What Happened in July 1861 ©
John C. Breckinridge,  Kentucky Senator
Judgment Call: Judge Jack Tenner
Regiments That Stood In The Fire
Ballard’s Staff Ride at Bull Run




By July 4, 1861, when the new Congress, dominated now by the Republican Party, came into session Abraham Lincoln’s gamble that his exercise of unconstitutional power would be sanctioned, paid off. The Republicans in both houses, controlling the agenda, swiftly passed a series of bills that put Lincoln’s war on a legal footing.


How large the space compared to the desks: they knew the chances of the future.


In one month these bills pass:

The Allegiance bill

The Tariff and War Tax bills
The Army and Navy bill

The Insurrection and Sedition bill

The Confiscation bill

The Slaveholders’ Rebellion bill


In the course of the session, the Republican senators proposed a joint resolution designed to validate the President’s unconstitutional acts. What follows is the verbatim debate that took place in the Senate over the merits of the resolution. Despite the fact the Republicans held the majority; the resolution was tabled without a vote at the last minute of the session. One might compare the Senate’s performance here to that of Senate’s debate over the resolution to authorize the President to use force against Iraq, in 2003.


In the Senate of the United States Congress:


Thursday July 4 1861


Senators Present:


Maine                                     Lot Morrill and William P. Fessenden

Vermont                                 Solomon Foot and Jacob Collamer

New Hampshire                     John P. Hale and Daniel Clark

Massachusetts                       Charles Sumner and Charles Wilson

Rhode Island                          James Simmons and Henry Anthony

Connecticut                           James Dixon and Layfayette Foster

New York                               Preston King and Ira Harris

New Jersey                            John R. Thompson and John Ten Eyck

Pennsylvania                          John Wilmot and Edgar Cowan

Delaware                                James Bayard and Willard Sanisbury

Maryland                                Anthony Kennedy and James Pearce

Kentucky                                Lazarus Powell and John C. Breckinridge

Missouri                                 Truston Polk and Waldo Johnson

Tennessee                              Andrew Johnson

Illinois                                    Lyman Trumbull and Orville Browning

Indiana                                    Jesse Bright and Henry Lane

Ohio                                        Benjamin Wade and John Sherman

Michigan                                Zachariah Chandler and Kingsy Bingham

Iowa                                        James Grimes and James Harlan

Wisconsin                              James Doolittle and Timothy Howe

California                               Milton Latham and James McDougall

Minnesota                              Morton Willkerson

Oregon                                   James Nesmith and William Baker

Kansas                                    James Lane and Samuel Pomeroy


Mr. Wilson of Massachusetts (The Natick Cobbler) gave notice that he would introduce a bill to ratify and confirm certain acts of the President for the suppression of insurrection and rebellion.



Saturday July 6


Mr. Wilson introduced joint resolution (S.No.1) to approve and confirm certain acts of the President, for suppressing insurrection and rebellion; which was read twice by its title and ordered printed.


Mr. Wilson moved that the proposed resolution be referred to the Committee on Military Affairs (of which he was the newly installed chairman). The motion was agreed to.



Monday July 8


Mr. Wilson takes the floor to report back the resolution without amendment from the Committee on Military Affairs and Militia and states the Committee recommends its passage.


Mr. Polk of Missouri: “Let it lie over.”


The Vice President: “Let it lie over.”


Tuesday July 9


The Senators gave eulogies in honor of Stephen A Douglas whose death was reported.


Wednesday July 10


The Vice President: “The joint resolution (S.No. 1) to approve and confirm certain acts of the President will now be considered.”


The joint resolution was read as follows:


            Whereas, since the adjournment of Congress, on the 4th of March last, a formidable insurrection in certain States of this Union has arrayed itself in armed hostility to the Government of the United States; and whereas the President did, under the extraordinary exigencies thus presented, exercise certain powers and adopt certain measures for the preservation of this Government—that is to say: First. He did, on the 15th of April, issue his proclamation calling upon the several states for seventy-five thousand men to suppress such insurrectionary combinations. Second. He did, on the 19th of April, issue a proclamation setting on foot a blockade of the ports within the (seceded) States. Third. He did, by order of April 27, authorize General Scott to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus in the territory between Philadelphia and Washington. Fourth. He did on the 3rd of May, issue a proclamation calling into the U.S. service forty-two thousand volunteers, increasing the Regular Army by the addition of twenty-two thousand men. All of which proclamations and orders have been submitted to Congress. Now, therefore,


Be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all of the extraordinary acts, proclamations, and orders, heretofore mentioned, be, and the same are hereby, approved and declared in all respects legal and valid, to the same intent, and with the same effect, as if they had been issued and done under the previous express authority and direction of the Congress of the United States.


 The Vice President: “The joint resolution is now before the Senate as in Committee of the Whole, and open to amendment.”


Mr. Polk of Missouri: “I prefer the matter go over until another day. I may desire to express some views in opposition to it. The President tells us also, that we are to have an opinion from the Attorney General that will bear on the matter.”


Mr. McDougall of California: “I came here to indorse the preliminary action of the Government. I hope that may be done, and that all our bills may pass without debate.”


Mr. Fessenden of Maine: “I have no objection to deferring the matter until tomorrow, by I shall oppose any further postponement after that.”


Mr. Wilson: “Here is a resolution plain and simple to the comprehension of every man, and I hope the Senate will consider this measure until it is ready to vote on it.”


Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware: “It would be hurrying us in the endorsement of every act that the Administration has done to require that we should now proceed to the discussion of the very grave questions of constitutional law involved in the consideration of this resolution.”


The motion to postpone was not agreed to.


Mr. Latham of California: “During my absence, I understand that Mr. Clark stated that the Committee on Military Affairs were unanimous in reporting it. Such was not the case. So far as the proclamation suspending the writ I have heard no reason for that extraordinary measure. I am not prepared to endorse blind fold everything the Government may do.”


Mr. Kennedy of Maryland: “I think there are grave considerations involved in this resolution, that I am not prepared to endorse. One or two of the propositions in it are calculated to establish a precedent that may be seized upon hereafter, under the plea of necessity, for gross and palpable aggressions upon the Constitution. . . . as for the suspension of the writ, I now say to the Senate and the country that I conceive it to have been without any necessity whatever, and without the warrant of the law itself.”


Mr. Wilson: “Everybody knows that these acts of the Administration were forced upon it by the condition of the country. The legislation of the country had not provided the necessary means, and the President took the responsibility, and I am sorry now that there should be any doubt or hesitation in legalizing by our votes the action of the Government, extorted from it in an emergency.”


Mr. King of New York: “I do not come here to criticize. I heartily concur in and approve of all that has been done, as I believe the people are ready to come forward and see the Government maintained, and that but one flag, and that the star-spangled banner, shall fly in the air of this country.” (Applause in the galleries)


Mr. Baker of Oregon: “Mr. President, We are legislating in the midst of a great (army) camp, and I move that the galleries be cleared upon any manifestation of expression.”


Mr. Hale: “As a great many of the audience are strangers, they may not be aware of our rules.”


The Vice President: “It comes under the rule where the presiding officer maintains order. If there is repetition, the galleries will be cleared and the doors closed.”


Mr. Kennedy: “I do not think that force applied by armies upon either side is the way to secure and maintain the Union. I agreed with the senators upon the floor, at the last session, who raised their voices against the adoption of such a policy of that sort. You will never reconstruct the Union with the sword. May I ask what necessity justified the suspension of the writ?


Mr. Wilson: “That there was a band of conspirators in the city of Baltimore, is a complete justification. There is no spot on this continent where there have been blacker traitors that in and about Baltimore.”


Mr. Kennedy: “Out of a vote of 75,000 at the recent election in Maryland, the Union majority approximated 20,000. Yet, on account of the clamor that has been made about secret associations, there has been an exercise of arbitrary power over the State of Maryland., without the slightest necessity, and, indeed, without the authority of law.”


Mr. Baker: “I approve, as a personal and political friend of the President, of every measure he has taken and I propose to ratify whatever needs ratification. I do know that the determined aggregated power of the whole people of this country—all its treasure, all its arms, all its blood, all its enthusiasm, kindled, concentrated, poured out in one mass of living valor upon the foe—will conquer.”


The joint resolution was ordered to be engrossed for a third reading, and was read a third time.


The Presiding Officer: “The question is on the passage of the joint resolution.”


Mr. Polk: “On that question I ask for the yeas and nays.”


The yeas and nays are ordered.


Mr. Polk: “I cannot consent to the provisions of the joint resolution. It has been said that the country is engaged in war. That is true, sir: There are more troops under arms today than there ever were before in this country during all its previous history. This has been brought about since the adjournment of the last Congress, indeed since April 15. The Constitution says that Congress shall be authorized to declare war; and yet, sir, Congress has not declared war. That war has been brought on by the President, of his own motion and of his own wrong; and under what circumstances?


Before the close of the last Congress, as early as January, secession was an accomplished fact. And yet the last Congress made no declaration of war. The last Congress passed no legislation calculated to carry on a war. The last Congress refused to pass bills having this direction, or having any purpose of coercion. Now, sir, how was this war brought on? It has been brought on by Lincoln. I quote Vattel: `This constitution is a vain phantom, and the best laws are useless, if they be not rigorously observed; to attack the constitution is a capital crime against society.’


“I cannot give my consent for acts which infringe the Constitution under which the President acts, and which he is sworn to preserve, protect and defend. I am one of those who believe that there is no necessity in peace or war that justifies a violation of the Constitution. I believe this constitution was made for war as well as peace. It provides in itself for a declaration of war, it provides how the declaration shall be made. And yet, sir, somehow, since the adjournment of Congress last, this war has been brought upon the country.


The Congress of the United States, as early as 1795, for the purpose of carrying out a plain provision of the Constitution, passed the act of that day. That act I have here. I call attention to the third section: `Provided always that whenever it may be necessary, in the judgment of the President, to use the military force hereby directed to be called forth, the President shall by proclamation, command the insurgents to disperse.’ The President then, proceeding under this law, issues a proclamation on April 15 calling out 75,000 men.


I think no such case as contemplated by this Act existed on or previous to April 15. The case contemplated by this Act is one where citizens in some locality of a State refuse to obey the laws. The law was intended to operate upon the individual citizen. It does not contemplate the case of a State, or of seven States, assuming, in their corporate capacity, to withdraw themselves from the Union. When a State assumes that attitude, and the Government attempts to enforce its laws, it is in effect and in fact a coercion of the State; and that proposition is the very proposition which was intended to be ignored and discarded by the framers of the Constitution, for it was presented and voted down repeatedly, in the different shapes in which it was offered, in the convention that adopted the Constitution.


I think, Mr. President, there is another point that ought to be noticed in regard to this proclamation of the President—the opening wedge to the strife in which the country is now thrown—and that is this: it is said that, upon the legality of calling out the militia, the President, by his proclamation, determines the whole question; that his proclamation is conclusive upon it. But, in my opinion, the President is not authorized to determine the case upon which, by the act, he may call out the militia. In other words, he cannot, by his proclamation, create an insurrection or a resistance to the laws, but when the case exists, that is to say, when there is in fact an insurrection, the President can determine whether the militia ought to be called out.


Still further, on the 3rd of May the President issued a proclamation calling for an increase in the Army and Navy. There is no law for it. None is pretended. The very proclamation, on the face of it, admits the fact that there is no law for the call. The Constitution gives the President no power to raise and support armies.

This resolution also admits that the President suspended the writ of habeas corpus. The King of England, monarch though he be, has no right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. That power belongs exclusively to the Parliament; and our fathers have restricted the right of suspension, in the very grant of it, to the Congress. I know the President has indulged in an argument to show that the power given, by way of exception, to suspend the writ, may be exercised by the President. Sir, the Constitution has not made him the judge of whether he is justified in the exercise of such a power as that. The Constitution has not invested him with the power of determining the legality of his own acts. It has erected another tribunal to determine questions of this sort, and that tribunal has determined that the power belongs to the legislative department alone.


Here, Mr. President, I remark that the President has gone beyond the suspension of the writ and has imposed martial law. He has usurped the judicial power. He has usurped the war power.


I cannot, as an American senator, give my consent to approve and legalize these acts of the President. “


Mr. Wilson: “Will the Senator allow me to interrupt him a moment?”

Mr. Polk: “Always.”


Mr. Wilson: “I propose to let this resolution go over until tomorrow morning, and let the Senator finish his speech tomorrow.”


Mr. Polk: “I will accede to that proposition.”


The motion was agreed to.


Thursday July 11


Instead of Mr. Polk, Mr. Powell of Kentucky took up the issue:


“Great God! Senators, can you legalize a violated and disrupted and broken Constitution? In my judgment, you cannot. If you do this on the plea of necessity, or because of the extraordinary times by which we are surrounded, let me tell you that you set a precedent most dangerous to the people of a free country. I had been of the opinion that liberty existed alone in the supremacy of the law. Demagogues may prate as they will; but there is no liberty save in the supremacy of the laws of your country; and if you allow the President to violate the laws of your country with impunity, let me tell you that your liberties are fast waning away.


The New York Times



The Government’s Holding Cell in 1861


Allow it in one case, and let some malicious tyrant—a Caesar or a Bonaparte—assume that office in future, and he will avail himself of this plea of necessity, and place around him an armed band of a million men, in violation of the law; and his minions and partisans and favorites will say, here is the precedent for it in the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, in the year 1861, when the whole Senate of the Nation, under their oath, indorsed that violation and infraction of the Constitution.


Senators, let me tell you that when you vote this resolution, you will not only infract the Constitution yourselves, by justifying and approving the action of the President, you will set an example most dangerous to a free people, and one that will be a step far towards the overthrow of our liberties.”


Mr. Baker: “I remind the Senator from Kentucky that there are fifty thousand men within five miles of this capitol, the Senate is within the hearing of hostile guns.


Mr. Breckinridge of Kentucky: “I believe the question now is on the passage of this joint resolution.”


Mr. Bayard: “I move to refer the resolution to the Committee on the Judiciary in order to take the sense of the Senate.”


Mr. Wilson: “I propose to let the resolution go over until tomorrow.”


Mr. Breckinridge of Kentucky: “I am content to make my remarks tomorrow.”


The resolution was ordered to go over.


Friday July 12


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Saturday July 13


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Monday July 15


Mr. Breckinridge: “Mr. President, I obtained the floor some days ago, to submit a few remarks, but have been indisposed. I shall be happy to take up the issue of the resolution tomorrow if you please.”


The motion was agreed to.


Tuesday July 16 (General McDowell’s army moves out from Alexandria)


The New York Times


Mr. Breckinridge: “I will express my reasons for opposing the resolution.


The resolution would seem, upon the face of it, to admit the acts of the President were not performed in obedience to the Constitution and the laws. If that be true, I should be glad to hear some reasons assigned by gentlemen showing the power of Congress, by joint resolution, to cure a breach of the Constitution or to indemnify the President against violations of the Constitution and the laws.


I deny, Mr. President, that one branch of this government can indemnify any other branch for a violation of the Constitution and the laws. To say that Congress can do this is to say that Congress may alter the Constitution in a manner not provided in the instrument. If a bare majority of the two Houses of Congress can, by resolution, make that constitutional which was unconstitutional, by the same authority it may confer upon the President in the future powers not granted by the Constitution. It appears to me, thus, that the principle involved in this resolution is utterly subversive of the Constitution, and contain the very essence of a Government without limitation of powers.


I think the acts enumerated in the resolution were usurpations on the part of the President; and I think that he should be rebuked by the vote of both Houses of Congress.


The President has established a blockade. By what authority has he done this? Where is the clause of the Constitution that authorized him? An attempt was made in the last Congress to confer the authority by bill. It did not pass. Congress refused to grant the authority by law in face of the fact that seven states had withdrawn from the Union. Will any senator say that the power exists, under the Constitution, upon the part of the President to establish a blockade? It is an incident of war, sir; it is the exercise of the war power; and the Constitution declares that Congress shall pass an act to declare war, or exercise that power.


It is proposed, sir, to approve and make valid the act of the President in enlisting men for three years. I ask you by what authority he has done this act? The power is not conferred in the Constitution; it has not been granted by law. It is, therefore, an unconstitutional and illegal act of executive power. The President, of his own will, has added immensely to the force of the regular Army. The Constitution says the Congress shall raise armies and a law is on the books which limits the size of the army.


This resolution proposes to ratify the President’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The right of every citizen to be arrested only by warrant, and his right to have his body brought before a judge, is a real right. It is a right of rights. It belongs to all. It is a right that has been struggled for, fought for, guarded by laws, and locked up in constitutions. It needs no elaborate argument to show that the President has no right to suspend the writ.


