FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
THE regiment remained at this bivouac until the 15th, when orders were received for advance towards the Rapidan River, which is the south branch of the Rappahannock, arriving at four P.M., and bivouacked not far from the bank of the river, - the enemy being in force on the opposite side, the position of one of his batteries being visible. On the 17th General Carroll, the brigade commander, in company with several members of his staff, Colonel Thoburn, and several orderlies, visited the pickets, going outside for the purpose of reconnoitring the enemy's position. Occupying a commanding place on the top of the rising ground, General Carroll being just on the outside of the group, with the field-glass to his eye, remarked, "There is one of them going to shoot," referring to the enemy's pickets across the river. "He has shot," and, throwing his hand up to his breast, "D-d if he hasn't hit me." Which was true enough, the rifle-ball having buried itself in the fleshy part of his breast. This was concealed to be the best shot ever witnessed by anyone present.
What it was that determined the movements at this time was not known, but the regiment received orders to move from this advanced camp, which was immediately south of Mitchell's Station, in the southern part of Culpeper County, on the borders of Orange, and within a few miles of the locality connected with the writer's ear1iest recollections. Thus far and no farther, there being a host coming up from Richmond to dispute the way and bent on the destruction of all enemies. Somehow the general-in-chief got wind of it. Correct, information this time, and the command was ordered to fall back, which was done in the direction of Culpeper Court-House. Marched three miles, stopping at six P.M. The next day marching orders were received at one P.M., but the brigade did not move until eleven P.M., the road in front being occupied by other troops. Continued the march all night and all the next day, the men and animals suffering very much from thirst, as the day was intensely hot and little or no water could be obtained on the road until the arrival at Rappahannock Station, on the river of same name, at nine P.M. The cavalry was skirmishing on the south side of the river with the advance of the enemy, who opened an artillery fire from his side, killing a man or an animal occasionally. The men remained under arms all day of the 21st. On the 22d the enemy showed an aggressive disposition; evidently he was in strong force over the river, - the cannonading appeared to extend for miles up the stream; no doubt preparing for an advance and looking for a crossing undefended.
On the 23d the brigade marched six miles towards Warrenton, there being a continuance of the heavy cannonading along the river. During this night there fell a most extraordinary rain; indeed, it was generally thought that this rain for copiousness would stand number one in the memory of all. It appeared like a solid mass of water descending, and in a few minutes the beds of streams that were dry before were raging mighty floods, and when the light of day appeared a creek in the vicinity was a river in width and volume, out of its banks and over the fields and roads. To look at the events that transpired at this time, this rain looks almost like a direct interposition of providence in behalf of the Union forces, as it more than anything else prevented the enemy crossing an overwhelming force and capturing or destroying the left wing of General Pope's army. This night General Stuart, the enemy's chief of cavalry, having crossed the river before the rain with a large force, getting into the rear of the army captured General Pope's headquarters, tents, baggage, etc., at Catlett's Station, securing his correspondence and no doubt other papers that were regarded very valuable by his chief, besides taking about one hundred prisoners, and among them twelve of the First Virginia. On the 24th the brigade marched to within two miles of Sulphur Springs and bivouacked for the night. It was understood that the brigade was part of the reserve force. Remained here the next day. Nothing of importance transpired within sight or sound save some artillery firing. What this indicated there were many conjectures. The enemy appeared to be above and below, on the right hand and on the left. Officers and men were ignorant of the state of affairs, though it was plain to be seen that something would happen ere long to add interest to the history of the United States. At this time, as may be concluded from the foregoing, nothing was known as to the movements of the army to which the brigade was attached.
