Report of Brig. Gen. George Sykes, U. S. Army,
Commanding Second Division, of the Battle of Bull Run.
AUGUST 16-SEPTEMBER 2, 1862
Campaign in Northern Virginia.
HDQRS. SYKES' DIVISION, PORTER'S ARMY CORPS,
Camp at Vanderwerken's, Va., September 6, 1862.
Capt. FRED. T. LOCKE,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Army Corps.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report:
On the 27th ultimo General F. J. Porter's army corps, of which my division forms a part, effected a junction with the Army of Virginia, under General Pope. The day following we marched to Bristoe Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; thence, on the 29th, to Manassas and westwardly toward Gainesville, making a demonstration against the enemy, and exchanging a few cannon shot with him in the evening. We bivouacked for the night near Bethlehem Church, on the Gainesville road, and at daylight on the 30th marched to the old battle ground of Bull Run, arriving about 9 a.m. General Pope's army was on that ground and in its vicinity. Two brigades of my division (First and Second) were thrown in advance of the Dogan house, facing to the west, their left resting on the Warrenton turnpike. The Third Brigade and my three batteries were held in reserve. An extensive forest masked my front, and on my left, to the south of the Warrenton turnpike, a second forest covered the country and screened the enemy from all observation. These two forests, half a mile apart, near my advanced position, were separated by an open plain that rose in the form of an irregular V toward a commanding crest held by the enemy. His cannon, immediately behind this crest, overlooked my whole division, and as my troops took their place he made good use of it.
From that time until 3 o'clock p.m. a sharp cannonade ensued and some practice among the skirmishers. Those of the enemy were forced back into the forest on the left of the Warrenton turnpike, and some houses and fences previously occupied by him were seized and held by my light troops (Third Infantry).
Thus far we had seen none of the enemy's infantry, none of the cavalry, and only the muzzles of his cannon over the crest heretofore mentioned. We were in profound ignorance of his position, strength, or designs. About 4 p.m. I was ordered to support an attack to be made by General Butterfield. This attack was based upon the supposition that the enemy was in full retreat--so announced in the orders of General Pope. Porter's army corps was to be the pivot of operations. The troops on our right were to swing toward us, clear the enemy in front (if there), and then, by a joint movement with Porter, we were all to hurry him up in his retrograde movement. The Pennsylvania Reserves, under General J. F. Reynolds, had been posted on my left, south of the Warrenton pike. Just previous to the attack these troops were withdrawn, leaving my left flank entirely uncovered and the Warrenton road open. Colonel Warren, Fifth New York Volunteers, commanding my Third Brigade, seeing the paramount necessity of holding this point, threw himself there with his brigade, the remnants of two regiments, and endeavored to fill the gap created by the removal of Reynolds.
Butterfield's attack was gallantly made and gallantly maintained until his troops were torn to pieces. My First Brigade, under Col. R. C. Buchanan, U.S. Army, moved to his aid, relieved him; and became furiously engaged. The troops on our right did not properly support this attack, in consequence of which the whole movement failed. The enemy, posted in a railroad excavation, was as secure as earthen embankments could make him, and as our troops emerged from the woods they were met by withering volleys, that decimated their ranks. Their own fire was almost harmless against a sheltered foe. This advance of parts of Porter's and McDowell's army corps was on the left center of our line. The enemy, seeing its failure, and that our weak point lay on my left in front of Warren, poured upon his little command, under cover of the forest, a mass of infantry that enveloped--almost destroyed--him, and completely pierced our line. Out of 490 men in the Fifth New York Volunteers, 79 killed and 170 wounded attest the nature of this attack.
It became necessary to retire from the ground we occupied. Buchanan's and Chapman's brigades did so in columns of regiments in line of battle under a severe artillery fire, and never wavered. Weed's, Smead's, and Randol's batteries moved with and near them. Warren gathered the remnant of his brigade in rear of Young's Run. I suggested to General Porter that my troops should occupy the plateau of the Henry and Robinson houses beyond Young's Run, and endeavor to hold it against the oncoming foe. Naturally it was the strongest position on the field. He acquiesced in my suggestion, and during the movement to that point I remained with Weed's battery, that again had been brought into action near the Dogan house. After a short interval, riding rapidly toward the plateau, I learned from my adjutant-general, Lieutenant Cutting, that some general officers had sent Chapman's brigade into action on the extreme left, and that the plateau was held by other troops.
