Thursday, July 21, 2011

4:30 pm: The retreat begins

Henry Hill
Watching from Matthew’s Hill, Fry recorded,
Until then they had fought wonderfully well for raw troops. There were no fresh forces on the field to support or encourage them, and the men seemed to be seized simultaneously by the conviction that it was no use to do anything more and they might as well start home. Cohesion was lost, the organizations with some exceptions being disintegrated, and the men quietly walked off. There was no special excitement except that arising from the frantic efforts of officers to stop men who paid little or no attention to anything that was said. On the high ground by the Matthews house, about where Evans had taken position in the morning to check Burnside, McDowell and his staff, aided by other officers, made a desperate but futile effort to arrest the masses and form them into line. There, I went to Arnold’s battery as it came by, and advised that he unlimber and make a stand as a rallying-point, which he did, saying he was in fair condition and ready to fight as long as there was any fighting to be done. But all efforts failed. The stragglers moved past the guns, in spite of all that could be done, and, as stated in his report, Arnold at my direction joined Sykes’s battalion of infantry of Porter’s brigade and Palmer’s battalion of cavalry, all of the regular army, to cover the rear, as the men trooped back in great disorder across Bull Run.
Burnside rode forward to find the 2nd New Hampshire. In Fiske’s account, he encouraged them to hurry up, lest they be surrounded by surging Confederates, but the regiment refused to run. In Burnside’s he found them cowering and clueless about imminent capture and rescued them. Both claimed that about half the brigade reformed on Matthew’s Hill and asked McDowell to keep fighting, but were denied.

Henry Hill
Flush with victory, Beauregard was coordinating the chase of fleeing Union soldiers when he was interrupted with news of a surprising guest. Jefferson Davis had ridden the train from Richmond as soon as he received first reports. He was shocked when he rode from Manassas Junction, assuming a terrible defeat because of the huge number of Confederates fleeing the battlefield.

Blackburn Ford
Both armies seemed to have lost their stomach and called off the impending clash at the Ford.

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