The Great Conspiracy

Continuing his testimony, General Sanford said: “I was then within
about nine miles of Johnston’s fortified camp at Winchester.
Patterson was complimenting me upon the manner in which my
regiments were located, and inquiring about my pickets, which I had
informed him I had sent down about three miles to a stream below.
I had driven out the Enemy’s skirmishers ahead of us. They had
some cavalry there. In answer to his compliments about the
comfortable location I had made, I said: ‘Very comfortable,
General, when shall we move on?’ * * * He hesitated a moment or
two, and then said: ‘I don’t know yet when we shall move. And if I
did I would not tell my own father.’ I thought that was rather a
queer speech to make to me under the circumstances. But I smiled
and said: ‘General, I am only anxious that we shall get forward,
that the Enemy shall not escape us.’ He replied: ‘There is no
danger of that. I will have a reconnaissance to-morrow, and we
will arrange about moving at a very early period.’ He then took
his leave.

“The next day [Tuesday, July 16th], there was a reconnaissance on
the Winchester turnpike, about four or five miles below the
General’s camp. He sent forward a section of artillery and some
cavalry, and they found a post-and-log fence across the Winchester
turnpike, and some of the Enemy’s cavalry on the other side of it.
They gave them a round of grape. The cavalry scattered off, and
the reconnaissance returned. That was the only reconnaissance I
heard of while we were there. My own pickets went further than
that. But it was understood, the next afternoon, that we were to
march forward at daylight. I sent down Col. Morell, with 40 men,
to open a road down to Opequan Creek, within five miles of the camp
at Winchester, on the side-roads I was upon, which would enable me,
in the course of three hours, to get between Johnston and the
Shenandoah River, and effectually bar his way to Manassas. I had
my ammunition all distributed, and ordered my men to have 24 hours’
rations in their haversacks, independent of their breakfast. We
were to march at 4 o’clock the next morning. I had this road to
the Opequan completed that night. I had then with me, in addition
to my eight regiments amounting to about 8,000 men and a few
cavalry, Doubleday’s heavy United States battery of 20 and 30
pounders, and a very good Rhode Island battery. And I was willing
to take the risk, whether Gen. Patterson followed me up or not, of
placing myself between Johnston and the Shenandoah River, rather
than let Johnston escape. And, at 4 o’clock [July 17th] I should
have moved over that road for that purpose, if I had had no further
orders. But, a little after 12 o’clock at night [July 16th-17th,] I received a long order of three pages from Gen. Patterson,
instructing me to move on to Charlestown, which is nearly at right
angles to the road I was going to move on, and twenty-two miles
from Winchester. This was after I had given my orders for the
other movement.”

* * * * * * * * * *

‘Question [by the Chairman].–And that left Johnston free?
“Answer–Yes, Sir; left him free to make his escape, which he did.
* * *”

‘Question.–In what direction would Johnston have had to move to
get by you?
“Answer–Right out to the Shenandoah River, which he forded. He
found out from his cavalry, who were watching us, that we were
actually leaving, and he started at 1 o’clock that same day, with
8,000 men, forded the Shenandoah where it was so deep that he
ordered his men to put their cartridge-boxes on their bayonets, got
out on the Leesburg road, and went down to Manassas.”

“Question [by the Chairman].–Did he [Patterson] assign any reason
for that movement?
“Answer.–I was, of course, very indignant about it, and so were
all my officers and men; so much so that when, subsequently, at
Harper’s Ferry, Patterson came by my camp, there was a universal
groan–against all discipline, of course, and we suppressed it as
soon as possible. The excuse given by Gen. Patterson was this:
that he had received intelligence that he could rely upon, that
Gen. Johnston had been re-enforced by 20,000 men from Manassas,
and was going to make an attack upon him; and in the order which I
received that night–a long order of three pages–I was ordered to
occupy all the communicating roads, turning off a regiment here,
and two or three regiments there, and a battery at another place,
to occupy all the roads from Winchester to the neighborhood of
Charlestown, and all the cross-roads, and hold them all that day,
until Gen. Patterson’s whole army went by me to Charlestown; and I
sat seven hours in the saddle near a place called Smithfield, while
Patterson, with his whole army, went by me on their way to
Charlestown, he being apprehensive, as he said, of an attack from
Johnston’s forces.”

