Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

rest of your division. His report herewith describes his

operations during the remainder of the day. Advancing slowly and

cautiously with the head of the column, to give time for the

regiments in succession to close up their ranks, we first

encountered a party of the enemy retreating along a cluster of

pines; Lieutenant-Colonel Haggerty, of the Sixty-ninth, without

orders, rode out alone, and endeavored to intercept their retreat.

One of the enemy, in full view, at short range, shot Haggerty, and

he fell dead from his horse. The Sixty-ninth opened fire on this

party, which was returned; but, determined to effect our junction

with Hunter's division, I ordered this fire to cease, and we

proceeded with caution toward the field where we then plainly saw

our forces engaged. Displaying our colors conspicuously at the

head of our column, we succeeded in attracting the attention of our

friends, and soon formed the brigade in rear of Colonel Porter's.

Here I learned that Colonel Hunter was disabled by a severe wound,

and that General McDowell was on the field. I sought him out, and

received his orders to join in pursuit of the enemy, who was

falling back to the left of the road by which the army had

approached from Sndley Springs. Placing Colonel Quinby's regiment

of rifles in front, in column, by division, I directed the other

regiments to follow in line of battle, in the order of the

Wisconsin Second, New York Seventy-ninth, and New York Sixty-ninth.

Quinby's regiment advanced steadily down the hill and up the ridge,

from which he opened fire upon the enemy, who had made another

stand on ground very favorable to him, and the regiment continued

advancing as the enemy gave way, till the head of the column

reached the point near which Rickett's battery was so severely cut

up. The other regiments descended the hill in line of battle,

under a severe cannonade; and, the ground affording comparative

shelter from the enemy's artillery, they changed direction, by the

right flank, and followed the road before mentioned. At the point

where this road crosses the ridge to our left front, the ground was

swept by a most severe fire of artillery, rifles, and musketry, and

we saw, in succession, several regiments driven from it; among them

the Zouaves and battalion of marines. Before reaching the crest of

this hill, the roadway was worn deep enough to afford shelter, and

I kept the several regiments in it as long as possible; but when

the Wisconsin Second was abreast of the enemy, by order of Major

Wadsworth, of General McDowell's staff, I ordered it to leave the

roadway, by the left flank, and to attack the enemy.

This regiment ascended to the brow of the hill steadily, received

the severe fire of the enemy, returned it with spirit, and

advanced, delivering its fire. This regiment is uniformed in gray

cloth, almost identical with that of the great bulk of the

secession army; and, when the regiment fell into confusion and

retreated toward the road, there was a universal cry that they were

being fired on by our own men. The regiment rallied again, passed

the brow of the hill a second time, but was again repulsed in

disorder. By this time the New York Seventy-ninth had closed up,

and in like manner it was ordered to cross the brow of, the hill,

and drive the enemy from cover. It was impossible to get a good

view of this ground. In it there was one battery of artillery,

which poured an incessant fire upon our advancing column, and the

ground was very irregular with small clusters of pines, affording

shelter, of which the enemy took good advantage. The fire of

rifles and musketry was very severe. The Seventy-ninth, headed by

its colonel, Cameron, charged across the hill, and for a short time

the contest was severe; they rallied several times under fire, but

finally broke, and gained the cover of the hill.

This left the field open to the New York Sixty-ninth, Colonel

Corcoran, who, in his turn, led his regiment over the crest; and

had in full, open view the ground so severely contested; the fire

was very severe, and the roar of cannon, musketry, and rifles,

incessant; it was manifest the enemy was here in great force, far

superior to us at that point. The Sixty-ninth held the ground for

some time, but finally fell back in disorder.

All this time Quinby's regiment occupied another ridge, to our

left, overlooking the same field of action, and similarly engaged.