What part of the Constitution is it, sir, which confers upon the President the right to do this thing? Surely it is not that portion of the Constitution which declares that he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. All jurists agree that the act of suspension is a legislative act only.


A subordinate military officer in the city of Baltimore arrests a private citizen by military force without warrant of law, and confines him to a fortress. His friends seek a writ before the Chief Justice of the United States, and the reply is that he will not be delivered up by the military. The Chief Justice then gives an opinion which the President does not undertake to answer. You propose to make that valid. You propose to approve it, without making a defense of it on constitutional or legal grounds. What will be the effect? You invite him to do the like in the future; and the whole country will lie prostrate at the feet of the President when, in his opinion, the time shall have come to suspend the rights of individuals, and to have substituted military power for judicial authority.


The New York Times



You have, sir, practically, martial law established all over this land. The houses of private citizens are searched without warrant. The right of citizens to bear arms is made nugatory by their being taken from them without judicial process. The other day, in Baltimore, a military officer appointed a marshal for that city. What more authority did the officer have for doing that than he had to appoint a pastor of a congregation or a president for a bank? Has not the President, by one broad and sweeping act, laid his hands upon the private correspondence of the whole community?


Mr. President, we may pass this joint resolution to approve these acts, but we cannot make them valid in fact.


The Constitution declares that Congress alone shall have the power to `declare war.’ The President has made war. Congress shall “have power to raise armies.” The President has raised armies. The Constitution declares that no money shall be taken from the treasury except pursuant to appropriations made by Congress. The President has taken money from the treasury without appropriations made by law.


These rights and duties have been trampled under foot by military power, are being trampled now every day; and yet, so great upon the one side is the passion of the hour, and so astonishing the stupid amazement on the other, that we receive it as natural, as right, as of course. We are rushing from a constitutional government to a military despotism.


The Constitution says the freedom of speech shall not be abridged. Three days ago, in the city of St. Louis, a military officer, with four hundred soldiers—that was his warrant—went into a newspaper office, removed the types, and declared it should no longer be published, giving the reason that it was making reports injurious to the United States.


The President has concentrated in his hands the executive, legislative and judicial powers. What is the excuse? Necessity. I answer, there was no necessity. Was it necessary to preserve the President’s authority here, that the southern coast be blockaded? Was it necessary, until Congress should meet, that powers not conferred by the Constitution be assumed? Was there any necessity for overrunning the state of Missouri? Was it necessary for raising the largest armies ever assembled upon the continent?  I deny that the President may violate the constitution on the plea of necessity. It substitutes the will of one man for a written constitution, especially where you make him the ultimate judge of that necessity, and his decision is not to be appealed from.


With such a beginning as that, what are we to expect in the future? Sir, when I see men imprisoned within hail of the Capitol, without a warrant, and the courts paralyzed, and Congress not rising to protest in indignant tones against it, my mind is filled with forebodings of the future.


Is the doctrine to obtain that the provisions of the Constitution are to be entirely subordinated to the idea of political unity? Shall the rallying cry be, `the Constitution and the Union,’ or are we prepared to say, `the Constitution is gone, but the Union survives?’ Let us carry on with a wink at violations of the instrument, and, sir, the people will soon begin to inquire what will become of their liberties at the end of the strife. The pregnant question, Mr. President, for us to decide is, whether the Constitution is to be respected in this struggle; whether we are to be called to follow the flag over the ruins of the Constitution? I believe that the whole tendency of the present proceedings is to establish a Government without limitations of powers, and to change radically our frame and character of Government.


I say that it never was in contemplation, by the framers that this Government should be maintained by military force to subjugate the different political communities that compose the States. It was declared by Madison, and by Hamilton that it was not in the competency of the Government to thus preserve it. Call it what you will it is a military subjugation. They are to march through Virginia, through the Carolinas, through all the Gulf States down to New Orleans, to occupy them, to subdue them.


Mr. Dixon and Mr. Baker interrupt to argue with Breckinridge


Mr. Breckinridge: “The substance of what they say is that the unity of the government shall survive not only the constitution, but all rights both of persons and property. The institutions of the Southern State existed before the Constitution was formed, and were intended to be secured by it. To declare that this war shall be prosecuted to the abolition of slavery is in principle to declare that it shall be prosecuted to the total subversion of all state authority, to the total overthrow of all rights.


I do not think that the people of the adhering states are willing to go into this strife with vast armies, make war, abolish institutions and political communities themselves, struggling simply for the idea of territorial integrity and national unity, finding, when they come out of the contest, the Constitution gone, and themselves at sea as to the character of the institutions with which they emerge from it. How strange it sounds that these men do these acts to preserve the Constitution of their country.


Mr. President, I regret to say that what may be called the more extreme violent and resolute men of the Republican organization appear to have control of the country’s destiny at this time, and all efforts are being made for the purpose of preventing peace, and of inflaming the public mind against the institutions of the South. Just this morning I saw a bill with the title `A Bill to suppress the slaveholder’s rebellion.’ In it there is a proposition to free all the slaves of the states that have withdrawn.”


Mr. Bingham: “I wish to ask the Senator if he denies that the present rebellion is a slaveholders’ rebellion.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “It is perfectly manifest to anyone who takes the time to educate himself that the opinion of the population, few of which are slaveowners, is almost unanimous. Allow me to ask the Senator a question. Does he approve the title of that bill?


Mr. Bingham: “I do approve the title.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “Is he in favor of freeing the slaves?


Mr. Bingham: “If it be a necessity.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “The bill is a congressional act of emancipation intended to arm the slaves. It is not only to confiscate the whole property, but it is to ferment a servile war.


Why argue the question further. I am done. I know that argument and appeal are all in vain. The Senate pants for action.  We can only hope that Providence may preserve for us and for posterity, out of the wreck of a broken Union, the priceless principles of constitutional liberty. (Applause broke out in the galleries.)


Mr. Trumbull: “I rise to address myself to this noise in the galleries. I want the galleries cleared if this continues.”


The Republicans Answer


Mr. Lane: “The doctrine of States rights, as opposed to the rights of the Government, under the Constitution, is the most dangerous heresy, which underlies this whole controversy. Out of that idea, and one other idea, the present state of affairs has been brought upon the country. We are to teach them a lesson of respect for the North. We are to teach them a lesson of equality.


So much for the Senator’s objections to what the President has done. But his last argument, that an effort was made in the last session of Congress to give the President these powers, and that the Congress refused. That is true, and why? Because the vacant seats around us were then filled by traitors. For that reason and that reason alone we failed to confer this power upon the President.


Virginia today is as much a part of the Union as Indiana is, and the President has the right to march troops wherever he desires to march them.


Mr. Wilson: “The Senator from Delaware wishes to speak to the issue. Let us have it go over.”


Wednesday July 17 (McDowell’s army is approaching Centreville)


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Thursday July 18 (McDowell’s vanguard attacks the rebel defenses at Blackburn’s Ford)


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Saturday July 20


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


The New York Times




Monday July 22


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Tuesday July 23


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Wednesday July 24


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Thursday July 25


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Saturday July 27


Mr. Johnson of Tennessee: “The problem now being solved is whether we can succeed in putting down traitors and treason, and in establishing the great fact that we have a government with the strength to maintain itself. . . .Traitors are getting to be so numerous now that I suppose treason has almost got respectable, but God willing, as I have heretofore waged war against traitors and treason, I intend to continue it to the end.


Applause rings out in the galleries, men shout.


The President pro tempore: “Order! Order!”


Mr. Johnson: “Mr. President, we are in the midst of a civil war; blood has been shed, life has been sacrificed. Traitors and rebels are standing with arms in their hands and it is said we must go forward and compromise with them.  I say to them: `Ground your arms, then I will talk to you about compromise.’


If, under the Constitution, we cannot live as brothers, can we live quietly under a treaty, separated as enemies? The same causes will exist. Our geographical position will remain the same. If the same causes of division exist, how can we live in peace as aliens and enemies under a treaty?


But, Mr. President, I concur fully with the dislike expressed by the distinguished senator from Kentucky, Mr. Breckinridge, to a change in the form of our government. He seems apprehensive of a dictatorship. But the danger of dictatorship is on his side, not ours. Take that little petty Governor of Tennessee, Mr. Harris. He would be king! He is to be made king over the state that contains the bones of the immortal Jackson. He is king over the free people of Tennessee. Isham G. Harris to be my king. Yes, sir, my king! I know the man. I know his elements. Mr. President, he should not be my slave.”


Applause again rises from the galleries.


The President pro tempore: “Order! I will clear the galleries forthwith. The chair hopes to avoid clearing the galleries.


Mr. Johnson, turning to look at Breckinridge: “Let me ask you, sir, what right has any state lost under the Constitution? Is there a man, North or South, who can put his finger on any one single privilege, or single right, of which he has been deprived? Can he do it? Can he touch it? Can he see it? Can he feel it? No, sir; there is no one right that he has lost.


We have heard a great deal said in reference to the violation of the Constitution. The Senator from Kentucky seems exceedingly sensitive about violations of the Constitution. Sir, admitting that his apprehensions are well founded, it seems to me that a violation of the Constitution for the preservation of the Government is more tolerable than one for its destruction. In all these complaints, in all these arraignments of the President, have you heard one word said against the trampling under foot of law by the States, or the party now making war upon the Government of the United States? Not one word, sir!

The Senator enumerates what he calls violations of the Constitution—the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the proclaiming of marital law, the raising of armies and the existing war; and then he asks: `Why all this?’ The answer is apparent to all. Who commenced the war? South Carolina withdrew from the Union, and, in the very act of withdrawing, made war on the United States. The Star of the West, on the 7th of January, laden simply with provisions to supply those starving men in Fort Sumter, attempted to enter the harbor, and was fired upon, and had to tack about. On the 11th of April General Beauregard had an interview with Major Anderson, and made a proposition to him to surrender. Major Anderson stated, in substance, that by the 15th of the month his supplies would give out. In possession of this fact, they commenced bombarding the fort. They knew that in three days Anderson would be compelled to surrender, but they wanted war.


Who then commenced the war? Who struck the first blow? Who violated the Constitution in the first place? Who trampled the law under foot, and violated the law morally and legally? Was it not South Carolina, in seceding? And yet you talk about the President having brought on the war by his own motion, when these facts are incontrovertible.


You say the President did wrong in increasing the Army. Do we not know that so soon as Fort Sumter surrendered they took up the line of march for Washington? Do not some of us here know that we did not sleep for fear the city would be taken before the rising sun?

Are we for the Government, or are we against it? That is the question. Taking all the facts into consideration, do we not see that invasion was intended? When the facts are all put together we see the scheme, and it is nothing more nor less than executing a program and yet Senators complain the President has suspended the writ, increased the army, and they ask, where was the necessity for all this? With your forts taken, your men fired upon, your ships attacked at sea, Senators talk about 75,000 men being called out. Mr. President, all this goes to show that our sympathies are with the one government and against the other. Admitting that there was a little stretch of power; admitting that the margin was pretty wide when the power was exercised, the question now comes, when you (the Senate) have got the power, when you are sitting here, are you willing to sustain the Government and give it the means to sustain itself? It is not worth while to talk about what has gone before. The question should be, Is it necessary now? If it is, it should not be withheld from the Government.


Senators talk about violating the Constitution and the laws. A great deal has been said about searches and seizures, and the right of protection of persons and papers. I reckon it is equally important to protect a Government from seizure as it is an individual. These rebellious states, after commencing this war, after violating the Constitution, seized our forts, our arsenals, our dockyards, our public buildings, our ships, and plundered the treasury of New Orleans. And yet Senators talk about violations of the Constitution. Does not this talk come with a beautiful grace from the Senators. We have seen instances where it might be indispensably necessary for the Government to exercise a power, and to assume a position that was not clearly legal and constitutional, in order to resist the entire overthrow and upturning of the Government and all our institutions.


But the President issued his proclamation. When did he issue it? After they had taken Fort Sumter. It showed that they intended to advance and that their object was to extend their power, to subjugate the other States, and to overthrow the constitution and the Government. I do not think there was a very great wrong done here.


Is the mere defeat of one man, and the election of another, according to the Constitution, sufficient cause to break up this Government? On the 4th of March we had a majority in this chamber of six in opposition to the President’s party. Where, then, is there even a pretext for breaking up the Government? Does not everyone know Mr. Lincoln could not even have made up his cabinet without the consent of a majority of the Senate? Do we not know he could not have sent one minister abroad without the majority’s consent? With all these facts staring them in the face, where is the pretense for breaking up the Government?


We are resisting usurpation and oppression. We will triumph; we must triumph. Right is with us. Yes, we must triumph. Though sometimes I cannot see my way clear when my facts give out, when my reason fails me, I draw largely upon my faith. My faith is strong that a thing so monstrously wrong as this rebellion is, cannot triumph. Can we submit to it? Can bleeding justice submit to it? Is the Senate prepared to give up the graves of Washington and Jackson, to be encircled and governed and controlled by a combination of traitors and rebels? I say let the battle go on—it is freedom’s cause—until the stars and stripes shall be unfurled at every crossroad, and from every house top.


I will close. Although the Government has met with a little reverse within a short distance of this city, no one should be discouraged and no heart should be dismayed. It ought only to prove the necessity of bringing forth still more vigorously the power of the Government. Though your flag may have trailed in the dust, though a retreat may have been made, to purify the banner, I say let it be baptized in fire and bathed in the nation’s blood! The nation must be redeemed; it must be triumphant!


Mr. Hale: “I move the resolution be put by.


The President pro tempore: “It is moved that this joint resolution be postponed.”


The motion was agreed to.





Monday July 29


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Tuesday July 30


The President pro tempore: “The question is on the passage of the resolution. The yeas and nays are ordered.”


Mr. Pearce of Maryland: “Mr. President, before the votes are taken, I have a few words to say. “While I love the Union, while I desire that the Union be preserved, I am not willing that a course of procedure shall be adopted in Maryland which I do not believe to be sanctioned by the Constitution. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by Lincoln is a violation of the principles of freedom which have been consecrated for centuries. Without habeas corpus no government can be called free. Any petty officer, under the President’s decree, can arrest a citizen of Maryland and cause him to be thrown into prison without judicial process. This is the very highest and the very worst tyranny.


Our fathers guarded against this when they put in the Constitution the amendment that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. They knew this was the great bulwark of personal liberty—the right of rights as the Senator from Kentucky calls it. Without it we have no rights. Who has the right to take it away? Why is it pretended that Lincoln can take it away?  It is assumed that all provisions of the Constitution are inferior to that which imposes upon the President his oath of office, and that the power implied from that oath overrides all other powers and provisions with which it may come in conflict; and so this great zeal for the preservation of the Constitution makes it a thing of wax, to be twisted and molded at the discretion of Lincoln, instead of an inexorable fundamental law beyond the reach of President or Congress, and only to be altered by the people in prescribed form and mode.


Equally unfounded in law or fact is the allegation that the suspension of this constitutional privilege by the President was necessary. I know that never before in the history of this country has it been deemed necessary to suspend the habeas corpus even by Congress. Breaches of the Constitution, it is said, may be tolerated when a solemn duty is supposed to prompt a little straining of the Constitution for a purpose of high patriotic duty which disguises the danger of the example. But breaches of the Constitution once made, make more easy and soon its enemies, with the worst purposes, rush in to its destruction.


I shall, of course, not vote for the joint resolution, because I believe that, if these things which have been done by Lincoln are legal, there is no necessity for Congress to undertake to validate or ratify them; and, if they are illegal and unconstitutional, no power of Congress can give them any authority whatsoever. Congress may pass a bill indemnifying an officer who violates the law by paying expenses; but it cannot make an illegal and unconstitutional thing legal by a declaration that it is so. That is impossible.”


Mr. McDougall: “Mr. President—


Mr. Fessenden of Maine: “I move that further consideration of the resolution be postponed.”


Mr. McDougall: “I addressed the chair.”


Mr. Fessenden:   “I was recognized by the chair.”


Mr. McDougall:  “I want the floor.”


Mr. Fessenden:     “It is important we move on to other business.”


Mr. McDougall:  “I do not want to interfere with the course of business.”


The motion to postpone was agreed to.