Buchanan's and the remnant of Warren's brigades were then formed immediately in rear of the plateau. The enemy continuing to outflank our left, Buchanan was ordered to the support of the forces engaged in that direction, and maintained a gallant and bloody conflict with the foe until, outnumbered, outflanked, and badly crippled, I directed him to retire. Chapman, thrown in previous to Buchanan, fighting desperately for three-quarters of an hour, seriously cut up and fired into by volunteers behind him, was also ordered to retire. This was directed only after a regiment of volunteers on his right and one on his left had fallen back, exposing both his flanks, while a New York battery to the right of him cleared out just when its services were most necessary. The remains of my command were then united on the plateau. My artillery joined me near this position.
Capt. J. R. Smead, Fifth Artillery, was unfortunately killed in bringing off his guns. From the nature of the fight he and Randol had little opportunity to display the skill they had previously acquired in handling their batteries. Weed was in action throughout the day, and strengthened the reputation he had already acquired. He had the misfortune to lose two of his guns by the breaking of their axles. They were abandoned on the road from the battle-field to Centreville---not taken from him by the enemy.
After my command reunited I received orders to move on Centreville, and reached there at midnight intact and in excellent order. The following morning a position was assigned me among the old rifle pits of the rebels, which I held for thirty-six hours. At I a.m. on the 2d of September we moved to Fairfax, thence to Flint Hill, thence to our present camp.
I desire to call the attention of the major-general commanding to the services of Colonels Warren, Buchanan, and Chapman, U.S. Army, commanding brigades of my division. Their coolness, courage, and example were conspicuous. Their claim to promotion has been earned on fields of battle long prior to that of the 30th of August, 1862. Had the efforts of these officers, those of Generals Reynolds, Reno, and Butterfield, been properly sustained, it is doubtful if the day had gone against us. Warren's command was sacrificed by the withdrawal of Reynolds' troops from my left and their non-replacement by others. The enemy masked and concealed his brigades in the forests south of the Warrenton pike. His presence was unseen and unknown until he appeared in sufficient strength to overpower the infantry opposed to him. In fighting an offensive battle, we left behind us a position (the old battle ground) that offered reasonable hopes of success, and in the pursuit of a supposed retreating foe we encountered a well-posted army, flushed by victory, confident, calmly awaiting the attack he most desired.
The reports of brigade, battalion, and artillery commanders are inclosed. I respectfully refer to them for the minuter operations of the day, and cordially unite in the recommendations given in them to officers and men. It will be seen that my troops behaved with the utmost coolness and bravery (known to the general himself); were exposed for many hours to a severe artillery fire without the power of evading it, and when eventually led into battle acted as well as troops ever do. Their conduct left me nothing to desire. It was their misfortune not to be supported, and no fault of theirs that they were compelled to join in the general retreat.
To revert to cases of individual merit, Maj. C. S. Lovell, Tenth Infantry, commanding Second U.S. Infantry, is particularly mentioned for his conduct on this occasion. I desire to add my personal testimony to the major's known gallantry, and to bespeak for him the advancement he so richly deserves.
All my battalion commanders were zealous, energetic, and active. They were, Major Floyd-Jones, Eleventh Infantry; Major Andrews, Seventeenth Infantry; Captains Bootes, Sixth infantry; Wilkins, Third Infantry, commanding the skirmishers; H. Dryer, Fourth Infantry; Blunt, Twelfth Infantry; O'Connell and McKibbin, Fourteenth Infantry, First and Second Battalions; Colonel Bendix, Tenth New York Volunteers, and Capt. C. Winslow, commanding the Fifth New York Volunteers. Lieutenant Sheridan, Third infantry, maintained his line of skirmishers with great obstinacy until our whole force fell back to its last position.
My personal staff--First Lieut. Heyward Cutting, Tenth U.S. Infantry, acting assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. George T. Ingham, Eleventh U.S. Infantry, and First Lieut. Warren W. Chamberlain, Fourteenth U.S. infantry, acting aides-de-camp--were under fire throughout the day, and were constantly occupied in transmitting orders to the various portions of the field. Their zeal, activity, and anxiety to do everything in their power were always apparent. Lieutenant Chamberlain, sent with an order to Colonel Warren near the close of the day, is among the missing. His fate is not yet determined, but he is believed to be a prisoner, wounded, and in the hands of the enemy.
Captain Lawrence and Lieutenant Fletcher, Fourteenth Infantry, were sent with 100 men from my command on the 1st to gather the wounded and render such assistance as was possible to our people left on the field. In this distressing duty they were occupied four or five days, part of the time without food. They deserve mention for their good conduct in this connection.
The medical officers, under Dr. Forwood, U.S. Army, were constantly engaged in their duties, and rendered all the assistance possible under the circumstances.
I append a list of casualties--the aggregate:
Killed Wounded Missing Officers 7 21 3 Enlisted Men 145 564 177 152 585 180
I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
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