Thursday, July 21, 2011

2:00 pm: The struggle continues on Henry Hill

Henry Hill

The West Point Battery was tearing up the Confederate line when the most infamous case of mistaken battlefield identity in the battle occurred. The 33rd Virginia, from Jackson’s brigade, emerged from the woods to their left and began marching towards the battery. One of Griffin’s guns pivoted to take aim, but McDowell’s chief of artillery ran to them and stopped them. They wore blue uniforms (the traditional Virginia militia color), he said, and they must be the extra infantry guard Griffin had been requesting.

The 33rd Virginia opened fire at point blank range on the battery. Griffin wrote: “In this charge of the enemy every cannoneer was cut down and a large number of horses killed, leaving the battery (which was without support except in name) perfectly helpless.” Nearby, the other advanced battery, led James Ricketts, was experiencing a similar catastrophe. Two companies of cavalry led by Colonel J.E.B. Stuart charged the 11th New York (the Fire Zouaves) and scattered them, then fell on the battery at the same time as the 33rd Virginia, repeating the massacre of Griffin’s guns. Ricketts was wounded three times and would be captured.

The fight for the hill turned into a well-dressed riot, with the multitude of uniforms swirling back and forth with little to no clear direction. The most intense fight was over the guns of Ricketts and Griffin, which neither side could quite hold and changed hands at least three times. McDowell, Beauregard, and countless other generals were swept up in it, unable to do more than command small handfuls of men.

Matthew’s Hill
Near the Warrenton Turnpike the 2nd New Hampshire took up their position.
While we were halting a moment, one of the men offered me some water from his canteen, which he had just filled at a pool nearby. Upon my declining it, he raised his canteen to his own lips, throwing his head back, when a cannonball nearly severed his head from his body. Such a sight at home would have made me sick and faint with horror; but now… my principal feeling was astonishment that a cannonball could make such a clean, knifelike cut, so quickly does one adjust one’s self to one’s environment.
At top of Matthew’s Hill, Fry and Barnard saw Griffin’s guns fall. Fry wrote: “As the battle seemd to me to be going against us, and not knowing where McDowell was, with the concurrence of Barnard... I immediately sent a note to [reserve commander] Miles, telling him to move two brigades of his reserve up to Stone Bridge…

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