MY DAYS AND NIGHTS ON THE BATTLE-FIELD.
CHARLES CARLETON COFFIN,
AUTHOR OF "STORY OF LIBERTY," "BOYS OF '76," "OUR NEW WAY ROUND THE WORLD," "FOLLOWING THE FLAG," "WINNING HIS WAY," ETC.
DANA ESTES AND COMPANY
BY ESTES AND LAURIAT
TO THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES. 1 Chap. I. HOW THE REBELLION CAME ABOUT 3 II. THE GATHERING OF A GREAT ARMY 22 III. THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN 37 IV. THE CAPTURE OF FORT HENRY 65 V. THE CAPTURE OF FORT DONELSON 89 Thursday 98 Friday 104 Saturday 111 VI. THE SURRENDER 132 VII. THE ARMY AT PITTSBURG LANDING 153 VIII. THE BATTLE OF PITTSBURG LANDING From Daybreak till Ten o'clock 171 From Ten o'clock till Four 197 Sunday Evening 205 Monday 210 IX. EVACUATION OF COLUMBUS 229 X. OPERATIONS AT NEW MADRID 237 XI. OPERATIONS AT ISLAND NUMBER TEN 247 XII. FROM FORT PILLOW TO MEMPHIS 281 XIII. THE NAVAL FIGHT AT MEMPHIS 291
LIST OF DIAGRAMS.
Bull Run Battle-Ground 60 The Fight at Blackburn's Ford 62 The Country around Fort Henry and Fort Donelson 69 Fort Henry 81 Fort Donelson 95 The Attack on McClernand 114 The Second Engagement 123 The Charge of Lauman's Brigade 128 Pittsburg Landing and Vicinity 155 Disposition of Troops at the Beginning of the Battle 173 The Fight at the Ravine 208 A Rebel Torpedo 230 Island No. 10 239 A Mortar 248 The Naval Fight at Memphis 295
Abatis.—Trees cut down, their branches made sharp, and used to block a road, or placed in front of fortifications.
Advance.—Any portion of an army which is in front of the rest.
Aides-de-camp.—Officers selected by general officers to assist them in their military duties.
Ambulances.—Carriages for the sick and wounded.
Battery.—A battery consists of one or more pieces of artillery. A full battery of field artillery consists of six cannon.
Battalion.—A battalion consists of two or more companies, but less than a regiment.
Bombardment.—Throwing shot or shells into a fort or earthwork.
Canister.—A tin cylinder filled with cast-iron shot. When the gun is fired, the cylinder bursts and scatters the shot over a wide surface of ground.
Caisson.—An artillery carriage, containing ammunition for immediate use.
Casemate.—A covered chamber in fortifications, protected by earth from shot and shells.
Columbiad.—A cannon, invented by Colonel Bomford, of very large calibre, used for throwing shot or shells. A ten-inch columbiad weighs 15,400 pounds, and is ten and a half feet long.
Column.—A position in which troops may be placed. A column en route is the order in which they march from one part of the country to another. A column of attack is the order in which they go into battle.
Countersign.—A particular word given out by the highest officer in command, intrusted to guards, pickets, and sentinels, and to those who may have occasion to pass them.
Embrasure.—An opening cut in embankments for the muzzles of the cannon.
Enfilade.—To sweep the whole length of the inside of a fortification or a line of troops.
Field-Works.—An embankment of earth excavated from a ditch surrounding a town or a fort.
Flank.—The right or left side of a body of men, or place. When it is said that the enemy by a flank march outflanked our right wing, it is understood that he put himself on our right hand. When two armies stand face to face the right flank of one is opposite the left flank of the other.
File.—Two soldiers,—a front rank and a rear rank man.
Fuse.—A slow-burning composition in shells, set on fire by the flash of the cannon. The length of the fuse is proportioned to the intended range of the shells.
Grape.—A large number of small balls tied up in a bag.
Howitzer.—A cannon of large calibre and short range, commonly used for throwing shells, grape, and canister.
Limber.—The fore part of a field gun-carriage, to which the horses are attached. It has two wheels, and carries ammunition the same as the caisson.
Pontoon.—A bridge of boats for crossing streams, which may be carried in wagons.
Parabola.—The curve described by a shell in the air.
Range.—The distance to which shot, shells, or bullets may be fired.
Reveille.—The first drum-beat in the morning.
Rifle-Pits.—Excavations in the earth or other shelter for riflemen.
Spherical Case.—A thin shell of cast-iron filled with bullets, with a fuse, and a charge of powder sufficient to burst it. It contains about ninety bullets.
Wings.—The right and left divisions of a body of troops, distinguished from the centre.
MY DAYS AND NIGHTS ON THE BATTLE-FIELD.
TO THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES.
In my boyhood, my young friends, I loved to sit beside my grandfather and listen to his stories of Bunker Hill and Saratoga,—how he and his comrades stood upon those fields and fought for their country. I could almost see the fight and hear the cannon's roar, the rattle of the musketry, and the shouts of victory. They won their independence, and established the best government the world ever saw. But there are men in this country who hate that government, who have plotted against it, and who have brought about the present Great Rebellion to destroy it. I have witnessed some of the battles which have been fought during this war, although I have not been a soldier, as my grandfather was, and I shall try, in this volume, to picture those scenes, and give correct descriptions of the ground, the marching of the troops, the positions they occupied, and other things, that you may understand how your father, or your brothers, or your friends, fought for the dear old flag.
HOW THE REBELLION CAME ABOUT.
Many of you, my young readers, have seen the springs which form the trickling rivulets upon the hillsides. How small they are. You can almost drink them dry. But in the valley the silver threads become a brook, which widens to a river rolling to the far-off ocean. So is it with the ever-flowing stream of time. The things which were of small account a hundred years ago are powerful forces to-day. Great events do not usually result from one cause, but from many causes. To ascertain how the rebellion came about, let us read history.
Nearly three hundred years ago, when Elizabeth was Queen of England, Sir Walter Raleigh sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to explore the newly discovered Continent of America. Sir Walter was a sailor, a soldier, and one of the gentleman attendants of the Queen. He was so courteous and gallant that he once threw his gold-laced scarlet cloak upon the ground for a mat, that the Queen might not step her royal foot in the mud. At that time America was an unexplored wilderness. The old navigators had sailed along the coasts, but the smooth waters of the great lakes and rivers had never been ruffled by the oars of European boatmen.
Sir Walter found a beautiful land, shaded by grand old forests; also fertile fields, waving with corn and a broad-leaved plant with purple flowers, which the Indians smoked in pipes of flint and vermilion stone brought from the cliffs of the great Missouri River.
The sailors learned to smoke, and when Sir Walter returned to England they puffed their pipes in the streets. The people were amazed, and wondered if the sailors were on fire. So tobacco began to be used in England. That was in 1584. We shall see that a little tobacco-smoke whiffed nearly three hundred years ago has had an influence in bringing about the rebellion.
Twenty years rolled by. London merchants dreamed of wealth in store for them in Virginia. A company was formed to colonize the country. Many of the merchants had spendthrift sons, who were also idle and given to bad habits. These young fellows thought it degrading to work. In those Western woods across the ocean, along the great rivers and upon the blue mountains, they saw in imagination a wild, roving, reckless life. They could hunt the wild beasts. They could live without the restraints of society. They had heard wonderful stories of exhaustless mines of gold and silver. There they could get rich, and that was the land for them.
A vessel with five hundred colonists was fitted out. There were only sixteen men of the five hundred accustomed to work; the others called themselves gentlemen and cavaliers. They settled at Jamestown. They found no rich gold-mines, and wealth was not to be had on the fertile plains without labor. Not knowing how to cultivate the soil, and hating work, they had a hard time. They suffered for want of food. Many died from starvation. Yet more of the same indolent class joined the colony,—young men who had had rows with tutors at school, and who had broken the heads of London watchmen in their midnight revels. A historian of those times says that "they were fitter to breed a riot than found a colony."
The merchants, finding that a different class of men was needed to save the colony from ruin, sent over poor laboring men, who were apprenticed to their sons. Thus the idle cavaliers were kept from starvation. Instead of working themselves, they directed the poor, hard-working men, and pocketed the profits.
Smoking began to be fashionable in England. Lawyers in big wigs, ministers in black gowns, merchants seated in their counting-houses, ladies in silks and satins, all took to this habit of the North American Indians. Tobacco was in demand. Every ship from America was freighted with it. The purple-flowered plant grew luxuriantly in the fields of Virginia, and so through the labor of the poor men the indolent cavaliers became rich.
As there were no women in the colony, some of the cavaliers sent over to England and bought themselves wives, paying a hundred pounds of tobacco for a wife. Others married Indian wives.