Mr. Trumbull of Illinois interjects, while speaking to another matter: “The present insurrection broke out during the recess of Congress, and the President was compelled to provide as best he could for the preservation of the Government until Congress should meet. It was the duty of the President—sworn to take care that the laws be faithfully executed—to use all his constitutional powers to preserve the Government from overthrow; and in doing this, I admit, the President has been compelled to do, and has done, acts for which it may be difficult to find, in the strict letter of the law, the authority; but, sir, that I am ready to justify. This was necessary when Congress was not assembled; but after Congress convenes, I say we shall be derelict in our duty if we leave here without having regulated by law the action of the President.


Let me be distinctly understood on that point. I justify the President in the exercise of the authority which he has used upon the great principle of self-defense. Here was a rebellion aiming at the overthrow of the Government, a blow was about to be struck at the heart and soul of the Republic; and unless warded off, it would have destroyed the Government. Under this circumstance I justify and sustain the Government in doing whatever was necessary to preserve it till Congress convened.”


Mr. McDougall: “Mr. President, it seems to me that the preliminary question is, was there, at the time of the exercise of the power, war or not? There is no room for argument on this question. We have a war. Then, Mr. President, we have a war, and there is a law of war. It was never set down in any statute book. It is, and always has been, the law of necessity. It supercedes the laws organized for administering affairs in times of peace, and may absolutely supercede them. The right of the writ of habeas corpus is one of those laws that has no relation to this rebellion. I hope the vote on the resolution will not be postponed indefinitely.”


Wednesday July 31


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Thursday August 1


Mr. Breckinridge interjected: “If the Constitution is really to be put aside, if the laws of war are to govern, why not act upon that practically? I do not hold that the clause of the Constitution which authorizes Congress to declare war, applies to any internal difficulties. I do not believe it applies to any of the political communities, bound together under the Constitution, in political association. I regard it as applying to external enemies. Nor do I believe that the Constitution ever contemplated the preservation of the Union of these States by one half the States warring on the other half. The Constitution details particularly how military force shall be employed, and it can be employed only in aid of the civil tribunals. If there are no civil tribunals, if there is no mode by which the laws of the United States may be enforced in the manner prescribed by the Constitution, what follows? The remaining States may, if they choose, make war, but they do it outside the Constitution; and the Federal system does not provide for the case. It does provide for putting down insurrections, illegal uprisings of individuals, but it does not provide, in my opinion, either in its spirit or its terms, for raising armies by one half of the political communities that compose one Confederacy, for the purpose of subjugating the other half; and the very fact that it does not, is shown by the fact that you have to avow on the floor of the Senate the necessity for putting the Constitution aside, and conducting the whole contest without regard to it, and in obedience solely to the laws of war.


I have said, sir, that we are on the wrong track. Nothing but ruin, utter ruin, to the North, to the South, to the East, to the West, will follow the prosecution of this contest. You may look forward to innumerable armies, to countless treasures. If you are successful in ravaging the South, what on earth will you have accomplished? Are you not satisfied that, to accomplish your objective, you must conquer, ay, to exterminate,  ten millions of people? Do you not know it? Does not everybody know it? Does not the world know it?


War is separation. War is disunion. Eternal and final disunion. I will not go on. I see the sneers by the gentlemen from New England, but let the future determine who was right and who was wrong. We are making our record here. I, my humble one, under the sneers and scowls of nearly all who surround me, giving my votes, and uttering my utterances according to my convictions. The time will come, Senators, when history will put her final seal upon these proceedings and if my name shall be recorded here, I am willing to abide, fearlessly, her final judgment.”


Mr. Baker replies: “Sir, how can we retreat? How can we make peace? Upon what terms? What is your boundary line? Where the end of the principles we will have to give up? What of past glories? What of future hopes? Shall we sink into the insignificance of the grave—a degraded, defeated, emasculated people, frightened by the results of one battle, and scared at the visions raised by the imagination of the Senator from Kentucky on this floor? No sir; a thousand times, no sir! We will rally the people! They will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure. The most peaceable man in this Senate may stamp his foot upon the floor and armed legions will spring forth. Shall one battle determine the fate of an empire, or a dozen? The loss of a thousand men or ten thousand? $100 million or $500 million? In ten years of peace we can restore them all. If we have the Union the path of the country will be toward greatness and glory which would be ours today, if it had not been for the treason which the Senator from Kentucky too often seeks to apologize.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “I have never held that a State or a number of States have a right without cause to break the compact of the Constitution. But what I mean to say is that you cannot then undertake to make war in the name of the Constitution. In my opinion they are out. You may conquer them, but do not attempt to do it under false pretenses. Hence the Senator and I start from entirely different standpoints and his pretended replies are no reply at all.


The Senator asks me what would you have us do? I would have us stop the war. We can do it. There is no necessity to continue the war. I fear constitutional liberty will find its grave in it. The Senator is mistaken to think we can unite these States by war. He is mistaken to think 20 millions on his side can subjugate ten millions on the other; or, if it is done that the Constitution as our fathers made it can be restored. You will have to govern States as territory, or, as the Senator from Vermont has said, `those rebellious provinces’ in his speech today.


The Senator asked if a senator of Rome had uttered these things in a war with Carthage, how would he have been treated? I would have said, `Let Carthage live and let Rome live, each pursuing its own course of policy and civilization.’


The Senator says that these opinions which I have thus expressed, are but brilliant treason; and that it is a tribute to the character of our institutions that I am allowed to utter them on this floor. Mr. President, if I am uttering treason I am unaware of it. I am speaking what I believe to be for the good of my country. If I am speaking it I am speaking it in my place in the Senate. By whose indulgence am I speaking? Not by any man’s indulgence. I am speaking by the guarantees of the Constitution which seems now to be so little respected. And sir, when he asked what was to be done with a Roman senator who had uttered such words, a certain Senator (Charles Sumner of Massachusetts) on this floor, whose courage has much risen of late, replied in audible tones, `he would have been hurled from the Tarpeian rock.’ Sir, if ever we find an American Tarpeian rock, and a suitable victim is to be selected, the people will turn, not to me, but to that Senator who, according to the measure of his intellect and his heart, has been the chief author of the public misfortunes. He, and men like him, have brought the country to this pass. I rely with the just indignation I ought to feel at such an insult offered on the floor of the Senate Chamber to a Senator who is speaking in his place.


Mr. President, I shall no longer detain the Senate. My opinions are my own. I repeat what I uttered the other day, that if the Commonwealth of Kentucky, instead of being neutral in this unfortunate struggle, shall throw her energies into the strife and approve the conduct and policy of the Government in what I believe to be a war of subjugation, she will be represented by some other man on the floor of this Senate.”


Friday August 2



The New York Times Mistates the Fact



Mr. Trumbull: “I ask for the yeas and nays on the question of taking up the joint resolution.”


The yeas and nays were ordered.


Mr. Trumbull: “My objection to taking up this resolution I will state in a word. This resolution proposes to declare legal the acts which have been done by the President in the recess of Congress. Will our declaration make them legal? Will it make them more so if they were unconstitutional and void? I am willing to give the necessary power to the President to suppress this rebellion; but I am not willing to say that the President has unlimited power and can do what he pleases, after Congress meets. I am willing to excuse him for all he has done, and to sustain him in all he has done; but if you propose to pass a resolution approving the exercise of powers for which you may be unable to find in strict law the warrant, it seems to be it would be a strange proceeding. I think we had better let this resolution lie.


Mr. Morrill: “I do not think the resolution important. I believe what the President has done is constitutional. It does not need to be validated, ratified.  He has not transcended the powers which are necessarily, logically deductible from the powers conferred upon him by the Constitution and for this reason I am opposed to taking up the resolution at this time.”


Mr. Polk: “It seems to me a marvelous change has come over the opinions of some Senators in regard to this resolution. It was about the first business that was called, the question was on its passage, when I rose, stating that I had some views that I desired to express. Mr. Breckinridge then made a motion to postpone the matter one day, but his motion was voted down almost unanimously by the Senate. Now, when the Senator from Massachusetts moves to take up the resolution for the purpose of having action on it, it is to be postponed again. The Senator from Maine thinks it does not require any action at all”


Mr. Morrill: “I am ready to express my views.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “Mr. President—“


The President pro tempore: “The question is on the motion of the Senator from Massachusetts to take up the joint resolution.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “The Senator from Maine has stated many times that he thinks the President has not violated the Constitution. All I have to say is that it will be a very great comfort to the President to be assured of that fact; for he himself has been under the impression that he has been transcending it; and, indeed, he admits it in his message, and puts it expressly upon the ground of a popular demand and what he deemed to be a public necessity. It has also been admitted by many senators on the other side of the aisle. I have not believed, all along, that the resolution was going to be voted by the Senate. I do not believe it now. My deliberate judgment is, that in some mode the Senate will avoid putting itself on record in favor of the principles contained in this resolution. I do not think there are many Senators who want their names to go upon history in favor of this resolution.”


The President pro tempore (At this time, Mr. Anthony of Rhode Island): “The Clerk will call the roll on the motion to take up this resolution for consideration.”


The question being taken by yeas and nays, resulted—yeas 28, nays 11


The President pro tempore: “The motion prevails, and the joint resolution is before the Senate, the question being on its passage. On this question the yeas and nays have been ordered, and the Clerk will proceed to call the roll.”


The Clerk called: “Mr. Anthony”


Mr. Collamer: “I take it the resolution is now open for amendment?”


The President pro tempore: “It is not open for amendment.”


Mr. Doolittle: “I move the resolution be referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “Has not the call of the roll been commenced, and has not some member answered to his name?”


The President pro tempore: “No answer has been given. The question is on the motion of the Senator from Wisconsin.”


Mr. Wilson: “I do not like to resist the motion, but I must confess my surprise at it. This resolution is a plain and simple proposition, there is no ambiguity about it. It is as clear as sunlight, as simple as anything can be. I shall vote against the reference.”


Mr. Doolittle: “A question of this importance ought not be pressed on the Senate until it has been considered by the Committee on the Judiciary.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “It was introduced at an early day, it was reviewed and reported on by the Committee on Military Affairs, it has been discussed. If we ever intend to vote on it now is the time.”


The President pro tempore: “The question is on the motion to refer the resolution to the Committee on the Judiciary.”


Mr. Polk: “I ask for the yeas and nays.”


The yeas and nays were ordered; and being taken, resulted—yeas 17, nays 23

The President pro tempore: “So the motion to refer does not prevail. The question recurs on the passage of the resolution.”


Mr. Sherman of Ohio: “I am going to vote for the resolution, and I am going to vote for it upon the assumption that the acts of the President recited in it were illegal, and not upon the assumption that they were legal and valid. I am willing to make them legal and valid.


They had conquered Fort Sumter. They were notified expressly that Major Anderson’s men had but a few days of supplies remaining and then would have to retire before starvation. They could not allow Anderson to retire. Why? Because if they had allowed that, retiring simply before hunger, they could not say he had been conquered by the forces of the Confederacy. Here were the threats, here the overt act. What would you have the President do? Would you, sir, would any man here, have had him fold his arms, and say, ‘I have no authority. I know the country is going to pieces, but I must be still; let things take their course. I cannot help it.’


The President issued a proclamation calling into service volunteers. It was clearly illegal. I am not satisfied it was necessary. I am inclined to think it was not. But these were not willful errors.  I vote for the resolution because I would save the Republic.


Why, sir, I have heard that when a chasm opened in the Forum of Rome, it was said by the oracles that whatever was most precious in Rome, must go into it to close it; and a soldier, with his armor on, mounted his horse, and spurred him into the chasm; and I am told that the conscious earth closed over him. Sir, while your flag floats over yonder dome, let no man who loves his country ever forget that, in the year 1861, the President of the United States saw a horrid chasm opening in the Union of the States, and he did not hesitate a moment to plunge himself into the chasm. There are those who prefer to stand at the brink and throw shafts at him. I prefer to go down into the gulf with him, and share whatever peril is there.”


Mr. Thompson: “I am not able to vote for this resolution.


Mr. Simmons: “I am charged to make a report, and if this joint resolution can be set aside, I should like to present it.”


Mr. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, for the first time speaks: “I hope we shall have a vote on the resolution.”


Mr. Clark: “Let us vote.”


Mr. Simmons: “I move the resolution be laid aside informally until I make this report.”


The President pro tempore: “That will be the sense of the Senate unless objected to.”


The Tariff Bill was then discussed.


Saturday August 3


 The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Monday August 5


The matter of the resolution was not discussed.


Tuesday August 6


The President pro tempore: “The question is on the motion for an executive session.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “Is not the motion of the Senator from Massachusetts, for the yeas and nays on the joint resolution, in order?”


The President pro tempore: “The Senator yielded the floor.”


Mr. Doolittle: “I have the floor.”


The President pro tempore: “Not if the Senator from Massachusetts claims that he did not yield the floor after making his motion.”


Mr. Wilson: “The motion is to take up the consideration of the joint resolution.”


Mr. Doolittle: “I move that the Senate proceed to executive business.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “I rise to a question of order, that that motion is not in order.”


Mr. Sherman: “I will remind the Senate that Senator Wilson agreed to give a vote on the resolution and that, on that suggestion, Senator Breckinridge waived the privilege he had yesterday to bring the motion up.”


Mr. Doolittle: “I will remind the Senator from Ohio that it is now about one hour to the adjournment of Congress, and we have important matters pending in executive session that must be disposed of, and it may take the whole time.”


The President pro tempore: “The question is on the motion to proceed to executive session.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “I call attention to the fact that the Senator from Wisconsin was exceedingly eager, at the beginning of the session, to deal in acts and not words, to pass bills and not to argue anything, and was a devoted friend, I believe, of this joint resolution, which now wanders about without any parent or sponsor, he is now anxious to give it the go-by. The Senator from Oregon, Mr. Baker, gave me credit for being a prophet. He said the other day, that my prediction that the Senate would never vote on the resolution was not likely to be fulfilled. I take it to be one gleam of sunshine in the midst of the gloom that surrounds us, that the Senate now recoils from it.”


Mr. Wade: “I hope we take a vote on this resolution. There was an implied promise we would vote on it.”


Mr. Doolittle: “The remark of the Senator from Kentucky requires a reply. My only point is that we have executive business to complete and the session is about to end.”


Shouts from Mr. Breckinridge and Mr. Powell—“Take up the resolution!”


The President pro tempore: “The Chair will put the question on the motion to proceed to executive business. It is not debatable.”


The yeas and nays were called, resulting in 20 yeas, 21 nos. So the Senate refused to go into executive session.


The President pro tempore: “So the question recurs on the motion of the Senator from Massachusetts that the Senate proceed to consider the joint resolution. And the yeas and nays are ordered.”


Mr. King: I do not understand the resolution. I think we need more time to consider the language.”


Mr. Wilson: “The language can be changed.”


Mr. Breckinridge: “This resolution is more familiar to the Senate than any other resolution. It was the earliest introduced. It was the pet measure of the majority here. It was put in just such shape as that majority thought was right. It was the outbreak of patriotic ardor with which the Senate assembled. They matured it; and before the Senate got cool, Senators expressed their purpose to vote for it. It has been up again and again. There it is. (pointing to the table in the well of the Senate where it laid) It has gone to the country. Let the Senate vote it down, or pass it.”


Mr. Dougall: “It is true this resolution was introduced in the Senate at an early day, and the Senate approved it. Our time has been occupied by the Opposition to the Government. We have been ready to pass this resolution at any day, but it has been postponed to accommodate Senators and now we come to the day of adjournment. The gentlemen from Kentucky and Missouri are responsible for the delay.”


Mr. Fessenden: “Mr. President, one thing is very obvious; and that is, that our friends on the other side of the Chamber are exceedingly anxious not to have this question voted on, but to have an opportunity to say that we were afraid to vote on it. They expect to get some advantage out of it. I am perfectly willing to let them have it, for my observation has been that nothing is made out of such trifles. I do not attach importance enough to it to be troubled about it. If the Senate chooses to vote on it, that’s fine, but there is no time for the House of Representatives to vote on it. There is no time to pass it there.


Besides, the Senator from Delaware, Mr. Bayard, I believe, had an argument to make on this resolution and is entitled to be heard. We all know that when that Senator makes an argument it is worth listening to It is not that we are not ready and willing to vote on the resolution but that the Senator is entitled to speak”


Mr. Polk: “I assume the Senator means to be accurate.”


Mr. Fessenden: “I do.”


Mr. Polk: “The argument the Senator from Delaware wished to make is on an different matter.”


Mr. Fessenden: “He claimed the right to make an argument on this resolution.”


Mr. Polk: “He already has argued on this resolution.”


Mr. Fessenden: “No sir, it has not been made to this day.

