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Bull Run

2nd half

Return to Chapter 33 part 1 

 The first idea of the North was to capture Richmond "On to Richmond," to the ordinary apprehension, seemed to be the cry that meant immediate victory. The attempt to reach Richmond, which would have been of minor value had it succeeded, was rendered impossible by the first great battle of the war, in which the two armies met at Bull Run in Virginia, with the result that the Northerners were stampeded and thrown back in dire confusion upon Washington. The North was thereby admonished that this war was to be no hundred-days affair; and under McClellan as Commander in Chief an army of two hundred thousand men was carefully drilled during the fall and winter. By February they were ready to move, or at all events Stanton, the Secretary of War, thought they were, and General Grant performed the task of ascending the Tennessee River and capturing Forts Henry and Donelson. This exploit was accomplished on the 16th of February; 1862, and gave the North control of Kentucky and most of Tennessee, though the Mississippi was not yet clear. The South failed to recapture these points, being finally defeated in the attempt by the defeat at Murfreesboro on the last day of the year. But the war was still only at its beginning, The South suffered seriously this year from the blockade of her ports, which prevented her from selling her cotton, and thus obtaining the sinews of war. But neither McClellan, Pope, nor Burnside was able to take Richmond. On the 22d of September Lincoln announced that from January 1, 1863, all slaves in the seceded States would be declared free. Thus the second year of the war ended with no conclusive advantage on either side; but the South was straitened by the blockade and by Grant's successes, and had acted hitherto on the defensive.

The year 1863 gave the South several successes, though they were not so important as they appeared. General Lee, aided by storms, turned back Burnside in his attempt on Richmond, and almost annihilated Hooker's great army at Chancellorsville in May. Galveston was retaken by the Confederates, while Banks failed at Port Hudson, Dupont in his naval attack on Charleston, and Southern cruisers did immense injury to Northern commerce. Lee, after destroying Hooker, advanced into Pennsylvania and met Meade at Gettysburg. They fought for three days the greatest battle of the war, and Lee was defeated and thrown back. The next day, July 4, Grant received the surrender of Vicksburg, and the Mississippi, in the words of Lincoln, "ran unvexed to the sea." '

After the surrender of Vicksburg, Grant won a battle at Chattanooga which ended the conflict for that region; and in March of the year 1864 lie was raised to the chief command of all the Union armies. Under his direction the war was brought to a close with a series of masterly maneuvers worthy of the highest military genius. He left Sherman, whose worth he knew, to dispose of the Confederate force in Georgia; he devoted his own attention to the problem of overthrowing Lee in Virginia. Lee was his peer in the science of war, but the forces of which Grant was able to dispose were greater, and their steadiness was invincible. After a series of engagements lasting for more than a year, Grant at length planted the Stars and Stripes on the walls of Richmond, almost five years to a day after the first shot fired at Sumter. Sherman, coming up from his march through Georgia, had prevented Lee's junction with Johnston's army in North Carolina, and forced his surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on the 9th of April. Johnston surrendered to Sherman two weeks later, and the final capitulations had taken place by the end of May. Such were the leading features of the Civil War; and though the agony and exhaustion inflicted upon the South were severe, she bravely and honorably accepted the issue of the hazard she had tempted. She might have maintained a harassing guerrilla warfare indefinitely; but the South were a civilized, not a barbarous, people; they had done their best and their utmost; there was no disgrace in their defeat; and they manfully faced its consequences. The leaders, however, were unwilling to give the guarantees which the North required against any future renewal of the war; and the result was the passage, two years after the war closed, of the Reconstruction Act, which divided ten Southern States into five military districts with Union army officers in command. These States could not resume their regular place in the Union, until, in the words of the act, a convention of delegates "elected by the male citizens of whatever race, color, or previous condition" should frame a constitution, which being ratified by the people and approved by Congress, should go into operation; and the Legislature thereupon elected should adopt the fourteenth amendment-which secured to. freedmen the right of citizenship, declared the validity of the national debt, and regulated the basis of representation and disqualification from office.

