The following long post is an excerpt from my book research project on the life of Abner Doubleday. This post, along with others in coming days of the Bull Run Battle and aftermath, is from the perspective and writings of Doubleday and those close to him. “Noyes” was a staff officer for Doubleday who wrote very colorfully… he was a lawyer from Maine. I will add that this is a favorite and especially interesting piece of Civil War history and collection of narratives.
Brawner’s Farm – also known as “Groveton” or “Gainesville”
On the 28th, General John Pope was moving his varied commands to the north and east toward Manassas Junction “under the supposition [wrote Doubleday drolly] that Jackson would remain there and give battle.” However, Jackson did not remain in that position, rightly understanding he could well be cut off from connection with Lee. Any movement in any direction other than north would be to advance directly into the face of enemy forces. Jackson therefore moved his command north and west of Manassas Junction, across the battlefield of Bull Run from the year prior, and essentially hid them away in a stretch of woodland behind a rise just to the north of the Warrenton Turnpike called Stony Ridge. The excellence of this position was enhanced by an old railroad cut. The Confederates were packed together tightly (like fish in a barrel, according to one of them), but completely out of sight and knowledge of the Union forces and scouts.
Doubleday’s Brigade, with the departure of the Confederates facing them across the Rappahannock, had been withdrawn to the north through Warrenton. Following the curve of the Warrenton Turnpike to the east, they were ordered to continue in that direction on the same road. Pope had been led by captured prisoners to mistakenly believe the illusive Stonewall Jackson was east of the Bull Run in the area of Centreville. He therefore, on the afternoon of the 28th, ordered King’s Division to continue in movement in that direction along the Warrenton Pike. Noyes wrote of their afternoon meal as a delightful one, with thoughts of battle far from their minds. “Several guests joined our picnic under the trees, the general (speaking of Doubleday) was in his most humorous vein, and we rested here two or three pleasant hours. Certainly no one of us, as we reposed after our lunch, placid and content, dreamed of the tragedy which was to greet us before the sun went down. It was late in the afternoon before we were summoned to the saddle, and the brigade ordered to advance.”
The march along the pike unknowingly brought King’s Division directly across the front of Jackson’s Command, hidden within the wooded slope parallel to the wide road. It was a beautiful summer evening. The division was advancing leisurely along the Warrenton Pike with Hatch’s Brigade in the lead, followed by Gibbon, Doubleday, and Patrick respectively. Far from the minds of these soldiers was any anticipation of pending action with a sizeable body of the enemy—who was said to be miles away. Jackson was enjoying one of his impromptu naps when awakened by word from scouts of a significant body of infantry moving along the turnpike below. He mounted his horse and went to examine the situation personally. In an open area at the crest of the hill to the north of King’s Division, Jackson himself was seen by the Federals. Doubleday wrote: “As I stopped for a moment to converse with General Patrick, I saw a large man on horseback suddenly appear on a hill about 200 yards off to the north of the turnpike. I made a remark that he must be a Rebel officer, but I was assured that the ground in front of us had been scouted half an hour before and that no Rebels were there at that time . . . [It] was Stonewall Jackson himself, who suddenly turned around and made a motion to some in the rear. A section of Rebel artillery immediately galloped up, unlimbered and opened fire upon us.”
The Brawner farmhouse and orchard sat about one-quarter mile to the north of the pike. The slope was largely open to the wooded crest lest than a half mile parallel to the road. A stretch of woods along the pike, to the south and east of the farm afforded some protection for the brigades of King’s Division. Hatch’s Brigade had already passed this location for some distance and was well to the east on the pike. Gibbon’s Brigade had just passed through the woods, and Doubleday’s was approaching it when the Rebel artillery opened upon them. Noyes wrote that “so sudden a transition from a doze on horseback to the position of target for Rebel artillery exercise was by no means agreeable to me. . . The general at once thundered out, ‘Bring the van forward at double quick; and double-quick it was for some five hundred feet, until we were out of range, with a thick wood between us and the Rebel batteries.” Gibbon’s Brigade had also sought the shelter of this same woods, and here Doubleday and Gibbon met and conversed.