Nearly all the regular rations being exhausted, the chief food was green corn plucked from the fields and roasted, which was thought then and believed now to be the way to prepare it for eating. On the 26th, Tuesday, the artillery fire was as heavy as at any time above and below, and faint sounds of it in the rear, to the north. The brigade was moved up towards Sulphur Springs, the enemy threatening to cross there, but was defeated in his attempt by this movement. Afterwards was marched back again to the former position, he threatening to cross there also, but failed. A good idea can hardly be given of this service, always threatened and always on the alert, being at all times ready to move at a moment's notice day or night, stomachs seldom or never filled, through cornfields, woods, and brush, the shortest road to the desired point, these skirmishes at times amounting almost to a regular battle, and in the early part of the contest would have been so classed, the object, of course, being to prevent a body of the enemy, however small, from gaining a footing on the north side. If he succeeded, a strong force could be concentrated very soon, and the value of the river as a barrier be gone. Preventing this allowed General Pope time in which to concentrate his army, which at this time was very much scattered.
On the 27th it is believed that the enemy succeeded in crossing at one of the upper fords several miles above the position of the Fourth Brigade, as orders were received to march at two P.M. Passed through Warrenton, pushing along at a good gait. It began to look like a race to arrive at some point before the enemy. Continued the march until midnight, when a stop was made for much-needed rest, as the men were well jaded. This stopping-place was one mile north of New Baltimore. The enemy appeared to be all around this part of the country. Colonel Gavin, an officer much respected by the men of the First, returned to his regiment (Seventh Indiana) this day. General Hooker's command had a hard fight with General Ewell's division, which embraced Texas and Louisiana regiments, near Bristoe Station. The latter was worsted and fell back. To the men in the ranks, the officers of the line may also be included, the situation was not understood, as the enemy appeared, as before mentioned, to be all over the country, and the brigade in the rear of the largest bodies. They had no idea of where the bulk of the army was, and it is a question if the staff-officers knew much more about it than the men. On Thursday, 28th, the brigade moved at six A.M. towards Thoroughfare Gap, and with the whole of Ricketts's division attacked the enemy, apparently in strong force there and occupying an advantageous position. This engagement was very warm and lasted about two hours, and though the loss of Ricketts was heavy, the enemy appeared to have suffered as much. The brigade held the position assigned to it until six P.M., then was ordered back to a point within about four miles of Haymarket, resting at midnight. The commanding general changed his plans at this juncture, which was very unfortunate as it proved, as by so doing he threw away all chances of success. This, as may be supposed, was another hard day on the men, having very little to eat or to drink, and all the time on the alert. It is difficult for anyone not an actor in these events to realize the tax on the physical powers underr the conditions then existing. This was a day of fighting, and it must be recorded to the credit of the commander that when he had made up his mind where to strike, he was a hard hitter. And it is believed that had General Pope been as energetically and heartily supported by the other corps and division commanders then at hand as he had been by General McDowell, he would have given the rebellion such a blow that would have staggered it. A squadron of Stuart's cavalry in making their escape from the Union forces, - Ricketts on one side and Hooker on the other, - passed near the regiment, and Colonel Thoburn's horse, not to be behind the ruck, started after them, or rather with them, on a full run in the dark. All the attempts of the colonel to check him failed, and being a fleet and powerful animal, soon joined company with them, and having got the bit between his teeth, despite the rider's best efforts he kept them company for several miles before the colonel gained control of him, which he finally succeeded in doing, and rejoined the command late at night, fortunately nothing the worse for the adventure.
On Friday, 29th, the brigade marched at six A.M. through Manassas Junction to Bull Run. The fighting this day was continuous, the artillery fire was exceedingly heavy, apparently for miles along the foot of the Bull Run Mountains, the railroad embankment, and the run or creek, and appeared to be confined to no particular line. The Union forces on the right appeared to gain ground in the afternoon. The heavy fighting continued until after dark, the men lying on their arms all night. After it became dark the artillery fire of the enemy continued along the mountainside as heavy as at any time, and was awfully grand, the flash of the guns lighting up the darkness. It was the general opinion that the Union army had gained some advantages on this day, though the operations appeared to lack that combination that is necessary to success, hurling division after division on strong positions without support, by this means frittering away the strength of the army, without accomplishing what a genera1 advance might have done. It was hoped, however, that as McClellan's forces were being hastened to the field, as was supposed to reinforce General Pope, good grounds remained for anticipating success the next day, though every man lay down with a heavy heart and anxious forebodings, the appearance of things not being satisfactory; and there is no use denying that there was a want of confidence felt and shown among officers and men, which prevailed, it may be added, through the entire Pope campaign, from the first address of "Headquarters in the saddle," etc. Moved about as the command was during the last days of August, it is next to impossible to state where it was at any given hour. The 30th was a repetition of the 29th, the fighting being very heavy, particularly near the Gap, the enemy's forces being all up and taking part in the engagement. Pope's forces generally were repulsed all along the line; though gaining temporary advantages at severa1 different points did not change the result, which was practically a defeat to the Union army.