Mr. Bayard, the subject senator from Delaware: “I did speak on this resolution.”


Mr. Polk: “That is what I just said.”


Mr. Fessenden: “The Senator from Delaware claimed to make another argument on this resolution.”


Mr. Polk: “That argument was not on this resolution, but a different matter entirely.


Mr. Fessenden: “There never has been a time when all senators have conceded that the debate was closed on this resolution.”


Mr. Dixon: “I ask the unanimous consent of the Senate to offer a resolution on the Audit and Control expenses of the Senate.”


Mr. Bingham: “I object.”


Mr. Dixon: “Does it require unanimous consent?”


The President pro tempore: “Yes, the question of the joint resolution is still before the Senate.”


Mr. Trumbull: “Mr. President, I am not willing that a vote should be taken, under the misapprehensions which seem to exist in the Chamber and the impression which will be practiced by it upon the country. The Senator from Kentucky has said several times that it is the pet project of this side of the Chamber, that it was brought forward at an early day, matured, and then there was in indisposition to vote on it. Now I desire to say, that there never was a moment that the resolution could have received my vote. It never was matured as a party measure—never. The Senator from Massachusetts, I believe, reported it from committee, and has urged it; but that it has been any `pet measure,’ or anything that anybody was bound to vote for, is an entire misapprehension.”


Mr. Collamer: “It was not reported from a committee.”


Mr. Trumbull: “It seems never to have been before a committee. It is an individual proposition brought in here. Now what authority is there to assume that this is a pet measure of any party (Lincoln’s party) in the country?”


Mr. Powell: “The resolution was reported from the Committee on Military Affairs (which Mr. Wilson chaired)”


Mr. Trumbull: “I am just informed that it was not reported from that committee, but was brought in by the Senator from Massachusetts on his individual responsibility.”


Mr. Wilson: “Let us have a vote.”


Mr. Trumbull: “Now, my friend is clamorous. He cannot keep still. I am not disposed to vote upon the resolution. And it is not going to pass in the shape it is in.”


Mr. King: “Will the Senator from Illinois (The Majority Leader) allow me to make a motion to go into executive session?”


Mr. Trumbull: “I will yield to my friend from New York, and I give way to the consideration of a motion to go into executive session.”


Mr. King: “I make that motion.”


The motion was agreed to; after some time spent the doors were reopened.


The Senate then considered in sequential order: a message from the President regarding bills signed; a message from the House, the passage of resolutions to require a new oath of allegiance; to authorize spending; to confiscate property used by rebels; to pay the volunteers; and to approve the publication of the Congressional Globe.


Then this appears in the transcript of the record: “Mr. Sherman objected to the consideration of the joint resolution; and it was laid over.”



Then the President pro tempore announced that the hour fixed for the adjournment of the

Congress had arrived and the Senate adjourned, to reconvene in December.


Lincoln Forces a Battle


With militia regiments pouring into Washington from the loyal states, Lincoln moved, as soon as the people of Virginia ratified the Ordinance of Secession, to occupy the right bank of the Potomac and build up his army of invasion.


In May he had selected an obscure major named Irvin McDowell as the invasion army’s commander; elevating him to the rank of brigadier general in the Regular army, to the chagrin of General Scott. At the same time Lincoln appointed Robert C. Schenck, a lawyer and politician from Ohio, who had been one of his earliest supporters, to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers; and he raised a number of Regular army officers, all graduates of West Point, to the rank of colonel. Daniel C. Tyler, an 1827 West Point graduate, who had spent the last twenty years in civilian life, was also made a colonel. These officers, along with a German immigrant named Louis Blenker, formed the group of general officers who would command the brigades of the volunteer regiments in the war’s first general battle.


On June 29, 1861, as the volunteer regiments were going into camps around Alexandria, Lincoln ordered McDowell, over General Scott’s objections, to move them against the Confederate force that was standing on the defensive at Bull Run, with outposts at Centreville, Vienna, and Fairfax.



Lincoln’s motivation for doing this is plain: He has a small force occupying St. Louis, preparing to move on the Missouri state Capital at Jefferson City, then in the hands of rebels. He has George McClellan advancing to a little skirmish in the West Virginia Mountains. He has Robert Patterson advancing to a little skirmish in the Shenandoah Valley. He has Fort Monroe occupied and Baltimore and the Maryland state capital, Annapolis, under tight military control. Though by these moves he has certainly eliminated any serious threat to the security of Washington, as well as to the loyal states, he needs to accelerate the momentum of war, if he is to keep the people embroiled in the passions of war. He knows the enthusiasm of the volunteer troops that have flooded Washington is degenerating into malaise and boredom in the camps, that their three month term of enlistment is to expire by the end of July, and that if they go home to their towns and farms without bringing body bags with them, the hysterical fervor he created, by his tricking the Confederates into firing on Sumter, will dissipate and the political will of the people to wage war against the South will fade. He needs to sprinkle blood in the faces of the people, to hold them to the horrible task ahead, and that means there must be a general battle.


General Scott’s Plan Overruled


Winfield Scott was much opposed to fighting a battle within Virginia—he wanted to

first blockade Southern ports and while the blockade was being put in place, take the time to train the volunteers and their officers in the school of the soldier. Severely pressured by Lincoln to get the invasion army into action, Scott tried hard to convince Lincoln to combine the force under McDowell with the force under Patterson, the two converging at or near Leesburg—a maneuver that would turn the Confederate position at Bull Run and thus induce the rebels to retreat behind the Rappahannock. Because this plan, if successful, would make a general battle unnecessary, eliminating the death toll Lincoln was looking for, and because Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin was unwilling to allow Patterson’s force—composed entirely of Pennsylvanians—to uncover the Pennsylvania border, Lincoln rejected Scott’s plan out of hand.


McDowell Goes Along With Lincoln


Irvin McDowell abandoned his relationship with General Scott to go along with Lincoln on this. In response to Scott’s instruction to prepare an order of march consistent with his view of things, McDowell had written: “We should march with our left flank exposed to attack from the enemy’s advanced positions at Centreville, Germantown and Fairfax, and on getting as far as Vienna have our lines exposed to interruption from the direction of Centreville. Any reverse happening to this raw force, pushed farther along, with the enemy on the flank and rear and the Potomac on the right, would be fatal. I do not think it safe to risk anything from this position in the direction of Leesburg farther than Vienna.”


Here is the essential military reality revealed: Lincoln’s force was indeed raw. It was not in fact an army but a crowd of civilians camping out of doors on a holiday. It was not capable of moving, left, right, forward or backward as one organism, controlled by one mind, reacting as one to that mind’s instruction instantly. Without such discipline as this, it could not be expected to stand stolid and unmoveable in the face of massed rifle and artillery fire and deliver.


Despite this hard reality, in a meeting with Lincoln and Scott on June 29, McDowell, knowing what Lincoln wanted, proposed to advance with 35,000 men directly upon Bull Run. Lincoln wanted the army to move no later than July 8, he wanted to impress the incoming congressmen, who were about to judge his actions, with the fact that a bloody battle would be happening quickly. At this, McDowell objected to his own plan: He wanted more time “because the men were so green.” Lincoln scoffed: “The rebels are just as green.” True, McDowell no doubt thought, but all they have to do is stand in one place and fight, while ours have to move to the attack.


The Union Order of Battle


Upon returning to the Lee mansion at Arlington from the meeting with Lincoln, Irvin McDowell proceeded to organize the volunteer regiments into eleven brigades and four divisions. The largest of the divisions was made up of four brigades and three artillery batteries and commanded by Daniel Tyler, the oldest West Pointer among the officers Lincoln had promoted to fill the general officer slots, but the least experienced in military affairs.


Why Tyler was given this slot, the evidence does not say. Born in 1799, he was sixty-two in 1861. A graduate of the West Point class of 1819,  he resigned his commission in 1834, and thus saw no action in the War with Mexico and never managed so much as a platoon in battle. From 1834 to 1861, Tyler engaged in the management of businesses in several states, including Alabama where his remains are buried. Despite the complete lack of military experience in handling men in battle, McDowell would assign Tyler the most important position in his order of battle. It is true that three of Tyler’s four brigades—Sherman’s, Keyes’s, and Richardson’s—were led by young West Point-trained officers who had seen action during the Mexican War, but these officers would require clear direction from Tyler if they were to operate properly together as components of a division. The fourth brigadier in Tyler’s division was Robert Schenck, like Blenker a German immigrant, whose only credential to lead men in battle was the fact that he was an old political crony of Lincoln’s.


Daniel Tyler, Division Commander


Tyler’s Brigadiers

Robert Schenck

Erasmus D. Keyes

William T. Sherman

Israel Richardson



Of these five men, Tyler, Schenck, and Keyes would resign their commissions before the war ended: Tyler almost immediately after the battle of Bull Run; Schenck only after being severely wounded at Second Manassas. Keyes commanded a corps during McClellan’s campaign against Richmond; thereafter, until his resignation in 1864, he was left at Fort Monroe. Sherman went west after the Battle of Bull Run and teamed up with Grant to eventually win the war. Richardson would be killed at Antietam.


McDowell assigned the next largest division, composed of three brigades, to Samuel Heintzelman. An 1826 West Point graduate, Heintzelman’s duty posts as an infantryman took him to Michigan, Florida, Arizona and California. He saw action in the Seminole wars and in the Mexican War and he saw some action fighting Indians in Arizona. His three brigadiers were O.O. Howard, who would command the 11th Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, William Franklin who would command a corps in front of Richmond, in 1862, and at Antietam, then be sent as an outcast to Arkansas. Orlando Willcox would be captured by the enemy at Bull Run. Later he would command a division at Antietam and a corps at Fredericksburg before being shuffled off to Michigan. In 1895 he was awarded the Metal of Honor for his conduct at Bull Run, though it is unclear what he did there to merit it.


Samuel Heintzelman, Division Commander



Heintzelman’s Brigadiers

Orlando Willcox

O.O. Howard

William Franklin


Command of McDowell’s third division, composed of two brigades, went to David Hunter, who, by 1861, was a close friend of Lincoln’s. Hunter did nothing extraordinary in the war, except issue an “Emancipation Proclamation” while on the coast of South Carolina, in 1862, (which Lincoln immediately rescinded) and burn the Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington, Virginia, to the ground in 1864. At Bull Run, his command quickly devolved to Andrew Porter, one of his brigadiers, when he was wounded in the face almost as soon as his division came into action the morning hours of July 21.


Andrew Porter, a West Point graduate and infantry officer in the Regular army, did nothing at Bull Run and he disappeared from field command shortly thereafter. He resigned his commission in April 1864 and went to Paris


Hunter’s second brigade was commanded by Ambrose Burnside who gained the position due to his connection to Rhode Island Governor Sprague. Burnside had long served as a general officer in the Rhode Island Militia and his brigade, including its attached artillery battery, was filled with Rhode Island volunteers. Burnside would become Lincoln’s favorite to command the Army of the Potomac after he became disenchanted with George McClellan. This caused a falling out between McClellan and Burnside, who had been close friends, which left Burnside without a command during the battle at Antietam. Replacing McClellan as army commander after Antietam, Burnside led the army to the disaster at Fredericksburg, in December 1862. In 1863 Burnside was in Tennessee; then, in 1865, he was back in Virginia operating the 9th Corps in cooperation with Meade’s army in Grant’s campaign against Lee.


David Hunter, Division Commander


Hunter’s Brigadiers

Andrew Porter

Ambrose Burnside


McDowell’s last division, also made up of two brigades, was under the command of Dixon Miles. A West Point graduate, Miles, an infantryman, had gained the rank of colonel by the time the war broke out, his experience as an officer being gained in the West. After Bull Run, he took command of the garrison at Harper’s Ferry and was killed there, in September 1862, while in the process of surrendering to Stonewall Jackson. Miles’s two brigades were commanded by Louis Blenker, a German national with a military reputation, and Thomas Davies. Blenker left the service in 1863 because of injuries received in battle and died shortly thereafter. Davies was sent west after Bull Run and spent the war in the backwaters.



Dixon Miles, Division Commander



Miles’s Brigadiers

Louis Blenker

Thomas Davies


Irvin McDowell ostensibly had yet another “division” under his command, but the evidence suggests that this is very doubtful. The regiments of this division were composed almost entirely of New Jerseyians and commanded by Theodore Runyon, a Yale graduate whose occupation was that of lawyer. Runyon had drafted the New Jersey Militia regulations for the Legislature in 1847 and, in reward, was made a brigadier general of the Militia. At Lincoln’s first call for troops, Runyon led four militia regiments to Washington. These men, all three month volunteers, built one of the forts that were constructed around Alexandria. At Lincoln’s second call, this time for three year men, four New Jersey regiments of volunteers arrived in Washington and were placed under Runyon’s command.


If one simply reads and relies upon what McDowell wrote in his movement order and, later, in his battle report, the impression is that when the army marched to Centreville and engaged the Confederates in battle, McDowell was personally responsible for ordering Runyon’s eight New Jersey regiments to remain closer to Alexandria than to Bull Run.This hardly makes any military sense however, and, therefore, the suspicion must arise that Lincoln refused to allow McDowell to take Runyon’s men with him. Lincoln knew his decision to force McDowell to engage in battle at Bull Run created risk that McDowell might be defeated, that the defeat might turn into a rout, given the “greenness” of the men, in which event, he thought, the newly constructed forts around Washington had better be fully manned. This apprehension remained with Lincoln as his first rule of risk management until Grant reached Petersburg four years later, and it was the major reason the war in the east lasted that long.


Runyon played no part in the action at Bull Run; after the battle he went home to New Jersey with the three month men and returned to his practice of law. But he certainly looked smart in uniform.


Lawyer Runyon With His Unused Horse Pistol And Sword


These general officers, with the exception of Runyon, would be responsible for planning the tactics of the battle, cooperating with each other in the execution, and guiding their green volunteers, numbering approximately 30,000, into the kill zone of the fire, where the side with staying power wins the day. With few exceptions they failed to act in concert and the day went to the defenders of Virginia.


The Confederate Order of Battle


Brigadier General, soon to be general, Pierre Beauregard was a classmate of McDowell’s at West Point. At the time of Lincoln’s election, Beauregard was acting as Superintendent of West Point. He resigned the position under pressure from Congress and with it his commission in the Regular army.


One of the first of the great Confederate captains to leave United States service, he immediately was appointed by the Confederate Government to take command of the forces gathering at Charleston, South Carolina. He came away from that assignment with the status of  “Hero of Sumter” and was sent by Jefferson Davis to Virginia, to take command of the Confederate force occupying Manassas Junction. After the battle of Bull Run, he would have a falling out with Davis and be sent to Tennessee; where as second-in-command to Albert Sidney Johnson he would assume command of the Confederate army on the second day of Shiloh and lead it in retreat to Corinth. He spent the remainder of the war in the western states, participating in important battles as corps and army commander.


Beauregard’s force of about 18,000 men was organized as brigades. His most experienced brigade was commanded by Milledge Bonham, a graduate of the University of South Carolina and a lawyer who practiced in Carolina until 1857 when he was elected to the United States Congress, where he served until December 1860. During his law career Bonham twice took leaves of absence, first to command the South Carolina Brigade in the Seminole wars and then to act as colonel of the 12th South Carolina Regiment in the war with Mexico. At the time of Sumter, Bonham commanded the artillery batteries on Morris Island. Soon after the fall of Sumter, he was sent with his brigade of South Carolina regiments to take command at Manassas Junction which command he relinquished to Beauregard in early July 1861. After Bull Run he returned to South Carolina and became its governor during the remainder of the war, returning to the field to lead South Carolina troops when Sherman’s army invaded its borders.


Beauregard’s seven remaining brigades were commanded by West Point graduates: Richard S. Ewell, who would become a corps commander and lead the van of the Army of Northern Virginia to Gettysburg; D.R. Jones who would command a division at Second Manassas and Antietam; James Longstreet who would become, along with Stonewall Jackson, one of Lee’s wing commanders but, unlike Stonewall, think himself Lee’s equal; Jubal Early who would rise to corps command and bring Confederate troops closer to Washington than anyone; Philip St. George Cocke and Theophilus Holmes who would sink quickly into oblivion; and Nathan Evans whose tactical decision at Bull Run was a major factor in McDowell failing to overrun the Confederate position on the Henry Hill.

