The Great Disaster.
The New York Tribune's account of the repulse from Manassas Junction, on Sunday last, is as follows:
WASHINGTON, Monday, July 22
The retreat of the federal troops yesterday was one of those extraordinary events which can no more be explained than it can be justified or palliated. The day was ours. The enemy had been driven step by step from every position, and the field was occupied by our troops. Our columns had united in the very heart of the rebels' stronghold, when he order to retire was issued. From victory its defeat was only the work of an instant. At the moment of our greatest hope all changed, and the spirit and the valor of the army were gone.
I will briefly review the events of the day. Our forces started upon their march at half-past two in the morning, taking a road toward Bull's Run, about half a mile to the right of that upon which the first division advanced on Thursday. When near the enemy, a column shot off by the side road to the right, with the purpose of flanking the position and attacking in the rear. This column comprised the divisions of Gen. Hunter and Col. Heintzlman. The division under Gen. Tyler advanced direct, and by six o'clock reached the neighborhood of Bull's Run, beyond which the enemy was seen drawn up in line, and apparently awaiting the battle.
The first demonstration from our side was made by Capt. Carlile's battery of artillery, with a thirty-two pounder Parrot rifled cannon, two shells from which were fired without any response. At about the same time the second brigade, under Gen. Schenck, was formed at the left, and the third, under Col. Sherman, at the right of the road.
Light skirmishing soon after began, in which our men were wounded by discharges from a masked battery which they encountered, and before which they slowly retreated. Between 7 and 8 o'clock cannonading was heard from Col. Richardson's position, he having been directed to open a diversion to conceal our real purpose. For an hour after, the Howitzers of Capt. Carlile kept the enemy active, and it was not until near noon that other batteries were drawn in, and the infantry engagement was prepared, for.
The 3d brigade, including the 69th, 79th, and 13th New York, and 2d Wisconsin regiments moved forward to the right, and advanced regularly up the hill slope beyond Bull's Run, upon which the enemy were stationed in force. The thick woods on either side obstructed the view, but presently volleys of musketry were heard both to the right and left, and in the distance, as if Hunter's division were approaching and getting at work.
Immediately after, this belief was confirmed by the thick cloud of smoke which rose from afar, and presently the troops themselves were seen moving rapidly forward, and driving the enemy before them at a distance of about two miles.
The 3d brigade was by this time menacing one of the enemy's earthworks, and appeared to be holly engaged. Col. Keyes's division, the 4th, was accordingly ordered down to re-enforce, and at once pushed forward in support. The 2d brigade remained firm at the right, but not yet actively engaged. From Col. Richardson's post, a mile or two to the left around to Col. Hunter's, two miles to the right and front, the battle thus spread over some five miles of space.
Their artillery was finely worked, and was quick to discover the places whenever our men gathered; but, up to this time, the injury done by them was slight. In infantry contests they were perpetually beaten, but, when they retreated, it was to take a new and more strongly fortified position. At time they ranged themselves upon the open field, or road, but were invariably driven back by Hunter's or Sherman's men.
Their force was very large, and I should judge from the bodies which kept pouring down from Manasses, greatly superior to ours. They fought well, and even in their retreats showed considerable order, but their works were one by one taken from them, until they held only two or three, one in the highest ground of their position, and the others to the left of Gen. Tyler's division. The first of these was stormed by the Zouave regiment, but was either not taken, or was not held. The others were well employed by the rebels, who threw incessant shot and shell among our most exposed men. We still pushed forward until the whole of our men, excepting the second brigade of the first division had crossed Bull's Run.
The engineers were about constructing a bridge for the artillery, the regular tone bridge having been mined, and the two columns under Gens. Tyler and Hunter, the latter of which was led by Gen. McDowell, had actually completed their junction, when the order to retreat was given. Why it was given, no person who witnessed the battle and saw the condition in which affairs stood can attempt to comprehend. The only point positively held by the enemy was in a hollow, to our left, and although an effort was undoubtedly made to overreach us at the left, an ample force — one entire brigade — was ready to receive them, and did receive and repulse them afterwards, in spite of the panic which reigned. But, at the beginning of the retirement, a few ambulances and baggage wagons were driven hurriedly away, the noise of which seemed to spread terror among the troops within hearing, who instantly broke ranks and ran, pell mell, towards Centreville.
