The Great Conspiracy

No sooner does Ayres open fire on the Enemy, than he awakens a Rebel
hornet’s-nest. Volley after volley of musketry shows that the Bull Run
bottom fairly swarms with Rebel troops, while another Rebel battery,
more to the Rebel right, opens, with that already mentioned, a
concentrated cross-fire upon him.

And now Richardson orders up the 12th New York, Colonel Walrath, to the
left of our battery. Forming it into line-of-battle, Richardson orders
it to charge through the woods upon the Enemy. Gallantly the regiment
moves forward, after the skirmishers, into the woods, but, being met by
a very heavy fire of musketry and artillery along the whole line of the
Enemy’s position, is, for the most part, thrown back in confusion–a
mere fragment* remaining in line, and retreating,–while the howitzers,
and Cavalry also, are withdrawn.

Meantime, however, Richardson has ordered up, and placed in line-of-
battle, on the right of our battery, the 1st Massachusetts, the 2d
Michigan (his own), and the 3d Michigan. The skirmishers in the woods
still bravely hold their ground, undercover, and these three regiments
are plucky, and anxious to assault the Enemy. Richardson proposes to
lead them in a charge upon the Enemy’s position, and drive him out of
it; but Tyler declines to give permission, on the ground that this being
“merely a reconnaissance,” the object of which–ascertaining the
strength and position of the Enemy–having been attained, a further
attack is unnecessary. He therefore orders Richardson to “fall back in
good order to our batteries on the hill,”–which he does.

Upon reaching these batteries, Richardson forms his 2d Michigan, in
“close column by division,” on their right, and the 1st Massachusetts
and 3d Michigan, in “line of battle,” on their left–the 12th New York
re-forming, under cover of the woods at the rear, later on. Then, with
our skirmishers thrown into the woods in front, their scattering fire,
and the musketry responses of the Rebels, are drowned in the volume of
sound produced by the deafening contest which ensues between our
Artillery, and that of the Enemy from his batteries behind Bull Run.

This artillery-duel continues about one hour; and then seems to cease by
mutual consent, about dusk–after 415 shots have been fired on the Union
side, and have been responded to by an equal number from the Rebel
batteries, “gun for gun”–the total loss in the engagement, on the Union
side, being 83, to a total loss among the Enemy, of Thursday night,
Richardson retires his brigade upon Centreville, in order to secure
rations and water for his hungry and thirsty troops,–as no water has
yet been found in the vicinity of the Union batteries aforesaid. On the
morrow, however, when his brigade re-occupies that position, water is
found in abundance, by digging for it.

This premature attack, at Blackburn’s Ford, by Tyler, against orders,
having failed, throws a wet blanket upon the martial spirit of
McDowell’s Army. In like degree is the morale of the Rebel Army

It is true that Longstreet, in command of the Rebel troops at
Blackburn’s Ford, has not had things all his own way; that some of his
artillery had to be “withdrawn;” that, as he acknowledges in his report,
his brigade of three Virginia regiments (the 1st, 11th, and 17th) had
“with some difficulty repelled” the Union assault upon his position;
that he had to call upon General Early for re-enforcements; that Early
re-enforced him with two Infantry regiments (the 7th Louisiana and 7th
Virginia) at first; that one of these (the 7th Virginia) was “thrown
into confusion;” that Early then brought up his own regiment (the 24th
Virginia) under Lieutenant Colonel Hairston, and the entire seven guns
of the “Washington Artillery;” and that but for the active “personal
exertions” of Longstreet, in “encouraging the men under his command,”
and the great numerical superiority of the Rebels, there might have been
no Union “repulse” at all. Yet still the attack has failed, and that
failure, while it dispirits the Patriot Army, inspires the Rebel Army
with renewed courage.

Under these circumstances, Friday, the 19th of July, is devoted to
reconnaissances by the Engineer officers of the Union Army; to the
cooking of the supplies, which have at last arrived; and to resting the
weary and road-worn soldiers of the Union.

Let us take advantage of this halt in the advance of McDowell’s “Grand
Army of the United States”–as it was termed–to view the Rebel position
at, and about Manassas, and to note certain other matters having an
important and even determining bearing upon the issue of the impending

Beauregard has received early information of McDowell’s advance from
Arlington, and of his plans.

[This he admits, in his report, when he says; “Opportunely informed
of the determination of the Enemy to advance on Manassas, my
advanced brigades, on the night of the 16th of July, were made
aware, from these headquarters, of the impending movement,”]

On Tuesday the 16th, he notifies his advanced brigades. On Wednesday,
he sends a dispatch from Manassas, to Jefferson Davis, at Richmond,
announcing that the Union troops have assailed his outposts in heavy
force; that he has fallen back before them, on the line of Bull Run; and
that he intends to make a stand at Mitchell’s Ford (close to Blackburn’s
Ford) on that stream,–adding: if his (McDowell’s) force is
overwhelming, “I shall retire to the Rappahannock railroad bridge,
saving my command for defense there, and future operations. Please
inform Johnston of this, via Staunton, and also Holmes. Send forward
any re-enforcements at the earliest possible instant, and by every
possible means.”

