J.E.B. Stuart At 1st Manassas (Bull Run)
From
The Life and Campaigns of Major-General J.E.B. Stuart

Chapter V.--First Manassas

       Is the summer of 1860 the 1st regiment U.S. Cavalry was ordered from Fort Riley to make a demonstration against the Comanche and other hostile Indians, and when on the head-waters of the Arkansas, received instructions to remain in that section and select a site for a new fort. This was done about midsummer, and the fort now known as Fort Lyon was begun. Here the regiment wintered.
       In March, 1861, Lieutenant Stuart obtained a two months' leave of absence. Having resolved to direct his own course by the action of his native State in regard to secession, he wished to place himself in such position that he could either return to Virginia or remove his family to Fort Lyon when the decision of Virginia was made known. He now repaired to St. Louis, where he passed three weeks in uncertainty. Returning to Fort Riley, he there learned that Virginia had passed the ordinance of secession. His leave of absence had not yet expired, and he at once removed his family to St. Louis, and took passage on a river steamboat for Memphis. Much excitement existed in St. Louis, but keeping his own counsel, he was enabled to avoid all difficulty. When the boat landed at Cairo, Stuart forwarded to the War Department his resignation as an officer in the United States Army. Almost immediately thereafter he received the notification of his promotion to captaincy in his regiment. On the 7th of May he reached Wytheville, Va., and on the same day his resignation was accepted by the War Department. He now proceeded at once to Richmond, Va., and offered his sword in the defence of his native State.
       His first commission in the Southern army was that of lieutenant-colonel of infantry, dated May 10, 1861, with orders to report to Colonel T. J. Jackson, at Harper's Ferry. This commission was issued by the State of Virginia. On July 16, 1861, he received from the same source his commission as colonel of cavalry. On the 24th of September of the same year he was made brigadier-general by the Confederate States' government, and on July 25, 1862, he was commissioned major-general by the same authority.
       The cavalry under Stuart's command in June, 1861, numbered only twenty-one officers and three hundred and thirteen men present for duty, and yet such was his activity that a front of more than fifty miles was efficiently watched, and every important movement of the enemy was duly reported. It was in reference to these services that General Joseph E. Johnston, when subsequently transferred to the West, wrote privately to Stuart: "How can I eat, sleep, or rest in peace without you upon the outpost ?"
       On July 1, 1861, Major-General R. Patterson crossed the Potomac at Williamsport and advanced into Virginia, with the intention of operating against the army of General Joseph E. Johnston, at Winchester, and of preventing him from sending reinforcements to Manassas, upon which point McDowell was about to advance. The early discovery of this movement by Stuart enabled General Johnston to send Colonel T. J. Jackson's brigade to the assistance of the cavalry north of Martinsburg. Jackson was ordered to resist the advance of any small body, but to retire under cover of the cavalry if the enemy appeared in force. The result of this movement was "the affair at Falling Waters," in which Jackson, with one regiment of his brigade, numbering three hundred and eighty men, and one piece of artillery, detained the advance of Patterson's column, and compelled him to deploy an entire division for the attack. Jackson then retired beyond Martinsburg, having lost eleven men wounded and nine missing.
       While operating on the flank of Jackson's infantry, Stuart encountered a danger which might have been fatal to him, but which his quick courage converted into the discomfiture of others. Emerging suddenly from a thick piece of woods while riding alone in advance of his men, he found himself in the presence of a considerable body of Federal infantry, and separated from them only by a fence. Riding toward them without hesitation, he directed some of the men, who probably mistook him for one of their own officers, to throw down the fence. This was quickly done; when Stuart ordered the whole party to lay down their arms on the peril of their lives. Bewildered by the boldness of the transaction the men obeyed, and filing them off through the gap in the fence, Stuart soon had them surrounded by his troopers. His prize proved to be forty-nine men of the 15th Pennsylvania volunteers, almost an entire company organization.
       Immediately upon the withdrawal of Colonel Jackson, General Johnston moved his army forward to Darksville, and for four days offered battle to Patterson. The challenge was declined, and Johnston retired to Winchester that he might be in position to reinforce Manassas. On the 15th of July General Patterson advanced to Bunker's Hill, nine miles from Winchester, and on the 17th moved to Smithfield, as if to attack General Johnston from the south. This movement failed to deceive General Johnston, who on the 18th commenced his march from Winchester to Piedmont Station. So skilfully was this movement screened by the dispositions which Stuart made of his cavalry, that General Patterson does not appear to have been aware of it until the 21st of July, on which day Johnston's forces were actively engaged at Bull Run.
       Johnston's infantry was transported by railroad from Piedmont to Manassas; but Stuart's little band of horsemen made the march across the country in due time, and actively participated in the battle. General Johnston thus describes the supreme moment of the battle:

