« PreviousContinue »
sive, and march, by four o'clock in the morning, with their whole forces, by all the roads, upon Centreville. This movement, however, was delayed so long the next morning, by the non-arrival of Elzey's and Kirby Smith's brigades from the Valley, as to afford time to the enemy to progress far in his aggressive movement. The discovery of this movement relieved one source of anxiety by giving assurance of the certainty of a battle with McDowell before Patterson could arrive on the field in force. It was this intention of assuming the offensive, and of making avail of all the roads leading to Centreville, that prevented a concentration of troops towards the left at as early an hour on the next morning as would have seemed proper in the light of the momentous events which soon transpired in that quarter.
If the offensive movement upon Centreville, which had thus been concerted between Johnston and Beauregard, had been carried into execution, it would have proved one of the most decisive recorded in history; for it turned out that McDowell put the body of his army in motion as early as one o'clock A.M. of the 21st, from Centreville, in the direction of Sudley Ford; leaving behind only the corps of Gen. Miles, 11,000 strong. He would therefore have been struck by Johnston's whole army of about 30,000 men in rear and flank, and irretrievably cut off from Washington. This brilliant movement was prevented by the collision of trains, supposed to have been the contrivance of a treacherous Northern conductor, which occurred on the day before, on the Manassas railroad, and which delayed the two brigades that had been due on the 20th ; counting which, the attacking Confederate army would still have embraced but little more than half the numbers of the enemy intended to be assailed.
Many absurdities have been written about the battle of Manassas, and Gen. Johnston has been popularly overlooked in the common narratives of that field, or represented at disadvantage. There is, however, good reason to believe that while Gen. Beauregard persisted in the idea that the attack of the enemy would come from the right, Gen. Johnston had juster conceptions of the field, and was prepared to meet the wbole width of the enemy's designs. His soldierly courtesy and gentlemanly deference to Beauregard have been interpreted into an abnegation of the chief command; and his resolution to leave temporarily undisturbed the dispositions which had been made by his predecessor in command, for receiving an expected attack on the extreme right, or throwing the army offensively on Centreville, has been taken as proof of a serious belief on his part, that the enemy's principal assault, if he should assume the offensive, would be made in that direction. The biographers of officers who held subordinate rank in the affair have added to the confusion of the narration ; each representing his hero as executing his own conceptions of strategy with sovereign obliviousness of the orders of superiours, and roaming over the field at will, selecting each for himself the place of glory, and making of his own person the pivot on which the fortunes of battle revolved. These pretentious narrations are as discreditable to their authors as defamatory to the reputations of the noble soldiers who are thus victimized.
The battle of Manassas, though as important and eventful a one as ever was fought, was yet, in its plan, both of attack and defense, as simple and intelligible as was ever lost and won. The details, though generally given with excessive dramatic exaggeration, much needing the pruning-knife of truthful and conscientious precision, have been too frequently recited to admit of lengthy repetition. Gen. McDowell's plan of battle was to turn the Confederate left, which he attempted with a force in motion of 40,000 regulars and volunteers, against a force actually engaged of only 15,000 volun. teers. A wooded country and a night march enabled him to mask his purpose during the early hours of the morning of the eventful 21st July, 1861 ; and, by a simulated movement against the Confederate right and centre, in which he displayed artillery and infantry, he was able to fix there, for a time, the Confederate troops which had been posted for an advance upon Centreville. His success in this plan of battle depended upon celerity of movement, a heavy concentration of troops in the point to be assailed before time should be afforded his adversary for bringing up opposing forces, and steady valour and intrepidity on the part of his men.
The Confederate plan of defense, as reported to have resided in Gen. Johnston's mind throughout the day, was equally as simple.
insured on that day, and found that the enemy had gained the offensive, his own strategy was instantly determined upon. It was, under the cover of woods, so to dispose his troops as to overlap
the turning column of the enemy, and to take the flanking force itself in flank and rear, at the moment it thought to have turned his own position. It was his further purpose to project the brigades of the extreme right, which could be spared from, or were unavailable for, the support of the left, directly upon Centreville, and thus strike McDowell in rear. His danger consisted in weakness of numbers, which was aggravated by the failure of two brigades—Elzey's and Kirby Smith's—which were still en route from the Valley, to arrive in time. But chiefly was he anxious and apprehensive on the score of Patterson's arrival, and more than once during the day descried in the distance indications which might have proved to be the heralds of his approach. . When the enemy's heavy attack was developed upon the left, the fortune of the day depended upon the ability of the Confederates engaged near the Henry House, to hold their position until reinforcements could be brought to their support. While the fate of the battle was hanging here by a thread, Elzey's missing brigade of the army of the Shenandoah reached Manassas, accompanied by Gen. Kirby Smith, whose own brigade was still behind, and who, being Elzey's senior, had command of the troops he accompanied. · Immediately receiving orders from Gen. Johnston to move under cover of woods to the left of Jackson and Bee, to observe the enemy, and to take care so to place his command as to envelop the column by which McDowell was aiming to turn Jackson, Smith put his command in motion to fulfil these instructions, and rode to Johnston, then at the Lewis House, to receive from him. self a repetition of the orders. Thence proceeding to the extreme left and overtaking his command, he arrived in time to place it in position to surprise McDowell by turning his flanking column, and driving it back in disorder.
