The Great Conspiracy

Meantime Miles has been relieved from command, and McDowell has ordered
Blenker’s Brigade to take position a mile or more in advance of
Centreville, toward Bull Run, on both sides of the Warrenton Pike, to
protect the retreat, now being made, in “a few collected bodies,” but
mainly in great disorder–owing partly to the baggage-wagons choking the
road, along which both venturesome civilians and fagged-out troops are
retreating upon Centreville. This confused retreat passes through
Blenker’s lines until 9 o’clock P.M.–and then, all is secure.

At midnight, McDowell has decided to make no stand at Centreville, but
to retire upon the defensive works at Washington. The order to retreat,
is given, and, with the rear well guarded by Richardson’s and Blenker’s
Brigades, is carried out, the van of the retreat, with no Enemy
pursuing, degenerating finally into a “mob,” which carries more or less
panic into Washington itself, as well as terrible disappointment and
chagrin to all the Loyal States of the Union.

Knowing what we now do, concerning the Battle of Bull Run, it is
somewhat surprising, at this day, to read the dispatches sent by
McDowell to General Scott’s headquarters at Washington, immediately
after it. They are in these words:

“CENTREVILLE, July 21, 1861–5:45 P.M.

“We passed Bull Run, engaged the Enemy, who, it seems, had just been
re-enforced by General Johnston. We drove them for several hours, and
finally routed them.”

[“No one who did not share in the sad experience will be able to
realize the consternation which the news of this discomfiture–
grossly exaggerated–diffused over the loyal portion of our
Country. Only the tidings which had reached Washington up to four
o’clock–all presaging certain and decisive victory–were permitted
to go North by telegraph that day and evening; so that, on Monday
morning, when the crowd of fugitives from our grand Army was
pouring into Washington, a heedless, harmless, worthless mob, the
Loyal States were exulting over accounts of a decisive triumph.
But a few hours brought different advices; and these were as much
worse than the truth as the former had been better: our Army had
been utterly destroyed-cut to pieces, with a loss of twenty-five to
thirty thousand men, besides all its artillery and munitions, and
Washington lay at the mercy of the Enemy, who were soon to advance
to the capture and sack of our great commercial cities. Never
before had so black a day as that black Monday lowered upon the
loyal hearts of the North; and the leaden, weeping skies reflected
and heightened, while they seemed to sympathize with, the general
gloom. It would have been easy, with ordinary effort and care, to
have gathered and remanded to their camps or forts around
Alexandria or Arlington, all the wretched stragglers to whom fear
had lent wings, and who, throwing away their arms and equipments,
and abandoning all semblance of Military order or discipline, had
rushed to the Capital to hide therein their shame, behind a cloud
of exaggerations and falsehoods. The still effective batteries,
the solid battalions, that were then wending their way slowly back
to their old encampments along the South bank of the Potomac,
depressed but unshaken, dauntless and utterly unassailed, were
unseen and unheard from; while the panic-stricken racers filled and
distended the general ear with their tales of impregnable
intrenchments and masked batteries, of regiments slaughtered,
brigades utterly cut to pieces, etc., making out their miserable
selves to be about all that was left of the Army. That these men
were allowed thus to straggle into Washington, instead of being
peremptorily stopped at the bridges and sent back to the
encampments of their several regiments, is only to be accounted for
on the hypothesis that the reason of our Military magnates had been
temporarily dethroned, so as to divest them of all moral
responsibility,” Greeley’s Am. Conflict, pp. 552-53., vol. I.]

“They rallied and repulsed us, but only to give us again the victory,
which seemed complete. But our men, exhausted with fatigue and thirst,
and confused by firing into each other, were attacked by the Enemy’s
reserves, and driven from the position we had gained, overlooking
Manassas. After this, the men could not be rallied, but slowly left the
field. In the meantime the Enemy outflanked Richardson at Blackburn’s
Ford, and we have now to hold Centreville till our men can get behind
it. Miles’s Division is holding the town. It is reported that Colonel
Cameron is killed, Hunter and Heintzelman wounded, neither dangerously.
“Brigadier-General, Commanding.

“Lieutenant-Colonel TOWNSEND.”
“FAIRFAX COURT HOUSE, July 21, 1861.

“The men having thrown away their haversacks in the battle, and left
them behind, they are without food; have eaten nothing since breakfast.
We are without artillery ammunition. The larger part of the men are a
confused mob, entirely demoralized. It was the opinion of all the
commanders that no stand could be made this side of the Potomac. We
will, however, make the attempt at Fairfax Court House. From a prisoner
we learn that 20,000 from Johnston joined last night, and they march on
us to-night.

