1. First Blood at Manassas
Although Maryland did not secede along with the other slave states, a large portion of its population favored the Confederacy. One of the centers of the southern feeling was Baltimore, but this posed a problem for the United States government. The railroads leading to Washington, D.C. ran right through downtown Baltimore. Tensions built up and exploded on April 19th, when the Sixth Massachusetts, under the command of Colonel Edward Jones, was moving through the town. The trains did not go right through the city. Reaching the end of one track, horses were attached to the cars to drag them to the next line. Colonel Jones wrote in his report of the riot:
Reaching Baltimore, horses were attached the instant that the locomotive was detached, and the cars were driven at a rapid pace across the city. After the cars containing seven companies had reached the Washington depot the track behind them was barricaded, and the cars containing baud and [four] companies … were vacated, and they proceeded but a short distance before they were furiously attacked by a shower of missiles, which came faster as they advanced. They increased their steps to doublequick, which seemed to infuriate the mob, as it evidently impressed the mob with the idea that the soldiers dared not fire or had no ammunition, and pistol-shots were numerously tired into the ranks, and one soldier fell dead. The order “Fire” was given, and it was executed. In consequence, several of the mob fell, and the soldiers again advanced hastily. The mayor of Baltimore placed himself at the head of the column beside Captain Follansbee, and proceeded with them a short distance, assuring him that he would protect them, and begging him not to let the men fire; but the mayor’s patience was soon exhausted, and he seized a musket from the hands of one of the men and killed a man therewith, and a policeman, who was in advance of the column, also shot a man with a revolver.
They at last reached the cars, and they started immediately for Washington. On going through the train I found there were about one hundred and thirty missing, including the band and field music. Our baggage was seized, and we have not as yet been able to recover any of it. I have found it very difficult to get reliable information in regard to the killed and wounded, but believe there were only three killed….
As the men went into the cars I caused the blinds to the cars to be closed, and took every precaution to prevent any shadow of offense to the people of Baltimore; but still the stones flew thick and fast into the train, and it was with the utmost difficulty that I could prevent the troops from leaving the cars and revenging the death of their comrades. After a volley of stones some one of the soldiers fired and killed a Mr. Davis,, who I have since ascertained by reliable witnesses threw a stone into the car; yet that did not justify the firing at him, but the men were infuriated beyond control.1
Although the city’s police supported the Federal government, their sympathies were not with them. After the riot, the board of police commissioners met and unanimously decided that it was not possible for more Federal troops to move through Baltimore without further loss of life. Therefore they recommended that the railroad ridges north of the city be burnt to put the line out of commission. The mayor gave the order, with the concurrence of the governor. Charles Howard, President of the Police board, blamed the problem on the other states. He wrote:
The tone of the whole of the Northern press and of the mass of the population was violent in the extreme. Incursions upon our city were daily threatened, not only by troops in the service of the Federal Government, but by the vilest and most reckless desperadoes, acting independently, and, as they threatened, in despite of the Government, backed by well-known, influential citizens, and sworn to the commission of all kinds of excesses. In short, every possible effort was made to alarm this community. In this condition of things the board felt it to be their solemn duty to continue the organization which had already been commenced for the purpose of assuring the people of Baltimore that no effort would be spared to protect all within its borders to the full extent of their ability.2
Thomas Hicks, governor of Maryland, protested against any more northern troops moving through Maryland for the purpose of attacking the south.
The government at Washington could not afford to have Maryland go with the Confederacy. Then the capitol would be nearly impossible to hold, cut off from the rest of the nation. Lincoln took firm action. He made liberal use of the military to enforce what he saw as the national interest, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, arresting the Baltimore police board and occupying the city with Federal troops. When it seemed possible that the Maryland legislature might vote for secession, Lincoln arrested several of its members, effectively disrupting any plans they might have had. During the war 2,094 Marylanders were arrested for political reasons.
One of his most controversial actions would be the suspension of habeas corpus. A legal dictionary of the time defined it has:
A writ directed to the person detaining another, and commanding him to produce the body of the prisoner at a certain time and place, with the day and cause of his caption and detention, to do, submit to, and receive whatsoever the court or judge awarding the writ shall consider in that behalf.3
In other words, it is a document that a judge can issue requiring that someone who is held be charged with a crime and brought to trial. It was one of the dearest rights of the Englishmen because it prevents someone from being held by the government without being charged with a crime. The Constitution does allow the writ to be suspended. Article I, section 9 says, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”
The controversy generated in 1861 was not just because the writ was suspended. It was because Lincoln, the president, had suspended it, not Congress. The Constitution is not clear as to who has right to suspend habeas corpus, but the provision appears in Article I, which is on the powers of Congress. It is right after the definition of the powers of Congress, so it seems that this was a limitation of a power that is given to Congress alone. This is born out by documents from the time of the Constitution’s framing. When the clause was first introduced, the clause said that habeas corpus was not to be suspended by “the Legislature,” although those words were removed before the final version. In the debates over ratification the clause was assumed to be a limitation on Congress, the early constitution commentaries by Joseph Story and William Rawle and John Marshall, first chief justice of the supreme court, took the same view.
When Congress assembled, they passed a law authorizing the president to suspend the habeas corpus, but Lincoln continued to maintain that he did it on his own powers given him by the Constitution. In a message to Congress given on July 4th, he said:
The whole of the laws which were required to be faithfully executed were being resisted and failing of execution in nearly one-third of the States. Must they be allowed to finally fail of execution, even had it been perfectly clear that by the use of the means necessary to their execution some single law, made in such extreme tenderness of the citizen’s liberty that practically it relieves more of the guilty than of the innocent, should to a very limited extent be violated? To state the question more directly, are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the Government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated? Even in such a case would not the official oath be broken if the Government should be overthrown, when it was believed that disregarding the single law would tend to preserve it?4
Lincoln believed that he had a greater responsibility to preserve the United States than to uphold the restrictions of the government. He thought it was better to break a small than allow them all to fall to pieces. Some would argue that in trying to save the government he would destroy it, by violating the principles and restrictions with which it was established. But he did not believe that was the case at hand. He continued:
But it was not believed that this question was presented. It was not believed that any law was violated. The provision of the Constitution that “the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it,” is equivalent to a provision — is a provision — that such privilege may be suspended when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety does require it. It was decided that we have a case of rebellion, and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension of the privilege of the writ which was authorized to be made. Now, it is insisted that Congress and not the Executive is vested with this power. But the Constitution itself is silent as to which, or who, is to exercise the power; and as the provision was plainly made for a dangerous emergency, it cannot be believed the framers of the instrument intended that in every case the danger should run its course until Congress could be called together, the very assembling of which might be prevented, as was intended in this case, by the rebellion.5
Lincoln believed that the Constitution allowed the writ to be suspended in cases of emergency, but did not actually say who had the authority to suspend it. He thought it was logical for the president, who was always in office, to make this decision, rather than Congress, who were not assembled at all times. This argument did not convince everyone, and the suspension of habeas corpus was put to the test. One man who was arrested under martial law was Lieutenant John Merryman of the Maryland Militia. Acting under the governors orders, he had helped destroy the bridges and telegraph lines north of Baltimore. He was arrested and charged with treason for aiding the Confederacy and thrown in Fort McHenry.