The jails of London were crowded with thieves and vagabonds. They had committed crime and lost their freedom. To get rid of them, the magistrates sent several ship-loads to Virginia, where they were sold to the planters as servants and laborers. Thus it came to pass that there were distinct classes in the colony,—men having rights and men without rights,—men owning labor and men owing labor,—men with power and men without power,—all of which had something to do in bringing about the rebellion.
In August, 1620, a Dutch captain sailed up James River with twenty negroes on board his ship, which he had stolen from Africa. The planters purchased them, not as apprentices, but as slaves. The captain, having made a profitable voyage, sailed for Africa to steal more. Thus the African slave-trade in America began, which became the main fountain-head and grand cause of the rebellion.
The Virginia planters wanted large plantations. Some of them had influence with King James, and obtained grants of immense estates, containing thousands of acres. All the while the common people of England were learning to smoke, snuff, and chew tobacco, and across the English Channel the Dutch burghers, housewives, and farmers were learning to puff their pipes. A pound of tobacco was worth three shillings. The planters grew richer, purchased more land and more slaves, while the apprenticed men, who had no money and no means of obtaining any, of course could not become land-owners. Thus the three classes of men—planters, poor white men, and slaves—became perpetually distinct.
By the charter which the company of London merchants had received from the King, owners of land only were allowed to have a voice in the management of public affairs. They only could hold office. A poor man could not have anything to do with enacting or administering the laws. In 1705, a historian, then writing, says:—
"There are men with great estates, who take care to supply the poor with goods, and who are sure to keep them always in debt, and consequently dependent. Out of this number are chosen the Council, Assembly, Justices of the Peace, and other officers, who conspire together to wield power."
[Footnote 1: Quarry.]
Thus a few rich men managed all the affairs of the colony. They were able to perpetuate their power, to hand these privileges to their sons, through successive generations.
At the present time there are many men and women in Virginia who consider themselves as belonging to the first families, because they are descendants of those who settled the country. The great estates have passed from the family name,—squandered by the dissolute and indolent sons. They are poor, but very proud, and call themselves noble-born. They look with contempt upon a man who works for a living. I saw a great estate, which was once owned by one of these proud families, near the Antietam battle-field, but spendthrift sons have squandered it, and there is but little left. The land is worn out, but the owner of the remaining acres,—poor, but priding himself upon his high birth, looking with haughty contempt upon men who work,—in the summer of 1860, day after day, was seen sitting upon his horse, with an umbrella over his head to keep off the sun, overseeing his two negro women, who were hoeing corn!
All of these springs which started in Virginia tinged, entered into, and gave color to society throughout the South. There were great estates, privileged classes, a few rich and many poor men. There were planters, poor white men, and slaves.
In those old times pirates sailed the seas, plundering and destroying ships. They swarmed around the West India Islands, and sold their spoils to the people of Charleston, South Carolina. There, for several years, the freebooters refitted their ships, and had a hearty welcome. But the King's ships of war broke up the business, and commerce again had peaceful possession of the ocean.
These things gave direction to the stream, influencing the development and growth of the colonies, which became States in the Union, and which seceded in 1861.
* * * * *
While the Dutch captain was bargaining off his negroes to the planters in 1620 at Jamestown, another vessel was sailing from Plymouth harbor, in England, for a voyage across the Atlantic. Years before, in the little town of Scrooby, a man with a long white beard, by the name of Clifton, had preached what he called a pure religious doctrine. Those who went to hear him, and who believed what he preached, soon came to be called Puritans. Most of them were poor, hard-working English farmers and villagers. There was much discussion, controversy, bigotry, and bitterness in religion at that time, and these poor men were driven from county to county, till finally they were obliged to flee to Holland to escape persecution and save their lives. King James himself was one of their most bitter persecutors. He declared that he would "harry every one of them out of England." After remaining in Holland several years, they obtained permission of the King to sail for North America.
On a December morning the vessel, after five months' tossing upon the ocean, lay at anchor in the harbor of Cape Cod. Those on board had no charter of government. They were not men who had had midnight revels in London, but men who had prayers in their families night and morning, and who met for religious worship on the Sabbath. They respected law, loved order, and knew that it would be necessary to have a form of government in the colony. They assembled in the cabin of the ship, and, after prayer, signed their names to an agreement to obey all the rules, regulations, and laws which might be enacted by the majority. Then they elected a governor, each man having a voice in the election. It was what might be called the first town-meeting in America. Thus democratic liberty and Christian worship, independent of forms established by kings and bishops, had a beginning in this country.
The climate was cold, the seasons short, the soil sterile, and so the settlers of Cape Cod were obliged to work hard to obtain a living. In consequence, they and their descendants became active, industrious, and energetic. Thus they laid the foundations for thrift and enterprise. They did not look upon labor as degrading, but as ennobling. They passed laws, that men able to work should not be idle. They were not rich enough to own great estates, but each man had his own little farm. There was, therefore, no landed aristocracy, such as was growing into power in Virginia. They were not able to own labor to any great extent. There were a few apprenticed men, and some negro slaves, but the social and political influences were all different from those in the Southern colonies. The time came when apprenticed men were released from service, and the slaves set free.
These hard-working men did not wish to have their children grow up in ignorance. In order, therefore, that every child might become an intelligent citizen and member of society, they established common schools and founded colleges. In 1640, just twenty years after the landing at Plymouth, they had a printing-press at Cambridge.
The cavaliers of Virginia, instead of establishing schools, sent their sons to England to be educated, leaving the children of the poor men to grow up in ignorance. They did not want them to obtain an education. In 1670, fifty years after the Dutch captain had bartered off his negroes for tobacco,—fifty years from the election of the first governor by the people in the cabin of the Mayflower,—the King appointed Commissioners of Education, who addressed letters to the governors of the colonies upon the subject. The Governor of Connecticut replied, that one fourth of the entire income of the colony was laid out in maintaining public schools. Governor Berkeley, of Virginia, who owned a great plantation and many slaves, and who wanted to keep the government in the hands of the few privileged families, answered,—
"I thank God there are no free schools nor printing in this colony, and I hope we shall not have them these hundred years."
All the Northern colonies established common schools, and liberally supported them, that every child might obtain an education. The Southern colonies, even when they became States, gave but little attention to education, and consequently the children became more ignorant than their fathers. Thus it has come to pass, that in the Northern States nearly all can read and write, while in the Southern States there are hundreds of thousands who do not know the alphabet.
In 1850 the State of Maine had 518,000 inhabitants; of these 2,134 could not read nor write, while the State of North Carolina, with a white population of 553,000, had eighty thousand native whites, over twenty years of age, who had never attended school!
The six New England States, with a population of 2,705,000, had in 1850 but eight thousand unable to read and write, while Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama—five States, with a population of 2,670,000 whites—had two hundred and sixty-two thousand, over twenty years of age, unable to read a word! In the Northern States educational facilities are rapidly increasing, while in the South they are fast diminishing. In 1857 there were 96,000 school-children in Vermont, and all but six thousand attended school. South Carolina the same year had 114,000 school-children; of these ninety-five thousand had no school privileges. Virginia had 414,000 school-children; three hundred and seventy-two thousand of them had no means of learning the alphabet!
In Missouri, in some of the counties, the school lands given by Congress have been sold, and the money distributed among the people, instead of being invested for the benefit of schools. With each generation ignorance has increased in the Southern States. It has been the design of the slaveholders to keep the poor white men in ignorance. There, neighbors are miles apart. There are vast tracts of land where the solitude is unbroken by the sounds of labor. Schools and newspapers cannot flourish. Information is given by word of mouth. Men are influenced to political action by the arguments and stories of stump-speakers, and not by reading newspapers. They vote as they are told, or as they are influenced by the stories they hear. So, when the leading conspirators were ready to bring about the rebellion, being in possession of the State governments, holding official positions, by misrepresentation, cunning, and wickedness, they were able to delude the ignorant poor men, and induce them to vote to secede from the Union.
Two thousand years ago the natives of India manufactured cloth from the fibres of the cotton-plant, which grew wild in the woods. The old historian, Herodotus, says that the trees bore fleeces as white as snow. A planter of South Carolina obtained some of the seeds, and began to cultivate the plant. In 1748 ten bags of cotton were shipped to Liverpool, but cotton-spinning had not then begun in England. In 1784 the custom-house officers at Liverpool seized eight bags which a planter had sent over, on the ground that it was not possible to raise so much in America. The manufacture of cotton goods was just then commencing in England, and cotton was in demand. The plant grew luxuriantly in the sunny fields of the South, but it was a day's work for a negro to separate the seed from a pound, and the planters despaired of making it a profitable crop.
