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Johnston, and then returned to Washington to take part in more serious and important movements.
On the 21st of July was fought the first battle of Bull Run. The troops marched out from Washington on the 16th. Colonel Burnside was put in command of a brigade, consisting of his own and three other regiments- the 2d Rhode Island, the 2d New Hampshire, and the 71st New York-and Captain (afterwards Lieutenant Colonel) Reynolds' Rhode Island Battery.* This brigade belonged to a division under Colonel (afterwards Major General) David Hunter, and took the advance of the movement upon Fairfax Court House, by way of Annandale. The army, under General McDowell, occupied Centreville on the 18th. A reconnoissance on the same day developed the fact that the enemy, hitherto retreating, was determined to make a stand upon the south side of Bull Run and around his intrenchments at Manassas Junction. Here, on the 19th and 20th, while General McDowell was resting at Centreville, General Johnston from the Shenandoah Valley joined General Beauregard, and the enemy judged himself in sufficient strength to deliver battle, which he was preparing to do when he was informed that General McDowell was on the march.
General McDowell decided to attack on the 21st, and at two o'clock A. M. of that day, the troops were silently moved out of their encampments and put upon the march. The plan was for Colonel Hunter's division to make a flank movement to the right as far as Sudley Ford, then cross Bull Run, and marching down the south bank of that stream, unite with two other divisions, under the command of General David Tyler and Colonel (afterwards Major General) Heintzelman, which were to cross at lower fords and the Stone Bridge on the turnpike, and then offer battle to the enemy. After considerable delay in starting, on the part of the leading division, (General Tyler's,)
Afterwards known as Battery A, 1st R. I. L. A., and distinguished throughout the war for most gallant and effective service.
the flank movement was made, with Colonel Burnside's brigade in advance. The route lay along the Warrenton Turnpike as far as a point just beyond Cub Run, when it turned to the right towards Sudley Ford. General Tyler's division was to continue on the turnpike and cross Stone Bridge. Colonel Heintzelman's was to follow Colonel Hunter for a short distance, and then go down to the run and cross at a ford above the bridge. The road was scarcely more than a wood path, across which many trees had fallen. Delayed by the removal of these obstructions, the column was occupied five or six hours in doing the work of three.
It was half past nine o'clock when the skirmishers of the 2d Rhode Island in advance crossed Sudley Ford, and immediately after, the enemy, who had been forewarned and had gathered a considerable force, opened upon the head of the column with round shot and shell. Our troops responded briskly, Colonel Burnside soon formed his brigade in line of battle, and advanced to meet the foe. The battle raged with great fury in this quarter for two or three hours. The enemy concentrated at this point all his forces, with the exception of two brigades, near Union Mills and Blackburn's Ford, and was determined to break our lines if possible. But our leading brigade firmly held its ground until its supports had come up, and even succeeded in driving the enemy from his strong position. Colonel (afterwards Lieutenant General) Wm. T. Sherman came on from Stone Bridge with his brigade, crossing his troops by a ford above the bridge. Colonel Heintzelman, with his division, followed Hunter, not having been able to find the ford at which he was to cross the run, and participated gallantly in the conflict on the extreme right of our line.
By two o'clock, the enemy was beaten back at all points. Several of his best officers had been killed or wounded. By three, a part of his forces were retreating, broken and demoralized, towards Manassas. Colonel (afterwards Lieutenant General) T. J. Jackson, with a fine brigade of Virginia troops, seemed to be the only man in the rebel army who was deter
mined to hold his ground at all hazards, and all our attacks upon him were unavailing. "See how like a stone wall Jackson's troops stand," cried some one, and the sobriquet of "Stonewall" was thenceforward fixed upon the gallant soldier.
At half past three o'clock, fresh reënforcements for the enemy, under General W. Kirby Smith, arrived from the Shenandoah Valley, and attacked our lines upon the right flank with great energy. Heintzelman's division was at once broken. Two batteries of our artillery-Griffin's and Ricketts'—were overpowered, their supports fled, and the pieces fell into the enemy's hands. Captain Reynolds succeeded in drawing his guns off from the field unharmed, but both Captains Griffin and Ricketts lost all their pieces. Colonel Orlando B. Willcox, in command of a brigade in Heintzelman's division, and other officers were taken prisoners. Colonels Slocum of Rhode Island, Cameron of Pennsylvania, and a considerable number of officers of a lower grade were killed or mortally wounded. The army was somewhat disorganized. The troops, though without food, and suffering much from the heat, had marched well and fought well; but they were not able to stand against the unexpected onset of the enemy's reënforcements. General McDowell, seeing that the battle was going against him, ordered a retreat. It proved to be the worst possible order for volunteer troops in their first engagement. The fortunes of the day were immediately and irremediably changed. Had our troops been directed to rally after their first surprise, and to hold their ground, they could easily have repulsed the last rebel attack, and have sent the enemy panic-stricken beyond Manassas. But the word "retreat" had then an ominous sound.
The loss of these pieces, which decided the issue of the action, is said to have been caused by the mistake of Colonel W. F. Barry, Chief of Artillery, who, standing by Captain Griffin's battery at the time of the enemy's advance, supposed that the new troops were our own and would not permit our artillerists to open on them. The guns were turned away, the enemy coolly deployed at short range, opened a volley of musketry, made a sudden rush, scattered the infantry support, and captured the battery.
The army soon fell into utter disorder, and the broken and disorganized mass poured along the roads in disgraceful flight. The retreat soon became'a rout. Colonel Burnside rallied his brigade just across the run, and, with the aid of Captain Arnold's battery and Major Sykes's battalion of regulars, covered the retreat along the forest road, and saved the army from utter destruction. General Tyler's division had already retreated along the turnpike. The army reached Centreville soon after dark, but in such a demoralized condition that it could not be held, and the entire command was ordered to Washington.
Colonel Burnside's brigade rested in its camp at Centreville for three or four hours, marched during the remainder of the night, was.gathered near Long Bridge in the morning, and the several regiments of which it was composed returned to their encampments in Washington during the forenoon of the 22d.
The battle of Bull Run has given rise to much discussion. It was the first battle of the war, and attracted great attention. It is universally conceded that General McDowell planned the movement skilfully. Had it been carried out according to the order, we should have won a great success. But several circumstances occurred to prevent. The importance of punctuality has never been recognized at any time during the war. It certainly was not considered on the morning of the 21st of July. The leading division ought to have been across Cub Run at the time it was moving out of its camp. The two hours' delay was fatal. Another unfortunate circumstance was Colonel Heintzelman's inability to reach the ford at which he was ordered to cross. Still another was the order in which our troops were sent into the battle, not by brigades but regiment by regiment. Still another was the distance of our reserves from the field of battle, and their inactivity. But most of all was the failure of General Patterson to hold General Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, while General McDowell forced General Beauregard out of Manassas, as could easily have been done. This entire subject has been considered
in another volume, to which the reader curious in such matters is referred.*
The First Rhode Island Regiment, a few days after the battle, was ordered to Providence, where it arrived on the 28th, and was received with unprecedented enthusiasm. Colonel Burnside and his command received the thanks of the General Assembly of Rhode Island, and, on the 2d of August, the regiment was mustered out of the United States service, having won for itself and its Colonel a proud name in the annals of the war.
Campaign of the First Rhode Island Regiment, pp. 74 and following.