A writ was issued by Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, for Merryman to be brought before him, but the military ignored it. A US Marshall was refused access to the fort, and it was apparent that the only way to get him would be to call a posse and try to take him by force, an unlikely proposition, held as he was by the U.S. Army. With no other alternatives, Taney issued a protest in the form of the ruling Ex Parte Merryman, holding that the military had no right to hold Merryman as the writ of habeas corpus could only be suspended by Congress. This was done as a circuit court judge, as at the time supreme court judges also filled those roles. Taney wrote:
The case, then, is simply this: a military officer, residing in Pennsylvania, issues an order to arrest a citizen of Maryland, upon vague and indefinite charges, without any proof, so far as appears; under this order, his house is entered in the night, he is seized as a prisoner, and conveyed to Fort McHenry, and there kept in close confinement; and when a habeas corpus is served on the commanding officer, requiring him to produce the prisoner before a justice of the supreme court, in order that he may examine into the legality of the imprisonment, the answer of the officer, is that he is authorized by the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus at his discretion, and in the exercise of that discretion, suspends it in this case, and on that ground refuses obedience to the writ. …
When the conspiracy of which Aaron Burr was the head, became so formidable, and was so extensively ramified, as to justify, in Mr. Jefferson’s opinion, the suspension of the writ, he claimed, on his part, no power to suspend it, but communicated his opinion to congress, with all the proofs in his possession, in order that congress might exercise its discretion upon the subject, and determine whether the public safety required it. And in the debate which took place upon the subject, no one suggested that Mr. Jefferson might exercise the power himself, if, in his opinion, the public safety demanded it. …
The only power, therefore, which the president possesses, where the ‘life, liberty or property’ of a private citizen is concerned, is the power and duty prescribed in the third section of the second article, which requires ‘that he shall take care that the laws shall be faithfully executed.’ He is not authorized to execute them himself, or through agents or officers, civil or military, appointed by himself, but he is to take care that they be faithfully carried into execution, as they are expounded and adjudged by the coordinate branch of the government to which that duty is assigned by the constitution. It is thus made his duty to come in aid of the judicial authority, if it shall be resisted by a force too strong to be overcome without the assistance of the executive arm; but in exercising this power he acts in subordination to judicial authority, assisting it to execute its process and enforce its judgments. With such provisions in the constitution, expressed in language too clear to be misunderstood by any one, I can see no ground whatever for supposing that the president, in any emergency, or in any state of things, can authorize the suspension of the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or the arrest of a citizen, except in aid of the judicial power. He certainly does not faithfully execute the laws, if he takes upon himself legislative power, by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and the judicial power also, by arresting and imprisoning a person without due process of law. …
The constitution provides, as I have before said, that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.’ It declares that ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ It provides that the party accused shall be entitled to a speedy trial in a court of justice.
These great and fundamental laws, which congress itself could not suspend, have been disregarded and suspended, like the writ of habeas corpus, by a military order, supported by force of arms. Such is the case now before me, and I can only say that if the authority which the constitution has confided to the judiciary department and judicial officers, may thus, upon any pretext or under any circumstances, be usurped by the military power, at its discretion, the people of the United States are no longer living under a government of laws, but every citizen holds life, liberty and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found.6
Words were Taney’s only weapons, and Abraham Lincoln was able to continue making whatever arrests he felt were necessary. But Lincoln would not limit himself to suspending the writ in specific circumstances like the Baltimore riot. On September 24, 1862 he declared martial law for rebels and anyone who aided them, and suspended habeas corpus for anyone held by the military.
Many feel that Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus was an unconstitutional subversion of Constitution rights guaranteed to those held by the Federal government.
Even before the war between north and south began, units already began to be raise to fight for their section. Enlistments only speed up as it seemed that the war would indeed come. Patriotic feeling was high. As one soldier wrote, “Any man or woman who lived in those thrilling early war days will never forget them. The spirit of patriotism was at fever-heat, and animated both sexes of all ages.”7
Soldiers enlisted in companies or regiments formed of the men in their local area. They were given a medical examination, and took an oath of allegiance to their country and to obey the orders they were given. They were then mustered into service, given a uniform when available, and they were part of the army. The new recruits fell into routine of army life, spending much of their time drilling and learning to obey the orders they were given.
One Union veteran wrote the famous book Hardtack and Coffee; or, the Unwritten Story of Army Life. He gave a useful account of what the life of a soldier was like from day to day. He wrote about the first regiments to enlist:
They knew absolutely nothing of war. They were stirred by patriotic impulse to enlist and crush out treason, and hurl back at once in the teeth of the enemy the charge of cowardice and accept their challenge to the arbitrament of war. These patriots planned just two moves for the execution of this desire: first, to enlist — to join some company or regiment; second, to have that regiment transferred at once to the immediate front of the Rebels, where they could fight it out and settle the troubles without delay. Their intense fervor to do something right away to humble the haughty enemy, made them utterly unmindful that they must first go to school and learn the art of war from its very beginnings, and right at that point their sorrows began.
I think the greatest cross they bore consisted in being compelled to settle down in home camp, as some regiments did for months, waiting to be sent off. Here they were in sight of home in many cases, yet outside of its comforts to a large extent; soldiers, yet out of danger; bidding their friends a tender adieu to-day, because they are to leave them — perhaps forever — to-morrow. But the morrow comes, and finds them still in camp. Yes, there were soldiers who bade their friends a long good-by in the morning, and started for camp expecting that very noon or afternoon to leave for the tented field, but who at night returned again to spend a few hours more at the homestead, as the departure of the regiment had been unexpectedly deferred.
The soldiers underwent a great deal of wear and tear from false alarms of this kind, owing to various reasons. Sometimes the regiment failed to depart because it was not full; sometimes it was awaiting its field officers; sometimes complete equipments were not to be had; sometimes it was delayed to join an expedition not yet ready; and thus, in one way or other, the men and their friends were kept long on the tiptoe of expectation. Whenever a rumor became prevalent that the regiment was surely going to leave on a certain day near at hand, straightway there was an exodus from camp for home, some obtaining a furlough, but more going without one, to take another touching leave all around, for the dozenth time perhaps. Many of those who lived too far away to be sure of returning in time, remained in camp, and telegraphed friends to meet them at some large centre, as they passed through on the specified day, which of course the friends faithfully tried to do, and succeeded if the regiment set forth as rumored.8
Joseph E. Johnston
One of the great driving figures in the Bull Run campaign Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and he would remain one of the Confederacy’s leading generals until the very end. He was born near Farmville, Virginia on February 3rd, 1807. He was named for Captain Joseph Eggleston, the officer under which Johnston’s father Peter had served in the War for Independence. The Johnston family would prove influential, with a brother and newphew of Joseph’s representing Virginia in the US Congress.
