March to battle

Sunday, July 21, 1861. The men rose at dawn from their blankets on the ground at Manassas Junction to the sound of cannon and rifles in the distance. They grabbed what breakfast they could find, or went without.

Thomas David Wallace of The Winston Guards: “We had no more got done eating before the captain came and said ‘Fix boys for a fight.’ We put one blanket in our knapsack and got our guns.”

About fifty cartridges were distributed to each man in the regiment and they were formed for a march to the battlefield.

William H. Hill of The Spartan Band: “Clear and very warm and very dusty.”

Some called the march more like running, others used the formal terms learned in drill: the quick and the double-quick. It lasted for an exhausting five to six miles.

Albert Wymer Henley of The Pettus Guards: “The roads were covered with heavy coats of dust from the traffic and the long, continued drought, and not even a zephyr disturbed the placid stillness of the atmosphere. Brooks and branches settled in holes and a drink of good water was a luxury difficult to procure.”

They had been ordered to head north to join Gen. Longstreet’s Brigade at Blackburn’s Ford on Bull Run, on the Confederate right, where the opposing Union artillery was firing steadily at the Rebs. Arriving tired, dusty and thirsty, they rested for more than an hour in a pine thicket, awaiting further orders.

They were taken up by Gen. Early, whose brigade was in reserve to Longstreet’s but had been ordered, instead, to report to Gen. Beauregard on the Confederate left.

Early, in his posthumous 1912 memoir, Narrative of the War Between The States, said he: “…soon found, to my left in the pines, the 13th Mississippi Regiment under Colonel Barksdale, which had very recently arrived. The Colonel consented to accompany me, and as soon as the command could be got ready, it was started on the road towards Mitchell’s Ford. This movement commenced about or very shortly after 1 o’clock P.M….”

Wallace: “…the colonel said ‘Attention!’ We all got in line and the colonel said leave your knapsacks. We hung them up on bushes and got back in line. He then carried us in a run about 10 miles.”

Henley: “…many sunk from fatigue and exhaustion, unable longer to keep up.”

Early remembered. “The day was excessively hot and dry,” he wrote. “Barksdale ‘s regiment, an entirely new one, had just arrived from the south over the railroad, and was unused to marching. Our progress was therefore not as rapid as I could have wished, but we passed on with all possible speed in the direction of the firing, which was our only guide. Towards 3 o’clock P.M. we reached the field of battle….”

Along the way, the 13th had got a taste of what might await them from a stream of demoralized troops headed for the rear.

“We met several poor Southern boys shot all to pieces,” Wallace wrote later. “Some of them with their legs broke and some of them with their arms broke. They would say go it boys…we are giving them the devil…we met one poor boy coming from the field a crying…he said that he had been fighting all day and his regiment had been shot to pieces…”

Early: “It was to the encouraging remarks of this stream of recreants that my command was exposed as it moved on, but not a man fell out of ranks. Only one man who had been engaged offered to return and he belonged to the 4th Alabama Regiment, which he said had been nearly destroyed, but he declared that he would ‘go back and give them another trial.’ He fell into the ranks…and I believe remained…to the close of the battle.”

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About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Albert Wymer Henley Diary, Battles: First Manassas, Gen. James Longstreet, Gen. Jubal Early, Gen. William Barksdale, The Pettus Guards, The Spartan Band, The Winston Guards, Thomas David Wallace Diary, William H. Hill Diary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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