouch hat, a red flannel shirt with only one sleeve, corduroy trousers, and heavy cavalry boots. I was begrimed with burnt powder, dust, and blood from my ear and arm, and must have been about as hard-looking a specimen of a captain as was ever seen. Nevertheless, the President grasped my hand with a cordial salutation, and after a few words passed on.
We found our battery refreshing themselves on fat bacon and bread. After a hasty meal, I threw myself on a bag of oats, and slept till broad daylight next moming, notwithstanding a drenching rain, which beat upon me during the night.
In fact, I was aroused in the morning by a messenger from ex-Governor Alston, of South Carolina, summoning me to the side of my gallant commander, Brigadier-General Bee, who had been mortally wounded near the Henry house, where Bartow was instantly killed almost at the same moment. When I reached General Bee, who had been carried back to the cabin where I had joined him the night before, he was unconscious, and died in a few minutes whilst I was holding his hand. Some one during the night had told him that I had reflected on him for so long leaving our battery exposed to capture; and, at his request, messengers had been for hours hunting me in the darkness, to bring me to him, that I might learn from his own lips that he had sent Major Howard to order me to withdraw, when he was driven back across Young's Branch and the turnpike. I was grieved deeply not to have seen him sooner. Possibly the failure of his order to reach me was providential, For full three-quarters of an hour we kept up a fire that delayed the enemy's movement across Young's Branch. But for that, they might have gained the Henry plateau, before Jackson and Hampton came up, and before Bee and Bartow had rallied their disorganized troops. Minutes count as hours under such circumstances, and trifles often turn the scale in great battles.
General Jackson's wound, received under the circumstances I have described, became very serious when inflammation set in. On hearing, three days after the fight, that he was suffering with it, I rode to his quarters, in a little farm-house near Centreville. Although it was barely sunrise, he was out under the trees, bathing the hand with spring water. It was much swollen and very painful, but he bore himself stoically. His wife and baby had arrived the night before. His little daughter Julia was still in long dresses, and I remember tossing her, to her great delight, while breakfast was being made ready on a rude table under the trees. Of course, the battle was the only topic discussed at breakfast. I remarked, in Mrs. Jackson's hearing, "General, 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: "Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave." I felt that this last remark was intended as a rebuke for my profanity, when I had complained to him on the field of the apparent abandonment of my battery to capture, and I apologized. He heard me, and simply said, "Nothing can justify profanity:"
I never knew him to let profanity pass without a rebuke but once. The incident was reported to me by the chief actor in it, Major John A. Harman, who was Jackson's chief quartermaster, and a man of extraordinary qualifications. It happened at Edwards Ferry, on the Potomac, when our army was crossing into Maryland in the Antietam campaign. Major-General D. H. Hill's division was crossing, when Jackson rode up, and found the ford completely blocked with Hill's wagon-train. He spoke sharply to Hill (who was his brother-in-law, they having married sisters) for allowing such confusion. General Hill replied that he was not a quartermaster, or something that implied it was no part of his business to get tangled wagons out of the river. Jackson instantly put Hill in arrest, and, turning to Major Harman, ordered him to clear the ford. Harman dashed in among the wagoners, kicking mules, and (the) apparently inextricable mass of wagons, and, in the voice of a stentor, poured out a volume of oaths that would have excited the admiration of the most scientific mule-driver. The effect was electrical. The drivers were frightened and swore as best they could, but far below the Major's standard. The mules caught the inspiration from a chorus of familiar words, and all at once made a break for the Maryland shore, and in five minutes the ford was cleared. Jackson witnessed and heard it all. Harman rode back to join him, expecting a lecture, and, touching his hat, said: " The ford is clear, General! There's only one language that will make mules understand on a hot day that they must get out of the water." The General, smiling, said: "Thank you, Major," and dashed into the water at the head of his staff.
My aim in these few pages being only to describe some incidents of the battle which came under my own observation, I have not attempted to sketch the progress of the fight, nor to discuss the controversies growing out of it. The duties of the command were appropriately divided between General Johnston, the ranking officer, and General Beauregard, who was in the thickest of the fight, and displayed a heroism which inspired all around him. The battle was mainly fought by Johnston's troops from the Shenandoah. A large majority of the killed and wounded were his men and officers. Beauregard's troops were strung out for several miles down the valley of Bull Run, and did not get up to our aid till near the end of the day. General Beauregard himself came upon the field long before any of his troops arrived, except those he had posted under Evans to guard the Stone Bridge, and which, with Bee's troops, bore the brunt of the first attack.
From Military Collector and Historian the uninformed, North and South, have wondered why Johnston and Beauregard did not follow on to Washington. General Johnston, in his "Narrative," has clearly and conclusively answered that question. It was simply impossible. We had neither the food nor transportation at Manassas necessary to a forward movement. This subject was the cause of sharp irritation between our commanding generals at Manassas and Mr. Davis and his Secretary of War, Mr. Benjamin. There was a disposition in the quartermaster's and commissary departments at Richmond to deny the extent of the destitution of our army immediately after the battle. To ascertain the exact facts of the case, General Johnston organized a board of officers to investigate and report the condition of the transportation and commissariat of the army at Manassas on the 21st of July, and their daily condition for two weeks thereafter. That Board was composed of Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Lee (a cousin of General R. E. Lee), representing the commissary department, Major (afterwards Major-General) W. L. Cabell, representing the quartermaster's department, and myself from the line. My associates on this Board were old United States army officers of acknowledged ability aud large experience. We organized early in August, and made an exhaustive investigation and detailed report. I have a distinct recollection that we found that there was not at Manassas one full day's rations on the morning of the battle (July 21) for the combined armies of Johnston and Beauregard, and that on no single day for the succeeding two weeks was there as much as a three days' supply there. We found that there were not wagons and teams enough at any time to have transported three days' supplies for the troops if put in motion away from the railroad. We found that for weeks preceding the 21st of July General Beauregard had been urgent and almost importunate in his demands on the quartermaster and commissary generals at Richmond for adequate supplies. We found that Colonel Northrop, the commissary-general, had not only failed to send forward adequate supplies for such an emergency as arose when General Johnston brought his army from the valley, but that he had interfered with and interdicted the efforts of officers of the department, who were with General Beauregard, to collect supplies from the rich and abundant region lying between the hostile armies. After reporting the facts, we unanimously concurred in the opinion that they proved the impossibility of a successful and rapid pursuit of the defeated enemy to Washington. This report, elaborately written out and signed, was forwarded to Richmond, and in a few days was returned by Mr. Judah P Benjamin, Secretary of War, with an indorsement to the effect that the Board had trancended its powers by expressing an opinion as to what the facts did or did not prove, and sharply ordering us to strike out all that part of the report, and send only the facts ascertained by us. We met and complied with this order, though indignant at the reprimand, and returned our amended report. That was the last I ever heard of it. It never saw daylight. Who suppressed it I do not know.