       We had now sixteen guns and two hundred and sixty cavalry and a little above nine regiments of the Army of the Shenandoah, and six guns and less than the strength of three regiments of that of the Army of the Potomac, engaged with about thirty-five thousand United States troops, among whom were full three thousand of the old regular army. Yet this admirable artillery and brave infantry and cavalry lost no foot of ground. For nearly three hours they maintained their position, repelling five successive assaults by the heavy masses of the enemy, whose numbers enabled him continually to bring up fresh troops as their preceding columns were driven back. Colonel Stuart contributed to one of these repulses by a well timed and vigorous charge on the enemy's right flank with two companies of his cavalry.

      General T. J. Jackson says:

       Apprehensive lest my flanks should be turned, I sent orders to Colonels Stuart and Radford, of the cavalry, to secure them. Colonel Stuart, and that part of his command with him, deserve great praise for the promptness with which they moved to my left and secured the flank by timely charging the enemy and driving him back.

       The Official Records give a very inadequate idea of the real service which Stuart performed on this memorable day. I am, however, permitted to make the following extract from an unpublished manuscript narrative, written by General J. A. Early in the years 1867-68, which shows that at the very crisis of the day Stuart held the turning-point of the field, and that with the insignificant force under his command he contributed in no small degree to the final victory.

       General Early thus writes:--

       Toward three P. M. we neared the field of battle, and began to perceive the scenes usual in the rear of an army engaged in action. On entering the road leading from the Lewis House towards Manassas, we met quite a stream of stragglers and skulkers going to the rear, and were informed by them that everything was over with us. Some of the men said that their regiments had been entirely cut to pieces, and that there was no use for them to remain any longer. It was to the encouraging remarks of this stream of recreants that my command was exposed as it moved on, but not a man fell out of ranks. I moved on, soon meeting General Johnston himself, who rode toward us when he discovered our approach, and expressed his gratification at our arrival. I asked him at once to show me my position, to which he replied that he was too much engaged at present to do that in person, but would give me directions as to what I was to do. He then directed me to move to our extreme left and attack the enemy on their right; stating that by directing my march along the rear of our line, by the sound of the firing in front, there could be no mistake; and he cautioned me to take especial care to clear our whole line before advancing to the front, and to be particular and not fire on any of our own men, which he was sorry to say had been done in some instances.
       Affairs now wore a gloomy aspect, and from all the indications in the rear, the day appeared to be going against us .... Immediately in front of us was a body of woods extending towards our left, in which there was the constant rattle of musketry, and I moved along the rear, crossing the road from Manassas to Sudley, and inclining to the left so as to clear our line entirely .... As I approached the open space beyond, a messenger came galloping to me from Colonel, afterwards General, J. E. B. Stuart, who was on our extreme left with two companies of cavalry and a battery of artillery under Lieutenant Beckham, stating that the colonel said that the enemy was about giving way, and if we would hurry up they would soon be in retreat. This was the first word of encouragement I had received after reaching the vicinity of the battle-field. I was then making all the haste the condition of my men, who were much blown, would permit; and I directed my march to a field immediately on the left of the woods, and between Stuart's position and the left of our infantry then engaged. The messenger from Stuart soon returned at a gallop, and stated that the colonel said the enemy had only retired his right behind a ridge now in my front, and was moving another flanking column behind said ridge still farther to our right; and he cautioned me to look out for this new column. The fact was that Stuart, who had been for some time in position beyond our extreme left watching the enemy's movements, had, by the judicious use of Beckham's guns on his right flank, kept the enemy in check, and prevented him from flanking Elzey, then on the extreme left of our infantry. It was mainly by the fire poured from Beckham's guns into the enemy, who had moved a column in front of the lower end of the ridge mentioned, in order to flank Elzey, that that column bad been forced to retire, just as I was approaching, behind the ridge, producing on Stuart the impression that the enemy was about to retreat.
       Having cleared the woods entirely, I moved to the front in order to form line against the flanking column of the enemy which was reported forming behind the ridge in front of me. Just at this time I observed a body of our troops move from a piece of woods on my immediate right across an open space to another in front of it, and this proved to be the left regiment of Elzey's brigade. I heard a rapid fire open from the woods into which this regiment had moved, and a body of the enemy appeared on the crest of the ridge immediately in my front, preceded by a line of skirmishers. This ridge is the one on which was situated the Chinn House, so often mentioned in the descriptions of this battle and the subsequent one near the same position. It is a high ridge, sloping off to our right and terminating in front of the position occupied by Elzey. The enemy had the decided advantage, as my troops had to form in the low ground on our side of the ridge near a small stream which runs along its base. The formation of my troops was in full view of the enemy; and his skirmishers, who were about four hundred yards in front of us, opened on my men, while forming, with long-range rifles or Minie muskets ....