A few years before the Liverpool custom-house officers seized the eight bags, a boy named Eli Whitney was attending school in Westboro', Massachusetts, who was destined to help the planters out of the difficulty. He made water-wheels, which plashed in the roadside brooks, and windmills, which whirled upon his father's barn. He made violins, which were the wonder and admiration of all musicians. He set up a shop, and made nails by machinery, and thus earned money through the Revolutionary War. When not more than twelve years old, he stayed at home from meeting one Sunday alone, and took his father's watch to pieces, and put it together again so nicely that it went as well as ever. It was not the proper business for Sunday, however.
When a young man, he went South to teach school. He happened to hear General Greene, the brave and noble man who had been a match for Lord Cornwallis, wish that there was a machine for cleaning cotton. He thought the matter over, went to work, and in a short time had a machine which, with some improvements, now does the work of a thousand negroes. He built it in secret, but the planters, getting wind of it, broke open his room, stole his invention, built machines of their own, and cheated him out of his property.
About this time there was a poor cotton-spinner in England who thought he could invent a machine for spinning. He sat up late nights, and thought how to have the wheels, cranks, and belts arranged. At times he was almost discouraged, but his patient, cheerful, loving wife encouraged him, and he succeeded at last in making a machine which would do the work of a thousand spinners. He named it Jenny, for his wife, who had been so patient and cheerful, though she and the children, some of the time while he was studying upon the invention, had little to eat.
The gin and the jenny made cotton cloth much cheaper than it had been. Many manufactories were built in England and in the New England States. More acres of cotton were planted in the South, and more negroes stolen from Africa. In the North, along the mill-streams, there was the click and clatter of machinery. A great many ships were needed to transport the cotton from the agricultural South to the manufactories of the commercial, industrious, trading North. The cotton crop of the South in 1784 was worth only a few hundred dollars, but the crop of 1860 was worth hundreds of millions, so great had been the increase.
This great demand for cotton affected trade and commerce the world over. The planters had princely incomes from the labor of their slaves. Some of them received $50,000 to $100,000 a year. They said that cotton was king, and ruled the world. They thought that the whole human race was dependent upon them, and that by withholding their cotton a single year they could compel the whole world to acknowledge their power. They were few in number,—about three hundred thousand in thirty millions of people. They used every means possible to extend and perpetuate their power. They saw that the Northern States were beehives of industry, and that the boys swarming from the Northern school-houses were becoming mechanics, farmers, teachers, engaging in all employments, and that knowledge as a power was getting the better of wealth.
The men of the North were settling the new States of the West, and political power in Congress was slipping from the hands of the South. To retain that power they must bring additional Slave States into the Union. They therefore demanded the right to take their slaves into new Territories. The Northern school-boys who had grown to be men, who had gone into the far West to build them homes, could not consent to see their children deprived of that which had made them men. They saw that if slavery came in, schools must go out. They saw that where slavery existed there were three distinct classes in society,—the few rich, unscrupulous, hard-hearted slaveholders, the many poor, ignorant, debased white men, and the slaves. They saw that free labor and slave labor could not exist together. They therefore rightfully resisted the extension of slavery into the Territories. But the slaveholders carried the day. The North was outvoted and obliged to yield.
The descendants of the first families of Virginia raised slaves for a living. It was degrading to labor, but a very honorable way of getting a living to raise pigs, mules, and negroes,—to sell them to the more southern States,—to sell their own sons and daughters! Their fathers purchased wives: why should they not sell their own children?
It was very profitable to raise negroes for the market, and the ministers of the South, in their pulpits on the Sabbath, said it was a Christian occupation. They expounded the Bible, and showed the benevolent designs of God in establishing slavery. It was right. It had the sanction of the Almighty. It was a Divine missionary institution.
Their political success, their great power, their wealth,—which they received through the unpaid labor of their slaves, and from selling their own sons and daughters,—developed their bad traits of character. They became proud, insolent, domineering, and ambitious. They demanded the right not only to extend slavery over all the Territories of the United States, but also the right to take their slaves into the Free States. They demanded that no one should speak or write against slavery. They secured the passage of a law by Congress enabling them to catch their runaway slaves. They demanded that the Constitution should be changed to favor the growth and extension of slavery. For many years they plotted against the government,—threatening to destroy it if they could not have what they demanded. They looked with utter contempt upon the hard-working men of the North. They determined to rule or ruin. Every Northern man living at the South was looked upon with suspicion. Some were tarred and feathered, others hung, and many were killed in cold blood! No Northern man could open his lips on that subject in the South. Men of the North could not travel there. The noble astronomer, Mitchell, the brave general who has laid down his life for his country, was surrounded by an ignorant, excited mob in Alabama, who were ready to hang him because he told them he was in favor of the Union. But Southern orators and political speakers were invited North, and listened to with respect by the thinking, reasoning people,—the pupils of the common schools.
Climate, trade, commerce, common schools, and industry have made the North different from the South; but there was nothing in these to bring on the war.
When the slaveholders saw that they had lost their power in Congress to pass laws for the extension of slavery, they determined to secede from the Union. When the North elected a President who declared himself opposed to the extension of slavery, they began the war. They stole forts, arsenals, money, steamboats,—everything they could lay their hands on belonging to government and individuals,—seceded from the Union, formed a confederacy, raised an army, and fired the first gun.
They planned a great empire, which should extend south to the Isthmus of Darien and west to the Pacific Ocean, and made slavery its cornerstone. They talked of conquering the North. They declared that the time would come when they would muster their slaves on Bunker Hill, when the laboring men of the North, "with hat in hand, should stand meekly before them, their masters."
[Footnote 2: Richmond Enquirer.]
They besieged Fort Sumter, fired upon the ships sent to its relief, bombarded the fort and captured it. To save their country, their government, all that was dear to them, to protect their insulted, time-honored flag, the men of the North took up arms.
THE GATHERING OF A GREAT ARMY.
The Rebels began the war by firing upon Fort Sumter. You remember how stupefying the news of its surrender. You could not at first believe that they would fire upon the Stars and Stripes,—the flag respected and honored everywhere on earth. When there was no longer a doubt that they had begun hostilities, you could not have felt worse if you had heard of the death of a very dear friend. But as you thought it over and reflected upon the wickedness of the act, so deliberate and terrible, you felt that you would like to see the traitors hung; not that it would be a pleasure to see men die a felon's death, but because you loved your country and its flag, with its heaven-born hues, its azure field of stars! Not that the flag is anything in itself to be protected, honored, and revered, but because it is the emblem of constitutional liberty and freedom, the ensign of the best, freest, noblest government ever established. It had cost suffering and blood. Kings, aristocrats, despots, and tyrants, in the Old World and in the New hated it, but millions of men in other lands, suffering, abused, robbed of their rights, beheld it as their banner of hope. When you thought how it had been struck down by traitors, when you heard that the President had called for seventy five thousand troops, you hurrahed with all your might, and wished that you were old enough and big enough to go and fight the Rebels.
The drums beat in the street. You saw the soldiers hasten to take their places in the gathering ranks. You marched beside them and kept step with the music. The sunlight gleamed from their bayonets. Their standards waved in the breeze, while the drum, the fife, the bugle, and the trumpet thrilled you as never before. You marched proudly and defiantly. You felt that you could annihilate the stoutest Rebel. You followed the soldiers to the railroad depot and hurrahed till the train which bore them away was out of sight.
Let us follow them to Washington, and see the gathering of a great army. The Rebels have threatened to capture that city and make it their seat of government, and it must be saved.
We have been a quiet, peaceable nation, and have had no great standing armies of a half-million men. We know but little about war. The Northern States are unprepared for war. President Buchanan's Secretary of War, Floyd, has proved himself a thief. He has stolen several hundred thousands of muskets, thousands of pieces of artillery, sending them from the Northern arsenals to the South. The slaveholders have been for many years plotting the rebellion. They are armed, and we are not. Their arsenals are well filled, while ours are empty, because President Buchanan was a weak old man, and kept thieves and traitors in places of trust and power.
At the call of the President every village sends its soldiers, every town its company. When you listened to the soul-thrilling music of the band, and watched the long, winding train as it vanished with the troops in the distance, you had one little glimpse of the machinery of war, as when riding past a great manufactory you see a single pulley, or a row of spindles through a window. You do not see the thousands of wheels, belts, shafts,—the hundred thousand spindles, the arms of iron, fingers of brass, and springs of steel, and the mighty wheel which gives motion to all,—and so you have not seen the great, complicated, far-reaching, and powerful machinery of war.