This battle, Groveton, Gainesville, and Thoroughfare Gap, all under the name of Second Bull Run, has been the subject of more criticism and controversy than any battle of the rebellion, not even excepting Shiloh, or Pittburg landing; and for a narrator of events coming within his sight and hearsay, occupying a position excluding him from attaining official knowledge, it were presumption for him to attempt a description or to criticise any movement. It is the duty of the soldier to obey the commands of his officer, not to question or criticise; but the expression of opinion entertained by the men may be noted, which was, to state concisely, that General Pope was not given that aid by all of General McClellan's corps commanders that was to be expected from them, being more loyal to General McClellan than to the cause, and did not give that hearty und cordial support that their positions as defenders of the Union required of them.
By way of explanation, to render somewhat plain what has been written, it is necessary to go back a few days. Jackson, it appears, started with his corps, about thirty-five thousand men, followed by Longstreet with the same number, and Stuart with his cavalry, five thousand, - in all about seventy-five thousand men; Jackson on the 20th crossing the Rapidan at Somerville Ford, Longstreet at the same time crossing lower down at Raccoon Ford, with the expectation of surprising Pope at or near Culpeper Court-House. Pope's command, after the junction of General Reno from the Army of the Potomac, amounted to about fifty thousand men, occupying the line of the Rappahanock River. Reno guarded Kelley's Ford, Banks, Rappahannock Station, McDowell, Rappahannock Ford, and Sigel formed the right higher up the river. Pope being ordered to hold this line, or in case of Aquia being threatened on his left or Washington on his right, would be powerfully reinforced, and thus be enabled to defend either or both. Here commenced the series of movements; Lee endeavoring to effect a crossing and Pope manoeuvring to prevent him, as already mentioned. The former finding that he could not secure a crossing, without a heavy loss, detached Jackson towards Pope's right flank, holding Longstreet in his position as a menace. As was anticipated by Pope, Jackson succeeded in crossing above Sigel at a point only guarded by a small outpost. At this time General Pope designed crossing the Rappahannock and attacking Longstreet while Jackson was engaged in his attempt at crossing the river many miles above, and not within supporting distance, but the tremendous rain of the 22d had so swollen the river that he could not concentrate his forces on the south side, hence he abandoned the plan and turned his attention to meeting Jackson, ignorant at the time what dependence could be placed on the promise or reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac, part of which army was then on the way up Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. Early, however, with his division had crossed the river before its swollen condition prevented, thus cutting off his force from the other portion of Lee's army. Pope supposing the force already crossed over to be much greater than it really was, began the slow operation of concentrating his widely-scattered army, greatly fatiguing the men. This will explain the marching and counter-marching of Ricketts's division and brigades separately, and final advance on Warrenton, and all to no purpose, as Early, through the exertions of his chief (Jackson), had been able to re-establish communication across the river, thus escaping the designs of Pope, - too late by one day. Early by this movement, though not executed for the purpose, gained for his men nearly two days' rest, while McDowell's men were exhausting their energies in marching to cut him off. The fact is that General Halleck in Washington was in command of the army, attempting to direct by telegraph. Soon he had things in confusion, and application to him for information respecting the concentration revealed that he did not know where the different commands were, the whereabouts of the enemy, or in what force, hence nothing but confusion could follow this state of things.