As it was positively stated the Jackson’s main force was still at Centerville, both General Gibbon and myself supposed we had simply been annoyed by one of the batteries attached to Stuart’s Cavalry, and that it could easily be captured or driven off by sending a small infantry force against it. So I passed General Gibbon and he asked me what I thought we had better do. I replied that we were subordinates, and it was for our division commander to give orders, but I thought we ought to storm the battery. He replied, “By heaven, I’ll do it!” and immediately ordered Colonel Edgar O’ Conner, an accomplished gentleman and graduate of West Point, to march forward obliquely with his regiment (the 2nd Wisconsin) and take the battery in flank.
Gibbon’s Brigade consisted of four regiments of volunteers, entirely from the west: the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin regiments, and the 19th Indiana. Presuming the artillery to be attached to a cavalry unit, Gibbon ordered the 2nd Wisconsin to dispense with it. Known as “the Ragged Ass 2nd” because of the condition of their trousers, this regiment consisted of the lone veteran unit within Gibbon’s Brigade of westerners. They had fought just a couple of miles to the east of this location in the first Battle of Bull Run the previous year. Apparently, a good amount of posturing had gone on within Gibbon’s Brigade, with the 2nd Wisconsin proudly affirming their veteran status. Here now was an opportunity to demonstrate their skill. And soon, the remaining raw regiments of the brigade would have opportunity to demonstrate that they too were as tough as their words.
Gibbon was especially adept at understanding the character of men and knowing how to motivate and build unity, discipline, and soldierly character. He instilled a pride in the naturally tough character of men hailing from the west, in an army where they were significantly outnumbered by the masses of regiments from the northeast. Gibbon had equipped his brigade with a distinctive black felt hat. He had also drilled and trained them exceedingly well. As their fighting reputation grew in the course of the war, Confederates were known to groan at the sight of “those damned black hat fellows” opposing them.
Gibbon deployed the 2nd Wisconsin obliquely through the woods along the road. As they exited the woods onto the open slope, the Confederate artillery had withdrawn, and over the crest of the hill appeared infantry troops of the famed Stonewall Brigade. Hearing an increasing amount of musket fire, Gibbon deployed the 19th Indiana to the left of the Badger regiment. Jackson likewise threw more troops into the escalating engagement. These Confederate forces were under the divisional command of General Ewell and General Taliaferro. With the rising tide of Confederate forces on the right flank of Gibbon’s growing line, he now deployed the 6th and 7th Wisconsin regiments. As well, he sent aides to request the assistance of other brigades within King’s Division. The only response was from Doubleday, who advanced two of his three regiments, the 76th New York and the 56th Pennsylvania. Doubleday wrote that “… General Gibbon sent to implore me for heaven’s sake to come to his assistance immediately. Our division commander, General Rufus King, had had an epileptic fit the day before. On the present occasion, he dashed by me at full speed with his hat off going in the direction of Gainesville. I never heard that he issued orders to any one until the contest was nearly over. I certainly received none, and came to the conclusion I would have to act for myself. I at once sent in the 76th New York under Colonel William Wainwright, and the 56th Pennsylvania under Colonel Sullivan E. Meredith… ” Doubleday retained the 95th New York, his other regiment, as support for the six guns of the Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery, also known as “Campbell’s Artillery.” This artillery unit, formerly under General Gibbon before the outbreak of the war, was rather permanently attached to Gibbon’s command, and would serve with great distinction, especially at Antietam. On this occasion, Doubleday was the ranking officer on the field, and as Gibbon was engaged with his infantry, moved the artillery to the right flank along the road to achieve a fire into the enemy’s flank (as Doubleday wrote: to take the Rebel line “en echarpe”).
