The Great Conspiracy


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Thus far, the cannonade of Tyler's batteries, and the weak return-fire
of the Rebel Artillery, at Stone Bridge, over two miles South-East of
Sudley Ford, is about the only music by which the Union march has kept
time.

But now, as Burnside's foremost regiment emerges from the woods, at half
past 10 o'clock, the Artillery of the Enemy opens upon it.

Let us see how this happens. Evans's Brigade, defending the Stone
Bridge, and constituting the Enemy's extreme left, comprises, as has
already been mentioned, Sloan's 4th South Carolina Regiment, Wheat's
Louisiana battalion, Terry's squadron of Virginia Cavalry, and
Davidson's section of Latham's Battery of six-pounders.

Earlier in the morning Evans has supposed, from the cannonade of Tyler's
batteries among the pines on the hills obliquely opposite the Enemy's
left, as well as from the sound of the cannonade of the Union batteries
away down the stream on the Enemy's right, near Blackburn's Ford, that
McDowell is about to make an attack upon the whole front of the Rebel
line of defense along Bull Run-by way of the Stone Bridge, and the
various fords below it, which cross that stream. But by 10 o'clock,
that Rebel general begins to feel doubtful, suspicious, and uneasy.
Despite the booming of Tyler's guns, he has caught in the distance the
rumbling sounds of Hunter's Artillery wheels.

Evans finds himself pondering the meaning of those long lines of dust,
away to his left; and then, like a flash, it bursts upon him, that all
this Military hubbub in his front, and far away to his right, is but a
feint; that the real danger is somehow connected with that mysterious
far-away rumble, and those lines of yellow dust; that the main attack is
to be on the unprepared left and rear of the Rebel position!

No sooner has the Rebel brigade-commander thus divined the Union plan of
attack, than he prepares, with the limited force at his command, to
thwart it. Burnside and he are about equidistant, by this time, from
the intersection of the Sudley road, running South, with the Warrenton
Pike, running West. Much depends upon which of them shall be the first
to reach it,--and the instinctive, intuitive knowledge of this, spurs
Evans to his utmost energy. He leaves four of his fifteen companies,
and Rogers's section of the Loudoun Artillery,--which has come up from
Cocke's Brigade, at the ford below--to defend the approaches to the
Stone Bridge, from the East side of Bull Run,--and, with the other
eleven companies, and Latham's half-battery, he hurries Westward, along
the Warrenton Pike, toward the Sudley road-crossing, to resist the
impending Union attack.

It is now 10:30 o'clock, and, as he hurries along, with anxious eyes,
scanning the woods at the North, he suddenly catches the glitter of
Burnside's bayonets coming down through them, East of the Sudley road,
in "column of regiments" toward Young's Branch--a small stream turning,
in a Northern and Southern loop, respectively above and below the
Warrenton Pike, much as the S of a prostrate dollar-mark twines above
and below its horizontal line, the vicinity of which is destined to be
hotly-contested ground ere night-fall.

[Says Captain D. P. Woodbury, U. S. corps of engineers, and
who, with Captain Wright, guided the divisions of Hunter and
Heintzelman in making the detour to the upper part of Bull Run: "At
Sudley's Mills we lingered about an hour to give the men and horses
water and a little rest before going into action, our advance guard
in the mean time going ahead about three quarters of a mile.
Resuming our march, we emerged from the woods about one mile South
of the ford, and came upon a beautiful open valley about one and a
quarter miles square, bounded on the right or West by a wooded
ridge, on the Fast by the rough spurs or bluffs of Bull Run, on the
North by an open plain and ridge, on which our troops began to
form, and on the South by another ridge, on which the Enemy was
strongly posted, with woods behind their backs. The Enemy was also
in possession of the bluffs of Bull Run on our left."]

Sending word to Headquarters, Evans pushes forward and gaining Buck
Ridge, to the North of the Northern loop of Young's Branch, forms his
line-of-battle upon that elevation--which somewhat compensates him for
the inferiority of his numbers--nearly at right angles to the Bull Run
line; rapidly puts his Artillery in position; the Rebel guns open on
Burnside's advance--their hoarse roar soon supplemented by the rattle of
Rebel musketry, and the answering roar and rattle of the Union onset;
and the Battle of Bull Run has commenced!

It is after 10:30 A.M., and Beauregard and Johnston are upon an eminence
in the rear of the centre of the Enemy's Bull Run line. They have been
there since 8 o'clock. An hour ago, or more, their Signal Officer has
reported a large body of Union troops crossing the Bull Run Valley, some
two or three miles above the Stone Bridge; upon the strength of which,
Johnston has ordered Bee's Brigade from near Cocke's position, with
Hampton's Legion and Stonewall Jackson's Brigade from near Bonham's
left, to move to the Rebel left, at Stone Bridge; and these troops are
now hastening thither, guided by the sound of the guns.