But there is activity everywhere. Drums are beating, men assembling, soldiers marching, and hastening on in regiments. They go into camp and sleep on the ground, wrapped in their blankets. It is a new life. They have no napkins, no table-cloths at breakfast, dinner, or supper, no china plates or silver forks. Each soldier has his tin plate and cup, and makes a hearty meal of beef and bread. It is hard-baked bread. They call it hard-tack, because it might be tacked upon the roof of a house instead of shingles. They also have Cincinnati chicken. At home they called it pork; fowls are scarce and pork is plenty in camp, so they make believe it is chicken!
There is drilling by squads, companies, battalions, and by regiments. Some stand guard around the camp by day, and others go out on picket at night, to watch for the enemy. It is military life. Everything is done by orders. When you become a soldier, you cannot go and come as you please. Privates, lieutenants, captains, colonels, generals, all are subject to the orders of their superior officers. All must obey the general in command. You march, drill, eat, sleep, go to bed, and get up by order. At sunrise you hear the reveille, and at nine o'clock in the evening the tattoo. Then the candle, which has been burning in your tent with a bayonet for a candlestick, must be put out. In the dead of night, while sleeping soundly and dreaming of home, you hear the drum-beat. It is the long roll. There is a rattle of musketry. The pickets are at it. Every man springs to his feet.
"Turn out! turn out!" shouts the colonel.
"Fall in! fall in!" cries the captain.
There is confusion throughout the camp,—a trampling of feet and loud, hurried talking. In your haste you get your boots on wrong, and buckle your cartridge-box on bottom up. You rush out in the darkness, not minding your steps, and are caught by the tent-ropes. You tumble headlong, upsetting to-morrow's breakfast of beans. You take your place in the ranks, nervous, excited, and trembling at you know not what. The regiment rushes toward the firing, which suddenly ceases. An officer rides up in the darkness and says it is a false alarm! You march back to camp, cool and collected now, grumbling at the stupidity of the picket, who saw a bush, thought it was a Rebel, fired his gun, and alarmed the whole camp.
In the autumn of 1861 the army of the Potomac, encamped around Washington, numbered about two hundred thousand men. Before it marches to the battle-field, let us see how it is organized, how it looks, how it is fed; let us get an insight into its machinery.
Go up in the balloon which you see hanging in the air across the Potomac from Georgetown, and look down upon this great army. All the country round is dotted with white tents,—some in the open fields, and some half hid by the forest-trees. Looking away to the northwest you see the right wing. Arlington is the centre, and at Alexandria is the left wing. You see men in ranks, in files, in long lines, in masses, moving to and fro, marching and countermarching, learning how to fight a battle. There are thousands of wagons and horses; there are from two to three hundred pieces of artillery. How long the line, if all were on the march! Men marching in files are about three feet apart. A wagon with four horses occupies fifty feet. If this army was moving on a narrow country road, four cavalrymen riding abreast, and men in files of four, with all the artillery, ammunition-wagons, supply-trains, ambulances, and equipment, it would reach from Boston to Hartford, or from New York city to Albany, a hundred and fifty miles!
To move such a multitude, to bring order out of confusion, there must be a system, a plan, and an organization. Regiments are therefore formed into brigades, with usually about four regiments to a brigade. Three or four brigades compose a division, and three or four divisions make an army corps. A corps when full numbers from twenty-five to thirty thousand men.
When an army moves, the general commanding it issues his orders to the generals commanding the corps; they issue their orders to the division commanders, the division commanders to the brigadiers, they to the colonels, and the colonels to captains, and the captains to the companies. As the great wheel in the factory turns all the machinery, so one mind moves the whole army. The general-in-chief must designate the road which each corps shall take, the time when they are to march, where they are to march to, and sometimes the hour when they must arrive at an appointed place. The corps commanders must direct which of their divisions shall march first, what roads they shall take, and where they shall encamp at night. The division commanders direct what brigades shall march first. No corps, division, or brigade commander can take any other road than that assigned him, without producing confusion and delay.
The army must have its food regularly. Think how much food it takes to supply the city of Boston, or Cincinnati every day. Yet here are as many men as there are people in those cities. There are a great many more horses in the army than in the stables of both of those cities. All must be fed. There must be a constant supply of beef, pork, bread, beans, vinegar, sugar, and coffee, oats, corn, and hay.
The army must also have its supplies of clothing, its boots, shoes, and coats. It must have its ammunition, its millions of cartridges of different kinds; for there are a great many kinds of guns in the regiments,—Springfield and Enfield muskets, French, Belgian, Prussian, and Austrian guns, requiring a great many different kinds of ammunition. There are a great many different kinds of cannon. There must be no lack of ammunition, no mistake in its distribution. So there is the Quartermaster's Department, the Commissary, and the Ordnance Department. The Quartermaster moves and clothes the army, the Commissary feeds it, and the Ordnance officer supplies it with ammunition. The general-in-chief has a Quartermaster-General, a chief Commissary and a chief Ordnance officer, who issue their orders to the chief officers in their departments attached to each corps. They issue their orders to their subordinates in the divisions, and the division officers to those in the brigades.
Then there is a Surgeon-General, who directs all the hospital operations, who must see that the sick and wounded are all taken care of. There are camp surgeons, division, brigade, and regimental surgeons. There are hospital nurses, ambulance drivers, all subject to the orders of the surgeon. No other officer can direct them. Each department is complete in itself.
It has cost a great deal of thought, labor, and money to construct this great machinery. In creating it there has been much thinking, energy, determination, and labor; and there must be constant forethought in anticipating future wants, necessities, and contingencies, when to move, where, and how. The army does not exist of its own accord, but by constant, unremitting effort.
The people of the country determined that the Constitution, the Union, and the government bequeathed by their fathers should be preserved. They authorized the President to raise a great army. Congress voted money and men. The President, acting as the agent of the people, and as Commander-in-Chief, appointed men to bring all the materials together and organize the army. Look at what was wanted to build this mighty machine and to keep it going.
First, the hundreds of thousands of men; the thousands of horses; the thousands of barrels of beef, pork, and flour; thousands of hogsheads of sugar, vinegar, rice, salt, bags of coffee, and immense stores of other things. Thousands of tons of hay, bags of oats and corn. What numbers of men and women have been at work to get each soldier ready for the field. He has boots, clothes, and equipments. The tanner, currier, shoemaker, the manufacturer, with his swift-flying shuttles, the operator tending his looms and spinning-jennies, the tailor with his sewing-machines, the gunsmith, the harness-maker, the blacksmith,—all trades and occupations have been employed. There are saddles, bridles, knapsacks, canteens, dippers, plates, knives, stoves, kettles, tents, blankets, medicines, drums, swords, pistols, guns, cannon, powder, percussion-caps, bullets, shot, shells, wagons,—everything.
Walk leisurely through the camps, and observe the little things and the great things, see the men on the march. Then go into the Army and Navy Departments in Washington, in those brick buildings west of the President's house. In those rooms are surveys, maps, plans, papers, charts of the ocean, of the sea-coast, currents, sand-bars, shoals, the rising and falling of tides. In the Topographical Bureau you see maps of all sections of the country. There is the Ordnance Bureau, with all sorts of guns, rifles, muskets, carbines, pistols, swords, shells, rifled shot, fuses which the inventors have brought in. There are a great many bureaus, with immense piles of papers and volumes, containing experiments upon the strength of iron, the trials of cannon, guns, mortars, and powder. There have been experiments to determine how much powder shall be used, whether it shall be as fine as mustard-seed or as coarse as lumps of sugar, and the results are all noted here. All the appliances of science, industry, and art are brought into use to make it the best army the world ever saw.
It is the business of the government to bring the materials together, and the business of the generals to organize it into brigades, divisions, and corps,—to determine the number of cavalry and batteries of artillery, to place weak materials in their proper places, and the strongest where they will be most needed.
The general commanding must have a plan of operations. Napoleon said that war is like a game of chess, and that a commander must make his game. He must think it out beforehand, and in such a manner that the enemy will be compelled to play it in his way and be defeated. The general-in-chief must see the end from the beginning, just as Napoleon, sticking his map of Europe full of pins, decided that he could defeat the Austrians at Austerlitz, the Prussians at Jena. That is genius. The general-in-chief makes his plan on the supposition that all his orders will be obeyed promptly, that no one will shirk responsibility, that not one of all the vast multitude will fail to do his duty.
The night before the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon sent an order to an officer to take possession of a little hillock, on which stood a farm-house overlooking the plain. The officer thought it would do just as well if he let it go till morning, but in the morning the English had possession of the spot, and in consequence of that officer's neglect Napoleon probably lost the great battle, his army, and his empire. Great events often hang on little things, and in military operations it is of the utmost importance that they should be attended to.
From the beginning to the end, unless every man does his duty, from the general in command to the private in the ranks, there is danger of failure.
