DAvis on Manassas

Jefferson Davis

The activity and vigilance of Stuart, afterwards distinguished as commander of cavalry in the army of Virginia, and the skill and daring of Jackson, soon by greater deeds to become immortal, checked, punished, and embarrassed the enemy in his threatened advances, and his movements became so devoid of a definite purpose that one was at a loss to divine the object of his campaign, unless it was to detain General Johnston with his forces in the valley of the Shenandoah, while General McDowell, profiting by the feint, should make the real attack upon General Beauregard's army at Manassas. However that may be, the evidence finally became conclusive that the enemy under General McDowell was moving to attack the army under General Beauregard. The contingency had therefore arisen for that junction which was necessary to enable us to resist the vastly superior numbers of our assailant; for, though the most strenuous and not wholly unsuccessful exertion had been made to reinforce both the armies of the Shenandoah and of the Potomac, they yet remained far smaller than those of the enemy confronting them, and made a junction of our forces indispensable whenever the real point of attack should be ascertained. For this movement we had the advantage of an interior line, so that, if the enemy should discover it after it commenced, he could not counteract it by adopting the same tactics. The success of his policy, it will readily be perceived, depended upon the time of execution, for though from different causes, failure would equally result if done too soon or too late. The determination as to which army should be reinforced from the other, and the exact time of the transfer, must have been a difficult problem, as both the generals appear to have been unable to solve it (each asking reinforcements from the other).

On July 9th General Johnston wrote an official letter, from which I make the following extracts:


GENERAL: .. - Similar information from other sources gives me the impression that the reinforcements arriving at Martinsburg amount to seven or eight thousand. I have estimated the enemy's force hitherto, you may remember, at eighteen thousand. Additional artillery has also been received. They were greatly superior to us in that arm before.

The object of reinforcing General Patterson must be an advance upon this place. Fighting here against great odds seems to me more prudent than retreat.

I have not asked for reinforcements, because I supposed that the War Department, informed of the state of affairs everywhere, could best judge where the troops at its disposal are most required.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

(Signed) JOSEPH E. Johnston, Brigadier-General, etc.

If it is proposed to strengthen us against the attack I suggest as soon to be made, it seems to me that General Beauregard might with great expedition furnish five or six thousand men for a few days.

As soon as I became satisfied that Manassas was the objective point of the enemy's movement, I wrote to General Johnston, urging him to make preparations for a junction with General Beauregard, and to his objections, and the difficulties he presented, replied at great length, endeavoring to convince him that the troops he described as embarrassing a hasty march might be withdrawn in advance of the more effective portion of his command. Writing with entire confidence, I kept no copy of my letters, and when subsequent events caused the wish to refer to them, I requested General Johnston to send me copies of them. He re plied that his tent had been blown down, and his papers had been scattered. His letters to me, which would show the general purport of mine to him, have shared the fate which during or soon after the close of the war befell most of the correspondence I had preserved, and his retained copies, if still in his possession, do not appear to have been deemed of sufficient importance to be inserted in his published Narrative.

On July 17, 1861, the following telegram was sent by the adjutant general:

Richmond, July 17, 1861.

To General J. E. JOHNSTON, Winchester, Virginia.

General Beauregard is attacked. To strike the enemy a decisive blow, a junction of all your effective force will be needed. If practicable, make the movement, sending your sick and baggage to Culpepper Court-House, either by railroad or by Warrenton. In all the arrangements exercise your discretion.

(Signed) S. COOPER.

Adjutant and inspector-General.

The confidence reposed in General Johnston, sufficiently evinced by the important command entrusted to him, was more than equal to the expectation that he would do all that was practicable to execute the order for a junction, as well as to secure his sick and baggage. For the execution of the one great purpose, that he would allow no minor question to interfere with that which was of vital importance, and for which he was informed all his "effective force" would "be needed."

The order referred to was the telegram inserted above, in which the sending the sick to Culpeper Court House might have been after or before the effective force had moved to the execution of the main and only positive part of the order.

All the arrangements were left to the discretion of the general. It seems strange that anyone has construed this expression as meaning that the movement for a junction was left to the discretion of that officer, and that the forming of a junction-the imperious necessity-should have been termed in the order "all the arrangement," instead of referring that word to its proper connection, the route and mode of transportation. The general had no margin on which to institute a comparison as to the importance of his remaining in the Valley, according to his previous assignment, or going where he was ordered by competent authority.

