Wednesday, July 20, 2011

21 July 1861: First Battle of Manassas [Bull Run] - Part One

On July 17, 1861, the late Elmer Ellsworth's New York Fire Zouaves (11th NY Infantry Regiment) were ordered to leave Alexandria, VA and march to Fairfax Court House, to Centerville, and then to Manassas Junction, VA.  Among the Zouaves were Lieutenant John Mathews, of Belvidere - stepson of Belvidere Intelligencer publisher Franklin Pierce Sellers, in Company K, and 14-year old Jacob H. Cole, of Paterson, in Company A. 

In Fairfax Court House, General Irvin McDowell had halted the Federal Army of the Potomac's advance to wait a couple of days for the supply wagons to arrive.  McDowell did not know Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and his army arrived by train at Manassas Junction from the Shenandoah Valley during the Army of the Potomac's days of waiting.

On the night of July 20, the Fire Zouaves sat around campfires singing patriotic songs and listening to a regimental band.  None of them had ever been in battle so they did not know what was to happen the next day.  However, the Federal troops had defeated Confederates at Philippi on June 3, at Rich Mountain on June 11, and at Carrick's Ford on July 13 so they felt the upcoming battle might be an easy victory and the war might end quickly. 

McDowell wanted the troops to be ready to march toward Manassas Junction at 2:00 a.m. on July 21 so the battle could begin at dawn.  However, except for Battery E of the 2nd US Artillery, which was limbered and ready to move at 2:00, the volunteer soldiers were not ready to march until 3:00 a.m.  The march was slow since most of the men could not see in the dark.  Five companies of the 2nd Ohio Regiment were sent ahead of the column as skirmishers. 

Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard had placed Brigadier Gen. Richard S. Ewell's brigade near Union Mills, where the railroads intersected.  Colonel Nathan G. Evans' brigade was placed at the stone bridge on the Warrenton turnpike.  Five other brigades were positioned in between Ewell's and Evans' units to guard Mitchell's Ford and Blackburn's Ford.  At Blackburn's Ford, Beauregard placed Brigadier gen. James Longstreet in command.  Beauregard was sure McDowell would cross at these two fording places because they were on the shortest route from Centerville to Manassas Junction. 

Federal scouts and skirmishers reported to their commanders Confederate troops were guarding Mitchell's Ford and Blackburn's Ford.  Skirmishers were fighting Confederate troops at Blackburn's Ford.  Cavalry scouts reported Sudley Ford was not strongly guarded. A second fording place between Sudley Ford and the stone bridge was also clear of Confederate troops.  McDowell ordered a brigade to make a feint attack at Blackburn's Ford while the major part of the Army of the Potomac crossed Bull Run at Sudley Ford and the fording place nearer the stone bridge. 

The Warren County men in the First New Jersey Brigade were still in reserve with the rest of Gen. Theodore Runyon's division.  The 1st and 2nd NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiments were ordered to take charge of Vienna, VA before the battle.  On July 21 the NJ troops were ordered to march 16 miles to Centerville.   

The lieutenant colonel of the 1st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment was Robert McAllister, of Oxford Furnace.  McAllister came to Oxford Furnace in Warren County, NJ to help build local railroads and a tunnel outside of Oxford Furnace.  In May 1861,  Robert McAllister enlisted in the 1st NJV Infantry and was commissioned lieutenant colonel - the regiment's second in command.

On the Confederate side, was Captain Thompson McAllister, a railroad man and flour mill owner from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia - Robert McAllister's brother.  In April 1861,  Thompson McAllister and his 18-year old son William, founded the "Allegheny Roughs" infantry company and offered the services of his men to Governor John Letcher, of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The "Allegheny Roughs" were assigned to the 27th Virginia Infantry Regiment in Colonel Thomas J. Jackson's division. 

The Fire Zouaves were ordered to march to Sudley Ford to cross Bull Run.  The battle was underway for a few hours before the Fire Zouaves joined the "Brooklyn Red-Legged Devils" (14th NY Infantry Regiment) on Matthews Hill awaiting orders to move up to Henry Hill to protect the artillery.

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards      

1 comment:

  1. Jay,

    Is the Lieutenant John Mathews, stepson of Franklin Pierce Sellers, referred to in the first paragraph the same person as the Lieutenant William Mathews mentioned in these two posts:

    and ?

    Thanks for clarifying, and thanks for posting such interesting material!