It is not surprising that some years passed before this ultimatum was accepted by all the States; the stumbling block, of course, being the stipulation that the emancipated slaves should be entitled to vote. Indeed, the policy of this step is still open to question. White men, especially Southern white men, can never submit to negro domination; but if, as might easily happen, the negroes in a district outnumbered the whites, and chose to elect negroes to office, the whites must either submit or rebel. As a matter of fact it has usually happened that the negroes in the South have either been kept from the polls or their votes have been cast under white direction; and the relations of the white and black races in the Southern States are in many respects unsatisfactory. Yet if the negro in the South is neither to be a citizen nor a slave, his position is anomalous and open to another class of objections.

We will now proceed to fill in the above outline with some details. Missouri and Kentucky, as has been said, did not join the Confederacy; but their attitude led to some interesting complications. In Kentucky the Governor and civil officers were mainly Southern sympathizers; but inasmuch as the people were fairly divided, it was determined that the State should remain neutral during the war, affording succor to neither side, and operating against neither. This singular stand, which might be regarded as secession in another form, was maintained for nearly a year. But at the first opportunity the Union party in the State contrived to elect a loyal legislature; and when, in September, 1861, General Polk of the Confederates moved his army into Kentucky, resolutions were passed declaring his act to be a violation of neutrality, and Kentucky declared herself a Union State. This put an end to the strange spectacle of enlistments for South and North going on in the same towns; and it was a severe loss to the Confederacy.

In Missouri the course of events was different. Here the Southern sympathizers predominated; but the Union class, the majority of whom were Germans, were the more alert and energetic; and they had the benefit of being led by two men-Frank P. Blair and Captain Nathaniel Lyon-who possessed phenomenal strength and ability. Blair attended to the political matters, while Lyon managed the military maneuvers. Blair combined the Union men with the neutrals with such effect that the secessionists found it impossible to elect delegates to a convention which had been called to discuss the question of leaving the Union. But when Lincoln's call for seventy-five thousand men was made, the State Governor, Jackson, refused to supply men for an "unholy crusade" whose objects were "inhuman and diabolical"; though he did not scruple at the same time to raise and drill men with a view to their joining the Confederate army. Blair, on the other hand, raised a force of "Home Guards"; and these two forces were drilling at the same time under the flag of the United States. Neither party, however, had arms; and both plotted to seize the arsenal. Jackson secretly sent to the Confederate Government for cannon, which were promised him; but Lyon, meanwhile, obtained the appointment of Commander of the arsenal, and immediately issued arms to the Home Guards. A few days later he happened to be on the levee when the cases containing the cannon arrived, labeled "marble." Their appearance was suspicious, and following them up to their destination in Jackson's camp, he discovered the truth. The next day he led his men against the camp, in spite of the misgivings of many of his party, and captured it without a struggle. As he was marching, back with his prisoners he was attacked by the mob and fired at; his men returned the fire and killed or wounded twenty. He followed up this exploit by seizing St. Louis, the Governor and State officials taking flight; and all further efforts to carry the State out of the Union ceased. Lyon was a veteran of the Mexican War, and a man of iron decision; and his service in saving Missouri at this early and important stage was of incalculable value. The month following the surrender of Fort Sumter passed by with no shots fired, but in active preparation on both sides. The Southern troops were collecting in northern Virginia around the village of Manassas, about thirty miles from Washington; they blocked the Potomac, threw up fortifications, and laid plans for a forward movement. Finding themselves unmolested, they advanced their lines so far that President Lincoln, looking from the windows of the White House with a glass, could see their flag waving across the river. Winfield Scott was in command at Washington, and there were upward of twelve thousand troops in Washington ; but the old General hoped the "revolt" would presently subside, ante was reluctant to invade Virginia while any hope of peace remained.