This contagion caught the rest, and in less than ten minutes our army was flying in the utmost disorder. Everything was abandoned. The wounded were deserted in the hospitals, and the only thought was of individual safety. Guns were thrown aside, and blankets and knapsacks were lost and trampled upon. The artillery shared the panic; the guns were cut loose, and the gunners used the horses to escape the more swiftly. Those on foot begged piteously to be allowed to share the horses of those who rode. Many strove to clamber into wagons, and were pushed back by the bayonets of those who occupied them.
The ground was strewed with food, weapons, and clothing of every kind. Many of our guns were left to fall into the enemy's hands, including the large 32-pounders which had done so much service during the fight. All courage, all manliness seemed to have forsaken our terror-stricken men.
The last stand upon the field was made by one of the Ohio regiments, under Col. McCook, I believe, but about three miles back the reserve brigade of Gen. Blender was drawn up in line to cover the retreat, and effect whatever service was needed. The stand of Gen. Blenker saved us from great losses.
The enemy came up in small force at 11 o'clock, at night, and charged upon the 8th New York regiment, capturing six of its men. The charge was repulsed, and the enemy attacked with such vigor as to cause them to fly, leaving their prisoners. The disorder of our men continued during the night. There was no army, only a vast rabble. By midnight they were all scattered in the road to Fairfax court house, and soon after, Gen. Blenker, with the 8th New York regiment, took up his retreat in perfect order — the only body that so retreated.
I left Centreville at 8 o'clock this morning. The last fragments of our force had all been long gone; even the hospitals were nearly deserted, all who could limp having started forth with crutched and canes. The rebel scouts were passing through the town, and apparently endeavoring to ascertain in which way they could best succeed in cutting off the stragglers. I do not know, however, that any serious attempt to do this was made.
The road from Centreville to Fairfax was thick with the debris of the retreat. Baggage wagons were overturned and the horses lying dead and dying. Guns, ambulances, stores of provisions were strewn everywhere. At Fairfax court house the inhabitants were plundering our deserted baggage. Toward Arlington the evidences of the disgraceful retreat continued. About four miles from the Long bridge Gen. Blenker was moving regularly toward Washington, his force in thorough order. As he passed, he destroyed the important bridges to secure against sudden pursuit.
The reports of losses are various I cannot estimate our loss at less than 500 killed and wounded, but I believe that it cannot much exceed that number.
I arrived at Centreville at 10 o'clock yesterday, and first visited Gen. Richardson's brigade, which was drawn up on the ground occupied last Thursday. Four Parrot guns were in position, throwing shot and shell into the woods across the Run Away over Manassas was a dense cloud of dust and large bodies of men could be seen moving toward the north, to where the main body under Gen. McDowell was engaging the rebel batteries. The cannonade was incessant, the heavy 32-pounders being distinctly heard above the thunder of the smaller pieces.
There was no reply to Richardson's batteries but, with a glass, men could be seen in small parties of two or three in the woods at the foot of the long slope. It was evident that the main force of the enemy was being directed to McDowell's attack. In addition to Richardson's brigade on their road were the New York 18th and 32d.
The first musketry was heard at 11:35 o'clock, which soon increased to a terrific fire.
Taking a short out through the woods, I reached the rear of Gen. Tyler's division. On my way I came upon Club creek, a small stream with steep banks. There the rebels had out trees for a long distance to impede the progress of troops. Subsequent events indicate that the plan of the battle had been long considered, and that it was one of the suppositions of the enemy that the attack would be made by Gen. McDowell, as it was made.
Reaching the left wing of Gen. Tyler's division, I found four pieces of Sherman's battery at rest, having been engaged all the morning, with the loss of three men. At a small house a hospital had been established. Many civilians were here in carriages. Further on was Gen. Schenck's brigade, which had also been engaged, but had been withdrawn after severe loss.
It was now nearly 2 P. M., and a firs of musketry was incessant for fifteen minutes, then it slackened, and thereupon cheers rent the air as an aid came down the line with the intelligence that we had gained their ground. At the time it was also currently reported that Gen. Banks had arrived, having chased Johnston through the Gap. The soldiers received the intelligence with huzzas. Several prisoners were captured, one was a captain from Louisville. He said that they had from 80,000 to 100,000 men, and that Jeff. Davis commanded in person, with Beauregard and Lee commanders of right and left wings.