Johnston would choose the soldier’s life, attending West Point with the nomination of John C. Calhoun, then Secretary of War. He would do well there, graduating 13th in his class of 46 in 1829. He entered the military at a time of little combat, and resigning from the Army in 1837 he became an engineer. But although he had left the Army, he would soon meet combat as a civilian. He was a topographical engineer for the military during the Seminole Indian War, and on January 12, 1838 the party of sailors he was with was attacked. Bullets flew thickly, and at the end of the fight Joseph could count 30 bullet holes through his clothes. Deciding the reenlist, he was given a brevet promotion to captain for his conduct. In 1845 he married Lydia McLane, daughter of a famous politician and business man. They would have no children.
When the Mexican War began he fought in the conflict, and was one of the leading young officers. He was on the staff of Winfield Scott, and demanded the surrender of the Mexicans at Veracruz. Before the battle of Cerro Gordo he daringly went out between the lines to scout the enemy positions. The Mexicans sighted him and opened fire, striking him with several balls. The wounds were serious, but he was able to recover. For his brave actions he was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel. He soon returned to the army and fought in an infantry regiment. He would distinguish himself in several battles, but would be wounded three more times. Winfield Scott said, “Johnston is a great soldier, but he had an unfortunate knack of getting himself shot in nearly every engagement.”9
He ended the war as a brevet colonel of volunteer infantry, though in the regular army he still held the rank of captain. He spent the next several years working on army engineering projects, though he lobbied Secretary of War Jefferson Davis for higher rank and a combat assignment. This was a beginning of a bad relationship between these men that would prove costly in the Civil War. In 1855 two new cavalry regiments were formed, the 1st and 2nd US. The commissions for officers in the regiment were highly sought after, and they were given to the best and brightest that the United States had. Reading the officer roles of these regiments is also like reading a list of the greatest generals in the Civil War. Johnston was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry. He was serving under Colonel Edwin Sumner, who would become a Union General. Robert E. Lee was Lieutenant Colonel in the 2nd, and his colonel was Albert Sidney Johnston, another future Confederate General. Other officers who would go on to great things include George B. McClellan William Hardee, George Thomas, Earl Van Dorn, George Stoneman, John Bell Hood, J.E.B. Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee.
In 1860, with the Civil War on the doorstep, the Quartermaster General died. Winfield Scott recommended four men as possible replacements: Joseph E. Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, and C. F. Smith. Jefferson Davis favored Sidney Johnston, but Joseph Johnston ended up receiving the position, and with it, a promotion to Brigadier General.
Johnston did not believe secession was the wisest course and thought that it would bring ruin upon the south, but when Virginia seceded he resigned from the army to join his native state. He was eventually appointed Brigadier General in the Confederate Army, the same rank he held in the US Army. Stephen Mallory, Confederate Naval Secretary, wrote a description of Johnston, having met him at high ranking Confederate strategy sessions. He said:
“Joe” Johnston, as he was universally known in the army, had more of the air militaire than any other officer of the Confederate service. Of medium height, about five feet eight, and weighing about 150 pounds, he had a well-formed and developed figure; a clean, elastic step; an erect, manly, graceful carriage; and an impressive air of command. Bronzed by the sun and hardened by exposure, he seemed in the best condition to meet any possible demand upon his physique; while his grave, handsome face and bright eye, telling of intellectual power and cultivation, were frequently lighted up by a flashing, sunny smile, which betrayed, in spite of an habitual expression of firmness and austerity, a genial nature and a ready appreciation of humor. The Confederate armies included many educated and efficient men in high grades, gentlemen of Christian faith and practice, and of military genius, experience, and capacity; but, in the judgment of those who served under him, there was none who could be more truthfully designated as a soldier sans peur et sans reproche [without fear and without reproach] than “Old Joe.”10
Johnston was the highest ranking Union officer to join the Confederacy, and was considered one of the best officers the south had. He served well during the Manassas campaign. Not long afterward he, along with P. G. T. Beauregard and William Miles, a fire-eating secessionist, designed the Confederate battle flag. At a distance the official Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, looked much like the United States flag – the stars and stripes. So these men took a design from Miles that had been rejected as the nation flag, and used it to create an unofficial battle-flag, the flag which today is more commonly associated with the Confederacy.
Johnston vs. Davis
Before the war Johnston had been at odds with Jefferson Davis, who was now president of the Confederate States. This conflict broke out afresh in August, 1861. The Confederate congress passed a bill establishing the rank of full general. The first five men promoted to fill that role were, in the order of seniority assigned by Jefferson Davis: Samuel Cooper, a former US Adjutant General, then Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and finally P. G. T. Beauregard. The order of their names dictated their order of rank if they ever served together. Johnston was always very conscious of whether he received what he thought his due rank. He believed that he should have ranked first in the list of generals, as he was the only US General to join the Confederacy, and they should have been ranked in the same order as in the old army. He wrote to Davis on September 12th:
It is plain that this is a blow aimed at me only. It reduces my rank in the grade I hold. This has never been done heretofore in the regular service in America but by the sentence of a court-martial as a punishment and as a disgrace for some military offense. It seeks to tarnish my fair fame as a soldier and a man, earned by more than thirty years of laborious and perilous service. I had but this, the scars of many wounds, all honestly taken in my front and in the front of battle, and my father’s Revolutionary sword. It was delivered to me from his venerated hand, without a stain of dishonor. Its blade is still unblemished as when it passed from his hand to mine. I drew it in the war, not for rank or fame, but to defend the sacred soil, the homes and hearths, the women and children; aye, and the men of my mother Virginia, my native South. It may hereafter be the sword of a general leading armies, or of a private volunteer. But while I live and have an arm to wield it, it shall never be sheathed until the freedom, independence, and full rights of the South are achieved. When that is done, it may well be a matter of small concern to the Government, to Congress, or to the country, what my rank or lot may be. …
If the action against which I have protested is legal, it is not for me to question the expediency of degrading one who has served laboriously from the commencement of the war on this frontier, and born a prominent part in the only great event of that war, for the benefit of persons neither of whom has yet struck a blow for this Confederacy.
These views and the freedom with which they are presented may be unusual, so likewise is the occasion which calls them forth.11
Davis was very offended by this message saying that Johnston’s “arguments and statements [are] utterly one-sided, and its insinuations as unfounded as they are unbecoming.”12 He believed that Johnston only held the rank of general because he had been appointed to the staff position of Quartermaster General. He saw Johnston’s letter as unbecoming and an affront this authority. Although Johnston claimed to be serving for the good of the country, he was far to concerned about rank. After this confrontation, the relationship between the two men was never the same. This interchange causes a serious issue in the high command.
Johnston was a leading figure in many campaigns of the Civil War, and we will deal with him in much more detail in succeeding episodes. But suffice it to say that although in many ways Johnston was a capable general, such as in the organizing of the troops, he also demonstrated several flaws. He showed great reluctance to risk his army and reputation in a battle, and so would refuse to face the enemy, waiting for just the right opportunity. This greatly annoyed Davis, and the two men grew to hate each other. Davis would have happily replaced him, but could find no competent many to fill his place. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army to General William Sherman to the Union forces in North Carolina in April, 1865. It was the largest Confederate surrender during the war.