In the meantime, however, Beauregard loses no time in advantageously
posting his troops. On the morning of the 18th of July, when the Union
advance enters Centreville, he has withdrawn all his advanced brigades
within the Rebel lines of Bull Run, resting them on the South side of
that stream, from Union Mills Ford, near the Orange and Alexandria
railroad bridge, up to the stone bridge over which the Warrenton Pike
crosses the Run,–a distance of some six to eight miles.

Between the Rebel left, at Stone Bridge, and the Rebel right, at Union
Mills Ford, are several fords across Bull Run–the general course of the
stream being from the North-West to South-East, to its confluence with
the Occoquan River, some twelve miles from the Potomac River.

Mitchell’s Ford, the Rebel center, is about three miles to the South-
West of, and about the same distance North-East from, Manassas Junction.
But it may be well, right here, to locate all these fordable crossings
of the rocky, precipitous, and well-wooded Bull Run stream, between the
Stone Bridge and Union Mills Ford. Thus, half a mile below the Stone
Bridge is Lewis’s Ford; half a mile below that, Ball’s Ford; half a mile
below that, Island Ford; one and one-half miles below that, Mitchell’s
Ford–one mile below that.

Blackburn’s Ford; three-quarters of a mile farther down, McLean’s Ford;
and nearly two miles lower down the stream, Union Mills Ford.

By Thursday morning, the 18th of July, Beauregard has advantageously
posted the seven brigades into which he has organized his forces, at
these various positions along his extended front, as follows:

At the Stone Bridge, Brigadier-General N. G. Evans’s Seventh Brigade, of
one regiment and one battalion of Infantry, two companies of Cavalry,
and a battery of four six-pounders.

At Lewis’s, Balls, and Island Fords–Colonel P. St. George Cocke’s
Fifth Brigade, of three regiments of Infantry, one battery of Artillery,
and one company of Cavalry.

At Mitchell’s Ford, Brigadier-General M. L. Bonham’s First Brigade, of
four Infantry regiments, two batteries, and six companies of Cavalry.

At Blackburn’s Ford, Brigadier-General J. Longstreet’s Fourth Brigade,
of four Infantry regiments, with two 6-pounders.

At McLean’s Ford, Brigadier-General D. R. Jones’s Third Brigade of three
Infantry regiments, one Cavalry company, and two 6-pounders.

At Union Mills Ford, Brigadier-General R. S. Ewell’s Second Brigade, of
three Infantry regiments, three Cavalry companies, and four 12-powder
howitzers–Colonel Jubal A. Early’s Sixth Brigade, of three Infantry
regiments and three rifled pieces of Walton’s Battery, being posted in
the rear of, and as a support to, Ewell’s Brigade.

[Johnston also found, on the 20th, the Reserve Brigade of Brig.
Gen. T. H. Holmes–comprising two regiments of Infantry, Walker’s
Battery of Artillery, and Scott’s Cavalry-with Early’s Brigade, “in
reserve, in rear of the right.”]

The disposition and strength of Beauregard’s forces at these various
points along his line of defense on Bull Run stream, plainly shows his
expectation of an attack on his right; but he is evidently suspicious
that it may come upon his centre; for, as far back as July 8th, he had
issued special orders to the effect that:

“Should the Enemy march to the attack of Mitchell’s Ford, via
Centreville, the following movements will be made with celerity:

“I. The Fourth Brigade will march from Blackburn’s Ford to attack him on
the flank and centre.

“II. The Third Brigade will be thrown to the attack of his centre and
rear toward Centreville.

“III. The Second and Sixth Brigades united will also push forward and
attack him in the rear by way of Centreville, protecting their own right
flanks and rear from the direction of Fairfax Station and Court House.

“IV. In the event of the defeat of the Enemy, the troops at Mitchell’s
Ford and Stone Bridge, especially the Cavalry and Artillery, will join
in the pursuit, which will be conducted with vigor but unceasing
prudence, and continued until he shall have been driven beyond the

And it is not without interest to note Beauregard’s subsequent
indorsement on the back of these Special Orders, that: “The plan of
attack prescribed within would have been executed, with modifications
affecting First and Fifth Brigades, to meet the attack upon Blackburn’s
Ford, but for the expected coming of General Johnston’s command, which
was known to be en route to join me on [Thursday] the 18th of July.”

The knowledge thus possessed on Thursday, the 18th, by Beauregard, that
Johnston’s Army is on its way to join him, is of infinite advantage to
the former. On the other hand, the complete ignorance, at this time, of
McDowell on this point,–and the further fact that he has been lulled
into a feeling of security on the subject, by General Scott’s emphatic
assurance to him that “if Johnston joins Beauregard, he shall have
Patterson on his heels”–is a great disadvantage to the Union general.