Here, about half-past 3 p.m., began the scene of confusion and

disorder that characterized the remainder of the day. Up to that

time, all had kept their places, and seemed perfectly cool, and

used to the shell and shot that fell, comparatively harmless, all

around us; but the short exposure to an intense fire of small-arms,

at close range, had killed many, wounded more, and had produced

disorder in all of the battalions that had attempted to encounter

it. Men fell away from their ranks, talking, and in great

confusion. Colonel Cameron had been mortally wounded, was carried

to an ambulance, and reported dying. Many other officers were

reported dead or missing, and many of the wounded were making their

way, with more or less assistance, to the buildings used as

hospitals, on the ridge to the west. We succeeded in partially

reforming the regiments, but it was manifest that they would not

stand, and I directed Colonel Corcoran to move along the ridge to

the rear, near the position where we had first formed the brigade.

General McDowell was there in person, and need all possible efforts

to reassure the men. By the active exertions of Colonel Corcoran,

we formed an irregular square against the cavalry which were then

seen to issue from the position from which we had been driven, and

we began our retreat toward the same ford of Bull Run by which we

had approached the field of battle. There was no positive order to

retreat, although for an hour it had been going on by the operation

of the men themselves. The ranks were thin and irregular, and we

found a stream of people strung from the hospital across Bull Run,

and far toward Centreville. After putting in motion the irregular

square in person, I pushed forward to find Captain Ayres's battery

at the crossing of Bull Run. I sought it at its last position,

before the brigade had crossed over, but it was not there; then

passing through the woods, where, in the morning, we had first

formed line, we approached the blacksmith's shop, but there found a

detachment of the secession cavalry and thence made a circuit,

avoiding Cub Run Bridge, into Centreville, where I found General

McDowell, and from him understood that it was his purpose to rally

the forces, and make a stand at Centreville.

But, about nine o'clock at night, I received from General Tyler, in

person, the order to continue the retreat to the Potomac. This

retreat was by night, and disorderly in the extreme. The men of

different regiments mingled together, and some reached the river at

Arlington, some at Long Bridge, and the greater part returned to

their former camp, at or near Fort Corcoran. I reached this point

at noon the next day, and found a miscellaneous crowd crossing over

the aqueduct and ferries.. Conceiving this to be demoralizing, I

at once commanded the guard to be increased, and all persons

attempting to pass over to be stopped. This soon produced its

effect; men sought their proper companies and regiments.

Comparative order was restored, and all were posted to the best

advantage.

I herewith inclose the official report of Captain Belly, commanding

officer of the New York Sixty-ninth; also, fall lists of the

killed, wounded, and missing.

Our loss was heavy, and occurred chiefly at the point near where

Rickett's battery was destroyed. Lieutenant-Colonel Haggerty was

killed about noon, before we had effected a junction with Colonel

Hunter's division. Colonel Cameron was mortally wounded leading

his regiment in the charge, and Colonel Corcoran has been missing

since the cavalry-charge near the building used as a hospital.

For names, rank, etc., of the above, I refer to the lists herewith.

Lieutenants Piper and McQuesten, of my personal staff, were under

fire all day, and carried orders to and fro with as much coolness

as on parade. Lieutenant Bagley, of the New York Sixty-ninth, a

volunteer aide, asked leave to serve with his company, during the

action, and is among those reported missing. I have intelligence

that he is a prisoner, and slightly wounded.

Colonel Coon, of Wisconsin, a volunteer aide, also rendered good

service during the day.

W. T. SHERMAN, Colonel commanding Brigade.

This report, which I had not read probably since its date till now,

recalls to me vividly the whole scene of the affair at Blackburn's

Ford, when for the first time in my life I saw cannonballs strike

men and crash through the trees and saplings above and around us,

and realized the always sickening confusion as one approaches a

fight from the rear; then the night-march from Centreville, on the

Warrenton road, standing for hours wondering what was meant; the

deployment along the edge of the field that sloped down to

Bull-Run, and waiting for Hunter's approach on the other aide from

the direction of Sudley Springs, away off to our right; the

terrible scare of a poor negro who was caught between our lines;