After the War
Like many other old Confederate soldiers, Johnston had difficulty providing for himself after the war. He tried to work in the railroad and insurance businesses, and served one term as a Congressmen from Virginia. He wrote his memoirs, and in them continued his feud with Davis. He became friends with Sherman one of his great northern opponents, and the two exchanged many letters. Upon Sherman’s death he served as a pallbearer in the funeral. The ceremony was in New York in February, but Johnston would not wear his hat. He said, “If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” This would prove to be a fatal choice. He caught a cold, and died from pneumonia just over a month later, on March 21, 1891.
Bull Run Campaign
The Bull Run campaign began when two Union armies under Robert Patterson and Irvin McDowell moved south against Confederates under Joseph E. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard. The Federal forces moved slowly and cautiously. Patterson overestimated the forces he was opposing, and did not want to get involved in a serious conflict. McDowell’s troops were green and unused to marching on campaign. The Federals were also afraid that the Confederates had positioned “masked batteries” to ambush them.
Edward Porter Alexander, who was later the chief of artillery for Longstreet’s corps, wrote this of the Union advance towards the Confederate army:
For the slowness of the Federal advance that day (it holds the record for slowness) McDowell was personally responsible. He had issued to his troops a good order of march, in which he called attention to the strength of each column, and its ability to cope with all it was likely to meet, even without the help of the other columns. But he had spoiled the moral effect of his own language and practically demoralized his brigade commanders by one unwise caution.
It “would not be pardonable in any commander to come upon a battery or breastwork without a knowledge of its position.” That caution meant more to McDowell’s officers than appears on its face. For the newspaper reporters of those days, with the appetite for sensations which still distinguishes the craft, had made a great bugbear of “masked batteries.” The term originated at the attack upon Fort Sumter, where a certain battery was constructed, masked by a house which was destroyed just before opening fire. After that masked batteries figured on every field and in every event. When Butler was repulsed at Big Bethel it was a masked battery which did it. When Schenck’s railroad reconnoissance from Alexandria on June 17, accidentally ran into Gregg’s reconnoissance from Manassas at Vienna, and was fired into by Kemper’s six-pounders, the mysterious masked battery got the credit. Soon, to read the newspapers, one might believe the woods were infested with such batteries, not to mention “Louisiana Tigers” and “Black Horse Cavalry,” two other scarecrow names which had caught the reporters’ fancies, and been made to do enormous duty. Now, the threat conveyed in McDowell’s order implied the real existence of formidable dangers, and is doubtless responsible for the excessive caution which consumed the day in making an advance scarcely over five miles. Beauregard’s advanced guard had not sought to delay the Federals, but had fallen back beyond Centreville, where it bivouacked; and, early next morning, it crossed Bull Run and took position in the Confederate line of battle.13
Battle of Blackburn’s Ford
The fighting began when McDowell troops arrived near Beauregard’s position and men from Erastus B. Tyler’s division pushed forward to test the Confederate positions. The Yankees encountered Confederates in a brigade under James Longstreet formed on the other side of the Bull Run. Longstreet later wrote:
Artillery practice of thirty minutes was followed by an advance of infantry. The march was made quite up to the bluff overlooking the ford, when both sides opened fire.
The first pouring-down volleys were most startling to the new troops. Part of my line broke and started at a run. To stop the alarm I rode with sabre in hand for the leading files, determined to give them all that was in the sword and my horse’s heels, or stop the break. They seemed to see as much danger in their rear as in front, and soon turned and marched back to their places, to the evident surprise of the enemy. Heavy firing was renewed in ten or fifteen minutes, when the Federals retired. After about twenty minutes a second advance was made to the top of the bluff, when another rousing fusillade followed, and continued about as long as the first, with like result. I reinforced the front line with part of my reserve, and, thinking to follow up my next success, called for one of the regiments of the reserve brigade.
… After the fourth repulse I ordered the advance, and called for the balance of the reserve brigade. The Fourth Brigade, in their drills in evolution, had not progressed as far as the passage of defiles. The pass at the ford was narrow, unused, and boggy. The lagoons above and below were deep, so that the crossing was intricate and slow. Colonel Early came in with his other regiments, formed his line behind my front, and was asked to hurry his troops to the front line, lest the next attack should catch him behind us, when his raw men would be sure to fire on the line in front of them. He failed to comprehend, however, and delayed till the next attack, when his men promptly returned fire at anything and everything before them. I thought to stop the fire by riding in front of his line, but found it necessary to dismount and lie under it till the loads were discharged. With the Federals on the bluff pouring down their fire, and Early’s tremendous fire in our rear, soldiers and officers became mixed and a little confused. Part of my men got across the Run and partially up the bluff of the enemy’s side; a body of the Union soldiers were met at the crest, where shots were exchanged, but passing the Run, encountering the enemy in front, and receiving fire from our friends in rear were not reassuring, even in handling veterans. The recall was ordered as the few of the enemy’s most advanced parties joined issue with Captain Marye of my advance. Federal prisoners were brought in with marks of burnt powder on their faces, and Captain Marye and some of his men of the Seventeenth, who brought them in, had their faces and clothing soiled by like marks. At the first moment of this confusion it seemed that a vigorous pressure by the enemy would force us back to the farther edge of the open field, and, to reach that stronger ground, preparations were considered, but with the aid of Colonels Garland and Corse order was restored, the Federals were driven off, and the troops better distributed. This was the last effort on the part of the infantry, and was followed by the Federal batteries throwing shot and shell through the trees above our heads. As we were under the bluff, the fire was not annoying, except occasionally when some of the branches of the trees were torn off and dropped among us. One shot passed far over, and dropped in the house in which General Beauregard was about to sit down to his dinner. The interruption so annoyed him that he sent us four sixpound and three rifle guns of the Washington Artillery, under Captain Eshleman, to return fire and avenge the loss of his dinner. The guns had good cover under the bluff, by pushing them as close up as would admit of effective fire over it; but under tactical formation the limbers and caissons were so far in rear as to bring them under destructive fire. The men, thinking it unsoldierlike to flinch, or complain of their exposure, worked away very courageously till the limbers and caissons were ordered forward, on the right and left of the guns, to safer cover. The combat lasted about an hour, when the Federals withdrew to their ground about Centreville, to the delight of the Confederates. After this lively affair the report came of a threatened advance off to our right. General Beauregard recalled Early’s command to its position in that quarter. … The Confederate losses were sixty-eight; Federal, eighty-three. The effect of this little affair was encouraging to the Confederates, and as damaging to the Federals. By the double action of success and failure the Confederate infantry felt themselves christened veterans. The Washington Artillery was equally proud of its even combat against the famed batteries of United States regulars.14
Patterson in the Shenandoah Valley
One of the defining moments of the campaign was when Johnston’s army was able to disengage from before Patterson, and move by railroad to join with Beauregard to fight McDowell. This worked because Patterson was convinced that Johnston was still before him in force. On July 9th Patterson had written to McDowell’s assistant adjutant general explaining his view of the campaign. He said that Johnston’s
design evidently is to draw this force on as far as possible from the base, and then to cut my line or to attack with large re-enforcements from Manassas.
