«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
-90brushed away all opposition and sped on to Jackson’s aid. The guarding of Thoroughfare Gap and the by-paths on each side of it would seem an obvious precaution, to hold Longstreet in check and prevent his junction with Jackson on the plains of Manassas. A comparatively small force, rightly disposed, could have done it, at least long enough for the other forces at Pope’s command to turn upon Jackson and crush him or force him to fly to the northern passes of the Aldie. But Pope seems to have disregarded this precaution in his plans, and relied wholly upon his chances of beating Jackson before Longstreet could possibly arrive. The sending of Ricketts to the Gap was the forethought of McDowell and not that of Pope.
With melancholy interest the history is read which was made in the dark and gloomy days of the 29th and 30th of August. There were fiercely fought battles and defeat to the Union arms; but the story does not belong to this regimental biography; and it would require a larger volume than this to faithfully tell it all. We must therefore confine the narrative to the movements in which the Third Wisconsin directly participated.
It may briefly be told here that when Pope learned at 10 o’clock at night, as he did at or near Centerville, of King’s battle at Gainesville, he desired King to remain there and hold his ground, while he disposed his other forces to close in on Jackson; and he felt sure that between his forces on the west of Jackson and those east and south of him he could crush Jackson completely.
He sent to King orders to hold his ground at all hazards. He also ordered Sigel “to push forward at one o’clock A.M. from Centerville on the Warrington turnpike and close upon the enemy, and throw his right will to the north, if possible across Little River Turnpike; and at daybreak Hooker and Reno were to be up with him early in the morning to support his attack. His forces were so disposed that he had, as he supposed, McDowell, Sigel and Reynolds with 25,000 men immediately west of Jackson and between him and Thoroughfare Gap, while Kearny, Hooker, Reno and Porter, in all 25,000 strong, were to fall upon Jackson from the east; at daylight. He felt sure that by prompt and vigorous attack he could smash Jackson before Longstreet could reach the scene of action. But King’s withdrawal, he asserts, disappointed him. The sending of Ricketts to Thoroughfare Gap was unknown to him; and he then had to change his plans. He ordered Sigel to attack at Groveton, which was on the southwest of Jackson’s position, throwing his right well forward.
Heintzleman [sic] was to send Hooker and Kearny’s divisions to support this attack; and Reno was to follow closely in rear. Fitz-John Porter, with his corps, and King’s division was to move from Manassas upon the Gainesville road with all speed to turn Jackson’s flank at the intersection of the Warrenton turnpike. Sigel, nearest the enemy, advanced at 5 A.M. and was engaged in less than two hours, driving back Jackson’s outer lines for a mile or two, but meeting constantly increasing force; and soon Jackson assumed the offensive
-91himself; and then took position with his left in the neighborhood of Sudley Springs, and his line covered by an old railroad grade which leads from Gainesville in the direction of Alexandria. His batteries, which were numerous and some of heavy caliber, he posted behind the ridges in open ground on both sides of the Warrenton turnpike while his men were sheltered in dense masses behind the railroad embankment — Jackson’s division under Starke on the right, Ewell’s division under Lawton in the center, and Hill’s division at the left. There was much fighting and desultory skirmishing on this line until about 4 P.M., when Pope ordered Heintzleman [sic] and Reno to assault the left of the enemy. He had ordered Fitz-John Porter to attack at the same time on the right, but Porter was not where Pope supposed him to be; and hence the plan of battle in its general scheme failed. The attack was made with great gallantry. Jackson admits the spirit and determination with which these assaults were made. King’s division came in at about sunset and advanced considerably beyond our general line of battle, but was soon brought to a stand against heavier forces. Jackson was outnumbered, and the fight was desperate. The valor of the Union assaults upon him were persistent and would have probably resulted in victory, had not Hood’s division of Longstreet’s corps come upon the field and attacked our exhausted advanced line, repulsing Kearny’s advanced regiments. Pope held some ground that he had wrenched from the rebels; but he was really worsted, for Longstreet’s corps was now upon the field. The losses of the day on our side had been about 7,000; and the troops were exhausted and hungry. Our horses had been ten days in harness and two days without food.