“Colonel TOWNSEND”
“FAIRFAX COURT HOUSE, [July] 22, 1861.

“Many of the volunteers did not wait for authority to proceed to the
Potomac, but left on their own decision. They are now pouring through
this place in a state of utter disorganization. They could not be
prepared for action by to-morrow morning even were they willing. I
learn from prisoners that we are to be pressed here to-night and
tomorrow morning, as the Enemy’s force is very large, and they are
elated. I think we heard cannon on our rear-guard. I think now, as all
of my commanders thought at Centreville, there is no alternative but to
fall back to the Potomac, and I shall proceed to do so with as much
regularity as possible.

“Colonel TOWNSEND.”
“ARLINGTON, July 22, 1861.

“I avail myself of the re-establishing of telegraph to report my
arrival. When I left the forks of the Little River turnpike and
Columbia turnpike, where I had been for a couple of hours turning
stragglers and parties of regiments upon this place and Alexandria, I
received intelligence that the rear-guard, under Colonel Richardson, had
left Fairfax Court House, and was getting along well. Had not been
attacked. I am now trying to get matters a little organized over here.
McDowell had unquestionably been repulsed, in his main attack, with his
Right Wing, and much of his Army was badly demoralized; but, on the
other hand, it may be well to repeat that the Enemy’s plan of attack
that same morning had been frustrated, and most of his forces so badly
shattered and demoralized that he dared not follow up the advantage
which, more by our own blunders than by his prowess, he had gained.

If the Union forces–or at least the Right Wing of them–were whipped,
the Enemy also was whipped. Jackson himself confesses that while he
had, at the last moment, broken our centre, our forces had turned both
of his flanks. The Enemy was, in fact, so badly used up, that he not
only dared not pursue us to Washington–as he would have down had he
been able–but he was absolutely afraid McDowell would resume the
attack, on the right of the original Bull Run line, that very night!
For, in a letter to General Beauregard; dated Richmond, Virginia, August
4, 1861, Jefferson Davis,–who was on the ground at Bull Run, July
21st,–alluding to the Battle of Bull Run, and Beauregard’s excuses for
not pursuing the Union troops, says:

“I think you are unjust to yourself in putting your failure to pursue
the Enemy to Washington, to the account of short supplies of subsistence
and transportation. Under the circumstances of our Army, and in the
absence of the knowledge since acquired–if, indeed, the statements be
true–it would have been extremely hazardous to have done more than was
performed. You will not fail to remember that, so far from knowing that
the Enemy was routed, a large part of our forces was moved by you, in
the night of the 21st, to repel a supposed attack upon our right, and
the next day’s operations did not fully reveal what has since been
reported of the Enemy’s panic.”

And Jefferson Davis’s statement is corroborated by the Report of Colonel
Withers, of the 18th Virginia, who, after starting with other regiments,
in an attempt to cut off the Union retreat, was recalled to the Stone
Bridge,–and who says: “Before reaching the point we designed to occupy
(near the Stone Bridge) we were met by another order to march
immediately to Manassas Junction, as an attack was apprehended that
night. Although it was now after sunset, and my men had had no food all
day, when the command to march to Manassas was given, they cheerfully
took the route to that place.”

Colonel Davies, who, as we have seen, commanded McDowell’s stubborn Left
Wing, was after all, not far wrong, when, in his testimony before the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, he declared, touching the story of
the Bull Run Battle: “It ought to have read that we were victorious with
the 13,000 troops of the Left Wing, and defeated in the 18,000 of the
Right Wing. That is all that Bull Run amounts to.”

In point of fact, the Battle of Bull Run–the first pitched battle of
the War–was a drawn battle.

War was now fully inaugurated–Civil War–a stupendous War between two
great Sections of one common Country; those of our People, on the one
side, fighting for the dissolution of the Union–and incidentally for
Free Trade, and for Slavery; those on the other side, fighting for the
preservation of the Union–and incidentally for Protection to our Free
Industries, and for the Freedom of the Slave.

As soon as the Republican Party controlled both Houses of Congress it
provided Protection to our Free Industries, and to the Free Labor
engaged in them, by the Morill Tariff Act of 1860–the foundation Act of
all subsequent enactments on the subject. In subsequent pages of this
work we shall see how the Freedom of the Slave was also accomplished by
the same great Party.