… I cannot advance far, and if I could I think the movement very imprudent. When you make your attack I expect to advance and offer battle. If the enemy retires I shall not pursue.15
Patterson was cautious and did not want to risk a battle. The term of service of many of his men were about to expire. “Defeat here is ruin everywhere,”16 he wrote. Winfield Scott specifically warned him on July 17 not to “let the enemy amuse and delay you with a small force in front whilst he re-enforces [Manassas] Junction with his main body.”17 On July 18, even while Johnston’s men were stealing away from his front, Patterson assured Scott:
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.
Even before the Federal high command realized that Johnston had indeed stolen a march on them, Patterson was removed from command effective July 27th. He would be replaced by Massachusetts politician turned general Nathaniel P. Banks.
Railroad and the Civil War
The Civil War is famous for it’s new technologies. In the war many inventions were used for the first time on a wide scale, and they would go on to revolutionize warfare. One of these that was first used in the Bull Run campaign was the use of railroads to rapidly transport troops. In this section we’ll examine in invention of the railroads and how they changed warfare.
The foundations for Civil War era rail transport were not new. All the way back in 600 B.C. rails were used to transport boats over the Corinth Isthmus. It was called Diolkos, Δίολκος in Greek, meaning crossing machine. A 3-5 miles road was built, and boats were placed on wheels which ran in grooves on the surface. It lasted for hundreds of years. They were used throughout the Middle Ages, especially in mines, where there was a limited path where they would want to move. Iron rails began to appear around the beginning of the 19th century.
But railroads really took off with the development of the steam engine. We will talk more about this technology in the next episode, where it was used to create feasible iron clad ships. But for railroads it gave the power that allowed iron vehicles to be used. Railroads are more efficient because the friction between the wheels and the road surface is much lower. The first prototype of a locomotive was shown by mining engineer Richard Trevithick in 1804, and the first commercially successful version was built seven years later. The Salamanca, as it was called, was built designed by John Belenkinsop. Steam engines were attractive as horses were at a premium for use in the Napoleonic wars. He was able to build engines that hauled 18 times their weight. His engines were put into use on the Middleton Railway, which had been hauling coal on a railway for nearly fifty years. The new locomotives soon spread, and within fifty years Britain would have 7,000 miles of track.
The new machines were even more popular in the New World. The first train in the United States was the Tom Thumb, built by Peter Cooper in 1830. Tracks soon were built stretching far and wide across the country. But the industry did not settle on one gauge, which is the size of the rail. Each railroad chose their own, which meant that someone going from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Charleston, South Carolina, would have to use eight different trains.
The railroads were rapidly expanding when the Civil War came, and although the conflict halted new construction for several years, it quickly ramped up afterward and continued for expand decades. Several of those who would be the nation’s highest leaders in the war were involved in the railroads, as the industry needed many engineers. George B. McClellan was president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, and William Mahone, who built several railroads in Virginia. It was also a popular career choice after the war, with P. G. T. Beauregard serving as president of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad.
The American Civil War was not the first use of railroads by the military. Even back in the Mexican War they were used on a few occasions to move troops west. During the Crimean War the British built a railroad called the Great Crimean Central Railway specifically to supply their troops. But the Civil War saw a use different than the world had seen before. In situations such as in the Bull Run Campaign, commanders used the railroads strategically to move troops quickly. Within hours troops could move from one front to another and be engaged in battle for the enemy even realized they were gone. Manassas wasn’t the only time railroads were used. Time and time again through the Civil War they were used to transport troops, other notable examples being Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign and transfer of Longstreet’s Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia to the Western Theater of the war to aid Braxton Bragg in the Battle of Chickamauga. Although they proved very useful, railway transfers were not without their problems. The trains went far below their top speeds, as they were often delayed as they tried to move thousands of men along limited tracks.
Even when they weren’t carrying men, the railroads were critical as they transported supplies. They you could capture your enemies railways you could cut their supply lines, forcing them to surrender due to lack of food or fight you on ground of your choosing. The locomotives meant that the supply lines were condensed down into a few narrow roads, vulnerable to capture or destruction, where bridges were built to cross creeks and rivers. Many campaigns in the Civil War focused on the capture of railroads. When captured, the generals many times knew that they couldn’t hold them for long, so they had their men do as much destruction as the could. Particularly noteworthy in this regard was the troops of William Tecumseh Sherman, nicknamed Bummers. To destroy the southern railroads they would build a rip up the railroad ties and then build a fire out of the crossties on top of them. When they were red hot, the men would grab the end and bend them around a tree or telegraph pole, being sure to twist them into a spiral so that it would be nearly impossible to reuse them. A famous sign of the Union army’s destruction were Sherman’s neckties, as they were called, left along the wrecked railroads of the south.
Battle of Bull Run
The Battle Begins
The battle began on the morning of July 21st, 1861. McDowell’s troops had begun marching early that morning, and were in position squarely on Beauregard’s left flank. One of the first men to discover the Union movement was Captain E. P. Alexander, on Beauregard’s staff as signal officer and chief engineer. He wrote in his memoirs:
While watching the flag of this station with a good glass, when I had been there about a half-hour, the sun being low in the east behind me, my eye was caught by a glitter in this narrow band of green. I recognized it at once as the reflection of the morning sun from a brass field-piece. Closer scrutiny soon revealed the glittering of bayonets and musket barrels.
It was about 8.45 a.m., and I had discovered McDowell’s turning column, the head of which, at this hour, was just arriving at Sudley, eight miles away.
I appreciated how much it might mean, and thought it best to give Evans immediate notice, even before sending word to Beauregard. So I signalled Evans quickly, “Look out for your left; you are turned.” Evans afterwards told me that a picket, which he had had at Sudley, being driven in by the enemy’s advance guard, had sent a courier, and the two couriers, one with my signal message and one with the report of the picket, reached him together. The simultaneous reports from different sources impressed him, and he acted at once and with sound judgment. He left four companies of his command to watch the bridge and the enemy in his front, — Tyler and his three brigades. With the remainder of his force (six companies of the 4th S.C. and Wheat’s La. battalion) he marched to oppose and delay the turning column, at the same time notifying Cocke, next on his right, of his movement. But he sent no word to Beauregard, whom he supposed that I would notify.
Having sent Evans notice of his danger, I next wrote to Beauregard, as follows: —
“I see a body of troops crossing Bull Run about two miles above the Stone Bridge. The head of the column is in the woods on this side. The rear of the column is in the woods on the other side. About a halfmile of its length is visible in the open ground between. I can see both infantry and artillery.”18
Beauregard responded by ordering troops to block this great danger to his army. Several brigades moved to aid Evans in blocking the Federal attack on Matthew’s Hill.
Samuel J. English was corporal in company D, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, Ambrose Burnside’s Second Brigade. He would later write to his mother with a description of the battle:
About eleven o’clock as our pickets were advancing through the woods a volley was poured in upon them from behind a fence thickly covered with brush; the pickets after returning the shots returned to our regiment and we advanced double quick time yelling like so many devils.