Thus the army is organized, and thus through organization it becomes a disciplined body. Instead of being a confused mass of men, horses, mules, cannon, caissons, wagons, and ambulances, it is a body which can be divided, subdivided, separated by miles of country, hurried here and there, hurled upon the enemy, and brought together again by the stroke of a pen, by a word, or the click of the telegraph.
When a battle is to be fought, the general-in-chief must not only have his plan how to get the great mass of men to the field, but he must have a plan of movement on the field. Each corps must have its position assigned. There must be a line of battle. It is not a continuous line of men, but there are wide spaces, perhaps miles wide, between the corps, divisions, and brigades. Hills, ravines, streams, swamps, houses, villages, bushes, a fence, rocks, wheat-fields, sunlight and shade, all must be taken into account. Batteries must be placed on hills, or in commanding positions to sweep all the country round. Infantry must be gathered in masses in the centre or on either wing, or deployed and separated according to circumstances. They must be sheltered. They must be thrown here or there, as they may be needed to hold or to crush the enemy. They are to stand still and be ploughed through by shot and shell, or rush into the thickest of the fight, just as they may be ordered. They are not to question the order;—
"Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die."
There are sleepless nights in the tent of the general-in-chief. When all others except the pickets are asleep, he is examining maps and plans, calculating distances, estimating the strength of his army, and asking himself whether it will do to attack the enemy, or whether he shall stand on the defensive? can this brigade be relied upon for a desperate charge? will that division hold the enemy in check? At such times, the good name, the valor, the bravery of the troops and of the officers who command them is reviewed. He weighs character. He knows who are reliable and who inefficient. He studies, examines papers, consults reports, makes calculations, sits abstractedly, walks nervously, and lies down to dream it all over again and again.
The welfare of the country, thousands of lives, and perhaps the destiny of the nation, is in his hands. How shall he arrange his corps? ought the troops to be massed in the centre, or shall he concentrate them on the wings? shall he feel of the enemy with a division or two, or rush upon him like an avalanche? Can the enemy outflank him, or get upon his rear? What if the Rebels should pounce upon his ammunition and supply-trains? What is the position of the enemy? How large is his force? How many batteries has he? How much cavalry? What do the scouts report? Are the scouts to be believed? One says the enemy is retreating, another that he is advancing. What are the probabilities? A thousand questions arise which must be answered. The prospect of success must be carefully calculated. Human life must be thrown remorselessly into the scale. All the sorrows and the tears of wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters far away, who will mourn for the dead, must be forgotten. He must shut up all tender thoughts, and become an iron man. Ah! it is not so fine a thing to be a general, perhaps, as you have imagined!
It is an incomplete, imperfect, and unsatisfactory look which you have taken of the machinery of a great army. But you can see that a very small thing may upset the best-laid plan of any commander. The cowardice of a regiment, the failure of an officer to do his duty, to be at a place at an appointed moment, the miscarriage of orders, a hundred things which you can think of, may turn a victory into a defeat. You can see that a great battle must be a grand and terrible affair; but though you may use all your powers of imagination in endeavoring to picture the positions of the troops,—how they look, how they act, how they stand amid the terrible storm, braying death, how they rush into the thickest fire, how they fall like the sere leaves of autumn,—you will fail in your conceptions of the conflict. You must see it, and be in it, to know what it is.
THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN.
The first great battle of the war was fought near Bull Run, in Virginia. There had been skirmishing along the Potomac, in Western Virginia, and Missouri; but upon the banks of this winding stream was fought a battle which will be forever memorable. The Rebels call it the battle of Manassas. It has been called also the battle of Stone Bridge and the battle of Warrenton Road.
Bull Run is a lazy, sluggish stream, a branch of the Occoquan River, which empties into the Potomac. It rises among the Bull Run Mountains, and flows southeast through Fairfax County. Just beyond the stream, as you go west from Washington, are the plains of Manassas,—level lands, which years ago waved with corn and tobacco, but the fields long since were worn out by the thriftless farming of the slaveholders, and now they are overgrown with thickets of pine and oak.
Two railroads meet upon the plains, one running northwest through the mountain gaps into the valley of the Shenandoah, and the other running from Alexandria to Richmond, Culpepper, and the Southwest. The junction, therefore, became an important place for Rebel military operations. There, in June, 1861, General Beauregard mustered his army, which was to defeat the Union army and capture Washington. The Richmond newspapers said that this army would not only capture Washington, but would also dictate terms of peace on the banks of the Hudson. Hot-headed men, who seemed to have lost their reason through the influence of slavery and secession, thought that the Southern troops were invincible. They were confident that one Southerner could whip five Yankees. Ladies cheered them, called them chivalrous sons of the South, and urged them on to the field.
But General Beauregard, instead of advancing upon Washington, awaited an attack from the Union army, making Bull Run his line of defence, throwing up breastworks, cutting down trees, and sheltering his men beneath the thick growth of the evergreen pines.
The army of the Union, called the Army of the Potomac, assembled at Arlington Heights and Alexandria. General McDowell was placed in command. Half of his soldiers were men who had enlisted for three months, who had suddenly left their homes at the call of the President. Their term of service had nearly expired. The three years' men had been but a few days in camp. Military duties were new. They knew nothing of discipline, but they confidently expected to defeat the enemy and move on to Richmond. Few people thought of the possibility of defeat.
Let us walk up the valley of Bull Run and notice its fords, its wooded banks, the scattered farm-houses, and fields of waving grain. Ten miles from the Occoquan we come to the railroad bridge. A mile farther up is McLean's Ford; another mile carries us to Blackburn's, and another mile brings us to Mitchell's. Above these are Island Ford, Lewis Ford, and Ball's Ford. Three miles above Mitchell's there is a stone bridge, where the turnpike leading from Centreville to Warrenton crosses the stream. Two miles farther up is a place called Sudley Springs,—a cluster of houses, a little stone church, a blacksmith's shop. The stream there has dwindled to a brook, and gurgles over a rocky bed.
Going back to the stone bridge, and standing upon its parapet, you may look east to Centreville, about four miles distant, beautifully situated on a high ridge of land, but a very old, dilapidated place when you get to it. Going west from the bridge, you see upon your right hand a swell of land, and another at your left hand, south of the turnpike. A brook trickles by the roadside. Leaving the turnpike, and ascending the ridge on the north side, you see that towards Sudley Springs there are other swells of land, with wheat-fields, fences, scattered trees, and groves of pines and oaks. Looking across to the hill south of the turnpike, a half-mile distant, you see the house of Mr. Lewis, and west of it Mrs. Henry's, on the highest knoll. Mrs. Henry is an old lady, so far advanced in life that she is helpless. Going up the turnpike a mile from the bridge, you come to the toll-gate, kept by Mr. Mathey. A cross-road comes down from Sudley Springs, and leads south towards Manassas Junction, six miles distant. Leave the turnpike once more, and go northwest a half-mile, and you come to the farm of Mr. Dogan. There are farm-sheds and haystacks near his house.
This ground, from Dogan's to the ridge east of the toll-gate, across the turnpike and the trickling brook to Mr. Lewis's and Mrs. Henry's, is the battle-field. You see it,—the ridges of land, the houses, haystacks, fences, knolls, ravines, wheat-fields, turnpike, and groves of oak and pine,—a territory about two miles square.
On Saturday, June 20th, General Johnston, with nearly all the Rebel army of the Shenandoah, arrived at Manassas. Being General Beauregard's superior officer, he took command of all the troops. He had about thirty thousand men.
On Thursday, General Richardson's brigade of General McDowell's army had a skirmish with General Longstreet's brigade at Blackburn's Ford, which the Rebels call the battle of Bull Run, while that which was fought on the 21st they call the battle of Manassas. General Beauregard expected that the attack would be renewed along the fords, and posted his men accordingly.
Going down to the railroad bridge, we see General Ewell's brigade of the Rebel army on the western bank guarding the crossing. General Jones's brigade is at McLean's Ford. At Blackburn's Ford is General Longstreet's, and at Mitchell's Ford is General Bonham's. Near by Bonham's is General Earley's, General Bartow's, and General Holmes's. General Jackson's is in rear of General Bonham's. At Island Ford is General Bee and Colonel Hampton's legion, also Stuart's cavalry. At Ball's Ford is General Cocke's brigade. Above, at the Stone Bridge, is the extreme left of the Rebel army, General Evans's brigade. General Elzey's brigade of the Shenandoah army is on its way in the cars, and is expected to reach the battle-field before the contest closes. General Johnston has between fifty and sixty pieces of artillery and about one thousand cavalry.
