Report of Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, C. S.
Commanding Division, of Battle of Manassas.
AUGUST 16-SEPTEMBER 2, 1862
Campaign in Northern Virginia.
HEADQUARTERS ANDERSON'S DIVISION,
October 11, 1862.
Maj. G. MOXLEY SORREL,
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part borne by my command at the battle of Manassas on August 30 last:
The command of General Longstreet bivouacked on the night of August 27 at White Plains.
On the following day the march was resumed, following the road leading through Thoroughfare Gap. Arriving near this Gap, it was found to be occupied by the enemy, supposed to be in strong force. The three brigades under my command--my own, Generals Featherston's and Pryor's--were, together with two batteries of artillery, mostly rifled pieces, detached from the main command, and moved off to the left over a rough and hilly road in the direction of Hopewell Gap, with orders to force our way through it should the enemy be found to hold it.
After a tedious, fatiguing, and rather difficult march, the Gap was reached at 10 p.m. Halting the column, a regiment was detached, preceded by a company, both under the direction of Brigadier-General Pryor, with instructions to approach the pass cautiously with the view of ascertaining if it was held by the enemy, and, if so, as to his strength. In one-half or three-quarters of an hour General Pryor reported that he had threaded his way through the pass as far as Antioch Church, near 1 mile beyond. The troops were then moved forward through the pass, and after posting pickets on the various roads and mountain paths that diverged from this Gap the command at 12 o'clock bivouacked for the night. Hopewell Gap is about 3 miles from Thoroughfare Gap, being connected with the latter on the east side by two roads, one of which is impracticable for wagons. The enemy had been at this pass during the day but retired before night, thus giving us a free passage.
Early the following morning our march was resumed, and the command rejoined at 9.30 a.m. the remainder of the division at the intersection of the two roads leading from the Gaps above mentioned. Pursuing our line of march, together with the division, we passed by Gainesville, and advancing some 3 miles beyond, my three brigades were formed in line of battle on the left and at right angles to the turnpike. Having advanced near three-fourths of a mile, we were then halted. The enemy was in our front and not far distant. Several of our batteries were placed in position on a commanding eminence to the left of the turnpike. A cannonading ensued and continued for an hour or two, to which the enemy's artillery replied.
At 4.30 or 5 p.m. the three brigades were moved across to the right of the turnpike a mile or more to the Manassas Gap Railroad. While here musketry was heard to our left on the turnpike. This firing continued with more or less vivacity till sundown. Now the command was ordered back to the turnpike and forward on this to the support of General Hood, who had become engaged with the enemy and had driven him back some distance, inflicting severe loss upon him, being checked in his successes by the darkness of the night. After reaching General Hood's position but little musketry was heard; all soon became quiet. Our pickets were thrown out to the front. The enemy's camp fires soon became visible, extending far off to our left, front, and right. Remaining in this position till 12 o'clock at night, the troops were withdrawn three-fourths of a mile to the rear and bivouacked, pickets being left to guard our front.
Before sunrise the next morning (August 30)the pickets began to fire; at times it became quite rapid. The enemy could be seen relieving their skirmishers. The firing between the skirmishers continued with but little intermission throughout the day. Batteries were placed in position on the left of the turnpike on commanding heights, where they had been the day before. They soon attracted the fire of the enemy's artillery.
Before 7 a.m. Pryor's brigade was placed in position in line at right angles to the turnpike in rear of a fence in woods, an open field ex tending to the front more than a mile, the surface of which was varied with a succession of valleys and hills; Featherston's brigade in line on his left, and extending so far to the left as to be in contact with the extreme right of General Jackson's command; my brigade in the woods to the rear of the center of the line occupied by the other two brigades. In front of General Pryor in the open field was Colonel Law's brigade (Hood's division) on the right of the road; General Hood's brigade in woods. Extending far to the right of Hood were other brigades of the division. The infantry and artillery fire continued during most of the day. At times the enemy's infantry and artillery were plainly visible, moving in different directions, both to the right and left of the road. Wagons could be seen moving off in the direction of Bull Run and clouds of dust farther off in that direction.
About 3.30 p.m. the enemy's infantry were seen emerging from a wood upon an open field in line of battle, the wood and field being in front of Jackson's extreme right and to the left and near Featherston's brigade, this field about 500 yards wide and terminating 150 yards from Jackson's line, the ground here rising rather steeply for a short distance and then level to the railroad, behind the embankment of which at this point were Jackson's men. Seeing this advance of the enemy, I repaired at once to the in interval between Pryor's and Featherston's brigades. From this point there was an excellent view of the field and not more than 400 yards distant. The first line of the enemy advanced in fine style across the open field. There was but little to oppose them. They were fired upon by our pickets and skirmishers, but they continued to advance, and, ascending the rise above referred to, came within full view of Jackson's line, and were here received with a terrific fire of musketry at short range. They hesitated for an instant, recoiling slightly, and then advanced to near the embankment. Twice did I see this line advance and retire, exposed to a close and deadly fire of musketry. Seeing a second line issuing from the woods upon the field, I was in the act of ordering a battery to be placed in position to fire upon them when a battery was directed by the major-general commanding to fire upon them, this battery being near the turnpike in an excellent and commanding position. The fire of this battery was most opportunely delivered upon this advancing line of the enemy. They were caught in the open field. The effect of every shot could be seen. A rapid fire of shot, shell, and spherical case, delivered with admirable precision, checked their advance. As the shells and spherical case would burst over in front and near them their ranks would break, hesitate, and scatter. This artillery fire alone broke regiment after regiment and drove them back into the woods.