Were McDowell now aware of the real Military situation, he would
unquestionably make an immediate attack, with the object of crushing
Beauregard before Johnston can effect a junction with him. It would
then be a mere matter of detail for the armies of McDowell, McClellan,
and Patterson, to bag Johnston, and bring the armed Rebellion to an
inglorious and speedy end. But Providence–through the plottings of
individuals within our own lines–wills it otherwise.

Long before this, Patterson has been informed by General Winfield Scott
of the proposed movement by McDowell upon Manassas,–and of its date.

On Saturday, July 13th, General Scott telegraphed to Patterson: “I
telegraphed to you yesterday, if not strong enough to beat the Enemy
early next week, make demonstrations so as to detain him in the Valley
of Winchester; but if he retreats in force toward Manassas, and it be
too hazardous to follow him, then consider the route via Keys Ferry,
Leesburg, etc.”

On Wednesday, the 17th, Scott telegraphs to Patterson: “I have nothing
official from you since Sunday (14th), but am glad to learn, through
Philadelphia papers, that you have advanced. Do not let the Enemy amuse
and delay you with a small force in front whilst he re-enforces the
Junction with his main body. McDowell’s first day’s work has driven the
Enemy beyond Fairfax Court House. The Junction will probably be carried
by to-morrow.”

On Thursday, the 18th, Patterson replies that to attack “the greatly
superior force at Winchester “when the three months volunteers’ time was
about up, and they were threatening to leave him–would be “most
hazardous” and then he asks: “Shall I attack?”

Scott answers the same day: “I have certainly been expecting you to beat
the Enemy. If not, to hear that you had felt him strongly, or, at
least, had occupied him by threats and demonstrations. You have been at
least his equal, and, I suppose, superior in numbers. Has he not stolen
a march and sent re-enforcements toward Manassas Junction? A week is
enough to win victories,” etc.

Patterson retorts, on the same day: “The Enemy has stolen no march upon
me. I have kept him actively employed, and by threats, and
reconnaissances in force, caused him to be re-enforced. I have
accomplished in this respect more than the General-in-Chief asked, or
could well be expected, in face of an Enemy far superior in numbers,
with no line of communication to protect.”

In another dispatch, to Assistant Adjutant-General Townsend (with
General Scott), he says, that same afternoon of Thursday, the 18th: “I
have succeeded, in accordance with the wishes of the General-in-Chief,
in keeping General Johnston’s Force at Winchester. A reconnaissance in
force, on Tuesday, caused him to be largely re-enforced from Strasburg.”

Again, on Friday, the 19th, he informs Colonel Townsend that: “The
Enemy, from last information, are still at Winchester, and being re-
enforced every night.”

It is not until Saturday, the 20th of July, that he telegraphs to
Townsend: “With a portion of his force, Johnston left Winchester, by the
road to Millwood, on the afternoon of the 18th.” And he adds the
ridiculous statement: “His whole force was about 35,200.”

Thus, despite all the anxious care of General Scott, to have Johnston’s
Army detained in the Shenandoah Valley, it has escaped Patterson so
successfully, and entirely, that the latter does not even suspect its
disappearance until the day before the pitched Battle of Bull Run is
fought! Its main body has actually reached Manassas twenty-four hours
before Patterson is aware that it has left Winchester!

And how is it, that Johnston gets away from Patterson so neatly? And
when does he do it?

[The extraordinary conduct of General Patterson at this critical
period, when everything seemed to depend upon his exertions, was
afterward the subject of inquiry by the Joint-Committee on the
Conduct of the War. The testimony taken by that Committee makes it
clear, to any unprejudiced mind, that while Patterson himself may
have been loyal to the Union, he was weak enough to be swayed from
the path of duty by some of the faithless and unpatriotic officers
with whom he had partly surrounded himself–and especially by Fitz
John Porter, his Chief-of-staff. Let us examine the sworn
testimony of two or three witnesses on this point.

General CHARLES W. SANFORD, who was second in command under
Patterson, and in command of Patterson’s Left Wing, testified [see
pages 54-66, Report on Conduct of the War, Vol. 3, Part 2,] that he
was at a Council of War held at the White House, June 29th, when
the propriety of an attack on the Rebel lines at Manassas was
discussed; that he objected to any such movement until Patterson
was in such a position as to prevent the junction between General
Johnston’s Army and the troops at Manassas; that on the 6th of
July, he was sent by General Scott, with four picked New York
regiments, to Patterson, and (waiving his own seniority rank)
reported to that General, at Williamsport; that Patterson gave him
command of a division of 8,000 men (and two batteries) out of a
total in his Army of 22,000; that he “delivered orders from General
Scott to General Patterson, and urged a forward movement as soon as
possible;” that there was “Some delay at Martinsburg,
notwithstanding the urgency of our matter,” but they “left there on
[Monday] the 15th of July, and went in the direction of
Winchester,”–down to Bunker Hill,–Patterson with two divisions
going down the turnpike, and Sanford taking his division a little
in advance and more easterly on the side roads so as to be in a
position to flank Johnston’s right; that on that afternoon (Monday,
July 15) General Patterson rode up to where Sanford was locating
his camp.

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