General McDowell had also about thirty thousand men and forty-nine pieces of artillery. His army was in four divisions,—General Tyler's, General Hunter's, General Heintzelman's, and General Miles's. One brigade of General Tyler's and General Miles's division was left at Centreville to make a feint of attacking the enemy at Blackburn's and Mitchell's Fords, and to protect the rear of the army from an attack by Generals Ewell and Jones. The other divisions of the army—five brigades, numbering eighteen thousand men, with thirty-six cannon—marched soon after midnight, to be ready to make the attack by sunrise on Sunday morning.
General Tyler, with General Keyes's brigade, General Sherman's, and General Schenck's, marched down the turnpike towards the Stone Bridge, where General Evans was on the watch. General Tyler had twelve pieces of artillery,—two batteries, commanded by Ayer and Carlisle.
It is sunrise as they approach the bridge,—a calm, peaceful Sabbath morning. The troops leave the turnpike, march into a cornfield, and ascend a hill overlooking the bridge. As you stand there amid the tasselled stalks, you see the stream rippling beneath the stone arches, and upon the other bank breastworks of earth and fallen trees. Half hid beneath the oaks and pines are the Rebel regiments, their gun-barrels and bayonets flashing in the morning light. Beyond the breastworks upon the knolls are the farm-houses of Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Henry.
Captain Ayer, who has seen fighting in Mexico, brings his guns upon the hill, wheels them into position, and sights them towards the breastworks. There is a flash, a puff of smoke, a screaming in the air, and then across the stream a handful of cloud bursts into view above the Rebel lines. The shell has exploded. There is a sudden movement of the Rebel troops. It is the first gun of the morning. And now, two miles down the Run, by Mitchell's Ford, rolling, echoing, and reverberating through the forests, are other thunderings. General Richardson has been waiting impatiently to hear the signal gun. He is to make a feint of attacking. His cannonade is to begin furiously. He has six guns, and all of them are in position, throwing solid shot and shells into the wood where Longstreet's men are lying.
All of Ayer's guns are in play, hurling rifled shot and shells, which scream like an unseen demon as they fly over the cornfield, over the meadow lands, to the woods and fields beyond the stream.
General Hunter and General Heintzelman, with their divisions, have left the turnpike two miles from Centreville, at Cub Run bridge, a rickety, wooden structure, which creaks and trembles as the heavy cannon rumble over. They march into the northwest, along a narrow road,—a round-about way to Sudley Springs. It is a long march. They started at two o'clock, and have had no breakfast. They waited three hours at Cub Run, while General Tyler's division was crossing, and they are therefore three hours behind the appointed time. General McDowell calculated and intended to have them at Sudley Springs by six o'clock, but now it is nine. They stop a half-hour at the river-crossing to fill their canteens from the gurgling stream.
Looking south from the little stone church, you see clouds of dust floating over the forest-trees. The Rebels have discovered the movement, and are marching in hot haste to resist the impending attack. General Evans has left a portion of his command at Stone Bridge, and is hastening with the remainder to the second ridge of land north of the turnpike. He plants his artillery on the hill, and secretes his infantry in a thicket of pines. General Bee is on the march, so is General Bartow and General Jackson, all upon the double-quick. Rebel officers ride furiously, and shout their orders. The artillerymen lash their horses to a run. The infantry are also upon the run, sweating and panting in the hot sunshine. The noise and confusion increase. The booming deepens along the valley, for still farther down, by Blackburn's Ford, Hunt's battery is pouring its fire upon Longstreet's, Jones's, and Ewell's men.
The Union troops at Sudley Springs move across the stream. General Burnside's brigade is in advance. The Second Rhode Island infantry is thrown out, deployed as skirmishers. The men are five paces apart. They move slowly, cautiously, and nervously through the fields and thickets.
Suddenly, from bushes, trees, and fences there is a rattle of musketry. General Evans's skirmishers are firing. There are jets of flame and smoke, and a strange humming in the air. There is another rattle, a roll, a volley. The cannon join. The first great battle has begun. General Hunter hastens to the spot, and is wounded almost at the first volley, and compelled to leave the field. The contest suddenly grows fierce. The Rhode Island boys push on to closer quarters, and the Rebels under General Evans give way from a thicket to a fence, from a fence to a knoll.
General Bee arrives with his brigade to help General Evans. You see him swing up into line west of Evans, towards the haystacks by Dogan's house. He is in such a position that he can pour a fire upon the flank of the Rhode Island boys, who are pushing Evans. It is a galling fire, and the brave fellows are cut down by the raking shots from the haystacks. They are almost overwhelmed. But help is at hand. The Seventy-first New York, the Second New Hampshire, and the First Rhode Island, all belonging to Burnside's brigade, move toward the haystacks. They bring their guns to a level, and the rattle and roll begin. There are jets of flame, long lines of light, white clouds, unfolding and expanding, rolling over and over, and rising above the tree-tops. Wilder the uproar. Men fall, tossing their arms; some leap into the air, some plunge headlong, falling like logs of wood or lumps of lead. Some reel, stagger, and tumble; others lie down gently as to a night's repose, unheeding the din, commotion, and uproar. They are bleeding, torn, and mangled. Legs, arms, bodies, are crushed. They see nothing. They cannot tell what has happened. The air is full of fearful noises. An unseen storm sweeps by. The trees are splintered, crushed, and broken as if smitten by thunderbolts. Twigs and leaves fall to the ground. There is smoke, dust, wild talking, shouting, hissings, howlings, explosions. It is a new, strange, unanticipated experience to the soldiers of both armies, far different from what they thought it would be.
Far away, church-bells are tolling the hour of Sabbath worship, and children are singing sweet songs in many a Sunday school. Strange and terrible the contrast! You cannot bear to look upon the dreadful scene. How horrible those wounds! The ground is crimson with blood. You are ready to turn away, and shut the scene forever from your sight. But the battle must go on, and the war must go on till the wicked men who began it are crushed, till the honor of the dear old flag is vindicated, till the Union is restored, till the country is saved, till the slaveholder is deprived of his power, and till freedom comes to the slave. It is terrible to see, but you remember that the greatest blessing the world ever received was purchased by blood,—the blood of the Son of God. It is terrible to see, but there are worse things than war. It is worse to have the rights of men trampled in the dust; worse to have your country destroyed, to have justice, truth, and honor violated. You had better be killed, torn to pieces by cannon-shot, than lose your manhood, or yield that which makes you a man. It is better to die than give up that rich inheritance bequeathed us by our fathers, and purchased by their blood.
The battle goes on. General Porter's brigade comes to the aid of Burnside, moving towards Dogan's house. Jackson's Rebel brigade is there to meet him. Arnold's battery is in play,—guns pouring a constant stream of shot and shells upon the Rebel line. The Washington Artillery, from New Orleans, is replying from the hill south of Dogan's. Other Rebel batteries are cutting Burnside's brigade to pieces. The men are all but ready to fall back before the terrible storm. Burnside sends to Porter for help,—he asks for the brave old soldiers, the regulars, who have been true to the flag of their country, while many of their former officers have been false. They have been long in the service, and have had many fierce contests with the Indians on the Western plains. They are as true as steel. Captain Sykes commands them. He leads the way. You see them, with steady ranks, in the edge of the woods east of Dogan's house. They have been facing southwest, and now they turn to the southeast. They pass through the grove of pines, and enter the open field. They are cut through and through with solid shot, shells burst around them, men drop from the ranks, but the battalion does not falter. It sweeps on close up to the cloud of flame and smoke rolling from the hill north of the turnpike. Their muskets come to a level. There is a click, click, click, along the line. A broad sheet of flame, a white, sulphurous cloud, a deep roll like the angry growl of thunder. There is sudden staggering in the Rebel ranks. Men whirl round, and drop upon the ground. The line wavers, and breaks. They run down the hill, across the hollows, to another knoll. There they rally, and hold their ground a while. Hampton's legion and Cocke's brigade come to their support. Fugitives are brought back by the officers, who ride furiously over the field. There is a lull, and then the strife goes on, a rattling fire of musketry, and a continual booming of the cannonade.
General Heintzelman's division was in rear of General Hunter's on the march. When the battle begun the troops were several miles from Sudley Church. They were parched with thirst, and when they reached the stream they, too, stopped and filled their canteens. Burnside's and Porter's brigades were engaged two hours before Heintzelman's division reached the field. Eight regiments had driven the Rebels from their first position.
General Heintzelman marched upon the Rebels west of Dogan's house. The Rebel batteries were on a knoll, a short distance from the toll-gate. Griffin and Ricketts opened upon them with their rifled guns. Then came a great puff of smoke. It was a Rebel caisson blown up by one of Griffin's shells. It was a continuous, steady artillery fire. The gunners of the Rebel batteries were swept away by the unerring aim of Griffin's gunners. They changed position again and again, to avoid the shot. Mingled with the constant crashing of the cannonade was an irregular firing of muskets, like the pattering of rain-drops upon a roof. At times there was a quicker rattle, and heavy rolls, like the fall of a great building.