But when on the 23d of. May it became known that General Lee was laying out works on Arlington Heights, commanding the city, Scott ordered his troops across the river. The advance was in three divisions, the third being led by Ellsworth's Zouaves, which seized the tows of Alexandria, the population of which was secessionist. A secession flag was flying from the roof of the hotel. Taking one or two men with him, Ellsworth entered the hotel, intending to lower the flag; on the second landing he was confronted by a may with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, who fired at him at close range, not only sending the charge through his heart, but forcing with it Ellsworth's gold badge inscribed: "Non ,obis sed pro patria." Ellsworth fell dead; one of his companions shot his slayer through the head and bayoneted him. Ellsworth was one of the most conspicuous of the young leaders of the North; he was a magnificent athlete, and his Zouaves were all picked men. The incident made a deep impression on the country, and both Ellsworth and the man who had killed him were regarded as martyrs by the opposing sections. The Union outposts seized Mount Vernon, the home of Washington, and Arlington House, the residence of Robert E. Lee; the site of the latter is now a military cemetery in which repose the bones of sixteen thousand Union soldiers.
Meanwhile Fortress Monroe, at the end of the peninsula formed by York and James Rivers, was occupied by Union troops under General Butler; but the Confederates threw up earthworks to shut them in, using great numbers of slaves for the purpose. Some of these escaping into the fortress, their owners demanded them back, on the ground that rights of property were to be respected. But Butler informed the Southern gentlemen that although property was to be respected, war material did not fall under that category; the negroes, having been employed in building fortification, were war material, and as such "contraband of war." Therefore they would not be returned. This bit of reasoning caught the popular fancy, and the Southern negro was a "contraband" in the common speech thenceforth. The Government also accepted Butler's ruling as good in law, and in future all negroes who came within the Union line were declared free. They were in the same category with sandbags and picks, blunderbusses and mortars.

The peninsula afforded a direct road to Richmond, and in order to clear it, Butler ordered an advance in two columns from Hampton and Newport News to surprise General Magruder at Great Bethel. Signals were devised by which the two columns should recognize each other when they formed their junction. But the officer commissioned to impart these signals to the Newport News column forgot to do so, and the consequence was that it was fired upon by that from Hampton. The mistake was soon discovered, but the firing had alarmed Magruder and put him on his guard, and the Union troops, weary with their night march, were repulsed from his works, losing fifty men, among them young Theodore Winthrop, a descendant of the famous Winthrops of Boston. For the second time in the short course of this war death had showed that he loved a shining mark.

The early actions of the war were little more than skirmishes, and showed only that the troops on both sides were brave, and that they were unfamiliar with the operations of war. The passes of the mountains of north and west Virginia were held by the Confederates, and as they afforded access to the interior of the State, McClellan determined to capture them. Detaching Rosecrans to march to the rear of the enemy's position on Rich Mountain, he prepared to engage in front: Rosecrans found General Pegram with two, thousand men opposed to him; but after some irregular fighting he captured his positions, and compelled his retreat; and Garnett, finding his rear thus exposed, followed him, pursued by McClellan. Pegram was killed, and Garnett surrendered; and west Virginia was thenceforward free from Confederate armies. But the fear which McClellan had expressed in his address to his troops that they "would not find foemen worthy of their steel," was premature. McClellan was destined to hold another opinion of Southern soldiers before long.

The evil of short terms of enlistment was now once more exemplified in our experience. Most of the seventy-five thousand men called out by Lincoln had enlisted for three months, and their term was nearly up, yet nothing had been done. Nothing, that is, that the people could recognize; for it seems to the uninstructed observer that troops drilling in camp are idle. The general officers were of course aware that drill is an indispensable preliminary to effective work in the field; and to the cry of "On to Richmond" they replied that they could not lead an undisciplined army on such an enterprise with any reasonable chance of success. But the clamor did not cease; and Lincoln and Scott were at length obliged to attempt something. And there was an operation which it seemed not too rash to undertake.

