Saturday, July 23, 2011

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

Confusion from the assorted uniform colors caused Federal and Confederate troops to fire on their allies and, in some cases, to allow their enemies to pass.  Both sides had blue and gray uniforms, and Zouave uniforms were even more confusing to green soldiers who had never seen them before.  Lack of proper training failed to prepare civilians for the fierceness of battle.  In some regiments, green troops fired volleys into their own front ranks from behind. 

On Henry House Hill, Captain James B. Ricketts' field guns were back in Federal hands for a third time after the 69th New York Irish Regiment and the 38th New York Infantry Regiment pushed back Colonel Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's regiments, but the arrival of the 8th and 18th Virginia Infantry Regiments tipped the balance back to the Confederates on the hill.  After fighting over Ricketts' cannon for two hours, approximately 500 men lay dead and hundreds more were wounded. The battle moved on to other locations: Chinn Ridge and the stone bridge. 

Federal troops started an orderly retreat toward Centerville. Several Confederate cavalry attacks and Confederate artillery fire turned the withdrawl into a mad dash for safety.  The broken Federal ranks ran into Brigadier Theodore Runyon's New Jersey troops, who were moving forward. 

Lt. Colonel Robert McAllister, of Oxford Furnace, and his 1st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment were ordered to move forward from Centerville to secure road intersections for the retreating Federal troops and to act as a rear guard as General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate troops pushed the Federals farther away from Manassas Junction.  Officers of the NJ units tried to rally the retreating troops to bring order and to assist in the rear guard action.

John Schoonover, of Oxford Furnace, Adjutant of the 1st NJV Regiment, wrote to the Belvidere Intelligencer on July 22, "We were stationed at Vienna when the cannonading commenced at Bull Run, which was distinctly heard, and many of us expressed a wish to be present.  To our great pleasure at ten o'clock A.M., we received orders to march to Centerville.  Owing to the absence of two companies 'out scouting' we remained until one o'clock then took to our march, leaving them behind.  This delay alone prevented us from participating in the battle.  About two miles this side of Centerville, we met the retreating army.  As their number was but few when they first appeared, with the exception of the provision train, our Colonel supposed them to be fugitives, and many were compelled to retrace their steps.  I feel happy to say that Lieutenant Colonel McAllister exhibited unflinching valor and determination upon the occasion. All except the wounded were arrested in their flight.

"The scene which followed, my pen utterly fails to describe.  Men exhausted and spiritless came streaming along anxiously inquiring where we were going and what was our number; others for fear of being arrested in their flight turned in the woods; riderless horses were running in every direction; and I am glad to inform you that many imagining the battle was to be renewed turned and said they would try again.  As we passed along, a number of Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves were standing in a body and exclaiming, 'Give it to them, Boys!  Only about 200 of us left,' showing the cause of the many exaggerated reports which were given to the public.  Many of the teamsters seemed  foolishly frightened and came driving down the hills with headlong speed, their wagons frequently turning over and over in one confused mass.  Amidst all this tumult, our little band of 600 men march coolly and deliberately forward; and contrary to the reports of the city papers, the Second Regiment   turned back against the orders of Colonel [William] Montgomery, then commanding [the NJ Brigade].  We marched to Centerville, where we made a halt, lay down tired and wearied, and awaited further orders.  About midnight, it was ascertained that the First NJ Regiment was the only one remaining in the place.

"We shortly received orders to retreat to Arlington Heights and accordingly took up our march, scarcely stopping on the way, which brought us to camp about seven o'clock, having marched since one o'clock of the previous day at least 40 miles, which many of us were disposed to think was a good tramp for the first one...I forgot to mention that five companies of the 1st Regiment were ordered to Arlington Heights, after the retreat, in order to throw up some sort of defense and guard the road."

On July 24, Private Theodore Carhart, Jr.,  of Belvidere,  Company D, 1st NJV Infantry, wrote a letter to his family and friends, "Friends at Home: I hear that you are worried about me, hearing that our Regiment was cut all to pieces; that is not so, we have not lost a man since we left Trenton.  Zach [Zachariah Nye, of Belvidere] received a letter stating the above, but I told him  that I had wrote to you since we got back, and that you must know better, for I told you that I was safe and that I would write when I got time; so I will give you a short history, which I know is true, for I was there myself.  Now, after this, I don;t want you to worry about me, for you will receive a letter, if not from me it will be from somebody, so that you know      all about it.

"I wrote to you that the 1st and 2nd Regiments was ordered down to take charge of Vienna; well, we did until Sunday, 21st, when we were ordered off to Centervillehorses as fast as they could go.  We went on for a few miles further and met a part of the army in retreat; we tried to stop them, and did to a great extent; but when we came on to the main army, running as if the old boy was after them, and it was an awful sight then; some of them were so badly wounded that they could not get any further and had crawled in the woods to lay down and die.  They were shot in the head, arms, body, legs, and in fact all over; it was awful, but on we went with our little band (the 2nd Regiment had left us    on the first sight   of the retreating army and went back to Vienna); our party was about 800 strong; we went on to Centerville, arriving there about nine o'clock in the evening, and found it all deserted, but we went on 'til within three miles of the enemy, and then drew up in line and laid down to take a little rest, not leaving the ranks at all; we laid there for an hour or so, then the officers thought it best to shift our quarters; we got up and moved off to another place, then formed, of the right and left wing, hollow squares on both sides of the road, then laid down for a second time, but had not laid long before the order was given to move again, marching back to Fairfax.