General Wilcox swung his brigade round upon Jackson's flank. The Rebel general must retreat or be cut off, and he fell back to the toll-gate, to the turnpike, across it, in confusion, to the ridge by Mrs. Henry's. Evans's, Bee's, Bartow's, and Cocke's brigades, which have been trying to hold their ground against Burnside and Porter's brigades, by this movement are also forced back to Mr. Lewis's house. The Rebels do not all go back. There are hundreds who rushed up in hot haste in the morning lying bleeding, torn, mangled, upon the wooded slopes. Some are prisoners.
I talked with a soldier of one of the Virginia regiments. We were near the Stone Bridge. He was a tall, athletic young man, dressed in a gray uniform trimmed with yellow braid.
"How many soldiers have you on the field?" I asked.
"Hardly that number, I guess."
"Yes, sir. We have got Beauregard's and Johnston's armies. Johnston came yesterday and a whole lot more from Richmond. If you whip us to-day, you will whip nigh to a hundred thousand."
"Who is in command?"
"I thought Beauregard was in command."
"Well, he was; but Jeff Davis is on the field now. I know it; for I saw him just before I was captured. He was on a white horse."
While talking, a shell screamed over our heads and fell in the woods. The Rebel batteries had opened again upon our position. Another came, and we were compelled to leave the spot.
The prisoner may have been honest in his statements. It requires much judgment to correctly estimate large armies. He was correct in saying that Jeff Davis was there. He was on the ground, watching the progress of the battle, but taking no part. He arrived in season to see the close of the contest.
After Burnside and Porter had driven Evans, Bee, and Bartow across the turnpike, General Sherman and General Keyes crossed Bull Run above the Stone Bridge and moved straight down the stream. Schenck's brigade and Ayer's and Carlisle's batteries were left to guard the rear.
Perhaps you had a brother or a father in the Second New Hampshire, or in the Seventy-first New York, or in some other regiment; or perhaps when the war is over you may wish to visit the spot and behold the ground where the first great battle was fought. You will wish to see just where they stood. Looking, then, along the line at one o'clock, you see nearest the stream General Keyes's brigade, composed of the First, Second, and Third Connecticut regiments and the Fourth Maine. Next is Sherman's brigade, composed of the Sixty-ninth and Seventy-ninth New York Militia, the Thirteenth New York Volunteers, and the Second Wisconsin. Between these and the toll-gate you see first, as you go west, Burnside's brigade, composed of the First and Second Rhode Island, the Seventy-first New York Militia, and the Second New Hampshire, and the Second Rhode Island battery; extending to the toll-house is Porter's brigade. He has Sykes's battalion of regulars, and the Eighth and Fourteenth regiments of New York Militia and Arnold's battery. Crossing the road which comes down from Sudley Springs, you see General Franklin's brigade, containing the Fifth Massachusetts Militia, the First Minnesota Volunteers, and the Fourth Pennsylvania Militia. Next you come to the men from Maine and Vermont, the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Maine, and the Second Vermont, General Howard's brigade. Beyond, upon the extreme right, is General Wilcox with the First Michigan and the Eleventh New York. Griffin's and Rickett's batteries are near at hand. There are twenty-four regiments and twenty-four pieces of artillery. There are two companies of cavalry. If we step over to the house of Mr. Lewis, we shall find General Johnston and General Beauregard in anxious consultation. General Johnston has sent officers in hot haste for reinforcements. Brigades are arriving out of breath,—General Cocke's, Holmes's, Longstreet's, Earley's. Broken regiments, fragments of companies, and stragglers are collected and brought into line. General Bonham's brigade is sent for. All but General Ewell's and General Jones's; they are left to prevent General Miles from crossing at Blackburn's Ford and attacking the Rebel army in the rear. General Johnston feels that it is a critical moment. He has been driven nearly two miles. His flank has been turned. His loss has been very great, and his troops are beginning to be disheartened. They have changed their opinions of the Yankees.
General Johnston has Barley's brigade, composed of the Seventh and Twenty-fourth Virginia, and the Seventh Louisiana; Jackson's brigade, composed of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Twenty-seventh, and Thirty-third Virginia, and the Thirteenth Mississippi; Bee's and Bartow's brigades united, composed of two companies of the Eleventh Mississippi, Second Mississippi, First Alabama, Seventh and Eighth Georgia; Cocke's brigade, the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-eighth Virginia, seven companies of the Eighth, and three of the Forty-ninth Virginia; Evans's brigade, composed of Hampton's legion, Fourth South Carolina, and Wheat's Louisiana battalion; Holmes's brigade, composed of two regiments of Virginia infantry, the First Arkansas, and the Second Tennessee. Two regiments of Bonham's brigade, and Elzey's brigade were brought in before the conflict was over. Putting the detached companies into regiments, Johnston's whole force engaged in this last struggle is thirty-five regiments of infantry, and about forty pieces of artillery, all gathered upon the ridge by Mr. Lewis's and Mrs. Henry's.
There is marching to and fro of regiments. There is not much order. Regiments are scattered. The lines are not even. This is the first battle, and officers and men are inexperienced. There are a great many stragglers on both sides; more, probably, from the Rebel ranks than from McDowell's army, for thus far the battle has gone against them. You can see them scattered over the fields, beyond Mr. Lewis's.
The fight goes on. The artillery crashes louder than before. There is a continuous rattle of musketry. It is like the roaring of a hail-storm. Sherman and Keyes move down to the foot of the hill, near Mr. Lewis's. Burnside and Porter march across the turnpike. Franklin and Howard and Wilcox, who have been pushing south, turn towards the southeast. There are desperate hand-to-hand encounters. Cannon are taken and retaken. Gunners on both sides are shot while loading their pieces. Hundreds fall, and other hundreds leave the ranks. The woods toward Sudley Springs are filled with wounded men and fugitives, weak, thirsty, hungry, exhausted, worn down by the long morning march, want of sleep, lack of food, and the excitement of the hour.
Across the plains, towards Manassas, are other crowds,—disappointed, faint-hearted, defeated soldiers, fleeing for safety.
"We are defeated!"
"Our regiments are cut to pieces!"
"General Bartow is wounded and General Bee is killed!"
Thus they cry, as they hasten towards Manassas. Officers and men in the Rebel ranks feel that the battle is all but lost. Union officers and men feel that it is almost won.
[Footnote 3: Rebel reports in Rebellion Record.]
The Rebel right wing, far out upon the turnpike, has been folded back upon the centre; the centre has been driven in upon the left wing, and the left wing has been pushed back beyond Mr. Lewis's house. Griffin's and Rickett's batteries, which had been firing from the ridge west of the toll-gate, were ordered forward to the knoll from which the Rebel batteries had been driven.
"It is too far in advance," said General Griffin.
"The Fire Zouaves will support you," said General Barry.
"It is better to have them go in advance till we come into position; then they can fall back," Griffin replied.
"No; you are to move first, those are the orders. The Zouaves are already to follow on the double-quick."
"I will go; but, mark my words, they will not support me."
The battery galloped over the fields, descended the hill, crossed the ravine, advancing to the brow of the hill near Mrs. Henry's, followed by Rickett's battery, the Fire Zouaves, and the Fourteenth New York. In front of them, about forty or fifty rods distant, were the Rebel batteries, supported by infantry. Griffin and Ricketts came into position, and opened a fire so terrible and destructive that the Rebel batteries and infantry were driven beyond the crest of the hill.
The field was almost won. Read what General Johnston says: "The long contest against fivefold odds, and heavy losses, especially of field officers, had greatly discouraged the troops of General Bee and Colonel Evans. The aspect of affairs was critical."
The correspondent of the Charleston Mercury writes: "When I entered on the field at two o'clock, the fortunes of the day were dark. The remnants of the regiments, so badly injured or wounded and worn, as they staggered out gave gloomy pictures of the scene. We could not be routed, perhaps, but it is doubtful whether we were destined to a victory."
The correspondent of the Richmond Despatch writes: "Fighting for hours under a hot sun, without a drop of water near, the conduct of our men could not be excelled; but human endurance has its bounds, and all seemed about to be lost."
