Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 21, 1861 (Sunday): Battle at Bull Run

Capture of Rickett's Battery (NPS)

Reports of General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding Confederate Armies of the Shenandoah and of the Potomac, of opertions from May 23 to July 22, with order of battle.

….Soon after sunrise of the morning of the 21st a light cannonade was opened upon Colonel Evans’ position.  A similar demonstration was made against the center soon after, and strong forces were observed in front of it and of the right.  About 8 o’clock General Beauregard and I placed ourselves on a commanding hill in rear of General Bonham’s left.  Near 9 o’clock the signal officer, Captain Alexander, reported that a large body of troops was crossing the valley of Bull Run some two miles above the bridge….The signal officer soon called our attention to a heavy cloud of dust to the northwest and about ten miles off, such as the march of an army would raise.  This excited apprehensions about General Patterson’s approach.

Report of Brig. Gen. Nathan G. Evans, commanding Seventh Brigade, First Corps.

…The skirmishers were soon engaged, and kept up a brisk fire for about an hour, when I perceived that it was not the intention of the enemy to attack me in my present position, but had commenced his movement to turn my left flank.  I at once decided to quit position and to meet him in his flank movement, leaving the skirmishers of the Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, supported by the reserve of two companies, to keep him engaged.  I sent word to Col. Phillip St. George Cocke that I had abandoned my position at the bridge, and was advancing to attack the enemy at the crossing of the Warrenton turnpike and the Manassas roads.

Reports of Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, Commanding U. S. Forces.

…Shortly after the leading regiment of the First Brigade reached this open space, and whilst the others and the Second Brigade were crossing to the front and right, the enemy opened his fire, beginning with artillery and following it up with infantry.
   The leading brigade (Burnside’s) had to sustain this shock for a short time without support, and id it well.  The battalion of regular infantry was sent to sustain it, and shortly afterwards the other corps of Porter’s brigade and a regiment detached from Heintzelman’s division to the left forced the enemy back far enough to allow Sherman’s and Keyes’ brigades of Tyler’s division to cross from their position on the Warrenton road.
    These drove the right of the enemy (understood to have been commanded by Beauregard) from the front of the field, and out of the detached woods, and down to the road, and across it, up the slopes on the other side.  Whilst this was going on, Heintzelman’s division was moving down the field to the stream and up the road beyond.  Beyond the Warrenton road, and to the left of the road down which our troops had marched from Sudley Springs, is a hill with a farm house on it.  Behind this hill the enemy had early in the day some of his most annoying batteries planted.  Across the road from this hill was another hill, or rather elevated ridge or table land.  The hottest part of the contest was for possession of this hill with a house on it.

Report of Brig. Gen. T. J. Jackson, C. S. Army, commanding First Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah.

…The first favorable position for meeting the enemy was at the next summit, where at 11.30 a. m., I posted Captain Imboden’s battery and two pieces of Captain Stanard’s so as to play upon the advancing foe….
….Apprehensive lest my flanks should be turned, I sent an order to Colonels Stuart and Radford, of the cavalry, to secure them.  Colonel Stuart and that part of his command with him deserve great praise for the promptness with which they moved to my left and secured the flank by timely charging the enemy and driving him back.
   General Bee, with his rallied troops, soon marched to my support; and as re-enforcements continued to arrive General Beauregard posted them so as to strengthen the flanks of my brigade.  The enemy not being able to force our lines by a direct fire of artillery, inclined part of his batteries to the right, so as to obtain an oblique fire; but in doing so exposed his pieces  to a more destructive fire from our artillery, and one of his batteries was thrown so near to Colonel Cummings that it fell into his hands in consequence of his having made a gallant charge on it with his regiment; but owing to a destructive small-arm fire from the enemy he was forced to abandon it.
   At 3.30 p. m. the advance of the enemy having reached a position which called for the use of the bayonet, I gave the command for the charge of the more than brave Fourth and Twenty-seventh, and, under commanders worthy of such regiments, they, in the order in which they were posted, rushed forward obliquely to the left of our batteries, and through the blessing of God, who gave us the victory, pierced the enemy’s center, and by co-operating with the victorious Fifth and other forces soon placed the field essentially in our possession.

Reports of Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, commanding U. S. forces.

                                                            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.
    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 time the enemy outflanked Richardson at Blackburn’s Ford, and we have now to hold Centreville till our men can get behind it.  Miles’ division is holding the town.  It s reported Colonel Cameron is killed, Hunter and Heintzelman wounded, neither dangerously.

                                                            Manassas, July 21, 1861.
   We have won a glorious though dear-bought victory.  Night closed on the enemy in full flight and closely pursued.
                                                                        JEFFERSON DAVIS

 Official Records, Series I. Vol. 2, various.

The battle at Bull Run was a very close thing.  McDowell's plan of attack was sound, but it required green troops to do just beyond what they were capable of.  Factors such as thirst, fatigue, and the shock of being fired on by your comrades (owing to the variety of uniform colors) all weighed, in the end, too heavily in the balance.  And credit must be given to Evans and Alexander for recognizing the direction of the initial attack, to Beauregard and Johnston in moving troops to it, and to Jackson, Bee, Bartow, Stuart, Hampton, and Imboden for holding fast until the tide turned.  The failure of Patterson to hold Johnston's forces in the Valley is too often overlooked.  Absent Jackson and the other of Johnston's forces who arrived to tip the balance, Bull Run could easily have ended with something much less than Davis', "glorious and dear-bought victory".

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