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Item 357 - First Battle of Bull Run Catalog 576 (Feb 2020)

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Remarkable compilation of 20 Civil War-era telegrams related to the First Battle of Bull Run, transcribed from messages sent to General P. G. T. Beauregard in a contemporary hand on ledger sheets dated between July 15 and August 16, 1861, twelve total pages, 7.5 x 12.5 and 8.5 x 14, containing urgent in-the-field messages from notable Confederate officers such as Jefferson Davis, Edward Porter Alexander, Milledge Luke Bonham, James Chesnut, Jr., Samuel Cooper, Nathan George Evans, Richard S. Ewell, Joseph E. Johnston, David Rumph Jones, John S. Preston, Thomas Grimke Rhett, and, most significantly, Beauregard, who adds a brief ANS in pencil to the bottom of a page dated July 17th, in full: “With compliments of Gn’l Beauregard, will send you some other telegrams & papers, N. O. March 17th, 1873, G. T. B.”

The telegrams are written in black and red ink, with the latter examples comprised of footnotes and additional specifics relative to the day’s events or orders; they are listed as follows:

July 15, 1861, written from Richmond, Preston to Beauregard: “Matter (concentration of Johnston & Holmes’ forces with mine) under deliberation (with the President, part of his cabinet & Genl Lee)…Troops will be sent and some equipment for militia.”

July 15, 1861, written from Richmond, Chesnut to Beauregard: “Matter…seriously debated…Will wait this morning for conclusion.”

July 17, 1861, written from “Head Quarters Manassas,” Beauregard to Davis: “The enemy has assailed my outposts in heavy force. I have fallen back on the line of Bull Run and will make a stand at Mitchell’s Ford. If his force is overwhelming I shall retire to the Rappahannock Railroad Bridge saving my command for defence there and future operations. Please inform Johnston of this via Staunton and also Holmes. Send forward any reinforcements at the earliest possible instant and by every possible means.”

July 17, 1861, written from Richmond, Davis to Beauregard: “We are making all efforts to reinforce you. Cannot send today, but afterwards they will go regularly daily, Railroads permitting. Hampton’s Legion, McRae’s Regt, and two battalions Mississippi and Alabama under orders.”

July 17, 1861, written from Richmond, Cooper to Beauregard: “You are authorized to appropriate the North Carolina Regiment on its route to Genl Johnston. If possible send to Genl Johnston to say he has been informed via Staunton that you were attacked and that he will join you, if practicable, with his effectual force, sending his sick and baggage to Culpepper Court House, by route through Warrenton.”

July 17, 1861, written from Manassas, Beauregard to Cooper: “I believe this proposed movement of Genl Johnston is now too late, enemy will attack me in force tomorrow morning.”

July 17, 1861, written from Manassas, Beauregard to Johnston: “War Department has ordered you to join me, do so immediately if possible, and we will crush the enemy.”

July 17, 1861, written from Winchester, Johnston to Beauregard: “Is the enemy upon you in force?”

July 18, 1861, written from Richmond, Davis to Beauregard: “McRae’s Regt N. C. goes to you this evening. Barksdale’s Mississippi Regt goes to you from Lynchburg. Further reinforcements have promise of transportation in the morning, Hampton’s Legion and others will go as soon as possible. God be praised for your successful beginning, I have tried to join you but remain to serve you here as most useful to the times.”

July 19, 1861, written from Richmond, Cooper to Beauregard: “We have no intelligence from Genl Johnston. If the enemy in front of you has abandoned an immediate attack and Gen; Johnston has not moved, you had better withdraw the call upon him so that he may be left to his full discretion. All the troops arriving at Lynchburg are ordered to join you. From this place we will send as fast as transportation permits. The enemy is advised at Washington of the projected movement offences Johnston & Holmes, and you may vary his plans in conformity thereto.”

The following 10 telegram transcriptions date to July 21, 1861, the day of the First Battle of Bull Run. A note to upper margin of ledger sheet, ostensibly addressed to Beauregard, reads: “The following is a literal copy from your office book. The orders, etc., do not all occur in the same order as below and are mixed up with copies of orders of the 18th. I have arranged them (those between you and your generals) in their probable order.” The telegrams continue:

From Manassas Junction, Beauregard to Ewell: “You will hold yourself in readiness to take the offensive on Centreville at a moment’s notice to make a diversion against the enemy’s intended attack on Mitchell’s Ford and probably Stone Bridge. You will protect well your left flank against any attack from the Eastward. Genl Holmes’ Brigade will support your movement. If the enemy be prepared to attack in front of your left, leave it (said Brigade) in…position with orders to take the offensive when it hears your engagement on the other side of the Run. I intend to take the offensive throughout my front as soon as possible.”

