Incidents of the First Battle of Manassas
Enter a grandparent's name to get started.
choose a state:
No fairer land under the sun has ever been baptized with the life-blood of heroes than the grand old commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia! the very name thrills the heart of every true South Carolinian with pride and pleasure – pride in her glorious past and pleasure in the remembrance of what she was to us in the dark days of the Civil War. Her daughters bound up the wounds of our loved ones, cheered the sick and fed the hungry, comforting as only woman can, and this unparalleled devotion to those dear to us by the ties of blood binds the heart of every daughter of South Carolina to them with “bands of iron and hooks of steel,” that were forged in the fires of Adversity and hammered into beauty and strength on the anvil of Destiny.
Look backward with me – skip the long years this afternoon, and we find ourselves in full view of the historic plains which lie in the mountain-crowned and sun-kissed land of Virginia.
Whilst I give you a brief and impartial history of the First Battle of Manassas, I would, if it were possible, carve in imperishable characters the name of every member of the glorious Fourth South Carolina Regiment, composed of the chivalry and strength of Anderson, Pickens and Greenville. Oconee was at that time part of Pickens, so our sister County, that sits enthroned on a thousand hills, is justly entitled to her part of the glory achieved in the great drama.
My heart thrills with an exultant pride to be able to speak to you of your countrymen and mine, born and brought up under the very shadows of our own lofty Blue Ridge Mountains. They sprang to arms as one man when the tocsin of war sounded the call, and no braver regiment ever looked into the jaws of death.
Rallying under the leadership of their matchless commander, Col. J. B. E. Sloan, they covered themselves with glory, and to his bravery, and that of the gallant soldiers who loved him so well, is due much of the honor of the triumphal victory in this, our first great battle.
Colonel Sloan is an Anderson County man, and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina. The mothers, wives and sisters of those who served under him most especially delight to do him honor, and it is a pleasure to lay a tribute to his valor in the archives of the Dixie Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Let me urge you, my dear compatriots, to hand down these traditions, if I may call them so, to your sons and daughters, that they, in turn, may do likewise, and thus perpetuate the memories of those brave defenders of our rights as effectually as the epitaphs chiseled on the hard, cold face of the marble shaft.
Let me call your attention to this important fact: the Confederate Army was composed of volunteers, all newly-drilled men, fresh from the cities, villages and farms, whilst a large number of the Federal Army was composed of Regulars, veterans who had been drilled for years; were, in reality, what is known as seasoned troops.
It is a well-known fact that Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, who was then the general-in-chief of the army of the United States, was considered by far the ablest and most distinguished military officer on the Western Continent, and the movements of this army of invasion were directed by him. Brigadier-General Irvin Mc-Dowell, who was placed in immediate command, had the reputation of being an able officer also. So you will perceive the great ad-vantage of the enemy in numbers of men, experienced officers, battle maneuvers, in commanding in battle, and in numberless other things – and to combat all this, and wring victory out of such odds, we had – what? that peerless Southern chivalry that has been made immortal by peerless Southern heroes!
This army of McDowell’s advanced from Washington City and other points along the Potomac toward Manassas. It is conceded by competent authority that it was intended by the Federal forces to make the attack. In the meantime, General Patterson, who, with a large force, was in the lower part of the Shenandoah Valley, had been instructed to prevent General Joseph E. Johnston, who, with his force, was in the upper valley, from joining General Beauregard before or during the battle the Federal officers knew was soon to be fought.
In answer to an appeal from General Beauregard, President Davis telegraphed General Johnston to join his forces with those of Beauregard at once and, with skilled cavalrymen, who skirmished between his marching army and General Patterson’s, he covered his departure and kept the Federal general in ignorance of the whole movement until Johnston was on the field of battle. This intrepid general double-quicked his men much of the way and, using the cars that had been sent up the Manassas Gap Railroad to meet him, disembarked, double-quicked his men into the left flank of the Federal Army. As they rushed into the fight, the terrific “rebel yell” they gave was heard amidst the roar of artillery and musketry, screaming shells, and hissing minie balls. Although Johnston was the senior officer, his courtesy conceded a continuance in command to Beauregard until the battle was over.
A slight engagement took place on the 18th of July. It was thought the Federals were trying to force a passage of Bull Run, although they deny this.
Beauregard claims that this slight encounter was of immense advantage to his men, as they were raw troops; it certainly made McDowell more cautious in laying his plans for attack. And we now find ourselves ready to study the positions on the morning of the 21st of July, 1861 – the day of the great conflict.