On our arrival into the open field I saw I should judge three or four thousand rebels retreating for a dense woods, firing as they retreated, while from another part of the woods a perfect hail storm of bullets, round shot and shell was poured upon us, tearing through our ranks and scattering death and confusion everywhere; but with a yell and a roar we charged upon them driving them again into the woods with fearful loss. In the mean time our battery came up to our support and commenced hurling destruction among the rebels.
Next, orders were given for us to fall back and protect our battery as the enemy were charging upon it from another quarter, and then we saw with dismay that the second R. I. regiment were the only troops in the fight; the others having lagged so far behind that we had to stand the fight alone for 30 minutes; 1100 against 7 or 8 thousand. It was afterwards ascertained from a prisoner that the rebels thought we numbered 20 or 30 thousand from the noise made by us while making the charge. While preparing to make our final effort to keep our battery out of their hands, the 1st R.I. regiment then came filing over the fence and poured a volley out to them that drove them under cover again; they were followed by the New York 71st and the Hampshire 2nd regiments, with 2,000 regulars bringing up the rear who pitched into the “Sechers”19 most beautifully.
Our regiments were then ordered off the field and formed a line for a support to rally on in case the rebels over powered our troops. When the line had formed again I started off for the scene of action to see how the fight was progressing. As I emerged from the woods I saw a bomb shell strike a man in the breast and literally tear him to pieces. I passed the farm house which had been appropriated for a hospital and the groans of the wounded and dying were horrible.
I then descended the hill to the woods which had been occupied by the rebels at the place where the Elsworth zouaves made their charge; the bodies of the dead and dying were actually three and four deep, while in the woods where the desperate struggle had taken place between the U.S. Marines and the Louisiana zouaves, the trees were spattered with blood and the ground strewn with dead bodies. The shots flying pretty lively round me I thought best to join my regiment; as I gained the top of the hill I heard the shot and shell of our batteries had given out, not having but 130 shots for each gun during the whole engagement. As we had nothing but infantry to fight against their batteries, the command was given to retreat; our cavalry not being of much use, because the rebels would not come out of the woods.20
It should be noted when reading accounts of the battle, that soldiers are far from unbiased witnesses. They will tell the story so that their unit was holding alone against the whole enemy army, standing firm as a rear-guard while all the rest of their comrades were running in disorder.
Another soldier, a Confederate of the 1st Maryland, wrote to his cousin about the battle
Fairfax, C.H. July 26th 1861
My dear Cousin
… Long before you get this you will have heard of the battle of Bull’s Run, and our glorious victory, with all its particulars. And I know you will rejoice to know that it was won principly by our Brigade. Our timely arrival, rapid march, and desperate attack turned the right flank of their grand army and put them to flight and I honestly believe some of them are running yet. When we get home we can tell you all about it, for it would take a large volume to note the incidents of that terrible Sunday.
Although nearly all of us had never seen battle before we stood their fire like veterans. At one time without being able to return it, we for ten or fifteen minutes stood a perfect tempest of balls, shell, & grape, which plowed the ground all round us with the loss of but two killed and 8 wounded. Billy’s Comp any did not lose a man. We had two dangerously wounded & it was hard to march by and leave them in their blood. But when our turn came and our Col gave the word forward! double quick march! with a shout of vengeance for dear old Balto that we heard for a mile down the line we went at them in a run and swept them from field. They hardly turned round to fire but dropt every thing they had and away with us after them, whilst our artillery mowed them down by hundreds. We cut some of their regiments all to pieces. The celebrated Elsworth Fire Zouaves lost over 700 the 71 79 & 12 N.Y. Regts more than one half, and the few of the Maine men left must have gone into Washington naked for we have every thing they could have had, clothes-arms knapsack provisions, tents-even their medicines and pocket books daguerreotypes and love letters. Some of their letters are rich of which we have cart loads. I will try and save some for you. You may depend we are proud of our victory and the Balto Boys are on every ones lips- They don’t seem here to know how to take us, and as we work cheerfully and never complain, we have nearly all the hard work to do. By the way Beauregard told our Col he was Blucher of the day and made him a Brigadier Gen on the spot You ought to have heard our cheer as he and Gen Beauregard rode down our line in a gallop waving their hats-and crying boys we have whipt them. But oh Bet – the dead and wounded. God grant our country may never see such another field. They lay some in heaps-piled up in gullies where their friends had thrown them- some in long rows where the grape and round shot had plowed them down-dead & dying all together. Some lay on their faces biting the sod and clutching the grass.
Some on their backs as calm as though they had fallen to sleep with their hands folded on their breast, and their glass eyes turned up to the quiet sky that seemed to smile down upon them-and some stone dead in the position they had sat down leaning upon their hands, with chins upon their breasts. I saw 6 horses and 8 dead men under one little tree besides the wounded. But I must stop for I have used up my last bit of paper will write again by 1st opportunity Boys all well. Love to all. Tell Aunt Mary to be proud of her boys.
Yr aff cousin
W. H. Murray21
Governor William Smith
One of the regimental commanders was Colonel William Smith, who had been governor of Virginia a decade before. When the Civil War came he had refused a commission as brigadier general because he had no idea of tactics or drill. But he found he liked the military, and was appointed to command the 49th Virginia just days before the battle. In his account of the battle he recorded an instance which demonstrates the confusion that could come in a Civil War battle.
Shortly after this bloody strife began, looking to my left, I saw a heavy mass of the enemy advancing from the direction of the Sudley and Manassas road, on a parallel with the equi-distant between my line of battle and the Henry house. For a moment I thought I must be doubled up, but had resolved to stand my ground, cost what it might, when to my great relief, the Sixth North Carolina, Colonel Fisher, and the Second Mississippi, Colonel Falkner, came up from the direction of the Lewis house, and formed in much confusion on my left, relieving me, however, in a great degree from my perilous position. I had three times stopped these regiments as previously described, and now they came up so opportunely to my relief that it almost seemed to be an act of Providence. By the time they had formed in tolerable order, the enemy nearly covered their front without seeming to have discovered them. Being on my extreme left, one of the North Carolinians recognizing me, called to me from his ranks: “That is the enemy; shall we fire?” I replied: “Don’t be in a hurry; don’t fire upon friends.” At the instant a puff of wind spread out the Federal flag, and I added, “There is no mistake; give them h–l, boys!” thus giving orders most strangely to a regiment which was not under my command, to begin the fight. The enemy was soon scattered and disappeared from the field. I have not been able, after much investigation, to discover his name or number.22
Smith continued in the army until after the Battle of Gettysburg. He had a low opinion of West Point graduates, and went into battlefield wearing a tall hat and carrying an umbrella. He was wounded in several engagements and promoted to brigadier general, but failed to distinguish himself. He resigned after Gettysburg and was then given an honorary promotion to Major General.