The 30th dawned on a dismal prospect for our arms. Pope had in hand about 40,000 men. What with marching, unsuccessful fighting and two days of fasting they were not likely to be in sanguine mood. Lee, now in command had over 60,000 fighting men. But as the enemy had considerably drawn in his center, and Pope had been told by prisoners that Jackson was in full retreat, he ordered Porter to attack the enemy’s right. The Confederate force was now massed. Jackson on the right and Longstreet on the left under the cover of low, wooded ridges, with the artillery well posted upon a commanding eminence near the center, their line forming an irregular L. Porter supported by King’s division made a fierce attack upon Jackson’s right, it not then being known by Pope that Longstreet was also on Jackson’s right with a fresh army corps. Jackson was so hard pressed by Porter’s and King’s onset that he sent to Longstreet for aid. The latter saw an opportunity to place his artillery so as to pour its fire upon Porter with terrible effect. This he followed with his infantry closing in on Porter, clasping him as with a vice, between Jackson and Longstreet. The retreat rendered necessary bid fair to become a rout. [?] but Col. Warren (afterwards major general) intrepidly seized a commanding eminence from which another brigade had just retired, and held it, though
-92enveloped on three sides, until the rest of the troops could be disengaged and fall back. This enabled the army to fall back across Bull Run and thence to Centerville.
General Fitz-John Porter’s conduct in this campaign has been subject of much controversy, as to which there is likely during this generation to be much division of opinion. Military men very generally acquit him of the grave military offenses for which he was tried and cashiered the service.95 After giving his elaborate orders to Banks, Pope had further instructed Porter to run the trains all eastward across Cedar Run,96 and soon after Banks had reached the Junction, and there orders directed him to move to Kettle Run bridge as soon as the railroad trains and public property had been safely run back.97 At Kettle Run the railroad bridge had been destroyed, and trains were stopped. There Banks was to execute the duty fully detailed in the instructions of the preceding day. The movement was at once made, following Porter’s corps, which moved on to Bristoe station. On arriving at Kettle Run the corps found here over one hundred loaded cars, which had been cut off by the destruction of the bridge. There were many wagons being loaded from these cars and sent to supply the troops who were at the time we arrived fighting a short distance from this place.98 Many dead lay about here killed in the sharp engagement between Hooker and Ewell’s divisions, on the previous afternoon. Here the corps remained. The work of rebuilding this bridge was pushed forward with amazing rapidity. The cannonading of the battle of Groveton on the 29th was heard all day, and cheerful rumors came that all was going well with the Union cause, that the enemy were surrounded and could not escape. On the 30th, the bridge at Kettle Run was completed and the trains were moved to Bristoe station; and the troops moved, also, and took position to the north of Broad Run, a branch of Cedar Run, which crosses the railroad at this station. Here also a large, high railroad bridge had been destroyed. Here we were only some six or seven miles from the battlefield of the 30th, known as the Second battle of Bull Run. The fact was noticed that the battle seemed further off than the day before. But the report came — one of Pope’s glowing accounts — that we had gained a complete victory.
But these illusions were soon dispelled. An order from Pope, issued at ED. NOTE: Relieved of command in November of 1862, Porter was then the subject of a court-martial, was found guilty and cashiered from the army effective 21 Jan 1863.
This must not be confounded with the Cedar Run near Slaughter’s mountain.
Kettle Run is a stream about three miles southwest of Bristoe station. Here the enemy had destroyed the railroad bridge which was a very high one, the run passing the road in a deep ravine.
Pope’s orders were to put a few boxes of ammunition on every wagon that passed.
-93Centerville, where Pope had fallen back, dated at 6:30 P.M., on the 30th, directed Banks to “destroy all public property at Bristoe and fall back upon Centerville at once.” “Destroy all railroad property. Your troops at Bristoe will withdraw through Brentsville.” This order was received by Banks at daylight on the 31st. Its purport was ominous, indeed. It meant that Pope had been worsted and that we were now in rear of a victorious enemy, were to destroy the property in charge — worth millions — and then by a wide detour to the south to escape, if we were able.