“Question [by Mr. Odell].–You covered his movement?
“Answer–Yes, Sir. Now the statement that he made, which came to
me through Colonel Abercrombie, who was Patterson’s brother-in-law,
and commanded one division in that army, was, that Johnston had
been re-enforced; and Gen. Fitz-John Porter reported the same thing
to my officers. Gen. Porter was then the chief of Patterson’s
staff, and was a very excellent officer, and an accomplished
soldier. They all had got this story, which was without the
slightest shadow of foundation; for there had not a single man
arrived at the camp since we had got full information that their
force consisted of 20,000 men, of whom 1,800 were sick with the
measles. The story was, however, that they had ascertained, by
reliable information, of this re-enforcement. Where they got their
information, I do not know. None such reached me; and I picked up
deserters and other persons to get all the information I could; and
we since have learned, as a matter of certainty, that Johnston’s
forces never did exceed 20,000 men there. But the excuse Patterson
gave was, that Johnson had been re-enforced by 20,000 men from
Manassas, and was going to attack him. That was the reason he gave
then for this movement. But in this paper he has lately published,
he hints at another reason–another excuse–which was that it was
by order of Gen. Scott. Now, I know that the peremptory order of
Gen. Scott to Gen. Patterson, repeated over and over again, was
this–I was present on several occasions when telegraphic
communications went from Gen. Scott to Gen. Patterson: Gen. Scott’s
orders to Gen. Patterson were that, if he were strong enough, he
was to attack and beat Johnston. But if not, then he was to place
himself in such a position as to keep Johnston employed, and
prevent him from making a junction with Beauregard at Manassas.
That was the repeated direction of Gen. Scott to Gen. Patterson;
and it was because of Patterson’s hesitancy, and his hanging back,
and keeping so far beyond the reach of Johnston’s camp, that I was
ordered to go up there and re-enforce him, and assist him in any
operations necessary to effect that object. The excuse of Gen.
Patterson now is, that he had orders from Gen. Scott to move to
Charlestown. Now, that is not so. But this state of things
existed: Before the movement was made from Martinsburg, General
Patterson suggested to General Scott that Charlestown would be a
better base of operations than Martinsburg and suggested that he
had better move on Charlestown, and thence make his approaches to
Winchester; that it would be better to do that than to move
directly to Winchester from Martinsburg; and General Scott wrote
back to say that, if he found that movement a better one, he was at
liberty to make it. But Gen. Patterson had already commenced his
movement on Winchester direct from Martinsburg, and had got as far
as Bunker Hill; so that the movement which he had formerly
suggested, to Charlestown, was suppressed by his own act. But that
is the pretence now given in his published speech for making the
movement from Bunker Hill to Charlestown, which was a retreat,
instead of the advance which the movement to Charlestown he first
proposed to Gen. Scott was intended to be.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Question [by the Chairman].–Was not that change of direction and
movement to Charlestown a total abandonment of the object which you
were pursuing?
“Answer.–Entirely an abandonment of the main principles of the
orders he was acting under.”

“Question.–And of course an abandonment of the purpose for which
you were there?
“Answer.–Yes, Sir.

“Question [by Mr. Odell].-Was it not your understanding in leaving
here, and was it not the understanding also of Gen. Scott, that
your purpose in going there was to check Johnston with direct
reference to the movement here?
“Answer–Undoubtedly. It was in consequence of the suggestion made
by me at the Council at the President’s house. * * * And upon the
suggestion of General Scott they wanted me to go up there and
assist Patterson in this movement against Johnston, so as to carry
out the point I had suggested of first checkmating Johnston before
the movement against Manassas was made here.”

* * * * * * * * *

Question [by the Chairman].–Would there have been any difficulty
in preventing Johnston from going to Manassas?
“Answer.–None whatever.”