The Confederate forces engaged were Wheat’s Battalion, Hampton’s Legion, the Sixth Regiment North Carolina Volunteers, the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-seventh, Twenty-eighth, Thirty-third, and Forty-ninth Virginia Regiments, the Second and Fourth South Carolina, Seventh and Eighth Georgia, Fourth Alabama, and Second Mississippi, and Elzey’s and Early’s Brigades.
I do not think it would interest you to know the different commands under the Federal officers, but will simply give the estimate of numbers made by General Beauregard, who tells us in a published statement that the combined Confederate Army at Manassas mustered 29,188 men, rank and file, and fifty-five guns – that of these, 21,923 infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and twenty-nine guns, be-longed to his Army of the Potomac. It is estimated that only about 18,000 Confederates were actually engaged in the battle, while General Beauregard estimated the Federal force at 50,000 men, well equipped for offensive service.
Many judges consider Johnston’s coming the turning tide of battle.
General Beauregard arranged his men so that the many fords across Bull Run, where it was thought the Federals might cross, were guarded by the different brigades, until over a dozen miles were covered; this line extended to the Stone Bridge, which was a prominent point in this battle.
Of the maneuvers of the two armies, and their positions, outside of the brief sketch I have made, I think it useless to speak, so will bring you at once to the orders of General Beauregard when he concluded to make an offensive movement. The different commanders were well instructed, as commanding in battle was new to them. At half-past four a. m., on the 21st, the different brigades were ordered to be in readiness to move at short notice. The plans were changed by the altered tactics of the Federals, who were making a feint of attack to cover a movement to fall on the left flank of our army.
Wheat’s Tigers attacked the skirmishers of the enemy and drove them back into the woods, but they were rapidly reinforced and rallied, but General Evans held them in check until General Bee went to his assistance. The increasing forces of McDowell, with their batteries of rifled ten-pounders, caused the conflict to be a deadly one; our forces retreated in confusion across Young’s Branch. About 2,000 men under Evans and Bee could not be rallied, al-though the commanding generals joined in the effort. The enemy, steadily advancing, were thinning our ranks, when General Bee galloped up to Jackson and, in a voice pathetic in its tones of despair, cried out, “General, they are beating us back!” The reply is characteristic of the immortal hero, who, with his eyes glowing with the fires of defiance, said, “Then we will give them the bayonet!” This inspired the intrepid Bee and, riding back to his disordered men, cried, “Look! there is Jackson standing like a stone wall! rally behind the Virginians! let us determine to die here, and we will conquer! follow me!” his clarion notes rang out on the summer air, and his men followed him to the charge which was the death knell of the gallant Bee. From this time on, Jackson was called Stonewall Jackson, and his command the Stonewall Brigade; the name, christened as it were by the life-blood of the heroic Bee, will go down in history as one of the most famous of modern times.
Our own Fourth Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, under Col. J. B. E. Sloan, was marched from near Centerville and crossed the stone bridge which is over Bull Run at this point, and encamped on a small stream beyond the bridge. Being short of rations, the soldiers stripped the bark from the elm trees that grew on the banks, and chewed it to appease their hunger.
The body servants of Captain Prue Benson, Wilton Earle and Dave Gaillard, of the Palmetto Riflemen, were faithful foragers, and many a good fat sheep was pressed into service and divided among the members of that company; this mutton was the only meat they had for forty-eight hours before the battle. The regiment was formed in line near Stone Bridge, and General Evans rode up to give last instructions to the men, saying: “When you see a puff of smoke across the Run, fall to the ground at once, for you can see the smoke before you hear the report, or the shell or cannon ball can reach you.” Just as he was concluding, the men saw two or three puffs of smoke in the direction of Centerville; they at once fell to the ground; when they arose, Lieutenant Gus McCalister, whom some of you know, saluted General Evans, and said, “That order was promptly obeyed!” A grim smile went over the face of the general that those who saw will never forget. The forming of this line was to prevent the enemy from crossing Stone Bridge; unfortunately, it was near a Confederate signal station, which the enemy shelled so furiously that the officer in charge beat a hasty retreat, leaving his hat behind him. Between the regiment and the Van Pelt house, a battery of Confederate artillery was stationed. One of the caissons being disabled, the officer in charge prepared to blow it up. Seeing this would endanger the lives of our own men, Major James Whitner and Mr. James A. Hoyt, both Ander-son men, protested so vigorously that the idea was abandoned. When it was discovered that the Federals had crossed the Run above, and were marching down the left flank, six companies of the Fourth South Carolina Volunteers and Wheat’s Battalion of Tigers were sent to meet them, whilst four companies were left to guard the bridge. One company, under Captain Kilpatrick, was sent above the bridge to watch the movements of the enemy and, by annoying them, lead them to believe we had a large force there. The six companies and Wheat’s Tigers endeavored to drive back ten times their number, charging at double-quick; they held the enemy at bay until the heavy reinforcements of the Federals forced a retreat. The Federals were all the while shelling above and below the bridge, following with grape and canister, until the earth was in places literally plowed up; still the four companies referred to held their position. In the meantime, a courier came galloping up and called for a volunteer who would face that rain of shot and shell and take a message to Captain Kilpatrick, telling him to retire, or his company-was in danger of being cut off by the enemy. As the officer rode up and down, not a man answered the stirring appeal, for all saw possible death in the effort. A fair-faced lad of seventeen stepped out of the ranks and offered to carry the message. As the brave young soldier started on the dangerous mission, a shout of admiration rent the air – brave men who knew him well wept as he sped with flying feet over the open plain. As if he bore a charmed life, the screaming shells and hissing minie balls, that rained like a besom of destruction around and about him, touched him not, and he reached the beleaguered company in safety and delivered the message to the captain. Before retiring, Captain Kilpatrick took a Mississippi rifle from the hands of his servant, deliberately walked to a tree that leaned over the Run, and took a farewell shot at the Federals, who could be plainly seen, thousands and thousands of them, marching and countermarching, a short distance away.
