Memoirs of Henry Villard/Volume 1/13
Blackburn's Ford and Bull Run.—1861
THE advance of the army commenced on July 16. It took so much time to get the several divisions under way from their encampments in the fortifications along Arlington Heights and at Alexandria that only a few miles were accomplished that day. As the headquarters were not to move until the next day, I joined General Tyler and staff, commanding the First Division, which had the lead and had started from near the Georgetown bridge. Coming up with the rear regiment, I had to pass all the troops of the division, as they were following the same road. In passing the brigade commanders and staffs, I rode with them for a time for a chat. Thus I had a short talk with Colonel W. T. Sherman, of the regular army, the future army commander, who had under him the so-called Irish brigade, formed of the Irish New York City regiments. I knew from visits at Fort Corcoran, where the Colonel had had his brigade headquarters, that he was not very proud of his command, which hardly contained a single competent officer, and both the rank and file of which it was especially difficult to discipline properly. But the prospect of active service seemed to have put him into rather good humor. In passing the Sixty-ninth New York regiment, I came up with Captain Thomas Francis Meagher, whose Zouave company formed part of it. He was mounted, but wore a plain undress uniform instead of the gorgeous one already described. As I approached him, I noticed that he was resting his right hand with a cocked revolver on his hip. “Well, Captain,” I sang out to him, “you are all ready for the fray?” “Yes,” he zreplied, “there is nothing like being always ready for the ‘damned rebs.’ ” The leer from his eyes and a certain unsteadiness in the saddle indicated plainly that he had braced himself up internally for the fight.
General Tyler went into camp near Fairfax Court-House, and I accepted shelter for the night in a wall-tent offered me by one of his staff. For the first time since my Colorado experience I slept on the ground, with a waterproof sheet under and a blanket over me, and my saddle for a pillow. The reveille was sounded before sunrise, and we were in motion again shortly after five. We expected to have a first encounter with the enemy at Centreville, a small straggling village on the Warrenton turnpike about six miles from Fairfax, but found it evacuated. The few remaining inhabitants reported that the rebel troops had withdrawn behind Bull Run, a small stream some three miles to the west. A halt was made at Centreville, and the division went into camp about the village for the day. General Tyler's orders were “to observe well the roads,” under which he felt justified in making a reconnoissance in the direction of the enemy, and, accordingly, he set out for that purpose, escorted by a company of cavalry and two companies of infantry. I was permitted to ride with him. We took a road in a southerly direction towards “Blackburn's Ford” of Bull Run. About noon, we had reached an orchard on a plateau commanding a wide view of the surrounding country, from which clear fields sloped down for about one-third of a mile to the thickly wooded banks of the stream, along which, according to our information, rebel troops were concealed. General Tyler concluded to rouse the game in the woods below by artillery, and sent orders to bring up Captain Ricketts's regular battery, supported by Colonel Richardson's brigade. The battery reached the position with its support about three o'clock, and a section unlimbered directly and commenced shelling the woods. These were the first cannon-shots fired against the rebels in front of Washington, and quite excited me. The fire was continued without eliciting any response, when the General ordered it to cease and skirmishers to be thrown out, and advanced down the slope.
Two other newspaper correspondents had appeared on foot with the infantry — E. C. Stedman, the poet and critic, and E. H. House, long connected with the New York Tribune, and well known as essayist and critic till he abandoned the profession to become American consul in Japan for many years. As we three felt very hungry, I dismounted and left my horse in charge of an officer's servant, and we followed the skirmishers down the road to a farm-house within a hundred yards of the woods, in the hope of getting something to eat. We found the house locked and apparently deserted. Espying a well-laden cherry-tree, I climbed it in order to supply myself and friends with the fruit. I had just got on a branch when suddenly a terrific roar burst out from the woods seemingly within a few steps of us, followed by a mighty whizzing and clattering all around us. The rebel infantry in the woods had fired a volley against the skirmishers. In less than a minute another volley followed, accompanied by the same great roar and the small noises all around us. It then flashed upon us that the latter were caused by thousands of bullets whistling by us and striking the farm buildings, fences, and trees round about. We were, indeed, right in the line of fire of a whole rebel brigade. With the second volley there came also the deep detonations of artillery fire. Then there was a deafening crash, and I found myself thrown from the tree to the ground. Stedman and House shouted, “Are you hurt?” from their shelter behind the farm-house, to which they had rushed after the second volley. Fortunately, no harm had befallen me.