It is now easy to see that he these stores been left in charge of a regiment, or had they been destroyed on the 30th, or left unguarded, and Gen.
Banks’ corps ordered to the field, whither it would have cheerfully hastened, it might have turned the fortunes of the day. It then had about 8,000 men. A five-mile march be a direct road would have brought the corps upon Longstreet’s left. A force of that strength and as resolute in assault as it had proved to be, would have been a powerful aid to Pope in the strain and struggle of the doubtful battle of the 30th of August.
Banks obeyed his orders. The engines were destroyed, the cars were soon a mass of flames. They were loaded with all kinds of clothing and all sorts of stores. It was a waste of millions of property. During the destruction a few things were taken by the men; and overcoats were on sale for twentyfive cents for a day or two afterwards.
The saddles, the clothing, the rich stores of sugar and coffee that went into the flames were a valuable sacrifice. The orders, as given, were to destroy baggage and ambulances, but this was so far modified in execution that they might be taken along until it was found that they delayed the march.
The column moved at a rapid gait. All knew that we were moving from a dangerous place. Without halt or refreshment, we hurried on. At Brentsville,99 we found the stream rising rapidly, and no bridge was there. The column forded, in deep water, climbed the eastern bank, pressed on through a narrow cut, men, artillery and animals in closely-crowded confusion. Men dropped from exhaustion. Famished horses fell, were unharnessed and left to die. By noon the corps had made a circuit of twenty miles to make a direct distance by railroad track of scarcely five. Here Blackburn’s Ford,100 on the Bull Run, was crossed, and here the corps found a breathing spell, after we had formed in order of battle to await events. The story of the disasters which had befallen our cause in the two preceding days, made our bivouac here rather Brentsville is a hamlet some three or four miles southeast of Bristoe, on the road to Dumfries. Near here Broad Run empties into Cedar Run.
This ford is about three miles south of Centerville; and about five miles southeast of Manassas Junction.
-94dismal; for a future full of danger to the country could be foreseen. The next morning we moved up nearer Centerville; and there made a short halt, which enabled us to see in the fields to the westward several divisions of our troops massed, as if ready for some movement. We were soon ordered to move eastward by the road known as the “old Braddock road,” said to have been finished in the time of the “old French war.” The great mass of Pope’s command was at or near Centerville during the 31st; but the indefatigable Jackson was not resting. Lee had ordered him to throw himself again upon Pope’s line of communication, thus to compel Pope to fall back under the guns of the forts on the Potomac. Jackson crossed the Bull Run at Sudley Springs, made a wide detour to his left, a long march to the north until he reached the Little River turnpike, which leads down to Fairfax Court House from Aldie, then turning to his right he came down near Chantilly101 and there bivouacked; ready for action on the morrow.
Anticipating some move of this character, Pope had sent to his right and rear Grover’s brigade, Kearny’s division and Reno’s division102 to watch for the enemy on the Little River turnpike. Hooker was sent farther east to Germantown, about a mile west of Fairfax Court House. At about 5:50 P.M.
Jackson’s advance on the Little River turnpike having been discovered, these troops attacked him a little southeast of Chantilly. The Confederates were quickly in line of battle — Hill’s division on the right, Ewell’s division, commanded by Lawton, in the center, and Jackson’s old division on their left.
Branch and Field with their brigades, were sent forward to feel out forces.
Branch’s brigade was soon driven back in disorder; and Hill’s division, with the brigades of Gregg, Thomas and Pender were thrown into the fight. On our side the battle was maintained chiefly by Kearny’s and Reno’s divisions. The struggle was brought to a close by the coming on of a fearful thunderstorm.
The troops were drenched, and it was impossible to load and fire. It is said that at this time one of Jackson’s brigadiers sent him word that at he must fall back, as his men could not use their muskets. “Tell him to hold his ground,” said Jackson; “if his guns will not go off, neither will the enemy’s.” The battle was not decisive, but fairly a Union victory. It was fought with but little artillery, and while the Confederates had the advantage in numbers in action, two or three of their best brigades gave way; and after the battle all retired from the field.