The railroad from Richmond and that from the Shenandoah Valley to the west, met at Manassas Junction in Virginia, five-and-thirty miles south of the Potomac. It was the key to the railway system of the State, and was held by the Confederates under General Beauregard, with an advance line along the brook known as Bull Run. The Confederates at this point numbered twenty-five thousand; but in the Shenandoah Valley was Johnston with ten thousand more. He, however, was confronted at Harper's Ferry by Patterson with double his number; so the chance of his being able to reinforce Beauregard seemed remote. Macdowell was ordered to attack Beauregard with thirty thousand men. There was considerable delay in getting together the war material and supplies, and Confederate spies kept the Southern Generals apprised of what was doing. Of this information they made excellent use.

Patterson was a soldier of 1812, and not proficient in the later developments of warlike science; but he had for some time been urging Scott to let him attack Johnston, and Scott finally gave him permission. He advanced accordingly, expecting a fierce resistance ; but to his astonishment found the works empty and the guns spiked. Suspecting a ruse, he became exceeding cautious; and when Macdowell was ready to make his movement on Manassas Junction, and Scott wrote to Patterson to engage Johnston in order to prevent his reenforcing Beauregard, Patterson delayed, and finally retreated, intending another maneuver. But Johnston was far more a than his match in strategy; and was on his way to join Beauregard while Patterson was imagining that he had him in a trap.

On the 15th of July, Macdowell, with his enormous train of impedimenta, was ready to move; and Beauregard, through a spy, was informed of. the number of men who were to be led against him, and of the precise hour at which they would set out. They left Washington, in fact, on the night of the 16th, and advanced-as if going to a picnic; it was impossible to keep order in the ranks; the scouts did not know their duty, and the officers had little control. They reached Fairfax Court House by noon of the 17th, and spent the night there in a frolic, looting several of the abandoned houses; some of them paraded the streets in women's clothes. At nine the next morning they were at Centreville, where a battle was expected.' The Confederates had their base at Manassas Junction and their advance line on Bull Run: the stream is sluggish, the country rolling and lightly timbered. Twenty thousand Confederates were posted along the winding course of the stream behind earthworks extending eight miles. There were seven fords and one bridge to be defended. The obvious course for Macdell to adopt was to outflank his enemy, and this be prepared to do on the south. His position at Centreville on the north was intended to hide his purpose. But his engineers reported that the southern or right flank could not be turned, and the plan had to be altered to turn the left flank. Meanwhile General Tyler, sent forward to reconnoiter, but with orders not to bring on a general engagement, disobeyed his instructions so far as to start up a lively and quite useless little battle at Blackburne's ford; after losing sixty men he retired, leaving the Confederates with the elation of victory. The night passed with nothing done; but Johnston was marching at full speed to reenforce Beauregard, Macdowell Battering himself that he was safe in Patterson's grasp. It was not until Saturday, July 20, that the engineers reported the ford passable; in the interval a regiment and a battery whose term had expired turned their backs on the enemy, and, in spite of the entreaties of Macdowell, marched back to Washington. Such are the; incredible poltrooneries occasionally to be seen in war.

Macdowell's plan was now made-an attack on the right flank at Blackburne's ford; a feint at the center, and the main attack under Maedowell was to proceed by night to Sudley's ford on the left flank, and crumple up the enemy's line. This latter movement was accomplished; though the troops, unused to marching, spent two or three hours longer than had been calculatected on the route, and were exhausted by their efforts. lint the attack on the center had not been strong enoughf to deceive Evans, who commanded the Confederates at that point, and when he was apprised of the movement against the flank, lie left the ford and faced it, holding the Federals until he was reenforced. But by this time the engagement-had become general, and there was a good deal of confusion on both sides among soldiers unaccustomed to battle; the Union men, upon the whole, slowly forcing back the Confederates. Presently the retreat became a rout, and men who had fought bravely and steadily an hour before were running in something like panic, too bewildered to respond to the frantic efforts of their officers to rally them. Everywhere was smoke, and the roaring and rattling of guns, and great bodies of men in motion. The day seemed lost to the Confederates.

