Tuesday, July 19, 2011


In which our heroes do nothing, with very different outcomes.

Mary Chestnut was surprised to find Brigadier General Samuel Cooper in the parlor of her Richmond home on the morning of July 19. Cooper was the adjutant general for the new Confederate Army, responsible for executing the plans of the Confederate war leaders (which was a euphemism for the will of Jefferson Davis). Mary's husband, James, was a Confederate Congressman and an aide to Brigadier General G.T. Beauregard, who had just the week before been in Richmond trying to convince Davis, Cooper, and the third member of the Confederate military triumvirate, Robert E. Lee, of a plan that his Cajun superior had hatched.

In her diary, she recorded that Cooper was "radiant, one finger nervously arranging his shirt collar, or adjusting his neck to it after his fashion. He called out: 'Your South Carolina bonhomme has done a capital thing at Bulls Run [sic]--driven back the enemy if not defeated him..." The details that had reached Richmond about Blackburn Ford that morning were mere rumors, wildly exaggerated, that slowly came back down to earth throughout the day.
I was in hopes there would be no battle until Mr. Chestnut was forced to give up his amateur aidship to come and attend to his regular duties in the Congress [meeting July 20]. [Lawrence] Keitt has come in. He has says Bonham's great battle was a skirmish of outposts. Joe Davis, Jr., says, "Would heaven only send us a Napoleon!" "Not one bit of use it heaven did. [Secretary of War] Walker would not give him a commission."

At Yorkshire estate, near Bull Run, Beauregard was receiving more good news. The independent brigade of Theophilus Holmes had arrived after a day's journey from Aquia Creek with 1,265 infantry, 6 pieces of artillery, and 90 horsemen. But that still only brought his army to around 22,000, while McDowell was opposite with 35,000 and would certainly try to press his advantage soon. The situation looked even more complex when Beauregard received a telegram from Cooper saying there was no word from Joe Johnston, commander of the Army of the Shenandoah, who was supposed to be on his way to reinforce Beauregard. "If the enemy in front of you has abandoned an immediate attack, and General Johnston has not moved, you had better withdraw the call upon him so that he may be left to his full discretion."

Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was at taken aback at his men's inability to conserve food. Though possessing a hefty appetite himself. It would grow to a point that on July 20 he would half-apologetically write Edward Townsend, general-in-chief Winfield Scott's chief of staff, "I am somewhat embarrassed by the inability of the troops to take care enough of their rations, and make them last the time they should." In the brigade of Ambrose Burnside, camped close to Centreville, the sights and sounds of what seemed like a great disaster at Blackburn Ford on July 18 had induced them to cook and eat the rest of their three-days' rations at the end of their second day. McDowell wanted them and other brigades in similar shape in fighting spirit, so he had put his staff to work figuring out how to get supplies not due for another day to Centreville faster.

Meanwhile there was the endless headache of Brigadier General Daniel Tyler. At 12:30 pm he wrote Tyler personally: "There seems to be some misunderstanding on your part of the order issued for a brigade of your division to be posted in observation of the road leading to the place where your division was engaged yesterday [VA 28]." The normally reserved and formal McDowell's cool was cracking under the steady stream of bad behavior from the First Division and its commander. "I thought the brigade was posted as ordered, until just now, when Major Brown, who is returned from your headquarters, informs me that no action under these orders has been taken."

In Washington, Senator James Bayard (D-DE) marked the occasion by launching into a fiery tour-de-force of law, history, politics and religion, lambasting Lincoln for "executive usurptions." The Senate was again debating the resolution approving of the acts of the President (at the time there was no cloture rule, and the Senate really had the right to unlimited debate). He thundered to his fellow Senators:
No one has asked you--and we know we are powerless for that purpose; to censure the President of the United States; but I tell you frankly, when the people of this country pass from the state of excitement which now exists, as your resolution cannot condone any acts which have been done in violation of the Constitution by the Executive, a subsequent Congress can deal legally with this question, by the action of the House of Representatives as an impeachment body, and the action of the Senate in deciding that impeachment.
But he did not have the crowds that the Senate usually did when the public got word there was going to be a heated debate. A great deal of Washington had made its way to Centreville to visit with the men. Lt. Colonel Francis Fiske of the 2nd New Hampshire in Beauregard's brigade recorded that "two of New Hampshire's most distinguished men paid us a visit." He tactfully omitted their names from his account.

Whether because of his unwelcome guests or the debacle of trusting Tyler the day before, McDowell decided to ride out to scout upstream himself, bringing along several of his staff, his Chief Engineer, Major John Barnard, and the enthusiastic governor of Rhode Island, William Sprague (Burnside, no doubt, was glad to be rid of him). Being careful of the Confederate pickets that had been sent across Bull Run to provide plenty of advance warning in case McDowell attacked, the little party went as far north as Sudley Ford (where VA 234 crosses the river), gathering information.

Beauregard spent the afternoon preparing in his mind for the coming battle. At noon, Colonel Eppa Hunton had arrived with the 8th Virginia from Leesburg, giving him nearly a thousand more men. If Johnston could just be located, then he would have enough to seize the initiative. Beauregard assembled his staff as dusk fell (unaware that McDowell was planning a reconnaissance in force down the Warrenton Turnpike [VA 29] until his officers talked him out of it) to have supper and discuss plans. "Let tomorrow be their Waterloo," he grandly announced.

The meeting continued into the night, before it was interrupted when the door to McLean's house burst open suddenly. In tromped Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson, announcing that his brigade had arrived from Johnston and, as soon as some delays on the track were cleared up, the rest of the army would too.

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