Jackson, after Early had rejoined him, proceeded up the Rappahannock, or Hedgman, River, crossing, as has already been stated, above the points on the river held by the Union forces, and through the valley formed by the Bull Run Mountains, through Orleans and Salem, to Thoroughfare Gap on the 26th. On this day, though General Pope had information of Jackson's course from the officers of the Signal Corps, he strangely supposed that he (Jackson) was directing his course to the valley, not thinking of Thoroughfare Gap, his own supplies, or that his own line of communication was threatened, but instead directed his efforts to crossing the Rappahannock River to cut off Longstreet, despatching Porter to Warrenton, the latter having arrived on the scene by the way of Aquia, and giving Sigel strict orders to hold Waterloo bridge, near which Jackson had forded the river the day before. General Pope relied on Halleck to defend Manassas Junction and take care of the immense supply of provisions gathered there for his army, that being his supply depot, which the latter failed to do, and on the morning of the 26th the Union army was cut off from Washington by the destruction of the railroad and telegraph lines near that junction. This alone revealed to Pope the position of the enemy in his rear, and the failure of the promised reinforcements to protect his communications with Washington. He dare not fall back on Aquia Creek, as this would uncover the capital, so he rightly formed the resolution to cut Jackson off, isolated as he must be. On the 27th he put his army in motion. At this time Jackson was destroying the stores at Manassas, and Longstreet soon discovering that the line of the Rappahannock had been abandoned by Pope, concluded at once that Jackson's blows had been felt, set out in haste to join, taking about the same route as Jackson had advanced by. Pope was using his best efforts to throw his army between them, intrusting McDowell with his own corps and that of Sigel's with Reynolds's division, the whole comprising about twenty-five thousand men, with the task. The remainder of his army, say thirty thousand strong, to be concentrated to attack Jackson thus cut off. Hooker in the mean time, with his division, having met Ewell and repulsed him with heavy loss at Kettle Run near Catlett's Station, a short distance south of Mallassas Junction, as narrated.
McDowell with the larger portion of his command reached Gainesville this night, which is near Thoroughfare Gap, on the only road by which Longstreet and Jackson could effect a junction, and there should have remained, as Jackson's safety, with the Union army on his front, depended upon his junction with Longstreet. Pope, in the face of this, strangely made his dispositions to attack Jackson, or to receive his attack on the right, and ordered McDowell to abandon his position on the left near Thoroughfare Gap, which he did, leaving one of his divisions (Ricketts's) to bar the passage, wholly inadequate to perform such a duty. When McDowell received the order to march in an entirely opposite direction, this division, being his advance one, had to be left behind, dependent on itself, to face Longstreet's corps, thus practically removing everything that would bar the junction of the two wings of Lee's army which he (Pope) wished to keep separated. On the evening of the 27th, when Pope was concentrating for the purpose of attacking him, Jackson abandoned Manassas, having destroyed all the supplies of the Union army, and fell back towards the Gap, using Hill's division to make a circuit to confuse Pope. On the 28th all the Union forces were in motion, nearly all worn out with their exertions, and when concentrated it was discovered that Jackson had retired. At this time (afternoon) orders were sent recalling Ricketts, and almost at the same time Longstreet's heads of columns appeared at the entrance to the Gap. Ricketts held them in check for some time, inflicting on him (Longstreet) a heavy loss; but the numbers were overpowering, and a force getting in the rear of his division he was compelled to retire, marching all night to rejoin McDowell at Centreville. King's division of McDowell's corps also had a severe engagement with Jackson about the same time, holding his own well. Jackson was well protected by all unfinished railroad embankment, Longstreet at this time, as may be seen, being in supporting distance. On the 29th Pope still entertaining the belief that Jackson was without support, continued his dispositions to beat him if possible before the arrival of the other half of Lee's army and designated Gainesville as the point of concentration, by this move abandoning all hope of the promised reinforcements reaching him in time to be of any assistance. McDowell and Porter were to throw their forces on Jackson's right, Sigel and Reynolds the centre, and Heintzelman and Reno his left. The two first named and the two last had each a long distance to march, hence Sigel struck first single-handed, and gained ground, driving the centre of the enemy back until the arrival of Longstreet, which checked him. Support also came to Sigel, and the fighting became desperate. At this juncture, McDowell and Porter, on the road to take their positions on the right, found the road barred by Longstreet's corps, which prevented them executing the order given them. McDowell, who was the ranking officer it appears, affirms that he directed Porter to take a position. Porter says that he was directed by his chief to remain where he was, and there he did remain, it is believed, all that day, while the balance of the army appeared to become engaged in detachments without support, gaining temporary advantages, but in the end compelled to relinquish them on account of the failure to support. The operations of the 29th were looked upon as a defeat, as Pope, who had made the attack, had gained nothing, while Lee had united his army, and the former would be compelled to retreat to prevent starvation, or attack Lee in a position chosen by himself and that without delay. Strangely, however, Pope determined to renew the struggle the next day, being somewhat deceived by information gained through some source that Lee was falling back upon Thoroughfare.