The rebel fire continued violently, and was answered by our skirmishers and the regiments and two guns that came hurrying down the slope to their support. As the enemy's musketry and artillery swept the entire slope, it was not safe for us to attempt to get out of their reach, and so we remained in our protected position behind the main farm building till the skirmish was over. Our men had entered the woods, but were driven back in confusion by the irresistible fire from the concealed rebel lines. Another regiment having joined them, other attempts to force the rebel line followed, but all failed. It was nearly six o'clock before our troops were withdrawn and we were released from our uncomfortable position.
The outcome of the affair was about sixty killed and wounded on each side. General Tyler was subsequently much criticised for the unnecessary, fruitless loss of life and limb, as he was not authorized to make a reconnoissance in force. But it is an open question whether the demonstration of the presence of the enemy in strong numbers at Blackburn's Ford did not help General McDowell in forming proper plans for the succeeding movements. As for myself, I had certainly had a strong foretaste of actual war. Though not a combatant, I had undergone the formal baptism of fire, and a fire as hot as I was ever under in my varied adventures as a war correspondent. I can truly say that the music of “bullet, ball, and grapeshot” never had much terror for me thereafter.
I was glad to mount my horse again and make my way back to Centreville in search of food for man and beast, and of lodging for the night. On reaching the village, I was hailed from the porch of a spacious dwelling by an other newspaper man, who, with some others, had taken possession of it in the absence of the white owners and induced the black servants to cook supper and breakfast for them. I gladly accepted an invitation to share their comforts. My horse was also well taken care of.
The cannonading at Blackburn's Ford had caused the march of the other divisions to be accelerated, as a serious engagement between the First Division and the enemy was supposed to be going on. The whole army was well concentrated in and about Centreville, where General McDowell also joined it on the evening of the 18th. It still lay in camp on the two following days, Friday, the 19th, and Saturday, the 20th. General McDowell devoted that time to getting all possible information about the roads to Manassas, the condition of the several crossings of Bull Run by bridges and fords, and the distribution of the enemy's forces, in order to formulate his plans for further operations. What was ascertained regarding the natural and artificial difficulties (abattis, rifle-pits, and batteries in position) of effecting a crossing of Bull Run on the direct line to the Junction, made him abandon his original plan of turning Beauregard's right flank from the south and decide to attempt a flanking movement from the north, concealed by a front attack. He informed his division commanders accordingly on the evening of the 18th; but the engineers, not getting through with the necessary reconnoissances before the afternoon of Saturday, the 20th, the execution of the modified plan was not attempted before the next day.
On Saturday night the division commanders assembled at headquarters to receive their final instructions. The Warrenton turnpike formed the main street of Centreville and ran thence directly southwest to Bull Run, which it crossed on a solid stone bridge of two arches, to which Beauregard's left flank extended. General Tyler was ordered to move with his division over the turnpike to the bridge, a distance of three miles and a half, and there make a feint attack. Hunter and Heintzelman were ordered to make a circuitous night march northward, cross Bull Run at Sudley Springs, between two and three miles above the stone bridge, follow the stream down to the latter, and, taking from the rear the armed fortifications which the enemy were supposed to have at that point, open the way for the crossing of Tyler's division. The three divisions should then jointly attack the rebel left. Miles's division was to remain in reserve at Centreville. Richardson's brigade was to threaten Blackburn's Ford.
The army was aroused at midnight, and, soon after, the three attacking divisions were ready to move. I did not fully know the plan of battle, but supposed that Tyler's division, as it took the lead, would play the principal part and therefore joined its staff. There was unfortunately but the one turnpike for all to march on, so that Hunter and Heintzelman were delayed for hours, and it was nine o'clock when the advance reached Sudley Springs, where it crossed readily without opposition.