       As we advanced the enemy disappeared behind the crest, and while we were ascending the slope, Lieutenant McDonald, acting aid to General Elzey, came riding rapidly towards me and requested me not to let my men fire on the troops in my front, stating that they consisted of the 13th Virginia regiment of Elzey's brigade. I said to him: "They have been firing on my men;" to which he replied, "I know they have, but it is a mistake; I recognized Colonel Hill of the 13th and his horse." This was a mistake on the part of Lieutenant McDonald, arising from a fancied resemblance of a mounted officer with the enemy to the colonel of the 13th. This regiment did not, in fact, reach the battle-field at all. This information and the positive assurance of Lieutenant McDonald caused me to halt my troops and ride to the crest of the hill, when I observed a regiment about two hundred yards to my right, drawn up in line in front of the woods where Elzey's left was. The dress of the volunteers on both sides at that time was very similar, and the flag of the regiment was drooping around the flag-staff so that I could not see whether it was the flag of the United States or the Confederate flag. The very confident manner of Lieutenant McDonald induced me to believe that this must also be one of our regiments. Colonel Stuart had advanced on my left with his two companies of cavalry and Beckham's artillery, and passing around Chinn's house had caused the battery to open fire upon the regiment I was observing. Thinking it must certainly be one of our regiments, I started a messenger to Colonel Stuart to give him the information and request him to stop the fire; but a second shell or ball from Beckham's guns, which passed not over twenty feet in front of me, caused the regiment to face about and retire rapidly, when I saw the United States flag unfurl, and discovered the mistake into which I had been led by Lieutenant McDonald. I immediately ordered my command forward, and Kemper's and Hays' regiments advanced to the crest of the ridge. All this occurred in less time than it has taken to describe it. On reaching the crest we came in view of the Warrenton turnpike and the plains beyond, and discovered the enemy in full retreat across and beyond the turnpike ....
       We were now on the extreme left of the whole of our infantry force and in advance of the main line. The only troops on our left of any description were the two companies of cavalry and Beckham's battery with Stuart. On my immediate right and a little to the rear was Elzey's brigade, and away farther to the right I saw our line extending towards Bull Run, but I discovered no indications of a forward movement. My troops were now very much exhausted, especially Hays' regiment, which had been marching nearly all the morning before our movement toward the battle-field; and it was necessary to give the men a little time to breathe. Beckham's guns had continued firing on the retreating enemy until the latter was beyond their range, and Colonel Stuart went in pursuit with his cav-airy, followed by Beckham's battery.
       As soon as my men had rested for a brief period, I directed my brigade to advance in column of divisions along the route over which we had seen the enemy retreating, and I sent information to the troops on my right of my purpose to move along their front, with the request not to fire on us. I then moved forward, crossing Young's Branch and the Warrenton turnpike to the north side. When we got into the valley of Young's Branch we lost sight of the enemy, and on ascending to the plains north of the turnpike we could see nothing of his retreating forces. Passing to the west and north of the houses known as the Dogan House, the Stone Tavern, the Matthew House, and the Carter House or Pittsylvania House, and being guided by the abandoned haversacks and muskets, we moved over the ground on which the battle had begun with Evans' command in the early morning, and continued our march until we had cleared our right entirely. We had now got to a point where Bull Run makes a considerable bend above the Stone Bridge, and I halted, as we had not observed any movement from the main line. Nothing could be seen of the enemy, and their troops had scattered so much in the retreat that it was impossible to tell what route they had taken. Moreover, the country was entirely new and unknown to me. I therefore desisted from any farther effort at pursuit. Stuart with his cavalry and Beckham's guns had crossed the run above me, and Cocke's regiment had also moved towards a ford above where I halted.
       It was this movement of mine from our extreme left along the front of our line that produced the erroneous impression, under which some newspaper correspondents wrote from the battle-field, that General Kirby Smith had gotten off the train at Gainesville, and moved directly to where the battle was raging; as my command when first seen from our right was moving from the direction of Gainesville.
       Generals Johnston and Beauregard have both attributed the turning of the tide of battle to the movement of my brigade against the enemy's right,--the former in his "Narrative," and the latter in a letter on the origin of the Confederate battle-flag. General Johnston in his "Narrative" says that on my way to attack the enemy's right I was "reinforced by five companies of cavalry commanded by Colonel Stuart and a battery under Lieutenant Beckham." Stuart had only two companies of cavalry with him, and he was in position on the extreme left when I arrived, and had been there for some time, rendering very efficient and valuable service by keeping the enemy's right in check, and thwarting the efforts to flank our left until my timely arrival. But for his presence there, I am of opinion that my brigade would have arrived too late to be of any service, as by falling upon the left and rear of Elzey's brigade, the enemy would probably have ended the battle before my brigade reached that point.