Confederate General Longstreet
Jubal Early


Joe Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley


Joe Johnston, previously Quartermaster General of the United States Army, and the highest ranking officer to resign his commission and go with the South, was operating in the lower Shenandoah Valley with four brigades which would carry the brunt of the active defense of the Confederate position at Bull Run. The brigades were commanded by Barnard Bee; he would be mortally wounded in action at Bull Run; Francis Bartow; he would be killed in action at Bull Run. Thomas J. Jackson and Arnold Elzely commanded the remaining brigades. JEB Stuart commanded the 1st Virginia Cavalry; he would play a minor role in the battle of Bull Run.

Stonewall Jackson
Stonewall Jackson

McDowell’s Army Moves on Centreville


The distance between Alexandria and Centreville is about twenty miles. It took McDowell’s army three days to march this distance. On July 16 the army began marching in four columns: Heintzelman marched along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to Fairfax Station, with the plan being to swing off and cross the Occoquan River and move toward Brentsville—McDowell’s supposed initial idea, although more likely than not it was Scott’s, being to turn the rebel right flank and threaten to get on the railroad behind them.




Dixon Miles marched on the Little River Turnpike (the road between Adlie and Fairfax), turning onto the Old Braddock Road, heading for Centreville where McDowell mean to concentrate his columns.



Hunter followed Miles on the turnpike and, as Miles turned off, continued on to Vienna and then to Germantown
where his green troops, beyond the control of their officers, burned the village to the ground.



Ahead of Hunter’s men was Tyler’s division which arrived at Centreville,
a little hamlet of field stone homes and a church, early on the morning of July 18th.


Centreville Then


Centreville Now


Centreville Ridge Today


Pursuant to McDowell’s marching order, Tyler moved along the ridge that runs north and south through Centreville and came onto the road leading to Blackburn’s Ford on Bull Run, several miles in front of Manassas Junction, the key to the Confederate position. Without control of Manassas Junction the Confederates could not maintain themselves at Bull Run.


The Affair at Blackburn’s Ford


Tyler and Richardson, with two companies of infantry and some cavalry, rode together toward Blackburn’s ford. From the Centreville ridge, between Cub and Rocky Runs, the two generals looked over the field that stretches about a mile down to the ford, and saw beyond the thick strips of woods that cover Bull Run’s banks more fields stretching away to the west on the other side. Despite McDowell’s written order not to bring on an engagement, Tyler decided to investigate the enemy’s strength and ordered Richardson to bring up his brigade and send it down the hill into the woods.


Some time was spent in bringing up from the column the 1st Massachusetts and 2nd Michigan regiments. Once they reached the crest, skirmishers were deployed and the regiments proceeded, in company formations, to go down the  hill; as they advanced, Richardson put two 20-pounder rifled Parrott guns into action, throwing shells over the little stream valley and into the woods and fields on the other side. Under this fire, the Union skirmishers, followed by the body of the regiments in line of battle, entered the woods and immediately were swept by rifle fire from the rebel infantrymen holding position deeper in the woods.


Blackburn’s Ford Today


Blackburn’s Ford Then


The fire fight intensified—the minutes passing into an hour—until the Massachusetts and Michigan men, unable to stand the fire, began falling back from the woods. Richardson at this point, with Tyler’s urging, brought forward the 12th New York Regiment and ordered it to charge the rebels holding the stream bank woods. The New Yorkers ran down the hill and went into the woods. They were stopped ten yards in by dense volleys of rebel rifle fire. Remaining only long enough to fire a few rounds, the New Yorkers pulled back, their casualties five killed, nineteen wounded. Soon after this, a battery of the 5th U.S. Artillery, captained by Romeyn Ayres, arrived from Sherman’s brigade and went into action along the ridge. For an hour this battery exchanged cannon shots with a battery from the Washington Artillery, manned by Louisianaians on the other side of Bull Run, with little effect, and the engagement ended.


McDowell Changes The Game Plan


As Tyler was marching his division back to Centreville, leaving Sherman’s brigade across the road in rear, McDowell was riding with Heintzelman and a company of cavalry through the countryside to the southeast, reconnoitering the roads leading across the lower Occoquan River and toward the Orange & Alexandria Railroad where it crosses Broad Run—at least that is what he later reported he had been doing, but this is doubtful.


In the run-up to Lincoln’s invasion army moving westward from Alexandria, Winfield Scott and McDowell had seemed to agree that the army would attempt to turn the rebel right by way of crossing the Occoquan River and moving on Brentsville.


Occoquan to Brentsville (2011)

Occoquan to Brentsville (1861)


From about Fairfax Station, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, it is five miles to the crossing of the Occoquan at Wolf Run Shoals. From there it is another 13 miles to Brentsville and three miles farther west from Brentsville  to intersect the Orange & Alexandria Railroad track—a total distance of about 20 miles.


The obvious thing to do, here, was for McDowell to divide the army into wings, one wing threatening to get across the railroad from the direction of Brentsville, while the other wing attacked the rebel position at Blackburn’s. But, given the fact that Lincoln’s “green” infantry took almost three full days to march from Alexandria to Centreville using good turnpike roads, it was hardly rational for a general in McDowell’s circumstances to think it possible to march the same force, in substantially less time, the same distance over wagon roads that require the crossing of the Occoquan at least once, if not twice. This meant that the enemy would have ample time to either block the passage of the Occoquan or interdict the Union column by use of the several side roads, creating the possibility that it might get trapped in the woods and destroyed. Furthermore, there was the paramount fact that McDowell had no confidence that he had a commander he could trust to operate the turning column in coordination with his advancing the main body at the same time directly on Blackburn’s Ford.


McDowell is recorded as having intended the movement on Brentsville, but when his statements of what he intended are compared to the plain circumstances of the case, it is obvious he manufactured an excuse for disregarding the supposed agreed upon plan between Scott and himself.


McDowell first expressed his excuse, in a letter sent to Lt. Col. E.D. Townsend, Scott’s adjutant, on July 19th: “I found on examining the country that the roads were too narrow and crooked for so large a body to move over, and the distance around too great to admit of it with any safety. We would become entangled, and our carriages would block up the way. I was therefore forced to abandon the plan of turning the enemy’s right.” (italics added). McDowell repeated the essence of this excuse again, in December 1861, when he appeared before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War. There, he said: “When I went to the left and found the country very much broken, the roads very narrow, I felt it would be hazardous to attempt to march 30,000 men by way of Wolf Run Shoals and Brentsville, as I had intended to do in the first place.”


Historians and civil war writers are apparently incapable in their writings, of measuring what men say they were thinking with what a reasonable person would probably be thinking under the circumstances shown by the evidence. In consequence, the story they generally offer is hardly the truth of history.



McDowell Spends July 19th Sitting On His Hands


Through the night of July 18, Irvin McDowell had much thinking to do. From the first moment Lincoln began pushing him to get the army out the camps and marching toward Bull Run, McDowell did not want to go, for the simple reason that the men were green.


A great many of them had arrived in Washington only a few weeks before the army moved. By the time they were formed into regiments, moved across the Potomac, and provided with horses and wagons to carry their equipment, Lincoln’s deadline had arrived and they had to move out with no military training and no drill beyond the rudiments of moving by four abreast in a column marching on a road, turning the head of the column left or right and halting.


Most of their officers had no military education, much less training, and were incapable of maintaining discipline in the ranks even during the preliminary movement that brought the columns to Centreville. Drill inculcates the recruit with the confidence that comes with knowing he is part of a machine, that if he stays in place, shoulder to shoulder, side by side, with the members of his company in line of battle and advances, changes front, and retreats together, the cohesiveness of the company will be reflected in the movements of the regiment, the brigade, and the division; and in that way the power of the army can be effectively brought to bear against the enemy. Without this discipline, there is nothing to hold the individual soldier and his comrades together when the stress of the kill zone begins to make gaps appear in the block of men he is a part of. For, under such circumstances, it is an elementary fact of military science that the men will not stand and deliver in one mass the volleys necessary to pressure the enemy to give way, much less to charge as one to the cannon’s mouth.


Lincoln had put McDowell in an impossible spot; as McDowell said before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: “The move could have been done by approaches, under the cover of a large force, entrenched so as to leave its lines protected, I mean half-sunk batteries, abatis, rifle pits etc. I would have built this line and the army would move behind it. Go forward a certain distance and make a parallel, then go forward again and so approach the enemy. And if we once got across Wolf Run Shoals and down to Brentsville, we have the Occoquan now on our side. If we get down to Brentsville the whole thing is ended.” But that meant, as it did with McClellan’s advance on Richmond, in 1862, that months would have to be consumed in the effort, and Lincoln expected, then as he did now, a battle in days.


So McDowell gave up the plan of turning the rebel right as well as the idea of forcing a passage of Bull Run. The obvious place to do this, was Blackburn’s Ford. But Tyler’s attack on Blackburn’s demonstrated that the enemy was present there in substantial numbers,  no doubt protected by entrenchments they had had two months to prepare. It is true that McDowell claimed he “was obliged to give the idea up by the premature operation of Tyler,” but that merely is code for his mind-set that the Union volunteers were not capable, because of their lack of discipline and training, to manage successfully frontal attacks against fortified lines.



Entrenchments at Blackburn’s Ford


Of course, by now the circumstances of the case must make it obvious to all that McDowell’s best and most prudent course of action was to fortify the Centreville ridge and stand on the defensive. But though he delayed, hoping Lincoln would allow this, Lincoln refused.


Standing on the Defensive on the Centreville Ridge


 The Union army was an army of invasion, as was Lee’s when it entered Maryland, in 1862, and Pennsylvania in 1863. By the nature of things, the psychological and political pressures inherent in the situation compel the force whose country has been invaded to assume the offensive in an all out effort to drive the invader away. McDowell’s presence on the Centreville ridge was a challenge to the territorial integrity of Virginia and, thus, an invitation to the Confederates to attack. McDowell expected that the confederate wing in the Shenandoah Valley, under Joe Johnston’s command, would unite with Beauregard’s wing, indeed he knew by July 19th that the union was in fact happening, and prudently he wanted to wait for Patterson to unite. But Lincoln would not tolerate the delay, and so McDowell turned to his last option—a movement to get over Bull Run without a fight and then form a battle front and move in the open fields to attack the Confederates from the north. McDowell expressed his intent behind this movement as an effort to get into the enemy’s rear, but this would require him to split his force, something he knew was no more possible to do than the movement toward Brentsville.


McDowell’s mind-set, that his men were so raw that they would lose their organization at the slightest collision with the enemy, dictated what happened next. He proceeded to march his army far around the rebel left, without conducting any reasonable effort to locate the ford most crucial to the success of his paper plan.


McDowell’s Paper Plan


Here is what McDowell wrote in his battle report:


“Reliable information was obtained of an undefended ford about three miles above the Stone Bridge (Sudley Ford), there being another ford between it and the bridge (Poplar Ford), which was defended. It was therefore determined to take the road to the upper ford (Sudley’s), and, after crossing, to get behind the forces (there were none) guarding the lower ford and the Stone Bridge. . . . Tyler was directed to move on the Warrenton pike and commence firing, while Hunter’s division moved behind him past Cub Run, then turn to the right and move by a wood road to the upper ford. Heintzleman’s division to follow Hunter’s as far as the turning-off place to the lower ford, where he was to cross after the enemy should have been driven out by Hunter’s. Miles’s division to be in reserve on the Centreville ridge.”


What actually happened is that Heintzelman was unable to find the road he was to take to the lower ford—Poplar’s Ford—and so his division continued following Hunter’s up to the upper ford—Sudley’s.


This was a fatal change in McDowell’s plan. The plan was for Hunter’s division, after crossing Bull Run at Sudley’s, to march south and deploy into the open farm land between Sudley’s and the Warrenton pike. As this movement was being made, Heintzelman, appearing at Poplar Ford, would cross (forcibly if he must) and deploy to the left of Hunter; thereby establishing a Union battle line stretching from Bull Run west to the Sudley Road at a point about one mile from the road’s intersection with the Warrenton Pike, just in front of Henry Hill.


Thus aligned, the Union attacking force composed of two divisions would move south on a two brigade front toward Manassas Junction and engage the enemy in combat where the movement was contested. As the Union front moved south, the movement would uncover the Stone Bridge and Tyler’s division, less Richardson’s brigade that McDowell had attached to Miles’s division, would pour over Bull Run and join the action. As the movement was progressing, Miles was to feint an attack against Blackburn’s, the idea being to fix the rebel troops defending that place. The strength of the attacking force would now be eight brigades and the enemy would have to come out of its entrenchments and change front to confront it, hampered by the supposed pressure Miles would bring to bear against their right.


The Incompetence of the Union Officers Caused the Defeat at Bull Run


How was it that Heintzelman failed to reach Poplar Ford? Gross incompetence on the part of John G. Barnard, McDowell’s chief engineer, and McDowell’s indifference to it.


As Barnard tells the story:


“Midway between Sudley and the Stone Bridge, our maps indicated another ford. We had information that a road branched from the pike a short distance beyond Cub Run, by which, opening gates and passing through private ground, we might reach the fords. In company with Captain Woodbury  (another engineer) and a company of cavalry, on the 19th, I followed up the valley of Cub Run until we reached a point near where we struck a road which we believed led to the fords. We went down this road a short distance to the point we encountered the enemy pickets and stopped, not wishing to telegraph our plans.”


This is pathetic soldiering for a West Point graduate to admit to. First, as to the source of the “information” Barnard is referring to, he tells us that on the 18th he “encountered Mathias C. Mitchell (of Mitchell’s Ford fame), who was afterwards secured as a guide, representing himself as a Union man, and a resident of that vicinity.”


Historians and civil war writers, manufacturing story, like Barnard, tend to point the finger at Mitchell as being present with Hunter and Heintzelman’s column, guiding them. In fact, the evidence points to Barnard pulling Mitchell out of the air, to excuse his gross negligence.


Woodbury wrote the story this way: “I accompanied Hunter and Heintzelman. We used for the most part an old road shown upon (McDowell’s map preserved in the Library of Congress). We reached Sudley at 9:00 a.m.”


Hunter, in his battle report, puts the dime on Woodbury, writing: “Captain D.P. Woodbury, chief engineer of the division, fearlessly exposed himself in front of skirmishers during our whole advance, and determined with great judgment the route of the division.”


Heintzelman, for his part, writes: Captain Wright accompanied the head of Hunter’s division, with directions to stop at a road which turned in to the left to a ford, about half way between the pike and the Sudley ford. No such road was found to exist.” There is no report found in the Rebellion Records authored by a Captain Wright; presumably he was an aide on Heintzelman’s staff whom Woodbury was to show the road to.


Barnard’s excuse for conducting no reasonable search for the Poplar Ford—that in encountering rebel skirmishers he didn’t want to telegraph McDowell’s plan—is nonsense. The fact that Barnard encountered enemy skirmishers is hardly surprising, nor would the skirmishers be surprised, under the circumstances. The defenders of Manassas Junction would naturally have the entire length of Bull Run, from Sudley Ford down to the railroad crossing at Union Mills picketed. These pickets would not be strong enough to keep McDowell back from the Bull Run fords, if he had committed a brigade to the effort as shown by Tyler’s effort at Blackburn’s Ford on the 18th. There simply is no good reason for McDowell not having insisted on a reconnaissance in force, to establish clearly where the fords were, except that his mind was convinced, probably quite rightly, that any encounter with the enemy would render the Union infantry involved useless for further action and devastate the morale of any troops around them.


McDowell said as much on July 20 when he wrote Scott’s adjutant: “Yesterday was occupied mainly by the engineers (Barnard and Woodbury etc) in reconnoitering the defenses of the enemy on Bull Run, at and above the Warrenton turnpike. The object of the reconnaissance was to find a point which might be bridged or forded, so as to turn these places where the enemy was prepared for us. Thus far these efforts, five of them, have not been successful, the enemy being in such force on this side as to make it impossible to ascertain. I wished yesterday to make the reconnaissance in force, but deferred to the better judgment of others (read Barnard)—to try and get it by observation and stealth. Today I propose to drive in the enemy and get the information required. I shall go forward early today and force the enemy beyond Bull Run, so as to examine it more closely than we have been able to do.”


In fact, the reconnaissance in force never happened, because McDowell tells us, in his battle report of August 4, “Later in the day (of the 19th) the engineers had obtained enough information of the passages across the stream to dispense with this reconnaissance.” This information, “reliable,” McDowell had said, appears to have come exclusively from the local resident, Mr. Mitchell, who Barnard decided was “a loyal Union man.” Obviously whatever Barnard learned from Mitchell did not include the location of Poplar Ford.