When the first gun was fired at Fort Sumter, its sullen echoes sounded
the funeral knell of Slavery. Years before, it had been foretold, and
now it was to happen. Years before, it bad been declared, by competent
authority, that among the implications of the Constitution was that of
the power of the General Government to Emancipate the Slaves, as a War
measure. Hence, in thus commencing the War of the Rebellion, the South
marched with open eyes upon this, as among other of the legitimate and
logical results of such a War.

Patrick Henry, in opposing the ratification by Virginia of the Federal
Constitution, had declared to the Slaveholders of that State that “Among
ten thousand implied powers” which Congress may assume, “they may, if we
be engaged in War, liberate every one of your Slaves, if they please, *
* * Have they not power to provide for the General Defense and Welfare?
May they not think that these call for the abolition of Slavery? May
they not pronounce all Slaves Free? and will they not be warranted by
that power? * * * They have the power, in clear, unequivocal terms,
and will clearly and certainly exercise it.”

So, too, in his great speech of May 25, 1836, in the House of
Representatives, John Quincy Adams had declared that in “the last great
conflict which must be fought between Slavery and Emancipation,”
Congress “must and will interfere” with Slavery, “and they will not only
possess the Constitutional power so to interfere, but they will be bound
in duty to do it, by the express provisions of the Constitution itself.”
And he followed this declaration with the equally emphatic words: “From
the instant that your Slave-holding States become the theatre of War-
civil, servile, or foreign–from that instant, the War powers of
Congress extend to interference with the Institution of Slavery in every
Way by which it can be interfered with.”

The position thus announced by these expounders of the Constitution–the
one from Virginia, the other from Massachusetts–was not to be shaken
even by the unanimous adoption, February 11, 1861, by the House of
Representatives on roll call, of the resolution of Mr. Sherman, of Ohio,
in these words:

“Resolved, That neither the Congress of the United States nor the people
or governments of the non-Slaveholding States have the Constitutional
right to legislate upon or interfere with Slavery in any of the
Slaveholding States in the Union.”

Ex-President J. Q. Adams’s cogent exposition of the Constitution,
twenty-five years before, in that same House, demonstrating not only
that Congress had the right but the Constitutional power to so
interfere–and his further demonstration April 15, 1842, of his
statement that under the laws of War, “when a Country is invaded, and
two hostile armies are set in martial array, the Commanders of both
Armies have power to Emancipate all the Slaves in the invaded
territory”–as not to be overcome by a mere vote of one House, however
unanimous. For the time being, however, it contributed, with other
circumstances, to confuse the public mind and conscience. Indeed as
early as May of 1861, the attitude of our Government and its troops
toward Negro Slaves owned or used by Rebels in rebellious States, began
to perturb the public, bother the Administration, and worry the Military

For instance, in Major-General McClellan’s proclamation to the Union men
of West Virginia, issued May 26, 1861, he said:

“The General Government cannot close its ears to the demand you have
made for assistance. I have ordered troops to cross the river. They
come as your friends and brothers–as enemies only to armed Rebels, who
are preying upon you; your homes, your families, and your property are
safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously
respected, notwithstanding all that has been said by the Traitors to
induce you to believe our advent among you will be signalized by an
interference with your Slaves. Understand one thing clearly: not only
will we abstain from all such interference, but we will, on the
contrary, with an iron hand crush any attempt at insurrection on their

On the other hand, the very next day, May 27, 1861, Major-General
Butler, in command of the “Department of A Virginia,” wrote to
Lieutenant-General Scott as follows:

“Since I wrote my last dispatch the question in regard to Slave property
is becoming one of very serious magnitude. The inhabitants of Virginia
are using their Negroes in the batteries, and are preparing to send the
women and children South. The escapes from them are very numerous, and
a squad has come in this morning to my pickets bringing their women and
children. Of course these cannot be dealt with upon the theory on which
I designed to treat the services of able-bodied men and women who might
come within my lines, and of which I gave you a detailed account in my
last dispatch. I am in the utmost doubt what to do with this species of

“Up to this time I have had come within my lines men and women with
their children, entire families, each family belonging to the same
owner. I have, therefore, determined to employ, as I can do very
profitably, the able-bodied persons in the party, issuing proper food
for the support of all, and charging against their services the expense
of care and sustenance of the non-laborers, keeping a strict and
accurate account as well of the services as of the expenditure, having
the worth of the services, and the cost of the expenditure, determined
by a Board of Survey, to be hereafter detailed. I know of no other
manner in which to dispose of this subject and the questions connected

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