From Stone Bridge, Evans to Beauregard: “They have deployed twelve hundred in front—fired two shells—have scattered now.”

From the Headquarters of the 3rd Brigade, Jones to Bonham: “As we are expecting an early engagement with the enemy, I would be very much obliged if you would send me forthwith Capt. Sayres’ Company, 17 Regt Miss. Vols. provided you can spare it from its present position,” with a postscript, “My pickets have fallen back from the front.”

From the Headquarters of the 1st Brigade, Camp Beauregard, Bonham to General Thomas Jordan: “Genl Longstreet has just sent me word that preparation is making, from the best information he gets, to attack us both in front this morning. A vidette of my own brings the same suggestion from my pickets in front. I have sent forward for further information and will report,” with postscript, “Genl McGowan, my aid, reports a great mass of men…seen in front.”

From Mitchell’s Ford, Bonham to Beauregard: “The enemy have deployed and come into the field. They have 6 pieces—3 on the right and three on the left—visible. I do not hear any movement yet from Ewell or Jones.” (“Received about 9h a.m.")

From Union Mills, Ewell to Beauregard: “I have received no orders except to hold myself in readiness at a moment’s notice to move. That ‘moment’s notice’ has not yet been given. I enclose a communication just received from Genl Jones,” with added note, “Genl Ewell says he received Genl Jones’ order at about 10 h a.m…who then commanded the movement?”

The referenced ‘enclosed’ communications, which begins with a message from Beauregard to Ewell, sent to him at 7 a.m., “Genl Ewell has been ordered to take the offensive upon Centreville. You will follow the movement at once by attacking the enemy beyond in your front.” The second communication, from Jones: “The head of my column now rests upon the road from Union Mills to Centreville. The enemy are moving about in front of Mitchell’s and Blackburn’s fords.”

From Union Mills, Ewell to Beauregard: “I had commenced crossing, but have ordered our former position resumed,” with postscript, “The enclosed copy is the only order received from you to-day.” Beauregard follows that up by noting, “Received by me at 11 h a.m.”

From Milcoxen's Hill, Alexander to Beauregard: “Very large force visible in Bull Run valley in a field apparently 2 miles above Stone Bridge. Can’t tell exactly which way it is moving, but it is apparent on the other side and moving across. I am about to signal it to Evans. Brass guns can be distinguished and at least two brigades. Some also on this side of the valley opposite them, apparently moving down.”

From Camp Pickens, Rhett to Beauregard: “Gen; Jones Adjt comes in to report that the Federal troops are between us and Genl Jones and approaching.” Beauregard adds a note to the conclusion: “Rec’d by me at Lewis house at 6 1/2 h P. M. July 21st, 1861. I ordered the troops to Camp Walker forthwith, notwithstanding their exhausted condition. I intended to attack the enemy forthwith, but, on arriving near Camp Pickens, learnt that it was a false alarm. A most unfortunate event, as it prevented the pursuit of the enemy the following morning.”

The final telegram, written from Manassas, dated August 16, 1861, from Beauregard to Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson: “Your letter of this day to Col. Jordan relative to the 1st Regt…colours, captured on the 21st instant by a private in Co. A of the 27th Reg’t Va Vols. of your Brigade, has been referred to me. In reply I have to state that said colours, with the other trophies of that day were sent to me for collection and because I commanded in person on the field on that occasion, being responsible for the success or failure of the battle. All those trophies will be set with my report to the Genl Cmdg for transmission to the War Dept, with a history as far as it can be made, of the capture of each trophy, and I shall be most happy in my report to do full justice to the gallantry and brilliant services of yourself and those under your command. A Genl Johnston has not yet made out his report, I would suggest that you so amend your report as to contain the history of the capture of said colours. Should you, however, prefer sending to Genl Johnston directly, I shall be happy to send them to you for that object,” with added note, “I am having copy of your report made to send you. Please send me a copy of Johnston’s, which I cannot find anywhere.” In overall very good to fine condition.

The First Battle of Bull Run, which is also known as the First Battle of Manassas, was the first major battle of the American Civil War. Fought on July 21, 1861, in Prince William County, Virginia, just north of the city of Manassas and about 25 miles west-southwest of Washington, D.C., the battle proved initially disadvantageous to the undermanned Confederate army. However, poor execution and organization of the Union attack enabled General Beauregard the requisite time to reinforce his army with reserves by way of rail, and the tides of war soon changed in favor of the Confederacy. The war's first crucial battle, ultimately a collision of poorly trained and poorly led troops on either side, corrected any early thoughts that the war would indeed be short.

Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.


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