Tyler reached the stone bridge shortly after daybreak, but made his feint only after he had learned of the close approach of the other divisions to the ford above. We saw the rebel forces guarding the bridge retreat, but, as the bridge was supposed to be mined, no attempt was made to pass it. General Tyler let the infantry of Sherman's and Keyes's brigades cross the stream half a mile above, the men getting wet to their hips, and march over a mile of level bottom in the direction of the heavy firing that had been heard for some time. A junction was effected with Hunter, and the division made front with Sherman on the right and Keyes on the left, and moved forward in a westerly direction. General Tyler and staff followed in the immediate rear of Keyes's brigade. It soon became evident that, owing either to the nature of the ground or to the fact that Sherman was drawn away by keeping in close touch with the more oblique movement of Hunter's division — I never was able to learn the real cause — Keyes's brigade had become isolated from the rest of the attacking forces. Indeed, it remained after this a separate command, unable to hold communication during the battle either with Sherman or with General McDowell. It thus turned out that my accompanying Tyler was a fatal mistake, as, though we heard the constant rattle of musketry and booming of artillery, we were kept in entire ignorance of the course of events on the field. In fact, all we saw of the battle was the limited part played by Keyes's brigade in it. I realized all this early in the afternoon, and felt very much tempted to strike out alone for the general headquarters, but, being utterly ignorant of their whereabouts, I concluded that a search for them at a venture involved too much risk, and remained. General Tyler and his staff also felt the awkwardness of their position very keenly, and vainly hoped from minute to minute to come again in touch with Sherman or the other divisions. Sherman had, indeed, by his movement come under the direct orders of General McDowell.
Keyes's brigade kept slowly moving to the left of the Warrenton turnpike over broken ground covered with woods and thickets, and gradually reached Young's Branch of Bull Run, crossing which, he came up with the enemy about two o'clock. Two regiments charged up a hill and drove the rebels from about a cluster of farm-buildings, but hostile batteries opened so severely upon them that they could not hold the gained position. During this attack I was again exposed to a heavy fire of small and large guns, but neither as severe nor as sustained as that at Blackburn's Ford. This was the only actual taste I had of the memorable first battle of Bull Run.
After this futile effort, Keyes's brigade rested on its arms along Young's Branch. The firing had steadily continued during the afternoon until after four o'clock, when it gradually died out. Ominous feelings came over us, and our fears that disaster had overtaken our side were soon after confirmed by an aide-de-camp of General Tyler, who had set out nearly two hours before for another effort to reach General McDowell, and returned with the terrible news that the Union forces were in full retreat. The General at once ordered the withdrawal of the brigade in the direction of the stone bridge. Feeling confident that I could find my way back alone, I rode in advance as fast as the ground permitted.
As my object in penning these memoirs is to describe my personal experiences, not to write formal history, I shall not attempt to give a full account of the course of the action in the other parts of the field, or a full analysis of the causes that led to the disastrous defeat of McDowell's army. Even if I undertook to do this, I should no doubt fail in the task, for the official and unofficial accounts of the battle on both sides are extremely confused, fragmentary, and contradictory. It will suffice for me to give, from the most authentic sources, a brief summary of what happened to our right on the ill-starred day, including the personal statements made to me subsequently by General McDowell, the division and brigade commanders, and some of the staff officers.