The most famous story from the Battle of Manassas is without doubt how Thomas Jonathan Jackson won the name of Stonewall. He was referred too in this way Brigadier General Bernard Elliott Bee, Jr of South Carolina. He was a graduate of West Point and served with distinction in the Mexican War, being brevetted twice for gallantry on the field. His brigade was one of the first to arrive to meet the Union flank attack, and they were forced back by the powerful Federal attack. It was as his men were retreating from before the enemy that he is said to have uttered his famous words. Several versions of this story have circulated among the veterans of that day. The first reference to Jackson being called a stone wall was in the Charleston Mercury on July 25, 1861:
Overwhelmed by superior numbers, and compelled to yield before a fire that swept everything before it, Gen. Bee rode up and down his lines, encouraging his troops, by everything that was dear to them, to stand up and repel the tide which threatened them with destruction. At last his own brigade dwindled to a mere handful, with every field officer killed or disabled. He rode up to Gen. Jackson and said: “General, they are beating us back.”
The reply was: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet”
Gen. Bee immediately rallied the remnant of his brigade, and his last words to them were: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me!”
His men obeyed the call; and, at the head of his column, the very moment when the battle was turning in our favor, he fell, mortally wounded. Gen. Beauregard was heard to say he had never seen such gallantry. He never murmured at his suffering, but seemed to be consoled by the reflection that he was doing his duty.23
The tale was common in contemporary reports of the battle. Some, such as D. H. Hill, doubted its veracity. Other Confederates came forward to say that they had heard Bee utter the famous words with their own ears. Some, while accepting the tale as true, doubted whether Bee meant it as a compliment for Jackson’s men for their firm stand, or a rebuke for not coming to his men’s support. But whether the tale was true or not, and however Bee may have meant it, Jackson and his brigade had certainly won the name of Stonewall, and the name was fixed forever in the mind of the southern people.
As the news of the battle began to spread, the people of Lexington, Virginia, Jackson’s hometown, gathered at the post office, waiting for news. The town’s pastor was handed a letter from Jackson. He called the people around and excitedly tore open the letter. But instead of the description of the battle he hoped for, he found that Jackson’s thoughts were far from battle. He said:
My dear pastor, in my tent last night, after a fatiguing day’s service, I remembered that I had failed to send you my contribution for our colored Sunday school. Enclosed you will find my check for that object…24
He would write of the battle in this letter to his wife:
Manassas, July 22d.
My Precious Pet,—Yesterday we fought a great battle and gained a great victory, for which all the glory is due to God alone. Although under a heavy fire for several continuous hours, I received only one wound, the breaking of the longest finger of my left hand; but the doctor says the finger can be saved. It was broken about midway between the hand and knuckle, the ball passing on the side next the forefinger. Had it struck the centre, I should have lost the finger. My horse was wounded, but not killed. Your coat got an ugly wound near the hip, but my servant, who is very handy, has so far repaired it that it doesn’t show very much. My preservation was entirely due, as was the glorious victory, to our God, to whom be all the honor, praise, and glory. The battle was the hardest that I have ever been in, but not near so hot in its fire. I commanded in the centre more particularly, though one of my regiments extended to the right for some distance. There were other commanders on my right and left. Whilst great credit is due to other parts of our gallant army, God made my brigade more instrumental than any other in repulsing the main attack. This is for your information only— Say nothing about it. Let others speak praise, not myself.25
Jackson gave one of his most famous quotes soon after the battle. During the fighting he had been wounded in the hand at the height of the battle. He barely regarded it, only binding it up in a handkerchief while the continued to direct the battle. A few days after the battle it became inflamed and John Imboden, a battery captain at Manassas who would rise to the rank of Brigadier General, rode to visit him. Imboden later wrote:
Although it was barely sunrise, he was out under the trees, bathing the hand with spring water. It was much swollen and very painful, but he bore himself stoically. His wife had arrived the night before. Of course, the battle was the only topic discussed at breakfast. I remarked, in Mrs. Jackson’s hearing, “General, how is it that you can keep so cool, and appear so utterly insensible to danger in such a storm of shell and bullets as rained about you when your hand was hit?” He instantly became grave and reverential in his manner, and answered, in a low tone of great earnestness: “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.” He added, after a pause, looking me full in the face:” “Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
I felt that this last remark was intended as a rebuke for my profanity, when I had complained to him on the field of the apparent abandonment of my battery to capture, and I apologized. he heard me, and simply said, “Nothing can justify profanity.”26
After several hours of fierce fighting, the Confederates were able to bring up enough troops to beat back the Federal attacks on Henry Hill, and force them to fall back. The occurred one of the most famous parts of the Battle of Manassas – the Union route. Samuel English of the 2nd Rhode Island wrote this of the retreat:
The R.I. regiments, the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd were drawn into a line to cover the retreat, but an officer galloped wildly into the column crying the enemy is upon us, and off they started like a flock of sheep every man for himself and the devil take the hindermost; while the rebels’ shot and shell fell like rain among our exhausted troops.
As we gained the cover of the woods the stampede became even more frightful, for the baggage wagons and ambulances became entangled with the artillery and rendered the scene even more dreadful than the battle, while the plunging of the horses broke the lines of our infantry, and prevented any successful formation out of the question. The rebels being so badly cut up supposed we had gone beyond the woods to form for a fresh attack and shelled the woods for full two hours, supposing we were there, thus saving the greater part of our forces, for if they had begun an immediate attack, nothing in heaven’s name could have saved us. As we neared the bridge the rebels opened a very destructive fire upon us, mowing down our men like grass, and caused even greater confusion than before. Our artillery and baggage wagons became fouled with each other, completely blocking the bridge, while the bomb shells bursting on the bridge made it “rather unhealthy” to be around. As I crossed on my hands and knees, Capt. Smith who was crossing by my side at the same time was struck by a round shot at the same time and completely cut in two. After I crossed I started up the hill as fast as my legs could carry and passed through Centreville and continued on to Fairfax where we arrived about 10 o’clock halting about 15 minutes, then kept on to Washington where we arrived about 2 o’clock Monday noon more dead than alive, having been on our feet 36 hours without a mouthful to eat, and traveled a distance of 60 miles without twenty minutes halt.
The last five miles of that march was perfect misery, none of us having scarcely strength to put one foot before the other, but I tell you the cheers we rec’d going through the streets of Washington seemed to put new life into the men for they rallied and marched to our camps and every man dropped on the ground and in one moment the greater part of them were asleep.27
Lieutenant H. B. Jackson of the 2nd Wisconsin was in charge of the baggage train of Sherman’s division. He also would leave an account of the flight.
Panic took full sway among these [quarter-masters] who had not been on the field. The brigade train was nearly half a mile in length, and so it was impossible to personally supervise the whole of it. It soon became apparent that no one was in a state of mind to assist in preserving the orderly retreat of the wagons. A start to the rear was begun on a decent walk but it was not long before some of the drivers had pushed their teams to a trot, and others to a gallop.
Then it was that the soldiers who were there to guard the train found it impossible to keep pace with the teams, and early reached the conclusion that it was their duty to ride, and so mounted the wagons. To make room for himself a man would roll a barrel of vinegar out of the back end of the wagon to be run over by the next, which would be overturned. What with barrels of vinegar and molasses, boxes of crackers, bags of oats, and other such stores thus thrown out, it was not long before the road was literally paved with these things. When a wagon was overturned it afforded an excellent excuse for cutting loose the horses and riding away, and the drivers were not slow in doing this. The road was thus blockaded by abandoned wagons.