The effect of the failure to find Poplar Ford changed the nature of McDowell’s plan fatally. Instead of having two divisions converge on the open farm land in front of Henry Hill, deploy side by side and move as one to battle, as a third forced the passage of Bull Run at the Stone Bridge and strengthened the advancing front more,  McDowell ended up with one division of two brigades assuming a front the width of one regiment, opposed by enemy forces which kept Hunter from deploying his division in the wide farm land for three hours, clogging the road back to Sudley Ford, making the ability of Heintzelman to bring his division into supporting action very difficult, and leaving Tyler’s division to stand passively for hours on the east side of Bull Run. Barnard left the field soon after Bull Run and limited his service to managing the forts around Washington.


The Farm Fields Between Sudley Ford and Henry Hill




McDowell Spends July 20th Sitting On His Hands


Most of the Civil War scholars explain McDowell’s failure to move to battle on the 20th as a matter of logistics: McDowell had to wait for subsistence trains to arrive from Alexandria in order that the men could cook three days rations for their haversacks. But the evidence shows this to be a lame excuse. Just after midnight the morning of July 19th, McDowell wrote Tyler this—“The train of subsistence came up long ago.” Later, during the day of the 19th, McDowell wrote to Scott’s adjutant and said, “I gave orders for the forces to move forward on the Warrenton pike so soon as the supply trains came up and the men could get and prepare their rations.” McDowell’s commissary chief, George Bell, confirms this in his report, writing: “On the morning of the 18th, 60,000 rations, in parcels of 15,000, were packed in 45 wagons, and an extra 45,000 rations were packed in 48 wagons, plus 70 beef cattle. This went forward on the 18th, with an escort of 200 men from the New Jersey Volunteers. We reached Centreville at 9:00 a.m. on the 19th.” Thus, the reason for McDowell’s delay in moving the army forward to battle on the 20th was not caused by lack of rations in haversacks, nor was it due to his waiting for Barnard to complete his reconnaissance, as McDowell had abandoned the effort by the morning of the 20th.


Why didn’t McDowell move to battle then on the 20th? He had learned that Joe Johnston’s force from the Shenandoah Valley was arriving by train at Manassas Junction. This information came to McDowell from local reports received, and from the repetitive sounds of locomotives running in and out of Manassas Junction throughout the night of the 19th and into the 20th.As he wrote Scott’s adjutant on the 20th: “There are rumors that Johnston has joined Beauregard.”


This development quite rightly caused McDowell to pause and think long and hard. For it is one thing to take green men to the attack when they substantially outnumber the enemy, and quite another thing altogether when they move to attack an equal force standing on the defensive. There can hardly be reasonable doubt, here, that McDowell waited out the 20th hoping that, with the news of Johnston’s arrival, Scott would persuade Lincoln to rescind the order to give battle.. But when Lincoln gave no reprieve there was nothing to be done but for the army to proceed.


Johnston and Patterson in the Shenandoah Valley


At 1:00 a.m., on July 18th, Joe Johnston, with 13,000 men organized into four brigades, was near Winchester when he received a telegram from President Davis, telling him that McDowell’s army was about to attack Beauregard and to move as quickly as possible to Bull Run. By noon, with Stonewall Jackson’s brigade of Virginians in the lead, Johnston’s command was marching east from Winchester toward Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains; by 2:00 a.m., on the 19th, Jackson had reached the village of Paris, with Bartow’s, Bee’s, and Elzely’s brigade strung out on the road behind him.


Johnston had ridden ahead of the column to Piedmont. Arriving there at midnight on the 18th, Johnston made arrangements for trains of the Manassas Gap Railroad to carry his men to Manassas. The artillery belonging to the brigades went overland by different roads to Manassas. The last of these batteries—John Imboden’s Staunton Artillery—arrived at 1:00 a.m., on July 21st, just as Wade Hampton’s South Carolina Legion came in to Manassas Junction from Richmond on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment arrived the evening of the 20th after a thirty-six hour ride.  Holmes’s brigade composed of the 2nd Tennessee and 1st Arkansas arrived about the same time from Fredericksburg, after a forty-seven mile march.




Two weeks earlier, on July 2nd, Robert Patterson’s force of about 13,000 Pennsylvania three month volunteers, organized into two divisions, a total of five brigades, crossed the Potomac for the second time in two months and began moving toward Winchester. Patterson had with him only one battery of six smooth bore guns, being pulled by untrained horses. He had no supply train, only wagons belonging to the individual regiments. Advancing on the old pike (State HW 11), Patterson’s progress was impeded for several hours by the appearance of Jackson’s brigade in his front.

A short, sharp fire fight erupted in the road as Jackson blocked the way with an infantry line, supported by two field pieces of the Rockbridge Virginia Artillery. When Patterson got his lead division deployed, Jackson retired toward Martinsburg where the remainder of Johnston’s army was then concentrated. Patterson followed; arriving there on July 3, he found Johnston had moved up the valley to the vicinity of Bunker Hill.




Patterson reported his progress to General Scott:


“Passed through Martinsburg today in hot pursuit of the enemy. I have halted temporarily to bring up supplies, having today returned all my wagons for this purpose. With my present transportation I can advance but a short distance before I am compelled to halt. As soon as provisions arrive I shall advance to Winchester to drive the enemy from that place. I then design to move toward Charlestown and, if I find it not hazardous, to continue to Leesburg. I must do this or abandon the country, by retiring the way I came, in consequence of the three months volunteers being about to expire.”


During the several days that passed, with Patterson standing at Martinsburg building up supplies, General Scott, through Lincoln’s instigation, sent Patterson reinforcements. Colonel Stone’s command of three regiments arrived from Poolesviile on July 8, and, on July 10 by a roundabout way, New York State Militia Commander Charles Sanford arrived with three New York regiments and a battery of rifled guns. Patterson organized these six regiments into a third division, commanded by Sanford.


After Stone’s arrival but before Sanford’s, Patterson held a council with his staff and general officers. At the council he presented the question, What was to be done? According to Patterson, he set forth at the council the objective reasons which supported the conclusion that an advance against Johnston’s force, then holding Bunker Hill, was necessary: First, if an advance was not made Johnston might go to Manassas; second, the purpose of Scott sending reinforcements was to enable Patterson to clear the valley to Winchester, to defeat Johnston if he offered battle, and to be in position to aid McDowell.


In reply, according to Patterson. all his officers were of the view that the army had no business being where it was, other than to make a demonstration. Everyone agreed that the army was in grave danger and should move to Charlestown.


Using the council’s apparent consensus as the excuse, Patterson telegraphed Scott, proposing to move his force to Charlestown, establish his depot at Harper’s Ferry, and connect with the Maryland shore by a bridge of boats. He closed this message with a question that put the onus on Scott to dictate when Patterson was to move again toward Winchester to confront Johnston, so that Johnston might not go to Beauregard’s assistance.


“General Sanford informs me by letter that he has for me a letter from you. I hope it will inform me when you will put McDowell in motion against Manassas, and when you wish me to strike Johnston. The enemy retired from Bunker Hill to a point a few miles from Winchester. There he has halted and reports say he is entrenching. His design evidently is to draw this force on as far as possible from its base, and then to cut my line, or to attack with large reinforcements from Manassas. I cannot advance far due to lack of supplies and wagons, and if I could, I think the movement very imprudent. When McDowell makes his attack I expect to advance and offer battle. If the enemy retires, shall not pursue. I want to know when you wish me to approach Winchester.”


While Patterson was waiting for a reply from Scott, Charles Sanford arrived at Martinsburg on the 10th and delivered Scott’s letter. Though both men testified before the Committee on the Conduct of the War regarding what happened next, neither man produced Scott’s letter or quoted from it. (The letter does not appear to exist in the Rebellion Record.) Before the Committee on the Conduct of the War several months later, Sanford stated that on the 15th, five days after his arrival, Patterson’s force went in the direction of Winchester as far as Bunker Hill. On this march, Sanford’s newly organized division of 8,000 men and two batteries moved south on side roads to the southeast of the pike between Martinsburg and Winchester.


Sanford went into camp about nine miles from Winchester, near the Opequon. Sanford claimed that he was intending to move further south, to get between Johnston and the road leading through Millwood to Ashby’s Gap, but Patterson, after conducting a timid reconnaissance toward Winchester early on the 16th, ordered Sanford to move to Charlestown, twenty miles to the northeast. The excuse Patterson gave, Sanford said, was that he had received intelligence that Johnston had been reinforced by 20,000 men from Manassas and was going to attack him.


In defending himself before the Committee, Patterson took the position that Scott had authorized the movement to Charlestown. If Johnston were to retreat toward Manassas, Scott wrote, and Patterson considered “it to be hazardous to follow him,” then Patterson was to “consider the route via Key’s Ford, through Loudoun County, to Leesburg.” Patterson’s statement was correct as far as it went, but there can be little dispute, based on the written communications between the two men, that Scott expected Patterson to first demonstrate against Johnston long enough to keep him in the valley.


On Monday, the 15th, Patterson marched his force from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill. The next day—the day Scott had said McDowell would attack Manassas—Patterson sent a force forward toward Winchester. This force encountered a barricade across the pike several miles past Bunker Hill, it attacked the pickets holding it, driving them away, and then returned to Bunker Hill.


Before the Committee Patterson took the position that it was Scott’s fault, not his, that Johnston was able to leave the valley. “General Scott should have directed me,” Patterson said, to continue my demonstrations, which could have been done as easily from Charlestown as Martinsburg; or he should have given me the order to march at once for Manassas and delayed the attack there until I arrived.” (Something Scott was powerless to do; Lincoln was in command, not Scott.)


General Scott did not personally appear at the Committee’s hearing, sending by letter instead a written statement. In it, Scott replied to Patterson this way: “Although Patterson was never specifically ordered to attack the enemy, he was certainly told, and expected, even if inferior in numbers, to hold the rebel army in his front on the alert, and to prevent it from reinforcing Manassas Junction, by means of threatening maneuvers and demonstrations. Instead Patterson fell off upon Charlestown where he made no movement that did not look like a retreat out of Virginia.”


Crossing the Shenandoah River From Charlestown





By the 18th, when the telegram came from President Davis, Johnston knew exactly where Patterson was, and thus knew that Patterson meant to stand on the defensive, at Charlestown, ready to retire over the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry if he was threatened. Given this fact, it was easy for Johnston to get his command out of the valley and on its way to Manassas; with the infantry using the railroad as transportation, and the cavalry and artillery train going overland, Johnston’s force would be concentrated at Manassas Junction no later than the evening of the 20th, with the last regiments arriving early in the morning of the 21st.


In Washington, Abraham Lincoln was also aware of Patterson’s location, and, by noon on July 20, he was informed that the main body of Johnston’s force was arriving at Bull Run. Lincoln knew this fact meant that the tactical situation between the opposing forces had been materially changed. On July 8, when he first met with McDowell and pressured him into moving his green army to attack the Confederates at Bull Run, Lincoln could justify the attack on the basis that, at that time, there was some reasonable chance of success, because the Union army would go into action with a substantial superiority in numbers—it being known that Beauregard’s force numbered no more than 15,000-18,000 men while McDowell’s numbered about 30,000. But now, however, with Johnston’s arrival at Bull Run and Patterson standing still at Charlestown, Union superiority had evaporated into air, and with it any rational basis, from a military point of view, for initiating a general battle. Wouldn’t the most reasonable and prudent thing be now to order McDowell to stand on the defensive, dig in at Centreville and wait to be attacked?

Of course, this change in circumstance was not the fault of either Patterson or Scott. No general in Scott’s shoes would have given Patterson a flat, direct order to move to attack Johnston straightaway. Scott was sixty miles from the scene of action. Patterson was indeed handicapped severely by the fact that the enlistment period of his entire force, with the exception of Sanford’s division, was to expire on or about July 21. And the matter of supplying his force so far from his base at Williamsport—given the real shortage in wagons—made it almost impossible to have on hand sufficient rations to feed the men for more than a day or two. Realizing all this explains why, at Lincoln’s behest, Sanford was sent, by the Pennsylvania Central Railroad, to Harrisburg and then to Hagerstown, to bring reinforcements to Patterson.


The best then that Lincoln could expect Scott to have done, under the circumstances, was to encourage Patterson to retain the initiative, keeping Johnston occupied by pressing against Johnston’s front. Scott clearly did this. Using Sanford’s men, Patterson might have taken the risk of a total breakdown in the field and attempted to block Johnston from moving east by moving south to Berryville and getting on the flank. That Patterson did not do so, is difficult to second-guess, given the objective circumstances.


The fact that Lincoln did not rescind his order to McDowell to attack under these circumstances, demonstrates that, to Lincoln’s mind, it was absolutely necessary that the army get into a battle. No matter that the battle might result in a defeat: for even so, Washington would not be in any immediate danger. There were the newly constructed forts blocking the roads to the Potomac bridges; each fort had artillery and was manned by a regiment, and Runyon’s New Jersey men were standing in front. The worst that could happen, Lincoln must have thought, was a repulse and the important thing would still be accomplished. The battle would produce casualties—the red badge worn by the dead and wounded soldiers, going home with the volunteers as their enlistment expired, would stir the people’s emotions into rage, and the momentum of war would accelerate and the money to drive it would pour into the Treasury from the inflamed country. So Lincoln took the risk of defeat in stride and waved Scott away who came with McDowell’s protest.



The Battle of Bull Run


Joe Ryan Battlewalk Bull Run

Youtube Channel JoeRyanCivilWar

After trudging through forest and farm fields on a narrow wagon road for almost five hours, Ambrose Burnside’s Rhode Island Brigade, leading Hunter’s division, arrived at the Bull Run crossing of Sudley’s Ford. As the column came to the stream, hundreds of the men in the ranks, footsore, their leg muscles cramped, their backs painful from the knapsacks they carried, their shoulders rubbed raw by their rifles, broke from the column despite the shouts of their officers, and spread in a mob along the bank, taking gulps of water and splashing it on their faces.



Sudley Ford With Church in Background


By now—about 9 o’clock in the morning—the hot July sun was beating down on Burnside’s men from a clear sky, burning their faces and the back of their necks, stifling any breeze and soaking their shirts with perspiration. Among the regiments of McDowell’s army, one of  Burnside’s, the First Rhode Island, composed of three month volunteers from the Providence area—about 600 strong—had been in the field the longest. The other regiment, the Second Rhode Island, composed of three year volunteers and about equal in strength, had been in the field for five days.


Four days after the fall of Sumter, Burnside had left his job as a cashier for the Illinois Central Railroad—a position secured for him by his friend George McClellan when he was down and out—and went to Rhode Island to assume command of the reactivated First Rhode Island Militia Regiment. The original First Rhode Island had been raised at the outset of the American Revolution and counted 125 slaves in its ranks, the regiment fighting several battles with success. Now, however, the ranks were purely white.


The First Rhode Island in 1776


Arriving in Washington on April 20, the regiment went into camp on a farm on the outskirts of the city, remaining there until June 10 when, at General Scott’s order, it boarded the cars of a Northern Central Railroad train and was taken, via Harrisburg, to Chambersburg where it joined Robert Patterson’s army of Pennsylvanians. From Chambersburg, Burnside moved with Patterson to Hagerstown and, on June 15, his regiment crossed the Potomac at Williamsport. But when Joe Johnston withdrew from Harper’s Ferry the next day and moved toward Winchester, Scott called the First Rhode Island back to Washington. It reached there, moving by train, on June 22, and went into camp with the Second Rhode Island which had arrived at the same time from Providence. Two weeks later the Rhode Island regiments moved across the Potomac, going into camp near Arlington with two other regiments—the Second New Hampshire and the Seventy-First New York—with which they became brigaded.


Around 10:00 a.m., with the second brigade of Hunter’s division—Porter’s—crowding up the Bull Run ford, Burnside’s field officers were able to get the men back in column formation and moving across the ford and over a saddle between two low hills that carried the wagon road past the Sudley Church and into a corridor of trees.

Sudley Church


Wagon Road Today


No sooner did the head of Burnside’s column emerge from the forest into the open farm land that spreads southward toward the Centreville/Warrenton pike than it came under fire from the enemy who were in position at the crest of a swell in the ground called Matthews Hill.


Burnside Encounters Nathan Evans Blocking His Front


An hour earlier Evans had been a mile away at the stone bridge that carries the Warrenton pike over Bull Run. At the bridge Evans had with him about 1,100 men: The 4th South Carolina Regiment and the Louisiana Battalion. Early in the morning, as the brigades of Tyler’s division appeared on the crest above Bull Run, Evans had spread his men in a thin line along the west bank of the stream. For the next two hours, as Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions were taking the wagon road around to Sudley Ford, Evan’s force exchanged rifle with Union skirmishers who infiltrated the woods covering the stream bank. To combat the effect of artillery fire from a heavy rifled Parrott gun, Evans brought into action a section of smoothbore Napoleons from the Lynchburg Artillery.