A little later, Captain Alexander, of the engineers attached to Gen. Tyler's division, came slowly up the lines. He said he was gaining ground, but that they contested every inch. He praised the action of our men. They were outnumbered, but behaved bravely.
This intelligence was confirmed by the cheers which were heard as the 69th made a charge upon the enemy's battery, and drove them from their guns. Before the charge the musketry vollies were incessant. It was the hardest part of the fight. And now, with a strange alternation, there was a silence which lasted five minutes; not a gun scarcely was heard. Those posted in the trees reported that the enemy was flying. Looking across the Run, opposite the extreme left of Gen. Tyler's division, and fronting Gen. Schenck's brigade, a mass of the enemy could be seen on a slight elevation, by a stone house. One regiment moved down the slope, and took position in a body of woods. A battery of two pieces more followed.
Carlisle was ordered in front of Schenck's brigade, which stood in the road. Carlisle opened fire, which was replied to by the enemy. Sherman's four pieces moved down, but had no room to come in position. The firing was kept up at intervals. The enemy threw a shell with great precision, which killed one of the Ohio men and wounded two others.
The remainder of Tyler's column had, by this time, moved further out upon the enemy's grounds, and the cannonade ahead recommenced, followed as before, by volleys of musketry. At 3 1/2 o,clock it was very heavy. The attack on the defense on the right was at this time conducted with great energy.
Passing to an elevation in rear of Schenck's brigade, a wide view was obtained. A mile or two in rear of Burnside I could see a cloud of dust. What could it mean? Inquiries gave no satisfaction. Also, in the same direction, a mass of infantry were in view. Not liking the appearance of things, I returned to the left flank.
Exhausted from heat and thirst, in company with some civilians, we went for water to a spring a hundred yards to the left. Suddenly there was a commotion; a noise as of men in confusion. A bullet went spinning past, and then there came musket shots, and one or two cannon discharges. Looking in the direction of the Warrenton road, there was a scene of indescribable confusion. Everybody ran. A portion of Sherman's battery thundered by.
There were baggage wagons, private carriages, ambulances, artillery wagons and crowds of men fleeing in indiscriminate confusion, all crowding across the bridge at Cub Creek or passing through it. Half way up the hill, toward Centreville, the troops were forming. A line of skirmishers were thrown out. Behind them were the Garibaldians. Beyond was Miles' reserve.
Richardson's brigade came in from its position, and notwithstanding the confusion, a formidable front was already presented with the batteries which had been saved from the enemy.
Then commenced the retreat of the baggage train, and the unwarranted destruction of property which followed. Soon after, the two New Jersey regiments, which had been stationed at Vienna, came up and materially aided in the subsequent retreat to Fairfax.
There is reason to believe that we had no pickets thrown out on our right flank, and that to this cause, in connection with others, may be traced the terrible rout. The first intimation Gen. Schenek's brigade had of the cavalry charge was the reception of shots in their backs. It is plain that this flank movement in our rear was a part of a game of strategy elaborately planned and consummately enacted. The abbatis on our creek was doubtless intended as a cul de sac.
If the movement of the enemy had been more rapidly made, if the brigade at Cub Creek had been seized, Gen. Schenck's entire brigade with all the civilians would have been swept into the woods, where, hemmed in by the deep, rocky ravines, with the abbatis along its banks, they could have been completely cut off.
From the statements of Quartermaster Pryor, a rebel prisoner, it appears that our artillery created great havoc among the rebels, of whom there are from thirty thousand to forty thousand in the field under command of Beauregard, while they have a reserve of seventy-five thousand at the Junction. The whole force engaged on our side is estimated at 22,000 men. Some of our troops were worn out by long marching. The enemy had three or four times our number
Col. Hunter's division suffered most severely. It carried several of the enemy's batteries, attacking them in the rear, but was insufficient to hold them, and re-enforcements did not come up.
Some one has terribly blundered. Whoever ordered the attack with 20,000 men upon thrice that number, in a strongly intrenched position, protected by numerous masked batteries, after long marching, exposure, and deprivation of rations, is greatly to blame.
For the character of the retreat, the officers are more censurable than the men, who, by all accounts, behaved much the better. Indeed, after learning that Johnston had effected a junction with Beuregard, we determined not to go to Bull Run to see the battle, which we were assured would take place yesterday, because we could not believe a movement in front would be made until General Patterson had flanked Manassas.
General McClellan immediately takes command on the other side of the Potomac, General Rosenorans takes his command.