The battle surges around the house of Mrs. Henry. She is lying there amidst its thunders. Rebel sharpshooters take possession of it, and pick off Rickett's gunners. He turns his guns upon the house. Crash! crash! crash! It is riddled with grape and canister. Sides, roof, doors, and windows are pierced, broken, and splintered. The bed-clothes are cut into rags, and the aged woman instantly killed. The Rebel regiments melt away. The stream of fugitives toward Manassas grows more dense. Johnston has had more men and more guns engaged than McDowell; but he has been steadily driven. But Rebel reinforcements arrive from an unexpected quarter,—General Smith's brigade, from the Shenandoah. It comes into action in front of Wilcox. There are from two to three thousand men. General Smith is wounded almost at the first fire, and Colonel Elzey takes command. General Bonham sends two regiments, the Second and Eighth South Carolina. They keep south of Mrs. Henry's, and march on till they are in position to fire almost upon the backs of Griffin's and Rickett's gunners. They march through a piece of woods, reach the top of the hill, and come into line. Captain Imboden, of the Rebel battery, who is replying to Griffin, sees them. Who are they? He thinks they are Yankees flanking him. He wheels his guns, and is ready to cut them down with grape and canister. Captain Griffin sees them, and wheels his guns. Another instant, and he will sweep them away. He believes them to be Rebels. His gunners load with grape and canister.
"Do not fire upon them; they are your supports!" shouts Major Barry, riding up.
"No, sir; they are Rebels."
"They are your supports, just ordered up."
"As sure as the world, they are Rebels."
"You are mistaken, Captain; they are your supports."
The cannoneers stand ready to pull the lanyards, which will send a tornado through those ranks.
"Don't fire!" shouts the Captain.
The guns are wheeled again towards Mrs. Henry's, and the supposed supports are saved from destruction at the hand of Captain Griffin.
Captain Imboden, before ordering his men to fire upon the supposed Yankees, gallops nearer to them, to see who they are. He sees them raise their guns. There is a flash, a rattle and roll. Griffin's and Rickett's men and their horses go down in an instant! They rush on with a yell. There is sharp, hot, decisive work. Close musket-shots and sabre-strokes. Men are trampled beneath the struggling horses.
There are shouts and hurrahs. The few soldiers remaining to support Griffin and Rickett fire at the advancing Rebel brigade, but the contest is unequal; they are not able to hold in check the three thousand fresh troops. They fall back. The guns are in the hands of the Rebels. The day is lost. At the very moment of victory the line is broken. In an instant all is changed. A moment ago we were pressing on, but now we are falling back. Quick almost as the lightning's flash is the turning of the tide. All through a mistake! So great events sometimes hang on little things.
The unexpected volley, the sudden onset, the vigorous charge, the falling back, produces confusion in the Union ranks. Officers and men, generals and soldiers alike, are confounded. By a common impulse they begin to fall back across the turnpike. Unaccountably to themselves, and to the Rebel fugitives streaming towards Manassas, they lose strength and heart. The falling back becomes a retreat, a sudden panic and a rout. Regiments break and mix with others. Soldiers drop their guns and cartridge-boxes, and rush towards the rear.
I had watched the tide of battle through the day. Everything was favorable. The heat was intense, and I was thirsty. A soldier came past with a back-load of canteens freshly filled.
"Where did you find the water?"
"Over there in the woods, in the rear of Schenck's brigade."
I passed the brigade. Ayers's and Carlisle's batteries were there. I found the spring beyond a little hillock. While drinking, there was sudden confusion in Schenck's brigade. There was loud talking, cannon and musketry firing, and a sudden trampling of horses. A squadron of Rebel cavalry swept past within a few rods of the spring, charging upon Schenck's brigade. The panic tide had come rolling to the rear. Ayers lashed his horses to a gallop, to reach Cub Run bridge. He succeeded in crossing it. He came into position to open upon the Rebels and to check their pursuit. The road was blocked with wagons. Frightened teamsters cut their horses loose and rode away. Soldiers, officers, and civilians fled towards Centreville, frightened at they knew not what. Blenker's brigade was thrown forward from Centreville to the bridge, and the rout was stopped. The Rebels were too much exhausted, too much amazed at the sudden and unaccountable breaking and fleeing of McDowell's army, to improve the advantage. They followed to Cub Run bridge, but a few cannon and musket shots sent them back to the Stone Bridge.
But at Blackburn's Ford General Jones crossed the stream to attack the retreating troops. General Davies, with four regiments and Hunt's battery, occupied the crest of a hill looking down towards the ford. The Rebels marched through the woods upon the bank of the stream, wound along the hillside, filed through a farm-yard and halted in a hollow within a quarter of a mile of General Davies's guns.
"Lie down," said the General, and the four regiments dropped upon the ground. The six cannon and the gunners alone were in sight.
"Wait till they come over the crest of the hill; wait till I give the word," said the General to Captain Hunt.
The men stand motionless by their pieces. The long column of Rebels moves on. There is an officer on his horse giving directions. The long dark line throws its lengthening shadows upward in the declining sunlight, toward the silent cannon.
"Now let them have it!" The guns are silent no longer. Six flashes of light, and six sulphurous clouds are belched towards the moving mass. Grape and canister sweep them down. The officer tumbles from his horse, and the horse staggers to the earth. There are sudden gaps in the ranks. They stop advancing. Officers run here and there. Another merciless storm,—another,—another. Eighteen flashes a minute from those six pieces! Like grass before the mower the Rebel line is cut down. The men flee to the woods, utterly routed.
The attempt to cut off the retreat signally failed. It was the last attempt of the Rebels to follow up their mysterious victory. The rear-guard remained in Centreville till morning recovering five cannon which had been abandoned at Cub Run, which the Rebels had not secured, and then retired to Arlington.
So the battle was won and lost. So the hopes of the Union soldiers changed to sudden, unaccountable fear, and so the fear of the Rebels became unbounded exultation.
The sun had gone down behind the Blue Mountains, and the battle-clouds hung thick and heavy along the winding stream where the conflict had raged. It was a sad night to us who had gone out with such high hopes, who had seen the victory so nearly won and so suddenly lost. Many of our wounded were lying where they had fallen. It was a terrible night to them. Their enemies, some of them, were hard-hearted and cruel. They fired into the hospitals upon helpless men. They refused them water to quench their burning thirst. They taunted them in their hour of triumph, and heaped upon them bitterest curses. They were wild with the delirium of success, and treated their prisoners with savage barbarity. Any one who showed kindness to the prisoners or wounded was looked upon with suspicion. Says an English officer in the Rebel service:—
[Footnote 4: Estvan.]
"I made it my duty to seek out and attend upon the wounded, and the more so when I found that the work of alleviating their sufferings was performed with evident reluctance and want of zeal by many of those whose duty it was to do it. I looked upon the poor fellows only as suffering fellow-mortals, brothers in need of help, and made no distinction between friend and foe; nay, I must own that I was prompted to give the preference to the latter, for the reason that some of our men met with attention from their relations and friends, who had flocked to the field in numbers to see them. But in doing so I had to encounter opposition, and was even pointed at by some with muttered curses as a traitor to the cause of the Confederacy for bestowing any attention on the d—— Yankees."
Notwithstanding the inhuman treatment they received at the hands of their captors, there were men on that field who never quailed,—men with patriotism so fervent, deep, and unquenchable, that they lay down cheerfully to their death-sleep. This officer in the Rebel service went out upon the field where the fight had been thickest. It was night. Around him were the dying and the dead. There was a young Union officer, with both feet crushed by a cannon-shot. There were tears upon his cheeks.
"Courage, comrade!" said the officer, bending over him; "the day will come when you will remember this battle as one of the things of the past."
"Do not give me false hopes, sir. It is all up with me. I do not grieve that I must die, for with these stumps I shall not live long."
He pointed to his mangled feet, and added: "I weep for my poor, distracted country. Had I a second life to live, I would willingly sacrifice it for the cause of the Union!"
His eyes closed. A smile lighted his countenance, as if, while on the border of another world, he saw once more those who were dearest on earth or in heaven. He raised himself convulsively, and cried, "Mother! Father!"
He was dead.
He sleeps upon the spot where he fell. His name is unknown, but his devotion to his country shall shine forevermore like a star in heaven!
When the Union line gave way, some of the soldiers were so stupefied by the sudden change that they were unable to move, and were taken prisoners. Among them was a Zouave, in red trousers. He was a tall, noble fellow. Although a prisoner, he walked erect, unabashed by his captivity. A Virginian taunted him, and called him by hard names.
"Sir," said the Zouave, "I have heard that yours was a nation of gentlemen, but your insult comes from a coward and a knave. I am your prisoner, but you have no right to fling your curses at me because I am unfortunate. Of the two, I consider myself the gentleman."
[Footnote 5: Charleston Mercury.]
The Virginian hung his head in silence, while other Rebel soldiers assured the brave fellow that he should not again be insulted. So bravery, true courage, and manliness will win respect even from enemies.
No accurate reports have been made of the number of men killed and wounded in this battle; but each side lost probably from fifteen hundred to two thousand men.