* * * * * * * * *

“Question [by the Chairman.]–I have heard it suggested that he
(Patterson) undertook to excuse this movement on the ground that
the time of many of his troops had expired, and they refused to
accompany him.
“Answer.–That to my knowledge, is untrue. The time of none of
them had expired when this movement was made. All the troops that
were there were in the highest condition for the service. These
three-months’ men, it may be well to state to you who are not
Military men, were superior to any other volunteer troops that we
had, in point of discipline. They were the disciplined troops of
the Country. The three-months’ men were generally the organized
troops of the different States–New York, Pennsylvania, etc. We
had, for instance, from Patterson’s own city, Philadelphia, one of
the finest regiments in the service, which was turned over to me,
at their own request; and the most of my regiments were disciplined
and organized troops. They were all in fine condition, anxious,
zealous, and earnest for a fight. They thought they were going to
attack Johnston’s camp at Winchester. Although I had suggested to
Gen. Patterson that there was no necessity for that, the camp being
admirably fortified with many of their heavy guns from Norfolk, I
proposed to him to place ourselves between Johnston and the
Shenandoah, which would have compelled him to fight us there, or to
remain in his camp, either of which would have effected General
Scott’s object. If I had got into a fight, it was very easy, over
this road I had just been opening, for Patterson to have re-
enforced me and to have come up to the fight in time. The
proposition was to place ourselves between Johnston’s fortified
camp and the Shenandoah, where his fortified camp would have been
of no use to him.”

“Question.–Even if you had received a check there, it would have
prevented his junction with the forces at Manassas?
“Answer.–Yes, Sir; I would have risked a battle with my own
division rather than Johnston should have escaped. If he had
attacked me, I could have taken a position where I could have held
it, while Patterson could have fallen upon him and repulsed him.”

“Question [by Mr. Odell].–Had you any such understanding with
“Answer.–I told him I would move down on this side-road in
advance, leaving Gen. Patterson to sustain me if I got into a
fight. So, on the other hand, if he should attack Patterson, I was
near enough to fall upon Johnston’s flank and to support Patterson.
By using this communication of mine to pass Opequan Creek–where, I
had informed Patterson, I had already pushed forward my pickets,
[200 men in the day and 400 more at night,] to prevent the Enemy
from burning the bridge–it would have enabled me to get between
Johnston and the Shenandoah River. On the morning [Wednesday, July
17th] of our march to Charlestown, Stuart’s cavalry, which figured
so vigorously at Bull Run, was upon my flank all day. They were
apparently about 800 strong. I saw them constantly on my flank for
a number of miles. I could distinguish them, with my glass, with
great ease. Finally, they came within about a mile of the line of
march I was pursuing and I sent a battery around to head them off,
and the 12th Regiment across the fields in double-quick time to
take them in the rear. I thought I had got them hemmed in. But
they broke down the fences, and went across the country to
Winchester, and I saw nothing more of them. They were then about
eight miles from Winchester, and must have got there in the course
of a couple of hours. That day [Wednesday, the 17th] at 10
o’clock–as was ascertained from those who saw him crossing the
Shenandoah–Johnston started from Winchester with 8,000 men, forded
the Shenandoah, and got to Manassas on Friday night; and his second
in command started the next day with all the rest of the available
troops–something like 9,000 men; leaving only the sick, and a few
to guard them, in the camp at Winchester–and they arrived at the
battle-field in the midst of the fight, got out of the cars, rushed
on the battle-field, and turned the scale. I have no doubt that,
if we had intercepted Johnston, as we ought to have done, the
battle of Bull Run would have been a victory for us instead of a
defeat. Johnston was undoubtedly the ablest general they had in
their army.”

Colonel CRAIG BIDDLE, testified that he was General Patterson’s
aide-de-camp at the time. In answer to a question by the Chairman,
he continued:

“Answer.–I was present, of course, at all the discussions. The
discussion at Martinsburg was as to whether or not General
Patterson should go on to Winchester. General Patterson was very
full of that himself. He was determined to go to Winchester; but
the opinions of all the regular officers who were with him, were
against it. The opinions of all the men in whose judgment I had
any confidence, were against it. They seemed to have the notion
that General Patterson had got his Irish blood up by the fight we
had had at Falling Waters, and was bound to go ahead. He decided
upon going ahead, against the remonstrances of General [Fitz John] Porter, who advised against it. He told me he considered he had
done his duty, and said no more. The movement was delayed in
consequence of General Stone’s command not being able to move right
away. It was then evident that there was so much opposition to it
that the General was induced to call a council of the general
officers in his command, at which I was present. They were
unanimously opposed to the advance. That was at Martinsburg.”

* * * * * * * * *

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