Within a short time the brigade train was a thing of the past. It had destroyed itself. … What had been the army, was the army no longer. It was a mere 4th of July crowd, a World’s Fair crowd on a Chicago Day, wholly without organization. The whole roadway was compactly filled from side to side with one solid mass, which within a rod or two, might have among its members the representatives of many regiments. …
On and on we kept tramping the weary way to Washington. Sometimes struggling for a drink by the wayside well but not daring to rest for a moment; because to sit down even for a single instant was to sleep, and to sleep at that time meant capture.
Past midnight the rain began to pour. This was not so much a misfortune as a discomfort. It is even possible that the drenching rain cooled the fevered soldiers and in that way was beneficial. Knowing how dusty and how besmeared they were before, one can imagine the appearance presented after the rain. The rain had said to the dust, “I am on to you, your name is Mud!”28
One of the few units that did not rout was the battalion of regular troops. Most of the soldiers that were in the army before the war were on the frontier guarding against Indians, where they could not just be pulled out. The government left most of them there and formed new volunteer units from scratch. But some regular units were brought east to participate in Bull Run. One regular officer, Dangerfield Parker, wrote:
All was lost! The whole field, so far as the eye could reach, was covered with panic-stricken and flying men. The battalion advanced to the hill opposite, one upon which a house stood (probably Chinn’s, to the right and rear of the Henry house), where, being threatened with cavalry, it formed square. It remained in that position until, all of our men having fallen back, it was withdrawn in line-of-battle, suffering meanwhile severely from the fire of a section of artillery which was particularly attentive so long as it had a knowledge of our whereabouts. Being, on its march, still threatened by cavalry, the battalion, upon reaching the crest of another hill, faced about, opened fire, and held them in check. By this time the guns of the Confederates seemed from every height to converge their fire upon us, but by avoiding the road, the dust raised by the little column was so inconsiderable that our march was masked, and we were thus enabled to reach Centreville without further loss.29
The Medal of Honor and Dr. Mary Walker
One honor established during the Civil War was the Medal of Honor. Today it is the United States’s highest military honor, given for “Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” It was not the first award introduced. During the Revolution, Congress awarded a Badge of Military Merit, and during the Mexican-American War a Certificate of Merit was given. The first Medal of Honor, one specifically for the Navy, was included in a bill signed on December 21, 1861. In 1863 it was made a permanent award, and US Army soldiers were also made eligible.
The first medals were awarded to six men who captured a Confederate train in event called the Great Locomotive Chase. During the Civil War, the Medal of Honor was the only award the United States had. It was given out for many actions that would not be considered to qualify during later times, like capturing enemy flags.
14 Medals of Honor were awarded from Blackburn’s Ford and Bull Run. The most unusual was that of Dr. Mary E. Walker, the only woman ever to have received a Medal of Honor. She was born in New York in 1832 and decided to become a doctor. Throughout her life she would boldly, and sometimes rudely, push against the restrictions set on her by society. She graduated from Syracuse Medical College as the only woman in her class. She set up shop with her husband, a fellow doctor who she had med as a student. Female doctors were unusual at the time, and the business and marriage went badly. So when the Civil War came, she volunteered to help the Federal army. For two years she worked as an unpaid surgeon, serving at the Battles of First Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta. She was hired in September, 1863, becoming the first female doctor hired by the Federal Government. At one point she was spy by the southerners, and imprisoned until she could be exchanged. After the war she became a leader in women’s movements such as temperance and women suffrage. She pushed for dress reform, and frequently wore men’s clothes. She lost most of her influence in the suffragette movement because she refused to push for a Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, saying that the Constitution already gave that right and Congress just needed to recognize. She died at the age of 87.
Walker was recommended for a Medal of Honor by Union Generals William Sherman and George Thomas, though not without hard lobbying on her part. She was awarded the honor by President Andrew Jackson. Her citation said:
Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker … has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made: It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.
In 1917 the US Army reviewed every Medal of Honor awarded to ensure that all were given for distinguished service. The board found issue with 911 awards, and they were removed from the rolls. These included Dr. Walker, Buffalo Bill Cody, Abraham Lincoln’s funeral guard, and 864 given to the men of the 27th Maine. Right before the Battle of Gettysburg, Secretary of State Edwin M. Stanton promised a Medal of Honor to every man of the regiment who would reenlist. All of these medals were deemed as not meeting the qualifications, to “distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” In 1977, long after her death, the Medal was restored by President Jimmy Carter.
- Battle at Bull Run: A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War by William Davis
- Posts on Manassas at the Civil War 150th Blog.
- Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography by Craig Symonds
- Jefferson Davis, American by William J. Cooper
1. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880)series 1, volume 2, p. 7-9.
2. Ibid, p. 11.
3. A Law Dictionary adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States by John Bouvier (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1892) vol. 1, p. 732.
4. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) additions and corrections to series 3, volume 1, p. 315-316.
6. Ex parte Merryman, 17 F. Cas. 144, (C.C.D. Md. 1861).
7. Hardtack and Coffee by John D. Billings (Boston: George M. Smith & Co., 1887) p. 42
8. Hardtack and Coffee, p. 210-211.
9. Lee and His Lieutenants by Edward A. Pollard (New York: E. B. Treat & Co., 1867) p. 343.
10. McClure’s Magazine (New York: S. S. McClure Co., 1901) vol. XVI, p. 239.
11. Jefferson Davis, Ex-President of the Confederate States of America: A Memoir by His Wife by Varina Davis vol. 2, p. 144-153.
12. Official Records, series 4, vol. 1, p. 611.
13. The American Civil War: A Critical Narrative by General E. P. Alexander (London: Siegle, Hill & Co., 1908) p. 21-22.
14. From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America by James Longstreet (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1896) p. 38-41.
15. Official Records series 1, volume 2, p. 163.
16. Ibid, p. 165.
17. Ibid, p. 167-168.
18. The American Civil War: A Critical Narrative, p. 30-31.
19 . Secessionists
20. The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It edited by Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears and Aaron Sheehan-Dean (New York: Library of America, 2011)
22. Memoirs of Governor William Smith, of Virginia by John W. Bell (New York: The Moss Engraving Company, 1891) p. 147-148.
23. Charleston Mercury on July 25, 1861.
24. Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson by Mary Anna Jackson (Louisville, KY: The Prentice Press, 1895) p. 182.
25. Ibid, p. 177-178.
26. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956) vol. 1, p. 238.
27. The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It edited by Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears and Aaron Sheehan-Dean (New York: Library of America, 2011)
28. From Washington to Bull Run and Back Again by H. B. Jackson in War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (Milwaukee, Burdick & Allen, 1914) vol. IV, p. 246-248.
29. The United Service: A Monthly Magazine, Devoted to the Interests of the Military, Naval, and Civil Service (New York: T. H. S. Hamersly, 1885) vol. XIII, p. 529.