The skirmishers leading the flanking movement of Hunter and Heintzelman's divisions became engaged with the enemy at about ten o clock, and soon afterwards the advancing columns were fully exposed to showers of rebel bullets, balls, and shells. The advance came to a stop, and the artillery of the two divisions was brought into play for some time. Only a small force was at first opposed to the divisions, which they would doubtless have easily swept out of their way if they had not halted. The stop of the attacking columns enabled the enemy to bring up reënforcements in the shape of four regiments that had arrived the day before with General Johnston from the Shenandoah Valley. Sherman's brigade having in the meantime joined Hunter on the left, the advance was resumed by our side. The rebels, though much weaker, resisted vigorously, and the severest fighting of the day occurred then, lasting over an hour. The enemy were finally forced back along their whole line for nearly a mile, so that between one and two o'clock victory seemed certain for the Unionists. Jefferson Davis, who had come up from Richmond the day before, and Beauregard and Johnston were thrown into consternation by the stream of demoralized officers and men that came pouring back from the front. But the very success achieved by our troops was to be the cause of their failure. The advance, being on exterior lines, as it were, and spreading the front wider and wider like a fan, resulted in loss of cohesion between the divisions, brigades, and regiments. The advantage of continuous unity of command was also wanting. It cannot be said that the army as a whole had the benefit of intelligent general direction at any time during the day. The division and brigade commanders and even partly the regimental commanders were left to their own devices. Much of this lack of guidance and the consequent confusion was due to the early compulsory retirement of Brigade-Commander Hunter from the field upon receiving a severe wound. Moreover, owing to the fatigue of the troops, who had been on their feet since midnight, and their exhaustion from the intense July heat, more and more men lagged behind as the forward movement proceeded, and the temporary success in the noon hour was probably achieved by less than two-thirds of the effective force that had set out from Centreville. Deducting the killed, wounded, and disabled, the stragglers and skulkers, from the effective number of the two and one-half divisions (Hunter's and Heintzelman's, with Sherman's brigade) at the start, doubtless only about ten thousand Unionists remained confronting the enemy at one o'clock, and they were drawn out on a long, irregular, and barely connected line, and were tired and suffering from hunger and thirst. Nor was there any reserve available to make up for the depletion of their ranks.
Only Beauregard's left flank, with the four regiments from the Shenandoah Valley, had so far been engaged. In falling back before the Union troops, it had reached a strong position on a wooded plateau commanding the lower ground over which the Federals would have to pass in pushing their attack. Here both the rebel commanders, Johnston and Beauregard, themselves took charge. They were now convinced that there the main effort of the Federals was being made, and that no other part of their line was actively endangered. So they ordered regiments from their centre and right to the threatened position. Most luckily for them, too, the remainder of Johnston's command from the Shenandoah Valley arrived by rail during the early afternoon in time to participate in the action. Thus gradually a rebel force was gathered superior to their opponents in numbers and freshness and much better held in hand. When the Unionists resumed their advance, the rebels successfully resisted their rather desultory attacks at different points. With every unsuccessful onward attempt there was a rapid melting away of the assailants. Fewer and fewer officers and men could be rallied for another advance. Towards four o'clock, the rebels felt strong enough to take the offensive. A brigade with a battery under Earle managed to strike the Federal right on the flank and rear and throw it into utter confusion, which spread rapidly along the whole front. Now came the disastrous, disgraceful end. Without any formal orders to retreat, what was left of the several organizations yielded to a general impulse to abandon the field. Officers and men became controlled by the one thought of getting as far as possible from the enemy. Three-fourths were quickly reduced to the condition of a motley, panic-stricken mob. Not that resolute efforts were not made by the General-in-chief and some of the commanders under him to insure an orderly retreat. They were all in vain. The morale of the army was entirely gone, and the instinct of self-preservation alone animated the flying mass.
When I rode away from Keyes's brigade towards the stone bridge, this rearward movement had not yet reached its full dimensions, but the Warrenton turnpike was already swarming with fugitives from the battle-field, going towards Centreville. I made inquiries at the bridge from every passing officer as to the whereabouts of General McDowell's headquarters, but no one could direct me to them. I concluded to wait at the bridge for developments. I had not watched the tide of runaways for more than twenty minutes when one of Hunter's staff officers came dashing down the pike on horseback. I stopped him to repeat my question about McDowell, when he exclaimed excitedly, “You won't find him. All is chaos in front. The battle is lost. Our troops are all giving way and falling back without orders. Get back to Centreville,” and galloped on. I waited a while longer till other officers and the increasing flow of retreating soldiery confirmed the news of the general retreat, and then resumed my ride.