Both armies were nearly exhausted on the morning of the 30th, and preparation for the contest required much time. Ricketts's division in support of Kearny on the right, Reynolds and King on the left, thus dividing McDowell's corps, these with the commands already named, Hooker, Sigel, Reno, and Porter, comprised Pope's forces, the cavalry being completely used up. While Pope strengthened his right, Lee also strengthened his, and extended it. The latter knowing that whatever Pope proposed doing he must do at once, as he had no means of supplying his men with food; he, therefore, held to his strong position, compelling the latter to attack him.
About one o'clock the battle opened by Porter's corps charging Lee's centre faced by forty-eight guns. The carnage was dreadful and the attack repulsed because, like the charges of the preceding day, it was unsupported. This was the signal for a general advance of Lee's whole line. Reynolds, Sigel, and Ricketts opposed the advance of Longstreet, whose men were comparatively fresh, having taken but little part in the action of the previous day. Jackson was only able to hold his position. Lee, having massed on the right, was gaining ground at five P.M. Milroy, detached by Sigel to the assistance of McDowell, was forced back, as was also Reynolds, the enemy by this securing a good commanding position. Sigel detached another brigade to assist in retaking the position, but all in vain, Longstreet being at this time not only on the flank but in the rear of the centre, and threatening to cut off the line of retreat by the stone bridge, hence the left wing of the Union army was compelled to fall back, followed closely by the enemy, already preparing to carry another advantageous position near what was known as the Henry House; but the arrival of Buchanan's brigade of regulars checked him, as unfaltering they stood the terrific fire poured into them. This brigade was reinforced by Towner's brigade of Ricketts' division, which stood its ground equally well. The right wing of Pope's army had during this time gained some advantage over Jackson's almost exhausted men, but after the repulse on the left was compelled to fall back or risk being cut off, and at six o'clock fell back to the run. The check of Longstreet on the left undoubtedly saved Pope's army from destruction, as the brigades mentioned, reinforced by several regiments and batteries, held their position till nightfall, when Pope fell back to the vicinity of Centreville with a greatly discouraged army, having lost all confidence in the commander, and the enemy too much exhausted to follow. General Pope, in addition to the mistakes he made, was unfortunate: the information he received was not always reliable. His failure to fall back from the line of the Rappahannock on the 26th to secure his supplies and keep open his communications, besides enabling him to meet Jackson, whose force was less than half of Lee's army, then, and after the junction of Longstreet and Jackson, engaging them with only a part of his available strength without waiting for the expected reinforcements, appear to have been mistakes, or, as was generally looked upon, bad generalship. General Pope appeared to give his orders impulsively, without due consideration, and afterwards changed them at a very critical time, exhausting his men to no purpose. The opinion is entertained that in recalling McDowell's command from Thoroughfare Gap, which closed this retreat to Jackson and at the same time barred the way of the advancing columns of Longstreet, he made a great mistake, which weakened him very much more than the inaction of Porter on the 29th. Ricketts saw it, and, acting on his own judgment and following the true instincts of a soldier, kept his own division there unsupported, and was the first to meet Longstreet on his exit from the defile, suffering a serious loss in his efforts to prevent the concentration of Lee's army. General Pope was a good, hard fighter, a splendid soldier, but, unfortunately, was out of place on the Potomac.