A correspondent gives the following account of the panic and flight at the battle of Bull Run: “I was near the rear of the movement, with the brave Captain Alexander, who endeavored, by the most gallant but unavailable exertions, to check the onward tumult. It was difficult to believe in the reality of our sudden reverse. ‘What does it all mean?’ I asked Alexander. ‘It means defeat,’ was his reply. ‘We are beaten; it is a shameful, a cowardly retreat! Hold up, men!’ he shouted; ‘don’t be such infernal cowards!’ and he rode backwards and forwards, placing his horse across the road, and vainly trying to rally the running troops. The teams and wagons confused and dismembered every corps. We were now cut off from the advance body by the enemy’s infantry, who had rushed on the slope just left by us, surrounded the guns and sutlers’ wagons, and were apparently pressing up against us. ‘It’s no use, Alexander,’ I said; ‘you must leave with the rest.’ ‘I’ll be d–d if I will,’ was the sullen reply; and the splendid fellow rode back to make his way as best he could. Meantime, I saw officers with leaves and eagles on their shoulder-straps, Majors and Colonels, who had deserted their commands, pass me, galloping as if for dear life. No enemy pursued just then; but I suppose all were afraid that his guns would be trained down the long, narrow avenue, and mow the retreating thousands, and batter to pieces army wagons and everything else which crowded it. Only one field-officer so far as my observation extended, seemed to have remembered his duty. Lieutenant-Colonel Speidel, a foreigner, attached to a Connecticut regiment, strove against the current for a league. I positively declare that, with the two exceptions mentioned, all efforts made to check the panic before Centreville was reached, were confined to civilians. I saw a man in citizen’s dress, who had thrown off his coat, seize a musket, and was trying to rally the soldiers who came by at the point of the bayonet. In reply to a request for his name, he said it was Washburne, and I learned he was the member by that name from Illinois. The Hon. Mr. Kellogg madea a similar effort. Both these Congressmen bravely stood their ground till the last moment, and were serviceable at Centreville in assisting the halt there ultimately made. All other civilians did what they could.
“But what a scene! and how terrible the onset of that tumultuous retreat! For three miles, hosts of Federal troops–all detached from their regiments, all mingled in one disorderly rout–were fleeing along the road, but mostly through the lots on either side. Army wagons, sutlers’ teams, and private carriages, choked the passage, tumbling against each other, amid clouds of dust, and sickening sights and sounds. Hacks, containing unlucky spectators of the late affray, were smashed like glass, and the occupants were lost sight of in the debris. Horsess, flying wildly by, galloped at random forward, joining in the stampede. Those on foot, who could catch them, rode them bareback, as much to save themselves from being run over, as to make quicker time. Wounded men, lying along the banks,–the few neither left on the field nor taken to the captured hospitals,–appealed, with raised hands, to those who rode horses, begging to be lifted behind, but few regarded such petitions. Then the artillery–such as was saved–came thundering along, smashing and overpowering everything. The regular cavalry (I record it to their shame) joined in the melee, adding to its terrors, for they rode down footmen without mercy. One of the great guns was overturned, and lay amid the ruins of a caisson. As I passed it, I saw an artilleryman running between the ponderous fore and after wheels of his gun-carriage, hanging on with hands, and vainly striving to jump upon the ordeinance. The drivers were spurring the horses, he could not cling much longer, and a more agonized expression never fixed the features of a drowning man. The carriage bounded from the roughness of a steep hill leading to a creek; he lost his hold, fell, and in an instant the great wheels had crushed the life out of him. Who ever saw such a flight? Could the retreat at Borodino have exceeded it in confusion and cumult? I think not. It did not slack in the least until Centreville was reached. There the sight of the reserve–Miles’ brigade–formed in order on the hill, seemed somewhat to reassure the van. But still the teams and foot soldiers pushed on, passing their own camps, and heading swiftly for the distant Potomac, until, for ten miles, the road over which the grand army had so lately passed southward, gay with unstained banners, and flushed with surety of strength, was covered with the fragments of its retreating forces, shattered and panic-stricken in a single day. From the branch route, the trains attached to Hunter’s division had caught the contagion of the flight, and poured into its already swollen current another turbid freshet of confusion and dismay. Who ever saw a more shameful abandonment of munitions, gathered at such vast expense? The teamsters, many of them, cut the traces of their horses, and galloped from the wagons. Others threw out their loads to accelerate their flight, and grain, picks, and shovels, and provisions of every kind, lay trampled in the dust for leagues. Thousands of muskets strewed the route, and when some of us succeeded it rallying a body of fugitives, and forming them in a line across the road, hardly one but had thrown away his arms. If the enemy had brought up his artillery, and served it upon the retreating train, or had intercepted our progress with five hundred of his cavalry, he might have captured enough supplies for a week’s feast of thanksgiving. As it was, enough was left behind to tell the story of the panic. The rout of the Federal army seemed complete.”
Originally posted 2009-08-01 23:02:29.