But a brigade of troops, five regiments and a couple of batteries, bad just arrived from the Shenandoah Valley, and were drawn up in line across the turnpike along which General Bee's brigade was retreating in confusion. In front of the line stood its commander. "They are beating us back!" cried Bee, galloping up to him. "Very well, sir, we'll give them the bayonet," replied Jackson, composedly. "See!" yelled Bee to his men, "there stands Jackson like a stone wall!" It was a famous word, and gave the then almost unknown commander his title.

The flying men rallied on the colors; Beauregard and Johnston came up; the Federal advance was checked. There was an interval during which both armies remained in position; but the Confederates had now learned that the main attack was on their left, and they were concentrating there. In a wood covering the crest of a hill they formed in strength, and their batteries began to shell the Federals below. Macdowell had to face a body of troops now equal in numbers to his own, many of them fresh and strongly entrenched. He sent Rickett's and Griffin's batteries to open fire, but they were insufficiently supported, and the enemy's fire was masked by the woods. They would, have maintained their positions, however, had they not at that juncture been attacked by a regiment coming up on their right, which were mistaken for Federals until they discharged their muskets point-blank -into Griffin's battery. This regiment under Kirby Smith had just arrived from the Shenandoah, and their action settled the fortunes of the battle. The men supporting the batteries became panic-stricken and fled, the Zouaves among them. The deserted guns were seized by a Virginia regiment. But a regiment from Michigan recaptured them. Meanwhile the effort to carry the hill still continues and more than once almost succeeded but at the critical moment the attackers are driven back; and they are weakening while the others are constantly gaining strength. For four or five hours the assault was kept up; then, gradually, the Union army began to crumble to pieces. The want of discipline again made itself felt, and now disastrously. Regimental organisations were lost; squads and individuals stopped fighting and walked off to the rear. Officers lost their men, and men their officers. There was no panic or stampede, but the Union army was steadily melting away. The Confederates did not know they had won a victory, and for a time the Federale did not think themselves beaten; but that impression finally gained upon them, and then they began to retreat in earnest. They were not pursued; they had not been defeated; but they ran with ever-increasing good will. As evening drew. on a scene was witnessed such as had seldom before been seen in warfare. A great throng of eight-seeing noncombatants had come out from Washington in the rear of the army to witness the defeat of the "rebels." These turned tail at the first alarm and streamed headlong northward. All things that could retard flight were thrown aside, and the ground was encumbered with the moat grotesque heterogeny of articles imaginable, from champagne bottles and notebooks to cannon and brass horns. This headlong horde, pursued only by itself, converged toward a narrow suspension bridge over the stream called Cub Run, and there a terrible jam occurred; and to make it worse, a shell from a Confederate battery, which had been posted to command this bridge, exploded on an artillery wagon which had reached the middle of the bridge, and wrecked it there, blocking the way for all who followed. Here, accordingly, was a vast assortment of plunder for the surprised Confederates to pick up the next day. Onward poured the endless mob in a dismal flood; it had been very sultry during the day, and the yellow dust kicked up by the marching thousands. hung in the air, and was mixed with the smoke of powder and the grime of the powder itself in the skins of the unhappy ones. A drizzling rain which set in on the Sunday night achieved what had seemed impossible in making the general misery greater. Such a draggletailed, wretched, shame-faced, exhausted, sleepy, disorganized and demoralized multitude of tramps as poured into Washington all the next day was never seen before. The dismay caused by their appearance (except among the numerous sympathizers with the South who dwelt in the city and ill concealed their triumph) was profound. It seemed as if the Union had gone to pieces, and the Confederates would presently come whooping down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was not quite so bad as that, however. Macdowell had succeeded in partly checking the rout at Centreville, and the brigades of Richardson and Blenker, which had been in reserve as a rear guard, formed in good order behind the fugitives and kept off the half-hearted pursuit of the enemy's cavalry. Indeed, it would have put the fugitives in much better conceit with themselves . had a real pursuit taken place; they could not have run faster, and it would have helped them to explain to', curious inquirers the reasons of their flight.