The artillery-firing is also heard by Johnston and Beauregard, but
intervening wooded slopes prevent them from determining precisely whence
it comes. Beauregard, with a badly-organized staff, is chaffing over
the delay that has occurred in carrying out his own plan of battle. He
is waiting to hear of the progress of the attack which he has ordered
upon the Union Army,--supposed by him to be at Centreville,--and
especially as to the advance of his right toward Sangster's Station. In
the meantime also,--from early morning,--the Rebel commanders have heard
heavy firing in the direction of Blackburn's Ford, toward their right,
where the Artillery attached to the brigades of Davies and Richardson,
constituting McDowell's Left Wing, is demonstrating in a lively manner,
in accordance with McDowell's plan.

It is 11 o'clock. Beauregard has become satisfied that his orders for
the Rebel advance and attack on Centreville, have failed or miscarried.
His plan is abandoned, and the orders countermanded. At the same time
the growing volume of artillery-detonations upon the left of the Bull
Run line of defense--together with the clouds of dust which indicate the
route of march of Hunter's and Heintzelman's Divisions from near
Centreville to the point of conflict, satisfies both Johnston and
Beauregard, that a serious attack is imperilling the Rebel left.

Beauregard at once proposes to Johnston "a modification of the abandoned
plan," viz.: "to attack with the" Rebel "right, while the left stands on
the defensive." But rapidly transpiring events conspire to make even
the modified plan impracticable.

Johnston, convinced by the still growing volume of battlesounds on the
Rebel left, that the main attack of McDowell is being made there, urges
Beauregard to strengthen the left, as much as possible; and, after that
general has sent orders to this end,--to Holmes and Early to come up
with their Brigades from Union Mills Ford, moving "with all speed to the
sound of the firing," and to Bonham to promptly send up, from Mitchell's
Ford, a battery and two of his regiments--both he and Beauregard put
spurs to their horses, and gallop at full speed toward the firing, four
miles away on their left,--stopping on the way only long enough for
Johnston to order his Chief-of-artillery, Colonel Pendleton, to "follow,
with his own, and Alburtis's Batteries."

Meanwhile let us return and witness the progress of the battle, on the
Rebel left,--where we were looking on, at 10:30 o'clock. Evans had then
just posted his eleven companies of Infantry on Buck Ridge, with one of
his two guns on his left, near the Sudley road, and the other not far
from the Robinson House, upon the Northern spur of the elevated plateau
just South of Young's Branch, and nearly midway between the Sudley road
and Stone Bridge.

The battle, as we have seen, has opened. As Burnside's Brigade appears
on the slope, to the North of Buck Ridge (or Hill), it is received by a
rapid, well-sustained, and uncomfortable, but not very destructive fire,
from Evans's Artillery, and, as the Union regiments press forward, in
column, full of impulsive ardor, the Enemy welcomes the head of the
column with a hot musketry-fire also, delivered from the crest of the
elevation behind which the Rebel Infantry lie flat upon the ground.

This defense by Evan's demi-Brigade still continues, although half an
hour, or more, has elapsed. Burnside has not yet been able to dislodge
the Enemy from the position. Emboldened to temerity by this fact, Major
Wheat's Louisiana battalion advances through the woods in front, upon
Burnside, but is hurled back by a galling fire, which throws it into
disorder and flight.

At this moment, however, the brigades of Bee and Bartow--comprising the
7th and 8th Georgia, 2nd Mississippi, 4th Alabama, 6th North Carolina,
and two companies of the 11th Mississippi, with Imboden's Battery of
four pieces--recently arrived with Johnston from Winchester, come up,
form on the right of Sloan's 4th South Carolina Regiment, while Wheat
rallies his remnant on Sloan's left, now resting on the Sudley road, and
the whole new Rebel line opens a hot fire upon Burnside's Brigade.

Hunter, for the purpose of better directing the Union attack, is at this
moment rapidly riding to the left of the Union line,--which is advancing
Southwardly, at right angles to Bull Run stream and the old line of
Rebel defense thereon. He is struck by the fragment of a shell, and
carried to the rear.

Colonel John S. Slocum's, 2nd Rhode Island, Regiment, with Reynold's
Rhode Island Battery (six 13-pounders), having been sent to the front of
Burnside's left, and being closely pressed by the Enemy, Burnside's own
regiment the 1st Rhode Island, is gallantly led by Major Balch to the
support of the 2nd, and together they handsomely repulse the Rebel
onset. Burnside now sends forward Martin's 71st New York, with its two
howitzers, and Marston's 2nd New Hampshire,--his whole Brigade, of four
regiments and a light artillery battery, being engaged with the heavy
masked battery (Imboden's and two other pieces), and nearly seven full
regiments of the Enemy.