It gives me pleasure to state that, from all the accounts received at the time, the plans of General Johnston for masking his withdrawal to form a junction with General Beauregard were conducted with marked skill, and though all of his troops did not arrive as soon as expected and needed, he has satisfactorily shown that the failure was not due to any defect in his arrangements for their transportation.

The great question of uniting the two armies had been decided at Richmond. The time and place depended on the enemy, and, when it was seen that the real attack was to be against the position at Manassas, the order was sent to General Johnston to move to that point. His letters of the 12th and 11th instant expressed his doubts about his power to retire from before the superior force of General Patterson, therefore the word "practicable" was in this connection the equivalent of possible.

That it was, at the time, so understood by General Johnston, is shown by his reply to the telegram.

Headquarters, WINCHESTER, July 18, 1861.

GENE: I have had the honor to receive your telegram of yesterday.

General Patterson, who had been at Bunker Hill since Monday, seems to have moved yesterday to Charleston, twenty-three miles to the east of Winchester.

Unless he prevents it, we shall move toward General Beauregard to-day. (Signed)


After General Johnston commenced his march to Manassas, he sent to me a telegram, the substance of which, as my memory serves and the reply indicates, was an inquiry as to the relative position he would occupy toward General Beauregard. I returned the following answer:

RICHMOND, July 20, 1861.

General J. E. JOHNSTON, Manassas Junction, Virginia.

You are a general in the Confederate Army, possessed of the power attaching to that rank. You will know how to make the exact knowledge, of Brigadier. General Beauregard, as well of the grounds as of the troops and preparations, avail for the success of the object in which you cooperate. The zeal of both assures me

of harmonious action.

(Signed) JEFFERSON Davis.

General Johnston, by his promotion to the grade of general, as well as his superior rank as a brigadier over Brigadier General Beauregard, gave him precedence; there was no need to ask which of the two would command the whole, when their troops should join and do duty together. Therefore his inquiry, as it was revolved in my mind, created an anxiety, not felt before, lest there should be some unfortunate complication, or misunderstanding, between these officers, when their forces should be united. Regarding the combat of July 18th as the precursor of a battle, I decided, at the earliest moment, to go in person to the army.

As has been heretofore stated, Congress was to assemble on July 20th to hold its first session at the new capital, Richmond, Virginia. My presence on that occasion and the delivery of a message were required by usage and law. After the delivery of the message to Congress on Saturday, July 20th j intended to leave in the afternoon for Manassas, but was detained until the next morning, when j left by rail, accompanied by my aide-de-camp, Colonel J. R. Davis, to confer with the generals on the field. As we approached Manassas railroad junction, a cloud of dust was visible a short distance to the west of the railroad. It resembled one raised by a body of marching troops, and recalled to my remembrance the design of General Beauregard to make the Rappahannock his second line of defense. It was, however, subsequently learned that the dust was raised by a number of wagons which had been sent to the rear for greater security against the contingencies of the battle. The sound of the firing had now become very distinct, so much so as to leave no doubt that a general engagement had commenced. Though that event had been anticipated as being near at hand after the action of the 18th, it was both hoped and desired that it would not occur quite so soon, the more so as it was not known whether the troops from the valley had yet arrived.

On reaching the railroad junction, I found a large number of men, bearing the usual evidence of those who leave the field of battle under a panic. They crowded around the train with fearful stories of a defeat of our army. The railroad conductor announced his decision that the railroad train should proceed no farther. Looking among those who were about us for one whose demeanor gave reason to expect from him a collected answer, I selected one whose gray beard and calm face gave best assurance. He, however, could furnish no encouragement. Our line,

he said, was broken, all was confusion, the army routed, and the battle lost. I asked for Generals Johnston and Beauregard; he said they were on the field when he left it. I returned to the conductor and told him that I must go on; that the railroad was the only means by which I could

proceed, and that, until I reached the headquarters, I could not get a

horse to ride to the field where the battle was raging. He finally consented to detach the locomotive from the train, and, for my accommodation, to run it as far the army headquarters. In this manner Colonel Davis, aide-de-camp, and myself proceeded.

At the headquarters we found Quartermaster General W. L. Cabell and Adjutant General Jordan, of General Beauregard's staff, who

courteously agreed to furnish us horses, and also to show us the route. While the horses were being prepared, Colonel Jordan took occasion to advise my aide-de-camp, Colonel Davis, of the hazard of going to the field, and the impropriety of such exposure on my part. The horses were after a time reported ready, and we started to the field. The stragglers soon became numerous, and warnings as to the fate which awaited us if

we advanced were not only frequent but evidently sincere.