       Stuart did as much towards saving the battle of First Manassas as any subordinate who participated in it; and yet he has never received any credit for it, in the official reports or otherwise. His own report is very brief and indefinite.

       The force at Stuart's command was utterly inadequate to the pursuit of McDowell's routed army; but Stuart followed the fugitives for a distance of twelve miles, and until his command had been reduced to a mere handful by the sending of prisoners to the rear.
       While Stuart was thus engaged on the extreme left, the 30th Virginia regiment, Cavalry, under Colonel R. C. W. Radford, rendered effective service on the right flank of Jackson's command. At the turning-point of the battle Colonel Radford charged one of the enemy's batteries, killed the horses attached to two pieces, and captured Colonel Corcoran, of the 69th New York regiment, with his colors and a number of prisoners. Colonel Radford made a second charge against a force of infantry and artillery, in which it seems that his cavalry was repulsed, but he continued to follow the retreating enemy. Lieutenant-Colonel T. T. Munford, with four companies of the 30th Virginia, aided in these movements on Colonel Radford's right. Both Colonel Radford and Colonel Munford claim that the attacks made by them caused the stampede and blockade of the enemy's vehicles near Cub Run bridge, which resulted in the capture of fourteen pieces of artillery, with wagons and ambulances.
       The battle of Bull Run was succeeded by many months of inactivity to the main armies, during which the cavalry was engaged in not infrequent skirmishes and reconnoissances, the result of which was to cement the mutual confidence between Stuart and his men. Outpost duty with Stuart did not consist in the mere routine of establishing pickets and posting videttes; it was the school of instruction for his inexperienced but willing soldiers, and he himself was their ready and thorough instructor. In these early days, too, Stuart marked out for promotion more than one gallant spirit who served under him with distinction in subsequent and more important campaigns. Beckham, who handled his guns so well at Manassas, commanded the horse artillery after the .death of Pelham, and proved himself no unworthy successor of that young hero. Promoted to chief of artillery of Hood's army, he laid down his life before the intrenchments at Nashville. Rosser, of the Washington Artillery, courted distinction under the eye of Stuart; and owed his subsequent rank as much to the favor of that officer, and to the restraints which he threw about him, as he did to his own unquestioned talents, -- a debt which he has of late but ill repaid by unnecessary reflections on the military character of his dead chief.
        With restless activity Stuart pursued a well-directed system of annoyance against the Federal pickets, drove them from Mason's, Munson's, and Upton's hills, and established his own headquarters on Munson's Hill, with his pickets within sight of the spires of Washington. Here he maintained himself for some weeks.

This page last updated 02/16/02

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