While these events were occurring on the extreme left, Gen. Early was executing an order to move from the extreme right to the left. Arriving near his destination about half-past two o'clock, he received an order from Gen. Johnston, precisely similar to that which had been given before to Kirby Smith, which he executed with equal dispatch, gallantry, and success.
The flanking columns of McDowell had been first checked and held at bay by Jackson, until Kirby Smith by his overlapping movement had driven them back from the advanced ground which
they had partially gained. Taking time to re-form his column and to mass still greater numbers for a second onset, McDowell was making his second grand sweep by a still greater circuit, when he was surprised and raked a second time by the overlapping and flanking tactics of Early. Just as he was making the great bend to envelop Elzey's supposed extreme left, a well-directed fire from a park of artillery, admirably posted for the purpose, struck the wheeling columns with a raking fire, happily seconding Early's final assault upon their flank, completed their discomfiture, and threw them into the consternation and panic which impelled them in wild confusion back to Washington.
By the time that this splendid result on the left became evi. dent to Gen. Johnston, he had received intelligence of the miscarriage of the morning's orders, which had directed the brigades on the extreme right to throw themselves upon Centreville. He now instantly dispatched an order to Gens. Bonham and Longstreet, who were nearest him, at Mitchell's Ford, to unite their forces and march with all dispatch upon Centreville. These orders were received, and the two brigades were marched in the direction of Centreville; but Gen. Bonham, greatly to the chagrin of Gen. Longstreet, whom he ranked, determined, after anxious hesitation, not to execute the order, for fear that by failure to rout the forces of Miles which were nearly double his own, the glory of a brilliant victory certainly achieved might be impaired by a partial defeat.* Gen. Bonham was as brave and true an officer as served during the war; and his unhappy determination, on this occasion, is one of those strange phenomena in human action, as inexplicable as pregnant with consequences, in which the caprice of a moment proves to have resolved the destiny of an empire.
This account of the battle of Manassas, differing in some important respects from the popular versions, indicates especially the genius of Johnston on that field. It was his penetration of the enemy's designs against Gen. Beauregard's first impressions, and his direction of the troops so as to overlap the enemy's flanking movement, that furnished most of the generalship of the day, mainly won, as it was, however, by the exceeding valour of the Southern troops. It was his genius that saw at the close of the day the
* A friend writes: “Gen. Longstreet never fails to rob himself of a portion of his hair when he relates this incident."
splendid opportunity of throwing his victorious brigades upon Centreville and finishing the enemy, and was disconcerted in such dramatic conclusion only by the disobedience of his clear and urgent orders.
But although Johnston was the Commanding General on the field, and had taken an independent view of it, it is just to observe that in the action of the day there was constant concert between him and Gen. Beauregard, and that the battle was delivered mainly in the dispositions of the troops made by the latter. There was a happy accord between the two Generals in every new movement to meet the enemy's design as it declared itself. Gen. Johnston has never claimed a monopoly of the glory of Manassas, nor is it due to him; for the part borne by Gen. Beauregard entitled that commander to all that can be awarded consistently with what justice demands for Gen. Johnston. In truth, the glory of the command is a common inheritance for each and for both, which cannot, ought not, and needs not, to be partitioned; and, since the fraternal amenities which a golden page of history describes to have subsisted between Eugene and Marlborough, no two commanders have appeared that have set an example to their profession of relations with each other so generous and kindly as those which Johnston established with his equally chivalrous and patriotic associate.
It has been a trite and voluminous complaint that the victory of Manassas was not made more decisive, and that the Confederate army should have rested on the field which it had cleared of the enemy. We have already discovered the opportunity of aggressive action in the afternoon of the day of the battle. That opportunity was lost, in the first instance, by miscarriage of orders sent to the extreme right by Gens. Johnston and Beauregard ; and, secondly, by the failure of Gen. Bonham, from an honourable but mistaken view of duty, to execute the orders sent him by Gen. Johnston. If this blow had been struck, four instead of three of the Federal divisions would have been shattered, and the brigades on the Confederate right would have been put so far on the way to Washington. But it has been popularly and persistently asked why, when this prospect of enveloping the enemy's force, that still stood at Centreville, was disappointed, the Confederate Generals did not yet pursue his broken forces towards the Potomac. An explanation of this omission of pursuit, which has been so lamented in every