As the hours passed Evans saw that no advance was being made by the Union brigades to force a crossing of the stream at the stone bridge, so he decided to move two-thirds of his force to confront the Union column that his pickets reported had reached Sudley Ford. Leaving behind four companies of the 4th South Carolina (about 200 men) to face the whole of Tyler’s division, Evans took the remainder of the regiment (six companies) along with the Louisiana Battalion, a troop of cavalry and the other section of Lynchburg Artillery, across the fields to the slight rise of ridge that crosses the Sudley Road on the Matthews farm.


Evans’s movement caught the Union leadership by surprise. McDowell had expected that the head of Hunter’s column would meet no opposition as it crossed the Sudley ford and marched down the road toward the Warrenton pike. The absence of opposition meant that the lead brigade—Burnside’s—would be able to take advantage of the mile square of open field between the Sudley Road and Bull Run as a staging area, where the regiments could be deployed into lines of battle, making room as they did so for Hunter’s second brigade—Andrew Porter’s—to get clear of the forest corridor and deploy into a battle front in the fields west of the Sudley road. This would create a mile-wide front of two brigades (four regiments) which could move south toward Manassas Junction on both sides of the road. With the road from the ford now clear, Heintzelman’s division of three brigades could easily follow and deploy in Hunter’s support.


In the face of this combination, McDowell expected that the forces guarding the rebel left flank would be forced to give up possession of the Warrenton pike in front of the stone bridge, opening the way for Tyler’s division to cross the stream with its artillery and join in the southward movement. But now, with Burnside’s brigade abruptly brought to a halt in the road, having barely cleared the forest corridor, there was no easy way for Porter’s brigade to get away from the ford and out into the open, which meant Heintzelman’s division could not move forward.


As time was of the essence, everything depended now upon Burnside quickly forcing the enemy to give way in his front: For the whole point of McDowell’s plan was to fall upon the rebel flank and rear before the enemy could effectively turn north to meet him.


Burnside had led the march of his brigade with the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment and now he joined it as its colonel, John Slocum, directed the regiment’s evolution from column to line and advanced toward the rebels in position behind a snake fence in dense woods at the ridge line. Burnside had chosen the 2nd Rhode Island to lead the column, because it was composed of three year volunteers. Presumably Burnside thought it likely that the three year men would be more willing to face the fire than the 1st Rhode Island, composed of men whose term of enlistment was days from expiring. But, unlike the 1st Rhode Island which was armed with new .58 caliber rifled muskets, the men of the 2nd were armed with model 1842 smoothbore muskets which were hardly accurate beyond seventy-five yards.


Advancing toward the woods, the 2nd Rhode Island began to take fire from the rebel line at 200 yards: standing behind the wood fence the men of the Louisiana Battalion poured volley after volley of bullets into the block of Rhode Islanders advancing on them, while round shot and shell was thrown by the two guns of the Lynchburg Artillery. Smoke and the sounds of crashing volleys and cracks of artillery fire filled the woods as the men on both sides fired their weapons as fast as they could load. Soon the fire of the Rhode Islanders slowed as their muskets became fouled with the residue of powder and they lay down on the ground. Colonel Slocum, riding his horse among them, banishing his sword and imploring them to rise and charge, was shot in the head and carried, mortally wounded from the field. For thirty minutes, the Louisianans held the Rhode Islanders at bay, giving time for Evans to extend his line westward with the 4th South Carolina.


Seeing this, Burnside brought the 1st Rhode Island Regiment to the front, and the brigade’s First Rhode Island artillery came careening down the Sudley road as the infantry turned into the fields, and went into action with its six guns. At this, the Louisiana Battalion’s commander, Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, ordered his men to charge the Rhode Island guns and, coming within twenty yards, they loosed a volley of rifle fire that swept over the guns, cutting down the cannoneers and horses. But as they stood, ramming rods down the barrels of their rifles, the Ist Rhode Island Regiment came into position alongside the artillery line and blasted the rebels back with lead. Shocked by the sheaf of bullets slamming into them, the Louisiana firing line crumbled and the men began drifting back toward the wood fence in the woods. Wheat tried to rally them, by dismounting in their ranks and waving them forward with his sword, but the rally was cut short when a bullet drilled through his chest into his lungs and dropped him to the ground like a tumbled stone. Wheat would live, only to be killed under similar circumstances at the Battle of Gaines Mill, in the spring of 1862.


Now, with the rebel line holding the ridge by the skin of its teeth, the six companies of the 4th South Carolina trading surges and retreats with the two Rhode Island regiments, Burnside was able to introduce into the struggle the strength of the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment. This regiment was composed of three year volunteers and they rushed forward pell mell and swarmed into the woods, each man firing on his own hook as they came. The South Carolinians held their ground for a time, but, then, as their ranks dwindled in the fire, they began to give way.

Like the 4th South Carolina, The 2nd New Hampshire regiment would last to the end of the war at Petersburg. Taking 900 men into action at Bull Run, the regiment’s roster would be down to 353 men at Gettysburg, where 47 of its force were killed, 136 wounded, 36 reported missing and 21 of its 24 field officers were killed or wounded.


Just then, as the 2nd New Hampshire came into action and it seemed the rebel position was collapsing, the 700 hundred man strong 4th Alabama Regiment, from one of Joe Johnston’s brigades—Barnard Bee’s—appeared on the flank of the 4th South Carolina and made a wild charge against the Union guns. Almost immediately, as they came out of the woods into a cornfield, the charge was broken by the Union fire. The men, now trapped in the open, laid down in the field as shot, shell and buck and ball swept over them. In the fire, their colonel, Egbert Jones, was killed. Their lieutenant colonel, Evander Law, who would lead a division at Antietam, was wounded and other officers went down, leaving the men almost leaderless.


Suddenly, at this crisis, the 8th Georgia, of Bartow’s brigade, Johnston’s command, swept through the cornfield to the right of the Alabamians, and charged through the front yard of the Matthews farm house, driving back the flank of the Rhode Islanders, threatening to reach the Union artillery battery and rout the whole Union front.



Roaming behind the gun line, Burnside saw this and tore away, up the Sudley road to find Porter, who now was in command of the division, Hunter having earlier been shot from his horse and carried from the field. “For God’s sake,” he shouted as he came up to Porter; “let me have the regulars. My men are being cut to pieces.” By this time, Porter had gotten the leading regiments of his brigade clear of the Sudley road, marching them westward along an abandoned railroad excavation, Stonewall Jackson would make famous a year later, deploying them on the right side of the road, on the Dogan farm, along the ridge line. The regulars were ordered forward at once, and when they arrived on the left of the Rhode Islanders they broke the rebel advance, forcing the Georgians and Alabamians into a retreat that carried them as far as the Warrenton pike.


Advancing with the regulars’ attack, on the right side of the Sudley road, came the rest of Porter’s regiments. They were met and stopped by the 2nd and 11th Mississippi regiments, of Bee’s brigade; but then Captain Charles Griffin, commanding Company D, of the 5th U.S. Artillery, arrived at the front with two10-pounder rifle guns and two 12-pounder Napoleons and commenced firing. Griffin’s unlimbered his guns on the crest of Dogan’s ridge, some 600 yards from the Sudley road intersection with the Warrenton pike. Taking refuge behind the gun line was most of Porter’s brigade. Griffen, an artillery instructor at West Point, would eventually command a brigade, then a division, and, finally, at the battle of Five Forks, in 1865, a corps and he would be inside the McLean Farmhouse, to witness Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.


With the sun now well over the meridian, McDowell had in line of battle, stretching across the Sudley road, from Dogan’s ridge to the Matthews’ farmhouse, seven regiments and two artillery batteries, all banging away at five rebel regiments falling back toward the Warrenton pike. Coming up behind this line was the head of Heintzelman’s division.


McDowell arrived at the front in a buggy, and watched as the rebels were scattering back toward the pike, crossing Young’s Branch and scrambling up a hill that rose several hundred feet to a plateau. Two farmhouses could be seen situated some distance apart from each other. Mounting a horse, McDowell galloped into the midst of the Union regiments, waving his hat over his head and shouting: “Hurry up boys, we’re driving them!”


Grabbing the arm of a staff officer, McDowell shouted at the man over the din, to ride to Tyler on the opposite bank of Bull Run and tell him to attack across the stone bridge at once.  In his mind’s eye, he saw three of his divisions—17,000 men—moving forward in concert, driving the disorganized enemy back upon Manassas Junction, capturing the place, inducing the enemy to fly toward the Rappahannock.


The Critical Moment For McDowell


When McDowell’s order reached Tyler’s ears, he looked at the courier blankly and is reported to have said: “What does McDowell mean? Does he mean that I shall cross the stream?” When the courier repeated what McDowell had said, Tyler shook his head and rode slowly off, his entourage of staff officers trailing behind. What McDowell expected him to do, what the circumstances required him to do, was to immediately move Schenck’s brigade to storm a passage of the stone bridge; once Schenck was across, to follow him with artillery and then Sherman’s and Keyes’s brigades, bringing into action the whole division in cooperation with Heintzelman’s which would now take over the front from Hunter who would fall back in support.


But instead of doing this, Tyler decided that Sherman would cross the stream north of the stone bridge, by a farm ford that he had found, and once across have Keyes’s follow him. Then Schenck might cross the bridge with the division’s artillery.


Receiving the order to move across the stream, Sherman pushed his brigade in line of column through the ford he had found and out into the open field as the rebel front was falling back. At McDowell’s order, he marched the brigade west behind the Union front and came into line between Porter’s and Burnside’s brigade which were moving south behind the retreating rebels.


By this time Porter’s and Burnside’s brigades were out of energy: the colonels of the regiments and most of the field officers had been shot down, and the men were exhausted and disorganized by the marching and fighting. Many were out of ammunition and their rifles so fouled that they were useless. To keep the momentum, McDowell ordered Heintzelman to pass two of his brigades—Franklin’s and Willcox’s—through the wasted brigades as Sherman came into the middle of the front. These three brigades, showing five regiments in line, with ten more behind, took almost two hours to get organized into line and move up to the pike. In the course of this time passing, following Sherman through the farm ford, Tyler came across Bull Run with Keyes’s brigade and moved toward the hill.


 By this time, of course, the field was strewn with the bodies of dead soldiers which was disconcerting to the minds of the newly arriving, untested Union troops. But this was good for Lincoln.




The Struggle For Henry Hill


McDowell ordered the whole Union line to advance to sweep the rebels off the hill. As time was spent in the Union front consolidating and extending, Stonewall Jackson’s brigade, from Johnston’s army, marched onto the plateau of Henry Hill and formed a line at the high spot inside a stand of pine trees. Wade Hampton’s South Carolina Legion of about 900 men arrived too, and occupied the Robinson farm building, supporting a section of rifled guns that were firing into the ranks of the Union men swarming over the fields below the hill.


At the same time, as the last of Johnston’s brigades—Elzey’s—was arriving by train at Manassas Junction, Stonewall assembled an artillery line of thirteen pieces in front of his brigade: five belonged to the Washington Artillery (two rifled six-pounders and three six-pounder Napoleons); four belonged to the Rockbridge Battery from the Virginia Military Institute (each a light four-pounder Napoleon); and four smoothbores came from Alburtis’s battery. Eleven of these guns, designed for short range fire and most effective in causing destruction when discharging canister, were the key to the Confederates holding the plateau, as their fire could be counted on to shatter the anticipated charges of the Union infantry now laboring to get up the hill.


From the vantage point of Matthews Hill, McDowell saw what was happening and made the snap judgment to counter the enemy’s gun line with one of his own. The problem was, with what?


 Just before two o’clock, Major William Barry, McDowell’s “Chief of Artillery,” rode to Griffin and James Ricketts, the latter the captain of the six gun battery, Company I, 1st U.S. Artillery, and told them to limber their guns and advance them to the crest of the hill; pointing as he did so to the Henry farmhouse that sits near the northwestern edge of the hill.


Griffin protested vehemently, arguing that the guns would be more effective at longer range, and that, in any event, they could not remain at such a forward position without strong infantry support. Barry shrugged; repeating the order, he told Griffin that the 11th New York “Fire Zouaves”—Lincoln’s pet regiment once commanded by his friend Ellsworth—would follow the guns in support.


Griffin moved his guns some distance forward toward the hill; then he stopped and waited for the appearance of the Zouaves. Not seeing them, he went to Barry and complained again. Barry urged him to go forward, telling him the Zouaves just then were ready to advance and would follow at the double quick. Griffin argued with Barry, telling him the infantry should go first and take a defensive position while the two batteries followed. Barry, getting red in the face, hollered at Griffin: “McDowell says the guns must advance, the infantry will follow!” Griffin sneered at Barry, turned on his heel and waved to his cannoneers to get the horses moving, then walked away.


As the Union batteries were clamoring forward, the horses pulling the gun carriages and caissons up the Sudley road, into the saddle between Henry and Bald hills, turning into the clearing surrounding the Henry farmhouse,  Keyes moved his brigade forward on the far left, crossed the Warrenton pike and Young’s Branch, and climbed the hill, the 2nd Maine and 3rd Connecticut in front.


The two regiments reached the top and advanced toward the Robinson farmhouse but were stopped cold by the fire of rebel artillery and infantry holding the position. Almost immediately after coming under fire, the men in the Union ranks turned tail and scampered down the hill, the men slipping, falling, and tumbling, so anxious to escape the hail of lead whistling into them. With Tyler’s approval, Keyes abruptly marched his brigade to the left, filing off under the bluff, going around the hill out of sight. At the end of the day, when the Union army was in headlong retreat, Keyes’s brigade was one of the first across Bull Run; its casualties limited to nineteen privates killed out of 2,500.


Now the struggle for the hill became fierce as Ricketts arrived and went into action on the west side of the Henry farmhouse, with Griffin unlimbering on the east side. In the space of no more than three hundred yards an incessant cannonading split the air with rolls of thunderous cracking sounds and the shrieking whine of shells. It was a terrible racket the artillery duel.





In the wake of Griffin’s and Ricketts’s guns came the Fire Zouaves, followed on their left by the U.S. Marines Corps Battalion from Hunter’s division. They shouted hurrahs as they clamored up the hill and came over the crest and ran forward into the range of Stonewall’s guns. Blasts of canister rounds met them, crumbling the front ranks, tearing gaping holes, causing the survivors  to falter, recoil and stumble backwards away from the horrible fire.


At the bottom of the hill, McDowell was riding frantically from the colonel of one regiment to another, urging them to move their men across the pike and up the road leading over the hill.

Now a body of Stuart’s cavalry suddenly sprang from the trees on the opposite side of the Sudley road and charged into the ranks of the Zouaves, scattering them with saber slashes as the soldiers fired at them with their rifles.


As this was happening, a body of close-packed soldiers appeared from the woods that skirted the east side of the Sudley road, about a hundred yards distance from where Griffin had just moved two of his guns beyond the right flank of Ricketts’s gun line. Griffin saw the soldiers coming and shouted to the section holding that end of his line to turn their guns, load with canister, and fire at the infantry mass coming toward them. Major Barry, astride his horse behind Griffin, heard the order and shouted, “Don’t fire! Don’t fire! Those men coming are your supports.”


Griffin turned in a rage and grabbed the reins of Barry’s horse, jerking the animal around. “You are blind!” Griffin yelled. “Those men coming are enemy.” In the clash of their officers’ tempers, the cannoneers hesitated, uncertain whose order to obey, and in the time that passed in the arguing, the approaching soldiers came within forty yards of the gun line and, suddenly, a volley came crashing into Griffin’s position, cutting down almost all his cannoneers and the artillery horses.



While the firing was the hottest, Beauregard appeared and rode along the rear of the rebel gun line. To the cannoneers he shouted—Kill those people and the day is ours!” The cannoneers, their bare chests glistening with sweat, their faces black with powder smears, cheered wildly as they served more canister to their guns. Here, an enemy shell from one of Ricketts’s rifled Parrott guns burst, killing Beauregard’s horse and, leaping to the ground as the horse collapsed under him, he mounted another and rode off down the line still shouting.