A quarter of a mile to the east of the bridge, I found the turnpike blocked by a double line of army wagons, so that my horse could hardly pass them. Half a mile further, I came upon an immovable mass of supply and ammunition wagons, ambulances, and other vehicles, that extended as far as I could see and made further progress on the pike impossible. Fortunately, the persons in charge had already opened a way through the adjacent fields by pulling down the fences. But it occurred to me at once to what further disaster to the Union army this choking up of their main line of retreat might lead. I took it upon myself to call the attention of a passing officer of the quartermaster's department to this danger, and he at once proceeded to try his best to remove the tangle. Time and again, owing to such obstacles, I had to leave the turnpike and proceed through the fields, even having to open a way myself by pulling down fences. I was lucky enough to find no obstruction on the small suspension-bridge over Cob Run. A short distance beyond this I came upon another blockade, in which were involved a number of hackney carriages with members of Congress, some of them known to me, who had driven out from Washington that day and were trying to get to the front to witness the great victory which the favorable course of the action up to the afternoon had led them to expect. They had heard nothing of the defeat, and would not believe me when I told them the bad news.
I passed on, and had not left them more than five minutes when I was startled by the sound of artillery in close proximity behind me. A rebel cavalry detachment with a battery section, sent to cut off our retreat, had suddenly emerged from, the woods to the south of the turnpike, and commenced shelling it. A shell hit the horses of a supply-wagon. Shell after shell exploded over and on the roadway, and some of the rebel cavalry dashed up, yelling with all their might. The turnpike and the adjacent fields became instantly the scene of a wild panic. The teamsters jumped off their wagons and ran away as fast as they could. Even ambulances with wounded were deserted. The retreating soldiers all the way from the stone bridge were seized with fright, and started on a full run through the fields in swarms of hundreds and thousands, throwing away their arms and accoutrements, knapsacks, haversacks, and blankets. Within a few minutes after the first rebel gun had been fired, a wild, senseless rabble came rushing by me on foot, horseback, and muleback. A good many soldiers detached animals from wagons and galloped off on them. The members of Congress and other civilians also abandoned their private vehicles, and joined afoot in the race for safety. Among the fugitives there was a well-known newspaper correspondent, who had caught and mounted bareback a badly bleeding artillery horse, and was urging him to extreme speed by merciless cudgelling. The terrified crowds presented a pitiful and humiliating sight. Starting again, filled with greater fears than before for the fate of the army, I rode all the way amid runaways, soldiers and officers of all ranks — I noticed among them fellows with the straps of majors and lieutenant-colonels — and a mixture of civilians, to Centreville, where I arrived shortly before six o'clock, travel-stained, dust-covered, and about as tired, hungry, thirsty, and disgusted with all the world as a human being could well be.
Our nice quarters had fortunately not been occupied, as I had feared, by other “invaders.” After securing some food for myself and for my worn-out beast, I started on a hunt for the general headquarters in and about the village, in order to learn what decision had been reached in consequence of the loss of the battle, and thereby govern my own movements. But I could not find any trace of the Commander-in-chief and staff. They had evidently not yet returned from the field, if they had escaped capture. Complete confusion prevailed in the village, nobody being able to find anybody or knowing what to do. While wandering about in search of information, I came up with the head of Colonel Blenker's brigade, which had advanced with the other brigade of the reserve division to near Blackburn's Ford, but was now retreating in obedience to orders from the division commander. Colonel Blenker had not yet heard the full extent of the disaster, but, on learning it from me, formed a line with his command across the main road from Centreville to Fairfax and awaited developments. The other brigade did likewise. Meantime the flow of the stream of demoralized mankind, on foot and mounted, and with no end of vehicles of every sort, poured steadily through the village. There was no attempt to stop or rally the troops by the numerous field and other officers who floated by with the current. I returned to my quarters and sat down on the porch, where I found Messrs. House and Stedman, Mr. Glenn of the Cincinnati Gazette, Mr. Painter of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.
