Bull Run, August 31 / Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill), September 1
The following post is an excerpt from my book research project on the life of Abner Doubleday. This post, along with others surrounding 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. “Smith” is the historian of the 76th New York.
Again, a battle at Bull Run / Manassas had resulted in a Confederate victory, with Union forces plodding upon the road toward Washington. However, this retreat was much more orderly and lacking in the panic of the first adventure in 1861. Though suffering significant losses, the rearguard action of Pope’s army had allowed the main body to escape a devastating destruction. Massing at Centerville, Doubleday wrote: Our army regarded their position at Centerville as impregnable and so did the enemy, as they had built the forts there [in the months of occupation after First Manassas] and knew the strength of the place.
It was not to be the design of General Lee to launch an attack at this place. Rather, with the crushing victory he had hoped for still eluding him, Lee devised a strategy to get behind Pope’s withdrawal by executing the same plan employed on the Rappahannock. While demonstrations were made in Pope’s front across Bull Run, Jackson’s foot cavalry was again sent on a flanking move to the north around Pope’s right. However, the limitations of human endurance were now being stretched beyond what even Jackson could achieve, and the march did not come off with the speed and surprise of the previous venture.
Reno’s Corps under General Isaac Stevens and Kearney’s Division were sent to engage this threat. At 5:00 on the evening of September 1st, at Ox Hill, not far from an old mansion known as Chantilly, the Union forces attacked. Simultaneous with the attack was a severe thunderstorm, adding additional discomforts to the horrors of war. Falling in battle were both Union generals, who suffered mortal wounds. The contest of several hours was indecisive, but accomplished a final halt to any aggressive plans of the Confederate army. The Bull Run campaign was over.
Doubleday’s Division, now placed under command of General Hooker, was not engaged in this action. My own division during this time was posted by order of General Hooker south of Fairfax Court House, facing in the same direction. We remained there all night unmolested, bivouacking in the mud and suffering great discomfort from the pitiless storm.
The cold storm and the discomforts of this particular evening were extraordinarily commented upon by all who wrote memoirs of this day. Smith wrote of the difficulty of marching that entire day, the most severe of the campaign, wading through mud to the knee. Doubleday had been ordered to select a regiment for picket duty, and he selected the 76th N.Y. After a march of four miles, they commenced a guard duty that would never be forgotten. Most of them had long before thrown off the clothing that might have given them a measure of protection for this wretched evening. “The night was so intensely dark, that an object could scarcely be seen five paces distant. The rain and sleet continued unabated, while the north-west wind sent it with almost fatal effect against the shivering and nearly paralyzed forms of the men … Severer tests of courage may have been made upon the Regiment; but never again did the men suffer as during that night.” Noyes echoed the description of the storm with word pictures only he could conjure: “The rain laughed to scorn our rubber cloaks, filled our top-boots to the brim, trickled in rivulets between our shoulders, while the wind fairly swayed our horses before its fury.”
© Randy Buchman, 2012