The boy who carried that message was John R. Cochran, of Anderson, a member of the Palmetto Rifles, of the gallant Fourth. He was severely wounded in battle that selfsame day, and as he lay in the hospital at Culpeper Courthouse, Virginia, Captain Kilpatrick went there to see him and, with eyes brimming in tears, thanked him for saving his company; he also said he would have a man de-tailed to wait on him until he was able to go home, and would see that he had every care whilst in the hospital. This pledge of the gallant Kilpatrick was carried out to the letter. A brave young Irishman – George Martin – was detailed for this service, and the big-hearted soldier tenderly nursed the wounded boy for months. No more loving hands could have tended a brother, and when a devoted mother and sister took his place, he went back to his company to face the common enemy. Loyal and brave Confederate soldier! True as the native born, he did his duty nobly. His body lies in Virginia soil, waiting for the resurrection morn! Father, mother, sister, brother, in far-off Erin, wept over the news from one Southern battle. Their loved one died for our country.
The four companies were driven from above the bridge, and fell back a short distance below it, the Federals pouring out a deadly fire of shot and shell. It was here the gallant young Wilton Earle was shot and, supposed to be dead, was left on the field until later in the fight, or probably until the battle was over.
We will now keep in touch with the Palmetto Riflemen of the Fourth Regiment. This, you will remember, was our own town company, made up of men here and in the county. This company bore no colors into the battle, as many suppose. The color-bearer of the regiment bore the only flag that was used. First Lieutenant Claude Earle commanded the company in the battle; Lieutenant Felton was second, and Lieutenant Mike McGee was third; Mr. Prue Benson was orderly sergeant, and Mr. James A. Hoyt was second sergeant. From some slight cause – perhaps indisposition – Capt. W. W. Humphrey did not command his company during the battle; nevertheless, when his company was ready for the fight, he shouldered a Mississippi rifle and joined them. His gallantry on that blood-stained field endeared him forever to every member of the Palmetto Riflemen, and laid the foundation for the reputation among his superior officers as being one of the best commanders of a skirmish line in the Army of the Potomac. He was often placed in positions where only the most efficient and trusted officers were sent. A wreath of laurel, graved in granite, should be placed by Anderson women on his tomb.
The four companies of the Fourth, with some companies of other regiments, who were separated from their commands (the Palmetto Riflemen were included in these four companies) were placed under command of Colonel Thomas, of Maryland, a brave soldier and a gallant officer; he led in the grand charge on Rickett’s Battery, which had been captured and recaptured by the Federals. The ground around the battery was covered with dead men and dead horses from both armies. The uniforms of blue and of gray, the bright, fancy dress of the New York Zouaves, and the plain homespun suits of the Confederates, the glittering bayonets, and the blood-stained swords, all made the deadly field a gorgeous picture – one that impressed those actors so vividly, the memory only goes out with death.
In the charge of our soldiers through the pines up to this battery, Colonel Thomas called out, “Boys, give them hell!” In a short while, the ringing voice that gave that order was stilled in death. It was near this battery that our Anderson men were wounded, most probably by the New York Zouaves, who were in a clump of pines on the left of the company. From the most authentic information I have received, I am convinced the four companies who were in the charge on Rickett’s Battery got back in line with the other companies of their own regiment.