Between eight and nine, the remnants of organizations of Keyes's, Burnside's, and Sherman's brigades reached the place, from whose officers we learned that McDowell was behind them, and that a stand would be made. We watched the street sights till after nine, when my companions determined to seek a night's rest, in the belief that the army would rally about the village. I thought it more prudent to make sure of this, if possible, at headquarters, and set out again in quest of them. I discovered them at the further end of the village. General McDowell was in a building engaged in receiving reports, so that I could not reach him. Captain Fry, however, told me that orders had been first given for a rally of the retreating army at Centreville, but the clear evidences of the hopeless demoralization of the troops which they had observed on the way from the battle-field had shaken the General's determination. He was then, however, informing himself, by consultation with sub-commanders and staff officers, as to whether a rally was still advisable and practicable. Shortly after ten, if I remember the time correctly, I was informed that a retreat to Washington had been determined upon, and would be immediately ordered. It was no surprise to me, as I had become satisfied during the evening that there was nothing else left.
I hurried back to our quarters, and did my duty to my friends by waking and telling them the news and urging them to lose no time in starting back. Two acted promptly and got away, but the other two — Glenn and Painter — could not rouse themselves sufficiently and fell asleep again. They woke late in the morning, and, when they had leisurely dressed themselves and come down for breakfast, found several officers in rebel uniform sitting on the veranda. Fortunately, they were taken by these to belong to the family owning the house, and politely asked whether breakfast could be had. They had presence of mind enough to answer, “Oh, yes, with pleasure”; and, pretending to go in search of the servants, managed to make their escape from the rear of the house by climbing over a fence into an adjacent corn-field, and so safely reaching the woods to which it extended. They arrived in Washington very much elated, of course, at their adventure.
I lost no time in making for the stable, saddled my horse, and in a few minutes was trotting along the Fairfax road. My newspaper instinct was fully aroused. I saw a chance of outstripping the rival correspondents with a report of the battle by reaching Washington as quickly as possible. For that purpose it was essential that I should get in advance of troops retreating information, and of supply and other trains. My horse had had three hours' rest and a good meal, and would surely be equal to the eighteen miles' ride. But within a few hundred yards of the east end of the village, I found myself stopped on the highway not only by immense trains of loaded army wagons in the road, but by camps of teamsters and soldiers on both sides of it. I was obliged to dismount and find my way in the dark with the greatest difficulty through and around these impediments. It was nearly one in the morning when I at last was able to go ahead again at a fast trot on a clear road. Still, even for the rest of the way, I frequently passed squads of runaways from the front that must have left the field early in the afternoon and made the best use of their legs ever since. Some were wearily worrying on, others resting on the roadside or cooking meals at campfires. Some of those who were halting, being hidden from view by the darkness, amused themselves by sending forth rebel yells so as to frighten the passers-by into the belief that they had fallen upon a rebel ambuscade, and into a dead run for life or rather from imprisonment. The first attempt of the kind deceived me, too, so that I spurred my beast to his greatest possible speed.
About daybreak I passed the camp of a regiment of Pennsylvania three months' men, whose term of service had expired the day before, and who had insisted on marching away from the front to the very sound of the battle. So little martial spirit had been developed in a good portion of the army! A little while later I heard the clatter of hoofs behind me, and, looking back, perceived a mounted officer approaching at full speed. As he came nearer, I saw he wore nothing on his head and was very bald. I soon recognized in him Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside, of the First Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers, who had commanded a brigade under Heintzelman in the battle. There he was, hatless, swordless, and all alone, making the best of time on his fine black charger. I had made his acquaintance in his camp at Washington, and hence spoke to him as he hastened by. He did not stop to talk, but merely exclaimed, “I am hurrying ahead to get rations for my command.” But this struck me as preposterous, as such duties were not performed by regimental commanders, and as it did not account for his being without hat and sword. From this incident, I conceived a natural prejudice against his trustworthiness as a general officer, which my later observations of him as a corps and army commander confirmed.