the crossing of Bull Run, and the fear lest we should be fired on

by our own men; the killing of Lieutenant-Colonel Haggerty, which

occurred in plain sight; and the first scenes of a field strewed

with dead men and horses. Yet, at that period of the battle, we

were the victors and felt jubilant. At that moment, also, my

brigade passed Hunter's division; but Heintzelman'a was still ahead

of us, and we followed its lead along the road toward Manassas

Junction, crossing a small stream and ascending a long hill, at the

summit of which the battle was going on. Here my regiments came

into action well, but successively, and were driven back, each in

its turn. For two hours we continued to dash at the woods on our

left front, which were full of rebels; but I was convinced their

organization was broken, and that they had simply halted there and

taken advantage of these woods as a cover, to reach which we had to

pass over the intervening fields about the Henry House, which were

clear, open, and gave them a decided advantage. After I had put in

each of my regiments, and had them driven back to the cover of the

road, I had no idea that we were beaten, but reformed the regiments

in line in their proper order, and only wanted a little rest, when

I found that my brigade was almost alone, except Syke's regulars,

who had formed square against cavalry and were coming back. I then

realized that the whole army was "in retreat," and that my own men

were individually making back for the stone bridge. Corcoran and I

formed the brigade into an irregular square, but it fell to pieces;

and, along with a crowd, disorganized but not much scared, the

brigade got back to Centreville to our former camps. Corcoran was

captured, and held a prisoner for some time; but I got safe to

Centreville. I saw General McDowell in Centreville, and understood

that several of his divisions had not been engaged at all, that he

would reorganize them at Centreville, and there await the enemy. I

got my four regiments in parallel lines in a field, the same in

which we had camped before the battle, and had lain down to sleep

under a tree, when I heard some one asking for me. I called out

where I was, when General Tyler in person gave me orders to march

back to our camps at Fort Corcoran. I aroused my aides, gave them

orders to call up the sleeping men, have each regiment to leave the

field by a flank and to take the same road back by which we had

come. It was near midnight, and the road was full of troops,

wagons, and batteries. We tried to keep our regiments separate,

but all became inextricably mixed. Toward morning we reached

Vienna, where I slept some hours, and the next day, about noon, we

reached Fort Corcoran.

A slow, mizzling rain had set in, and probably a more gloomy day

never presented itself. All organization seemed to be at an end;

but I and my staff labored hard to collect our men into their

proper companies and into their former camps, and, on the 23d of

July, I moved the Second Wisconsin and Seventy-ninth New York

closer in to Fort Corcoran, and got things in better order than I

had expected. Of course, we took it for granted that the rebels

would be on our heels, and we accordingly prepared to defend our

posts. By the 25th I had collected all the materials, made my

report, and had my brigade about as well governed as any in that

army; although most of the ninety-day men, especially the

Sixty-ninth, had become extremely tired of the war, and wanted to

go home. Some of them were so mutinous, at one time, that I had

the battery to unlimber, threatening, if they dared to leave camp

without orders, I would open fire on them. Drills and the daily

exercises were resumed, and I ordered that at the three principal

roll-calls the men should form ranks with belts and muskets, and

that they should keep their ranks until I in person had received

the reports and had dismissed them. The Sixty-ninth still occupied

Fort Corcoran, and one morning, after reveille, when I had just

received the report, had dismissed the regiment, and was leaving, I

found myself in a crowd of men crossing the drawbridge on their way

to a barn close by, where they had their sinks; among them was an

officer, who said: "Colonel, I am going to New York today. What

can I do for you?" I answered: "How can you go to New York? I do

not remember to have signed a leave for you." He said, "No; he did

not want a leave. He had engaged to serve three months, and had

already served more than that time. If the Government did not

intend to pay him, he could afford to lose the money; that he was a

lawyer, and had neglected his business long enough, and was then

going home." I noticed that a good many of the soldiers had paused

about us to listen, and knew that, if this officer could defy me,

they also would. So I turned on him sharp, and said: "Captain,

this question of your term of service has been submitted to the

rightful authority, and the decision has been published in orders.

You are a soldier, and must submit to orders till you are properly

discharged. If you attempt to leave without orders, it will be

mutiny, and I will shoot you like a dog! Go back into the fort

now, instantly, and don't dare to leave without my consent." I had

on an overcoat, and may have had my hand about the breast, for he

looked at me hard, paused a moment, and then turned back into the

fort. The men scattered, and I returned to the house where I was

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