Then fresh Union regiments, one by one, appeared on the scene and they drove the 33rd Virginia Regiment off Griffin’s guns and the rebel infantry line, thinning itself from the exertions of the hours, wavered, hard pressed to stand as stragglers and sulkers slipped away toward the safety of the woods in rear. Now Bartow and Bee were killed, Wade Hampton wounded as they tried to rally their men, reform the shattered companies, fill the gaps. All the while Jackson’s guns banged and cracked, spewing clumps of hot balls, holding the enemy back.


Almost every unit on the field was swept up in the prolonged struggle for possession of the Union guns. Several rebel regiments charged and countercharged in the space between the guns, and were charged and countercharged by Union regiments. Here Secretary of War Simon Cameron’s brother, colonel of the 78th NY Volunteers, was killed. Officers, along with their men, went down in droves on both sides as the swarms of men came together, almost chest to chest like bears, slashing with knives, firing rifles, stabbing with bayonets, clubbing with rifle butts. The 1st Minnesota, the 1st Michigan, the 4th Pennsylvania, the 5th and 11th Massachusetts


Then, just as the resistance of the rebel force was on the edge of breaking, Elzey’s brigade—2,000 fresh soldiers—followed by Jubal Early’s brigade crashed into Howard’s brigade of Heintzelman’s corps that was holding McDowell’s right beyond the Sudley road, and in an instant Howard’s men fell into a panic and were washed away. As this happened, the exhausted soldiers belonging to Bee’s brigade, Hampton’s, Evans’s and Bartow’s, along with Jackson’s Virginians he had been holding in reserve, sprang together with a great curdling, full-throated yell, like the shrill wailing of Arab women, and threw themselves into the Union men crowding around Griffin’s guns, and snatched victory from McDowell’s hands.


The shock of the rebel charge unmanned the bits of Union regiments clinging to the guns, and as one they turned and ran, past the disabled artillery pieces, past the Henry house, running down the slope of the hill and into the bottomland. Behind them as they ran, the rebels wrestled the guns around, loaded them with canister and blasted the exploding cans of iron pellets into the backs and legs of the running men.


Down the slope the Union soldiers stumbled; Sherman’s regiments, Franklin’s, the Marines, the Zouaves, all that had shared in the hours of struggle for the hill and possession of the Union guns were now running on their own, oblivious to the shouts of their officers to rally and try the hill again.



At four o’clock in the afternoon of July 21, 1861, there were more than 12,000 of Lincoln’s volunteers flooding the Warrenton pike who had entirely lost their organization. They could no longer be handled as troops, for the officers and men were not in touch, the connection, tenuous as it began, was gone. This had happened not merely because the men were afraid, or because McDowell was incompetent, though he made serious tactical mistakes, but because Lincoln had not given the army the time to develop the only thing that keeps a man in his place when thoughts of death and disaster fill his mind—time to instill the instinct of discipline.  And no one can suppose that Beauregard and Joe Johnston had done a better job. The only difference between McDowell and them, is that Lincoln had forced McDowell to act on the offensive, giving them the gift of acting on the defensive. The defensive-offensive—resistance followed by a riposte—creating as it proved to do here the same dislocating effect as an offensive maneuver, would become the mainstay of Confederate battle tactics in the horrible years ahead.


Sherman’s brigade was the last to join the wash of men flowing east on the Warrenton pike and across the farm fields, striving to get themselves gone over Bull Run. As each of his regiments took their turn in the fire and was driven back, he had tried to gain control of them in the stream valley below the hill and get them into action again, but they slipped through his fingers like sand. So his brigade was gone with the rest. Only Sykes small contingent of regulars stood firm, at the pike intersection with the Sudley road, exchanging volleys with Elzey’s and Early’s brigades sweeping over McDowell’s right. Touched by the fire on the knee and shoulder, his horse shot through the leg, Sherman escaped the field, swept up in the mortification of retreat, rout, confusion.



Sherman wrote his wife on July 24: “The battle was nothing to the shameless rout that followed. I shall make a requisition for two nurses per soldier to nurse them in their helpless, pitiful condition. Oh, but that we had regulars.” Sherman’s brigade lost 3 officers killed, 15 wounded; 117 volunteers were killed, 193 wounded, McDowell’s whole army over 900 dead, 1,200 wounded, 300 missing. Of the 58 field pieces the army carried to Bull Run, all but twelve were lost to the enemy, along with thousands of rifles and hundreds of horses and and wagons.


The Decisive Event: Ricketts Guns Prove Useless


Battery I, 1st U.S. Artillery was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, commanded by Captain John Magruder, when called to Washington in January 1861. The Battery upon arrival at Washington consisted of four 6-pounder bronze Napoleons and two 12-pounder howitzers. Arriving in February, along with the West Point Battery, the battery was put immediately to training the volunteers arriving with state militia batteries in the use of the guns. When Magruder resigned on April 20 and went with the Confederacy, Captain James B Ricketts was assigned the battery’s command.


Ricketts received the news of the assignment at Fort Monroe where he was stationed on garrison duty. He came immediately to Washington, assumed command of the battery, and continued the training of recruits, using the smoothbore field pieces. When Virginia formally seceded from the Union, he took the Battery across the Potomac and continued drilling new cannoneers on the plain beyond Arlington.


No more than a week before McDowell set his army in motion on the roads to Centreville, Battery I’s six smoothbore guns were replaced with six brand new Parrott rifled guns (Model 1861) of 2.9 inch caliber. Robert P. Parrott, the manufacturer of these pieces also provided special ammunition: a wrought iron ring sabot projectile, nine inches in length and weighing nine pounds. Accompanying the shells were wooden fuse plugs with paper time fuses. These shells were tested by the War Department in June 1861, but Ricketts’s gun crews would not have had much time to practice with the new pieces, since they were not received by Ricketts until shortly before McDowell’s movement began.

When Ricketts moved with Griffin, at McDowell’s order, to the position on Henry Hill, he unlimbered and went into action on the west side of the Henry family’s farmhouse. Taking sniper fire from the upper windows of the house as he arrived, Ricketts fired several shells at it, killing Mrs. Henry, elderly and bedridden inside. As he testified at a hearing of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, “in a very short time we were not in a condition to move, on account of the large number of our horses that were disabled. It was the hottest place I ever saw in my life, the enemy guns delivering a terrible fire upon us.”


Under the hail of cannon and rifle fire coming at his battery, the cannoneers shoved shell after shell into the tubes of the guns, fused them, pulled the lanyards and repeated the process for an hour or more: the shells though did not damage. These guns were designed as long range weapons and this fact combined with the design of the shells, caused the projectiles to fall over the rebel gun line, impact the ground behind, burrow into the earth and detonate harmlessly. In contrast, Jackson’s gun line, composed largely of smoothbores, fired round shot at an angle at the ground, causing the balls to bounce along and ricochet into the Union infantry and cannoneers knocking them down like king pins in a bowling alley. Then, turning to canister in the infantry charges and countercharges that ensued in the struggle to capture the Union guns, Jackson’s pieces threw curtains of iron pellets in the intervals, thoroughly wrecking the organization of the infantry supports that appeared on the crest.  The difference in the killing efficiency of the smoothbores in the close quarters of the plateau, compared to the Parrott rifles spelled the difference between victory and defeat.



When the New York Fire Zouaves panicked under the fire of the 33rd Virginia and fled the hill, the flight carried with it the battalion of U.S. Marines, the Marines not stopping until they reached the crossroads at the bottom of the hill. By then the 14th Brooklyn Volunteers, from Porter’s brigade, appeared in formation and climbed the hill in an effort to retake the guns Griffin had lost and Ricketts was losing. The Marines, rallied by their officers, joined the Brooklyn rush as remnants of other regiments followed, and a mass of Union blue appeared again at the crest, just at Jackson’s gun line had limbered and gone to the rear out of ammunition. Recognizing this, the Brooklyn men, along with the Marines, drove the rebels from the guns and followed them as they retreated across the plain. The attackers swept over 300 yards and as they came into the fringe of the pine trees where Jackson’s Virginia Brigade was positioned, they were blasted with a devastating volley from the 4th and 27th Virginia regiments.



The Brooklyn men fell away at this, but the Marines came on, plunging into the pines, grappling hand-to-hand. Rebel fire intensified, and the Marines began to falter. Another Virginia regiment threw its weight into the moment and the Marines began backing away, then again in full flight they raced across the plateau and threw themselves over the crest as the 7th Georgia Regiment, called up by Jackson from his reserve, charged after them and recaptured Ricketts now useless guns. Ricketts, now lying severely wounded by one of the guns, raised his hand feebly in surrender as the rebels ran over him.


The Marines rallied yet again, this time going up the Sudley road where they joined the remnants of the 27th NY, 14th Brooklyn, and 1st Minnesota crouched against the sunken road’s embankment, just at the saddle between the hills. Up the road behind came the 69th NY from Sherman’s brigade and this regiment led a charge onto the crest behind Griffin’s guns, but Jackson released the 8th and 18th Virginia who stormed across the open space and volleyed heavy fire into the front of the 69th, staggering its formation, splintering it into a rearward running crowd of men.


Sherman now had stopped the straggling flow of men down the road, regrouped as many units as he could—squads, bits of companies, men with no field officers to guide them—and got them moving onto the crest of the hill, but the 2nd and 8th South Carolina from Bonham’s brigade arrived on the run and their fire swept the crest clear again.


It was all over now. To the right, over on Chinn Ridge, Colonel Oliver O. Howard’s brigade, trying to get around the rebel left flank, took in the face the full smashing weight of Elzey’s and Early’s brigades and the soldiers in the ranks became overwhelmed with fear and began running toward the crossroads, a flow of men moving in rivulets, mingling and churning about in confusion with the bits of the many regiments that had lost the battle for the guns.


Hindsight: McDowell’s Tactical Mistakes


1.         He should not have taken Richardson’s brigade away from Tyler and used it to strengthen Miles’s division.


2.         He should have ordered Tyler as his first priority to gain control of the stone bridge in order to get Aryes and Carlisle’s batteries across the run as quickly as possible and into action.


Sherman should have been ordered to turn the bridge defenses, then with Keyes and Schenck’s brigades, supported by Richardson, crossing over, Tyler should have attacked the hill from the northeast while Hunter and Heintzelman attacked it from the northwest. The combination would have been overpowering.


3.         He had no batteries, but Ricketts to use against Jackson’s guns. He had failed to bring across Bull Run the right guns.


4.         While Tyler was attacking Stone Bridge, Miles should have been at least feinting an attack on Blackburn’s Ford.


5.         He should have had the eight regiments of New Jersey troops at Centreville. He offers no explanation why they were not there.



Lincoln  Resets


Immediately upon the mob that was McDowell’s army pouring over the bridges into Washington, the press began fixing the blame: Patterson was to blame for not holding Johnston in the Valley; the regulars were to blame for driving their artillery cassions through the regiments, the volunteers were to blame for not having the grit it takes to stand in the fire; the officers were to blame for being tin soldiers, good for nothing but sham battles. Confronting Lincoln in the Cabinet Room, General Scott said: “I’m to blame because I didn’t stand up when the army was not in condition for fighting, and resist it to the last.”


Lincoln gave him that cold-eyed, heartless lawyer stare of his: “Are you implying that I forced you to fight this battle?” Lincoln asked between gritted teeth. No, of course, Scott said, as he walked out.


The day after the battle, a  letter came to Lincoln from Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune: “Can the rebels be beaten after all that has occurred? The gloom in this city funereal—for our dead at Bull Run were many, and they lie unburied yet. On every brow sits sullen, scorching, black despair.” Lincoln nodded his head and tossed Greeley’s letter aside, and wrote down on a piece of paper the following:


1.         Let the blockade be pushed forward with all possible dispatch.

2.         Let the forces here be reorganized as rapidly as possible.


And the same day,  a message at Lincoln’s behest was sent to George B. McClellan:



Washington, D.C., July 22, 1861

General George B. McClellan, Beverly, Va

Circumstances make your presence here necessary. Come hither without delay.

                        L. THOMAS



Under the prodding of Lincoln’s hand, John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, in the House of Representatives,  offered a resolution declaring why the Lincoln Government was at war, which the 106 Republicans in control immediately adopted: The “disunionists” had “forced the war on the country.” The war, the resolution prattled on, was being waged not for conquest or subjugation or interference with rights, but “to defend the Constitution.” Of the 176 representatives, all but four voted for it. In the Senate, of the 82 senators present, only five voted against it.


After the passage of this, one of the first legislative acts of the House was the passage of a bill authorizing the confiscation of the property of “rebels.”


Meanwhile the three year volunteers responding to Lincoln’s call kept swarming into Washington.


President Davis Stands Pat


As the 7th Georgia Regiment was taking hold of Ricketts’s guns for good, President Davis stepped off a train at Manassas Junction, mounted a horse and rode among a cavalcade to Henry Hill, arriving there after the last of the Union volunteers were over Bull Run. Meeting Johnston and Beauregard, Davis rode with them to a farmhouse near Mitchell’s Ford where they conferred as to what more it was practicable, under the circumstances, to do.


Both generals concurred that despite the enemy’s rout, it was not practical to pursue them up to the string of forts that had been erected on the Bull Run side of the Potomac. Beauregard made the case that there were strong fortifications there, occupied by garrisons, braced with artillery, which had not been in the battle, and were therefore not affected by the panic which had seized McDowell’s army. He described these fortifications as having wide, deep ditches, with palisades which would prevent scaling the walls. Nor were any sappers and miners available that could be used to undermine the fortifications. And even if the fortifications might be overcome, the enemy would retreat across the Potomac bridges, burning them before the Confederates could seize them. The other choice was to cross the Potomac and move down the left bank toward Washington. But, here, too, fortifications would be encountered and there was Patterson’s army at Charlestown to deal with in the Confederate rear.


Returning to Richmond the following day, Davis encountered press reports in which Beauregard was reported as saying, but for lack of transportation and supplies the army would have pursued the enemy to Washington. At this, Davis took up pen and wrote:


“My dear sir: I think you are unjust. . . Under the circumstances of our army, it would have been extremely hazardous to have done more than was performed. Enough was done for glory, and the measure of duty was full. Let us show the untaught that their desires are unreasonable rather than give form to the criticisms always easy to those who judge after the event.”


General Lee, who held his post at Richmond during the Bull Run Campaign, read over the reports of the battle as they came into the Adjutant-General’s office and he was very pleased. There were Confederate officers present at the battle, he could see, that would surely rise to the highest levels of command as he organized the Army of Northern Virginia. The names ring down the years to us:Lee’s wing commanders, Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet handled brigades at Bull Run as did Richard Ewell, Joe Kershaw, Bob Rodes, and D.R. Jones. These latter officers would handle divisions, Ewell eventually a corps; Featherston, Steuart, Garland, Garnett, Hunton, Kemper, Wheat, and Barksdale, brigades; John Imboden, Wade Hampton and JEB Stuart would prove to be outstanding cavalry commanders; and among the artillery battery captains, the names of Alburtis, Standard, Rosser, and Miller would prove stand-outs. It was a good start in what Lee knew would be a losing war.


Joe Ryan




JoAnna M. McDonald, We Shall Meet Again: The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) July 18-21, 1861. Oxford University Press, 1999.


William C. Davis, A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War: Battle of Bull Run. Doubleday & Co., 1977.


R.H. Beatie, Jr., Road to Manassas: The Growth of Union Command in the Eastern Theatre from the Fall of Sumter to the First Battle of Bull Run. Cooper Square Publishers, 1864.


Francis F. Wilshin, Manassas (Bull Run) National Battlefield Park Virginia. National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 15, Washington D.C., 1953.


James B. Fry, McDowell and Tyler in the Campaign of Bull Run, 1861, D.Van Nostrand, Publisher, 1884.


Robert Patterson, A Narrative of the Campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah in 1861. Sherman & Co. 1865.


Report of the Conduct of the War, Part I. Washington: Government Printing Office 1863.


Official Records of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 51 Part 1-3, 1886.


Blue & Gray Magazine: The Battle of First Manassas (150th Anniversary Edition) Vol: XXVII, #5.


Ted Ballard, Staff Ride Guide: Battle of Bull Run. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington D.C., 2007.


G.T. Beauregard, The First Battle of Bull Run. Battles & Leaders, Vol II.


The Congressional Globe: The Debates and Proceedings of the Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Washington 1862.


B.H. Liddell Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1933.


Col. G.F.R. Henderson, The Science of War. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1916.



John C. Breckinridge,  Kentucky Senator
Judgment Call: Judge Jack Tenner
Regiments That Stood In The Fire
Ballard’s Staff Ride at Bull Run
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Joe Ryan Original Works

@ AmericanCivilWar.com

About the author:
Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.

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