I reached the fortifications on the Alexandria road, about a mile south of the western end of Long Bridge, near five o'clock. Here I was detained for a while, owing to my semi-military garb and the military accoutrements of my horse, which compelled the guards to apply their orders not to let any officers or men pass on to Washington. The officer on duty was finally called, and let me go on. It was half-past five when I reached the livery-stable where I boarded my horse, and thence sought my rooms. The streets of the capital were as lifeless as usual at that early hour, and most of the inhabitants were doubtless unconscious of the portentous events of the previous day.
It will be readily understood in what state of physical exhaustion I was, after eighteen hours of great fatigue and excitement with but one meal; but I had no right to rest before I had done my duty to the Herald. During the night ride I had thought out what seemed to be the best course in reporting the battle. My knowledge of the details of the fighting was very limited, but I had picked up enough information for an intelligible and nearly correct summary of what had occurred. I determined, therefore, to prepare first a succinct report of say six hundred words for transmission by wire when the telegraph-office opened at seven A.M. (In those days the unlimited telegraphing now universally practised by the press was not dreamt of, and I was not free to send more over the wires without special permission of the editor-in-chief, to obtain which would have meant fatal delay.) Next I would allow myself six or seven hours' sleep, and in the afternoon endeavor to collect further material for a fuller account by the last evening mail. It took me only half an hour to write out my despatch, so that before leaving it at the main telegraph-office I had time for an early breakfast at Willard's Hotel. The despatch reached its destination before eight, and was printed at once as an extra. It was the first revelation to the New York public of the extent of the national disaster, and as such created a great sensation, but was not immediately credited.
I slept until two P.M., dined, and then went to the War Department in search of more matter for my mail report. I soon found that they knew less of details than I did, and that General McDowell had reëstablished his headquarters at Arlington Heights. I reluctantly rode there, and was fortunate enough to find Captain Fry, whom I persuaded to dictate to me substantially his recollections and impressions of the battle. What he told me of the orders that had been given by General McDowell, and to what extent they had not been executed, was especially valuable for my purpose. Equally so were his free comments upon the causes of the disaster, chief among which he considered the incapacity of commanding officers, the lack of courage and discipline among the troops, and, above all, the non-fulfilment of General Scott's promise that “if Johnston joined Beauregard, he should have Patterson on his heels.”
As I did not get back to Washington before nearly six o'clock, there was no time left to get my full report ready for the last evening mail; hence I wired for leave to transmit it wholly by telegraph, which was granted. I commenced work at half-past six and was through at half-past ten. Two office-boys kept running to the main telegraph-office with the successively finished sheets of the manuscript, so that, within a few minutes after my work was done, the last instalment was being flashed to New York. I felt well satisfied with what I had written and confident that it would prove quite a hit for me. Alas! when it reached me in print, I discovered, to my great disgust, that so much of it had been stricken out or altered that I could no longer feel any pride in the mutilated remnant as my own production. The reason for this treatment was that I had indulged in a good deal of merciless criticism on the lines indicated by Captain Fry, which my employers were afraid to publish. I had been particularly severe on some of the New York regiments and their officers, and the editor did not dare to print my fulminations on my authority alone. The excuse and compliments in the editor's explanatory letter to me were poor compensation for my disappointment.
There was plenty of work for some time in Washington in collecting and verifying more particular information about the battle, correcting first reports in the light of it, and obtaining lists of the casualties. But, by the beginning of August, the Government and Congress had settled down to still more determined endeavors, on a far greater scale than before, for the suppression of the Rebellion. It was evident that a long time would elapse before a new army could be organized and got ready for another offensive movement from Washington, and that nothing would be left for me to do at the capital. It was the general belief, shared by the Government, that Missouri and Kentucky would soon be the scene of active operations. I therefore proposed to the editor of the Herald that I be sent to one or other of these States. I was invited to come to New York for a personal consultation, and the result was that I was given a fortnight's vacation, at the end of which I was to go to Louisville, to watch the course of events in Kentucky.