Many artistic depictions of 18th and 19th century warfare present the contending armies mere yards apart, firing into the very face of the enemy. Of course, for the artist to get both sides on the same canvas, this is rather necessary—when in fact, the reality of the situation involved an exponentially greater separation. On this occasion, such an artistic rendering would not be nearly so dramatically opposed to reality. The irresistible force had met the immoveable object. Clashing head-on were the respective armies’ ultimate version of true raw-boned tough guys who would not back down. They each stood firmly at ranges as close as 50 to 75 yards, volleying stubbornly into the faces of the other. An officer of the 2nd Wisconsin wrote: “the 2nd had been through First Bull Run and swaggered a bit as veterans, in consequence. They rather patronized the others, put on veteran’s airs, swore by their own officers, O’Connor, Fairchild and Tom Allen, but had little use for any one else. The 6th, 7th, and 19th had not had the 2nd‘s opportunities but were sure that when the time came they could fight as well and stay as long. It was this that accounts in a large measure for the stirring feat of arms that followed. The 2nd having talked so much could not be the first to fall back. The others would not budge while the 2nd stayed.” <<from http://www.secondwi.com/wisconsinregiments/battles2.htm … article in the Washington Star, March 16, 1913 by 1st Srg, Gilbert Motier Woodward>>
The brigades of Gibbon and Doubleday were significantly outnumbered in this contest, but did not give any ground. Jackson had the greater number of forces not only engaged, but also in reserve. However, he was unable to quickly deploy his forces in an efficient manner, in part due to both of his division commanders being wounded. Ewell was shot in the knee, and would have his leg amputated, while Taliaferro’s body collected three musket balls before it was over. Darkness was the agent of mercy to bring the fight to a close, though the final volleying continued for some time beyond any ability to visually see the enemy, as each side aimed at the muzzle blasts of the other.
Patrick’s Brigade, though not far from the action and fired upon by another Confederate battery at the outset, remained unengaged. General Patrick was awaiting orders, which of course did not arrive due to King’s medical condition, and he therefore did not choose to operate independently. He was also much disposed in the task of re-gathering the 20th New York Regiment, which demonstrated their raw nature by fleeing the initial cannonade. Hatch’s Brigade, which was somewhat advanced down the pike, did return, but too late to be thrown into the action. Of their arrival, Doubleday wrote: As his [Hatch’s] advanced regiment came on, I requested them to cheer for the purpose of indicating to our exhausted men that reinforcements were coming to their assistance. As soon as the enemy heard these cheers, they ceased firing and fell back a short distance, leaving their pickets on the line the main body had originally held.
The butcher’s invoice for the battle was quite significant, given its short duration. At least a third of Gibbon’s Brigade was killed, wounded, or missing, including the colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin—Edgar O’Conner. Confederate losses were as significant also. On both sides, many surviving officers achieved rapid advancement due to the losses of higher-ranking comrades. It was a most grim task to locate the wounded in such proximity to the enemy. An effort was made to collect as many as could be found yet alive. A livid General Gibbon met with the officers of the division, King now being present. Gibbon was bitter at the losses of so many in his regiment and the sluggardly way only Doubleday had come to his assistance, while the other two brigades offered no help whatsoever. His irritation is quite evident even within his official report where he wrote: “I sent repeated and earnest requests to division headquarters for assistance. Two of General Doubleday’s regiments finally got into line and the fight was kept up vigorously until after dark, when finding that we were far outnumbered and outflanked on the left, where I at length lost all hope of getting help from Patrick’s brigade, I ordered the line to fall back, which was done in good order.” All the evidence from witnesses within both brigades indicates that Doubleday responded rather quickly to the situation. Gibbon even admitted that in fact, the regiments of Doubleday’s command who did respond were positioned in such a fashion as to have been out of his view. Gibbon also seemed to be rather unaware of the role of the 95th New York in supporting his own brigade’s battery.
Doubleday had interrogated some wounded prisoners, and the commanders of King’s Division now understood that they had engaged the main force of Stonewall Jackson. Discussion ensued as to the appropriate course of action. They were at the base of an incline occupied by a massive force of enemy, who was certain to open upon them with artillery at dawn. Neither the commanding general (Pope) or the corps commander (McDowell) was within range of contact. Confusion reigned supreme on this dark evening. McDowell was riding to consult with Pope at Manassas Junction, though Pope was not actually there, but rather at the Bull Run crossing toward Centreville. General Reynolds, who earlier had ridden to the sound of the fire, consulted with Doubleday, and went to bring up his division for support, but got entirely lost in the darkness. The decision arising from the consultation of the generals of King’s Division was to withdraw toward Manassas and reunite with the army there, or connect with units hoped to be proceeding toward assisting them.