The regiments of Burnside's Brigade are getting considerably cut up.
Colonels Slocum and Marston, and Major Balch, are wounded. There is
some confusion in the ranks, and the Rhode Island Battery is in danger
of capture, when General Andrew Porter--whose own brigade has just
reached the field and is deploying to the right of Burnside's--succeeds
Hunter in command of the division, and rides over to his left. Burnside
asks him for Sykes's battalion of regulars, which is accordingly
detached from the extreme right of Andrew Porter's Division, rapidly
forms on the left, in support of the Rhode Island Battery, and opens a
hot and effective fire which, in connection with the renewed fire of
Burnside's rallied regiments, and the opening artillery practice of
Griffin's Battery--that has just come up at a gallop and gone into a
good position upon an eminence to the right of Porter's Division, and to
the right of the Sudley road looking South--fairly staggers the Enemy.

And now the brigades of Sherman and Keyes, having been ordered across
Bull Run by General Tyler, are seen advancing from Poplar Ford, at the
rear of our left,--Sherman's Brigade, headed by Corcoran's 69th New York
Regiment, coming up on Burnside's left, while Keves's Brigade is
following, to the left again of, Sherman.

[Sherman, in his Official Report, after mentioning the receipt by
him of Tyler's order to "cross over with the whole brigade to the
assistance of Colonel Hunter"--which he did, so far as the Infantry
was concerned, but left his battery under Ayres behind, on account
of the impassability of the bluff on the Western bank of Bull Run-
says: "Early in the day, when reconnoitering the ground, I had seen
a horseman descend from a bluff in our front, cross the stream, and
show himself in the open field, and, inferring we could cross over
at the same point, I sent forward a company as skirmishers, and
followed with the whole brigade, the New York Sixty-ninth leading."

This is evidently the ford at the elbow of Bull Run, to the right
of Sherman's front, which is laid down on the Army-maps as "Poplar
Ford," and which McDowell's engineers had previously discovered and
mapped; and to which Major Barnard of the U. S. Engineer Corps
alludes when, in his Official Report, he says: "Midway between the
Stone Bridge and Sudley Spring our maps indicated another ford,
which was said to be good."

The Comte de Paris, at page 241, vol. I. of his admirable "History
of the Civil War in America," and perhaps other Military
historians, having assumed and stated--upon the strength of this
passage in Sherman's Report--that "the Military instinct" of that
successful soldier had "discovered" this ford; and the impression
being thus conveyed, however undesignedly, to their readers, that
McDowell's Engineer corps, after spending two or three days in
reconnaissances, had failed to find the ford which Sherman had in a
few minutes "discovered" by "Military instinct;" it is surely due
to the truth of Military history, that the Engineers be fairly
credited with the discovery and mapping of that ford, the existence
of which should also have been known to McDowell's brigade
commanders.

If, on the other hand, the Report of the Rebel Captain Arthur L.
Rogers, of the Loudoun Artillery, to General Philip St. George
Cocke, be correct, it would seem that Sherman attempted to cross
Bull Run lower down than Poplar Ford, which is "about one mile
above the Stone Bridge," but was driven back by the fire of
Rogers's guns to cross at that particular ford; for Rogers, in that
Report, says that about 11 o'clock A. M., the first section of the
Loudoun Artillery, under his command, "proceeded to the crest of
the hill on the West Side of Bull Run, commanding Stone Bridge. *
* * Here." continues he, "I posted my section of Artillery, and
opened a brisk fire upon a column of the Enemy's Infantry, supposed
to be two regiments, advancing towards me, and supported by his
battery of rifled cannon on the hills opposite. These poured into
my section a steady fire of shot and shell. After giving them some
fifty rounds, I succeeded in heading his column, and turned it up
Bull Run to a ford about one mile above Stone Bridge, where, with
the regiments which followed, they crossed, and proceeded to join
the rest of the Enemy's forces in front of the main body of our
Army."]

Before this developing, expanding, and advancing attack of the Union
forces, the Rebel General Bee, who--since his coming up to support
Evans, with his own and Bartow's Brigades, to which had since been added
Hampton's Legion,--has been in command of this new Rebel line of defense
upon the left of the Bull Run line, concludes that that attack is
getting too strong for him, and orders his forces to retreat to the
Southward, and re-form on a second line, parallel to their present line,
and behind the rising ground at their rear. They do so, somewhat faster
than he desires. The whole line of the Rebel centre gives way, followed
by the wings, as far as the victorious Union troops can see.

We must be blind if we cannot perceive that thus far, the outlook, from
the Union point of view,--despite numberless mistakes of detail, and
some, perhaps, more general in their character--is very good. The "Boys
in Blue" are irresistibly advancing, driving the "Rebel Gray" back and
back, without let or hindrance, over the Buck Hill ridge, over Young's
Branch, back to, and even over, the Warrenton Pike. Time, to be sure,
is flying--valuable time; but the Enemy also is retiring.--There is some
slight confusion in parts of our own ranks; but there is much more in
his. At present, we have decidedly the best of it. McDowell's plan has
been, thus far, successful. Will that success continue? We shall see.

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