Major James Whitner rode up and down the line, calling on the men to cease firing – the Federals were using a Confederate flag, and in this way deceived Major Whitner; but in a few minutes the deception was apparent, and the firing was renewed with interest. Our men suffered fearfully for water; they had fought nearly all day, under the scorching rays of a midsummer Southern sun. Water! water! was the cry of the wounded and suffering soldiers. We recall with pain one particularly pathetic scene: one of the handsomest men of Anderson County, the brave adjutant of the Fourth Regiment – Sam Wilkes – with more than a dozen canteens swung on his shoulders, galloped away toward “Free Robinson Spring,” thinking only of his suffering men. On, on, he swept, and when near the spring, a voice suddenly called out, “Surrender!” the click of a hundred guns was heard, by a man hidden in the bushes close by; instead of surrendering to his hidden foe, he drove the rowels into his gallant steed, which sprang almost upright into the air, and before he barely reached the ground, the bodies of steed and master were riddled with bullets from a whole company of Federals. This death was witnessed by a man who lived on the battle-field, and in 1880 he gave a graphic account of it to my informant. After the shooting, a Federal soldier came out of the woods and cut the shoulder straps off, took off the boots and spurs, and possibly his coat; taking the military saddle and trappings from the dead horse, he put them on the horse he brought with him, mounted, and rode away, leaving half-dressed the body of one beloved by all who knew him. Brave, handsome, talented Sam Wilkes! Time heals all wounds, but the memory of your priceless sacrifice still lives in the hearts of your old-time friends.
Lieutenant Felton, of the Palmetto Riflemen, was too sick to go into the fight, but he dragged himself out to hospital headquarters and rendered invaluable assistance to the wounded men; his big, warm heart full of love and sympathy, he would lift them in his great, strong arms and place them in the ambulance with all the tenderness of a mother for her sick babe. All honor to his memory. His brave deeds are still remembered, and whenever the glorious old Fourth is spoken of his name will shine with a luster that only time can dim. Our boys were wounded near the place where Bartow and Bee were killed. This was close to the “Henry House,” where most of the short-range fighting was done.
When the Confederates began to yield before the mighty Federal host, this order was passed along the line: “Stand firm! President Davis is on the field, and in command!” Note the magic in a name’ The Southern soldiers idolized the President of the Confederacy, and this appeal made wavering- men stand firm and contest every inch of ground against the most fearful odds. The very thought that the man whose bravery had been tested on the bloody fields of Mexico was in command inspired them with a courage such as the world has never rivaled, and the palm of victory was the reward !
This incident took place just before Johnston’s army joined Beauregard – but it was not true. I do not know how the mistake occurred. You will remember that the first session of Congress met in Richmond, the new capital, on Saturday, the 20th of July, and it was impossible for Mr. Davis to leave until he had delivered his message, which law and precedent required. He left the capitol on Sunday, the 21st, for Manassas, but did not reach the field until after the tide of battle was turned in our favor. As Mr. Davis’ work, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy,” gives you the most minute details, I will not weary you with anything more on the subject.
Between three and five o’clock the decisive blows were struck, and to grand old Early’s brigade of Virginians belongs the honor of starting the rout of McDowell’s army. To show you how complete was our victory, I will quote a few lines from an article in the Century Magazine, written by Major-General James B. Fry, who was a member of McDowell’s staff at the time of the battle:
“About half-past three, Beauregard extended his left to outflank McDowell’s shattered, shortened and disconnected line, and the Federals left the field about half-past four.” “Cohesion was lost; the organizations, with some exceptions, disintegrated, and the men walked quietly off – no excitement, except the frantic efforts of officers to stop men who paid little or no attention to them. There was no panic until the retiring soldiers, guns, wagons, congressmen and carriages were fired upon on the road east of Bull Run.” Then the panic begun and the most disgraceful rout ever recorded in history left a stain on the army of the Federal government which time will never remove. Walt Whitman, a noted Northern writer, says: “The defeated troops poured into Washington over the long bridge at daylight, on Monday, the 22d, a day drizzling all through with rain, but the hour, the day, the night, passed, and whatever returns, an hour, a day, a night, like that can never return – it was indeed a day bitterer than gall – a crucifixion day.”
This closes that day for us.
When Congress received the dispatch from President Davis on the day after the victory, it adopted resolutions of “thanks to the most high God, and invited the people of the Confederate States to offer up their united thanksgiving and praise for the mighty deliverance.”
Grace G. Cochran,
Historian of the Dixie Chapter, U. D. C.
Anderson, S. C.