"We left Centerville that morning at 10 o'clock; after we had got some eight miles on the road back, we got news that a Regiment of their celebrated cavalry was after us, (by this time, we had caught up to a part of the retreating army), and after we received that news, there were two Regiments detailed to meet them, and the remainder of Ellsworth's Zouaves - 70 of them - they hid themselves in the woods, and when the cavalry came along, the Zouaves fired into them, confusing their ranks and shooting them down like dogs; the Regiments came up to their assistance, and out of 600, there was only 6 of them to go back and tell the tale.

"After this, we marched straight on through Fairfax to Arlington Heights, where we arrived at 11 o'clock, and at the fort at 11-1/2 o'clock.  The main cause of this defeat was the provision train that was coming up in the rear of the army got scared and turned their teams back and began to retreat; their officers tried to rally them, but if they had had good Captains and other of this kind, they could have made a stand as easily as could be.  Why, I believe that we, as small as we were, could have held it, if we stayed, which the colonel wanted to do, but the orders were to move and we had to go.  The teamsters made such a hasty leave that they threw out all (or nearly so) of their loads and drove some of their wagons off n the gutters, upturning them and killing some of their horses.  When we came back that night, the road was fairly strewn with everything you could think of.

"We are now encamped right along side of Fort Albina [Fort Albany].  Five companies of our Regiment went to Arlington Mills to dig ditches and throw up embankments to protect that place.  I did not go with our company, for I did not feel very well.  I think that I shall go up to-morrow or the next day; our boys are having a gay old time; we move nearly every day.  I just heard that our tents are to be moved down to Fort Runyon, and in a few days take charge of that fort, for the three months boys are going home.  There is more excitement here now than there had been at all since I have been in this section of the country.  The enemy has taken Vienna again.  Well, I must close, so good bye for the present; love and respects to all."

Lt. Colonel McAllister   wrote a letter on July 25, "The whole scene beggars all description; and yet, strange to say, our officers and men, raw as they were, remained cool and collected, and marched through these retreating columns with a firmness which astonished all who saw the regiments, and which has since been a theme of universal praise...Had it not been for our regiment, an immense number of wagons would have been left along the road, and would now be in the hands of the enemy with all stores they contained.  We saved the Government, too, a large amount of other property.  When we went up, parts of the road were literally covered with picks and shovels - in a word, with articles of every description usually belonging to an army.  When we came back, nearly all was picked up, owing to our having stopped the retreat, and so given the fugitives confidence and inspired them with some sense of discipline...A great many claim the credit of protecting the retreat, and being the last to leave the field; but it is all in the imagination.  We were the very last to leave Centerville.  We remained two hours after Colonel [Louis] Blenker left, and we would have been left to be cut to pieces had we not accidentally discovered that his command was retreating."

Dr. Edward Taylor, of Middletown, the surgeon of the 1st NJV Regiment, decided to stay behind in Centerville with the wounded at the field hospital.  Taylor was later captured with the wounded.  McAllister wrote, "Before we moved off, I sent a messenger to inform Dr. Taylor, our surgeon, of our orders to retreat.  the Doctor came to me  and asked permission to remain with the wounded, as all other surgeons had left with the retreating forces.  I told him I knew not the moment we would want his services ourselves, but was willing to grant his request if the Colonel would agree to it.  The Colonel did agree, and this is the last we have seen of that noble-hearted man." 

Private Jacob Cole, the fourteen-year old soldier from Paterson, who was a member of Company A of  the New York Fire Zouaves, recalled in 1906, "The army, meeting with defeat, retreated to Washington, where we found that the city     was filled with stragglers on the retreat. The roads were filled with carriages and baggage wagons. Under the excitement, men cut  horses and mules loose from the wagons, jumped on their backs, and started helter-skelter for Washington.  The roads were so crowded that it was more like a mob than an army.  When we reached the Long Bridge to cross over into Washington, there was such a crush that it was impossible to keep any formation, so it became a case of everyone for themselves.  When we arrived in the city, we found it filled with stragglers, and all was excitement.  After the regiment got into Washington and the excitement began to cool, the officers found that there was about 200 men missing.  when we reached New York, we ascertained the whereabouts of the missing men.  Some had been killed, others were prisoners, and still others had never stopped retreating     until they reached home.  the regiment left Washington for New York on August 4th, and was mustered out of the service as a regiment on August 8th, 1861."   Cole went home to Paterson, NJ for only a couple of days.  He enlisted in Company A of the 57th New York Volunteer Infantry on August 11, 1861, for three years enlistment as a 14-year old veteran soldier.

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards                    

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