Seeing these successive lines and regiments of the enemy cheeked and finally driven back, and yet their front line quite close upon Jackson's line, thus leaving an interval of more than 600 yards between them and the broken retreating lines, I ordered General Featherston to move his brigade by the flank rapidly down the slope in his front, and thus take in rear or intercept the retreat of the enemy that were so closely engaged with Jackson. This order was repeated three times and in the most positive and peremptory manner, but it was not obeyed. At length the front line of the enemy,sadly thinned by the close fire of Jackson's men behind the railway bank, broke and fell back with great precipitancy and disorder, followed by a portion of Jackson's troops. Featherston now descends the slope in his front and joins in the pursuit across the open field. Pryor's brigade was also ordered to follow rapidly. The fleeing enemy, under cover of the woods, endeavored to reform and to contest the field with us, but our men, in spirited by their success, eagerly rush forward, scarcely halting to deliver their fire. The Federals are forced to continue their retreat; the woods through which the enemy fled (some 600 or 700 yards wide) are at length crossed, and a second field, three-quarters of a mile wide, is in our front. The surface of this field, beginning near the woods, ascends slightly, and then descending somewhat further rises again higher than it is near the woods. In the edge of this field I directed my command to halt for a few minutes to reform line, they having become broken and somewhat scattered from their rapid pug-suit of the enemy and traversing the thick woods. While my men were reforming I rode to the crest of the ridge in front of me and saw two entire regiments descending rapidly into the valley. The time lost in reforming my men enabled these retreating regiments to gain shelter in the woods on the far side of the field.
It is proper that I should state that the field in which my command was now being formed was swept by a brisk artillery fire about 1,200 yards distant, the men being but indifferently protected by the ridge in front. This fire was borne by the men with great coolness, no disorder or embarrassment being perceptible. Being now occupied in forming the command for an advance across the field into the woods where the enemy had retreated and for the attack upon the battery to our right and front that was delivering a most annoying fire upon us, I was ordered by the major-general commanding to move with my brigade to the right of the turnpike to the support of General Hood. I now directed General Pryor, who was near me, to confer with General Featherston and to indicate to him my plans for the further pursuit of the enemy. For information as to the services of these two brigades in the subsequent part of the action I beg to refer you to the reports of their respective commanders, herewith inclosed.
In obedience to the orders above mentioned I marched my brigade to the right of the turnpike and advanced on that side. In all of this change of position (in all more than 2 miles) the brigade was exposed to a heavy fire of the enemy's artillery, and at two different parts of the field I had to bear off to the rear, so as not to obstruct the fire of our own artillery. This caused some little delay in my advance. On the right of the turnpike the enemy seemed to have been driven back even faster and farther than on the left. Seeing no person to tell me where General Hood was engaged I continued to advance as rapidly as possible, frequently at double-quick time, and in direction of the most advanced and heaviest firing. At length, having crossed a deep ravine and risen to the summit of the ascent on the far side, the portion of the field where the musketry fight was then going on was in close proximity, it being in a skirt of woods bordering a small stream not 300 yards distant. To reach this there was an open, level field and then a short and abrupt descent to the stream. While crossing this field we were exposed to a close artillery fire of the enemy from a battery in front of where our men were then engaged. In addition to this two brigades of the enemy's infantry, who were approaching obliquely the field where the musketry was then raging, reaching the crest of a hill and seeing my brigade moving to the same point halted and fired a volley deliberately at my men, but at near 500 yards distant. They fired one after the other; the leading brigade moved to the rear after firing through the intervals of the second. The balls in each case came near, but inflicted a trifling loss; 2 or 3 men wounded slightly. It was now late sundown. My men crossed the little stream near which the fight was then still raging, passed through the woods skirting it, and then changed direction to the left, so as to occupy the same line that our troops were then occupying. They were then thrown into the woods and cautioned to be careful not to fire upon our own men, who were then engaged. My men entered where Wright's brigade had been engaged, and near where General Toombs had been engaged (this was the first time that my men had been engaged in close musketry fight) on the right of the turnpike. The fighting here was soon over, but the musketry was of the heaviest kind while it lasted. The firing continued till after dark for more than half an hour and then gradually ceased. The artillery continued to fire after the musketry had ceased, but by 8.30 [o'clock] it had all ceased. My brigade bivouacked at this point of the field, which was the most advanced point reached by our infantry, and near the hill where Bee and Bartow fell on July 21, 1861--the first Manassas.
The list of casualties of the three brigades having been previously forwarded, it will suffice to state that the entire loss in killed, wounded, and missing was 330 (4 missing).
In closing this report I beg to assure the major-general commanding that both men and officers of my brigade behaved in a manner highly creditable to them. I will only bring to his favorable notice in this report the four regimental commanders of the brigade, viz: Major [J. H. J.] Williams, commanding Ninth Alabama; Major [H. A.] Herbert, Eighth; Captain [J. C. C.] Sanders, Eleventh, and Major [John H.] Caldwell, Tenth Alabama. It will be seen that there was no field officer of higher rank than major, and of those but three.
To my personal staff--Capt. Walter E. Winn, assistant adjutant-gen-eral, and Lieut. M. M. Lindsay, Nineteenth Mississippi--my thanks are especially due for their willingness and promptness in rendering their services at all times during the engagement. I would also bring to your favorable notice Private J. C. Causey, of the Third Virginia Cavalry, my courier, who received late in the action (after dark) a painful wound on the head from a piece of shell while carrying an order to one of my regiments.
The inclosed reports of Generals Featherston and Pryor will bring to your notice such instances of men and officers in their brigades as are deserving of commendation.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. M. WILCOX,
Brigadier-General, Commanding, &c.
Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
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