There were, however, many who turned back, and the wounded generally cheered upon meeting us. I well remember one, a mere stripling who, supported on the shoulders of a man who was bearing him to

the rear, took off his cap and waved it with a cheer, that showed within that slender form beat the heart of a hero-breathed a spirit that would dare the labors of Hercules.

As we advanced the storm of that battle was rolling westward, and its fury became more faint. When I met General Johnston, who was upon a hill which commanded a general view of the field of the afternoon's operations, and inquired of him as to the state of affairs, he replied that we had won the battle. I left him there and rode still farther to the west. Several of the volunteers on General Beauregard's staff joined me, and a command of cavalry, the gallant leader of which, Captain John F. Lay, insisted that I was too near the enemy to be without an escort. We saw, however, only one column near to us that created a doubt as to which side it belonged; as we were riding toward it, it was suggested that we should halt until it could be examined with a field glass. Colonel Chesnut dismounted so as the better to use his glass, and at that moment the column formed into line, by which the wind struck the flag so as to extend it, and it was plainly revealed to be that of the United States.

Our cavalry, though there was present but the squadron previously mentioned, and from a statement of the commander of which I will make some extracts, dashed boldly forward to charge. The demonstration was followed by the immediate retreat of what was, I believe, the last, thereabouts, of the enemy's forces maintaining their Organization, and showing a disposition to dispute the possession of the field of battle. In riding over the ground it seemed quite possible to mark the line of a fugitive's flight. Here was a musket, there a cartridge box, there a blanket or Overcoat, a haversack, etc., as if the runner had stripped himself, as he went, of all impediments to speed.

As we approached toward the left of our line, the signs of an utter rout of the enemy were unmistakable, and justified the conclusion that the watchword of "On to Richmond,"' had been changed to "Off for Washington!"

On the extreme left of our field of Operations I found the troops whose opportune arrival had averted impending disaster, and had so materially contributed to our victory. Some of them had, after arriving at the Manassas railroad junction, hastened to our left; their brigadier general, E. K. Smith, was wounded soon after getting into action, and the command of the brigade dissolved upon Elzy, by whom it was gallantly and skillfully led to the close of the battle; others, under the command of General (then Colonel) Early, made a rapid march, under the pressing necessity, from the extreme right of our line to and beyond our left, so as to attack the enemy in flank, thus inflicting on him the discomfiture his oblique movement was designed to inflict on us. All these troops and the others near to them had hastened into action without supplies or camp equipage; weary, hungry, and without shelter, night closed around them where they stood, the blood-stained victors on a hard-fought field.

It was reported to me that some of the troops had been so long without food as to be suffering severe hunger, and that no supplies could be got where they were. I made several addresses to them, all to the effect that their position was that best adapted to a pursuit of the enemy, and that they should therefore remain there; I added that I would go to headquarters and direct that supplies be sent to them promptly.

General (then Colonel) Early, commanding a brigade, informed me of some wounded who required attention; one, Colonel Gardner, was, he said, at a house not far from where we were. I rode to see him, and found him in severe pain; from the twitching, visible and frequent, he seemed to be threatened with tetanus. A man sat beside him whose uniform was that of the enemy; he was gentle, however, and appeared to be solicitously attentive. He said that he had no morphine, and did not know where to get any. I found in a short time a surgeon who went with me to Colonel Gardner, having the articles necessary in the case. Before leaving Colonel Gardner, he told me that the man who was attending to him might, without hindrance, have retreated with his comrades, but had kindly remained with him, and he therefore asked my protection for the man. I took the name and the state of the supposed good Samaritan, and at army headquarters directed that he should not be treated as a prisoner. The sequel will be told hereafter.

It was then late, and we rode back in the night, say seven miles, to the army headquarters. I had not seen General Beauregard on the field, and did not find him at his quarters when we returned; the promise made to the troops was therefore communicated to a staff officer, who said he would have the supplies sent out. At a later hour when I met General Beauregard and informed him of what had occurred, he stated that, because of a false alarm which had reached him, he had ordered the troops referred to from the left to the right of our line, so as to be in position to repel the reported movement of the enemy against that flank. That such an alarm should have been credited, and a night march ordered on account of it, shows how little the completeness of the victory was realized.