The result of this decision was to essentially march away from a field of battle, only to have to march back to it the next day. Divergent reports of this consultation and decision are evident in the subsequent writings of those present. Many years later, Gibbon wrote that he alone was in a talking mood among the generals present, even though he ranked as the junior officer. King, who was certainly not at the top of his game, was disposed to carry out his orders to march to the east to Centerville. Gibbon was accurate in his assessment of this thought, and verbalized how it was futile to march toward the now obsolete supposed location of an enemy, when in fact the enemy was a mere one-half mile away. Writing years later that, in response to a silence of all the other generals gathered, he proposed marching to the southeast toward Manassas Junction, in order to connect with reinforcements that may well be coming toward their division. Gibbon stated that he did not at that time know that Reynolds had met Doubleday and promised to bring his division by daybreak. Doubleday’s journal records this meeting by saying that General King called his brigade commanders together and asked their advice, as the Corps commander, General McDowell, was absent, and General Pope’s headquarters were unknown. General Gibbon strongly recommended a retreat to Manassas Junction at 1:00 a.m., and so as he had great influence with General King, his opinion prevailed. I was strongly opposed to this movement. It left the way entirely open for Jackson’s force to unite with that of Longstreet.
It is difficult to assess exactly what did transpire. Both Gibbon and Doubleday were prone at times in their subsequent writings toward a selective memory of events and an analytical brilliance of hindsight. But it is difficult to imagine such a meeting where Doubleday would sit meekly and not render an opinion. It is certain that a tremendous breakdown of higher command had resulted from an entire sequence of unanticipated circumstances. Though Doubleday and Gibbon would fight successfully together on a number of fields, their politics and views upon army structure were quite in contrast. Gibbon was a staunchly strong McClellan proponent, even decades after the war. Doubleday was more gracious than Gibbon in his assessments, but clearly, they were not immensely fond of one another. For example, Doubleday wrote in his account that when all was quiet along the lines, General Gibbon, desirous of monopolizing the entire glory for himself, sent a telegraphic dispatch to the effect that his brigade had had a battle with two of Jackson’s divisions. He entirely omitted to state that my men fought by the side with his, and lost in the same proportion. General King countersigned Gibbon’s telegram at his request; but I doubt if he knew much about the engagement, and he was soon after relieved from command of the division.
The truth is that both generals and their brigades fought well in the contest. But Gibbon would never be content with the amount of credit received (or not received) for the battle, and would always feel abandoned by the other brigades within his division. Gibbon expressed this quite vehemently in a letter written in December of 1863, wherein he complained bitterly that he had not yet seen published reports of Doubleday, Patrick and himself in connection with this contest. At that date, only the report of Pope had been public, and Gibbon’s contention was that the other reports would cast a more favorable and accurate light upon the accomplishments of his brigade. Stating that Pope’s report spoke of the action as involving “King’s Division,” Gibbon wrote that “my single brigade was left almost alone to sustain itself against a division of the enemy, and that the division as such was not engaged at all; that in place of being ‘supported handsomely by Doubleday’s brigade,’ but two regiments of that brigade came to our assistance, and then only when the brigade commander had been repeatedly urged to send them by my staff officers, and the late Major-General Reynolds, who came upon the ground during the fight.” The comment is certainly ungenerous, in that Doubleday only had three total regiments, and one was clearly needed to support Gibbon’s battery from being targeted and overrun. Gibbon wrote of the poor nature of the reconnaissance that day, and of Patrick’s Brigade as remaining immoveable without firing a shot. He concluded, “This statement I deem necessary as an act of justice to my command, and respectfully request that it may be published as such and a copy furnished Major-General Pope.”
At 1:00 a.m. the movement toward Manassas Junction commenced, and the division covered the eight miles in about five hours. Doubleday’s diary records his extensive critical evaluation of the lack of wisdom in this movement. Written from the grand perspective of hindsight, it rightly notes the greater advantage that would have been gained from staying in the vicinity of the previous evening’s engagement. Such a course of action might have contributed toward an inability of the two wings of Lee’s army to reconnect. However, quite a chain of positive events would have needed to ensue, and Doubleday’s record is not without a critical tone about the character of some of those directing these needed events. “Had King’s Division remained on the ground it had so gallantly won, it would have been speedily augmented by Sigel’s Corps and by Ricketts’ and Reynolds’ Division of McDowell’s Corps. While these forces were to interpose between the two wings of Lee’s army, Heintzelman, Reno, and McClellan were expected to act in concert and isolate Jackson. The unaccountable retreat of General King’s Division on Manassas, which also involved the withdrawal of Ricketts’ Division, and the strange behavior of General McClellan in purposely delaying either to reinforce General Pope or send him supplies, put an end to the plan of the campaign.”
© Randy Buchman, 2012