Part V

The First Great Movement Against Richmond.

         The Confederate government was transferred from Montgomery to Richmond in May, from which situation, fronting Washington, it began preparations to meet the invasion of Virginia by the great force gathering on the Potomac, and to counteract the operations by sea and land which threatened the southern coast and the western borders. The Tredegar foundry was converted into a manufactory of guns, the machinery obtained at Harper's Ferry was sent to Fayetteville and Richmond where it could be used in making arms, small foundries were put into service wherever they could be established, powder works were erected, and, in general statement, the administration at Richmond, aided by all the Confederate States, most actively worked all plans to secure that equipment for its armies, which were now eagerly pressing into the field of action unarmed, and insufficiently equipped. With remarkable celerity the volunteers from the Northern States assembled at or near Washington, and were organized into severe armies of invasion During the latter part of April and May the war department of the United States was busy in receiving and equipping for battle the regiments which the "war governors" were sending forward By the last of June the great armies were ready to move. McClellan commanded in western Virginia; along the upper Potomac, with headquarters at Williamsport, General Patterson was ready to advance against Joseph E. Johnston; Butler was at Fortress Monroe, and McDowell at Washington with the main body. These troops were disposed under their various commanders in one general line fronting Virginia and extending from the Ohio river through western Virginia and Maryland, at Washington, along the left bank of the Potomac, and to Fortress Monroe. The entire force, containing in round numbers 100,000 men, was thoroughly well provided with all the munitions necessary to successful war. The Confederate line of defense matched this Federal line at all points except in numbers and munitions. In western Virginia the total Confederate force was about 5,000; Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in the Valley with 15,000 faced Patterson; Beauregard, commanding the principal Confederate army of 20,000, was at Manassas; and besides these were the divisions under Holmes on the lower Potomac, and the commands of Magruder and Huger at Yorktown and Norfolk. The entire Confederate strength on this long defensive line was about 65,000.
       The Federal preparations were complete in July, and the plan of operation against the Confederate defenses had been discussed and determined. Among the several lines of advance discussed, that which kept Washington best protected was adopted. It was determined to overthrow Beauregard at Manassas and then march on rapidly to Richmond. With this in view the army of McDowell marched into Virginia, drove back the Confederates at Fairfax Court House, and on the 18th skirmished so successfully as to alarm General Beauregard concerning the right flank of his army. While McDowell was thus pressing Beauregard, Patterson marched against Johnston in the Shenandoah valley, with instructions to reinforce McDowell as soon as he had succeeded in forcing Johnston to retreat across the Blue ridge. Butler, operating from Fortress Monroe, was also charged with the defeat of the Confederate forces on the peninsula.
       But while Patterson was attempting to execute his part of the plan, Johnston eluded him and marched directly to the help of Beauregard, arriving on the 20th. General Jackson reached the field with his brigade, and other Confederate regiments under General Holmes were rapidly added to Beauregard's small army. Beauregard was now better prepared for that dangerous assault which McDowell made early in the morning of the 21st of July, bringing on the great historical battle of Bull Run or First Manassas. The first Federal attacks of the day were so successful as to inspire sanguine expectations. Telegrams of progressive triumphs poured from the battlefield into Washington, and from that city were distributed throughout the United States, But the Confederate divisions were handled with matchless skill by their many experienced officers, and though volunteers recently enlisted, they fought with the steadiness of trained men. They rallied from their several defeats during the morning, resuming their fight from time to time until in the afternoon their courage and fortitude were rewarded by a most remarkable victory. The Federal divisions were driven from the field by impetuous but well directed Confederate attacks. The defeated regiments were broken into fragments of companies, and at length the defeat grew into a rout of the grand army that had marched into Virginia with great confidence in the power of their numbers to make one effective blow that would "end the war in sixty days."

This Page last updated 06/01/02