But all things have an end; and the retreat of the Union army was over at last. Jefferson Davis on the battlefield was declaring that "we have won a glorious") but dear-bought victory." In truth it was neither dear, bought nor glorious; for the total losses on the Confederate side were but three hundred and eighty killed and a little over a thousand wounded, out of thirty thousand troops engaged; and the Federals had lost; little more, except the fourteen hundred prisoners captured. The victory, moreover, turned out to be rather! to the advantage of the Union than of the Confederacy; since the latter jumped to the conclusion that one Southerner was a match for five Northerners; while the, Northerners perceived that they had no summer picnic:', before them, but a real war with men who could fight; . and made their preparations accordingly. A new call for men was issued, and Congress voted five hundred million dollars to continue the war. The South, on the contrary, thinking the war over, lost thousands of men who returned to their homes from the front; and the Southern cities began disputing as to which of them should be the seat of the Government, which was nod believe to be finally established.

Walt Whitman, in, a description of the retreat, in prose which was intended to be such, but written which has much poetic spirit in it, says of Lincoln that "if there were nothing else of Abraham Lincoln for history to stamp him with, it is .enough to send him with' his wreath to the memory of all future time that he endured that hour, that day, bitterer than gall, indeed a crucifixion day; that it did not conquer him; that he unflinchingly stemmed it, and resolved to lift himself and the Union out of it." the President indeed rallied "More quickly than did the army; while Macdowell was still at Centreville trying to get something like order into the struggling mass, he received a telegram from Washington saying: We are not discouraged." There was certainly no need for discouragement; what was wanted was longer terms of service, and its corollary, discipline There were men enough to do the fighting, and of as good material as any in the world; but they must be molded into soldiers-between whom and persons who are not soldiers there are vital differences. Half a million men were summoned to defend the Union and they came. But they had to be transformed into an army; and the work of transforming them was intrusted to George Brinton McClellan who had alrady been fortunate in the little battle of Rich Mountain. McClellan suffered much criticism for his dilatory tactics later on, and was even thought by the cencorious to be not so ardent in the Union cause as he should have been: but he did what was far better than setting mobs in motion toward Richmond: he spent eight months in drilling "the Army of the Potomac," consisting of about two hundred thousand men. These men were enlisted for three years, and long before that period had elapsed they were the equals of any soldiers who ever fought. The country owes a lasting debt of thanks to the "Little Napoleon" for this, for the good effects of it were felt throughout the war. McClellan was a very young officer at this time, and very scantific, and he had the cocksureness of the cadet still;! about him; he was set in his opinions, and his options often betrayed a sore lack of wisdom and insight; NA he was a good soldier in many essentials, and might with sufficient experience in a subordinate position, have grown to be a great one. But to put such a man into the position of supreme command was to spoil him and cut short his career. He was not ready for it; awllowed; what was more serious for him, he thought he was. He was very popular with his soldiers, and this has creased his misapprehension of himself. But be trouble was, ,in those late summer days of 1861, that the North needed a leader, and had to take him who seemed likeliest without too much investigation. One after another must, be testedand a severer test was never applied to Generals-and either discarded or adopted as the case might be. They must be tested in ; the field, for there was no military board to examine them; they must be judged by their performance, though often a judgment formed on this basis would be unjust or mistaken; for the men in Washington- Stanton and Lincoln-who had to make the appointments and pass the censures were wholly ignorant of war when they began, and had to learn, like the privates in the field, as they went along. Something must also be allowed to professional rivalries and jealousies as ; tending to darken counsel. Many of these officers had been in West Point together; they had known one another, and "had their opinion" as to one another's ability and as to their. own. All West Pointers alike, moreover, were disposed to look down upon the volunteer officers with pitying contempt, though the record of these' when the war was ended was far more than creditable. Taking all things together, the difficulties . with which the Union Government had to contend at the beginning of the war can hardly be exaggerated. It is not surprising that they did not do better; it is astonishing that they did so well. It was a stern school for all concerned, and they graduated from it with honors.