Retracing the Battle. The loop trail is one mile long.
On the tour route you follow in the footsteps of charging Union and Confederate troops, and stand where they loaded cannon or braced for a bayonet assault. Terrain and tree lines have changed little since that day. As you walk, imagine deafening cannon and musket fire, whizzing shell fragments, and smoke rolling like acrid fog across the slope. Some of the bloodiest fighting occurred at Ricketts' artillery, tour stop 1. Most of the recruits had never been shot at before. At sites along the way exhibits portray men and events that decided the battle's outcome. At several of the exhibits, recorded messages describe the nightmare in the soldiers' own words - quotations from survivors' letters and diaries.
Click the map to download a larger version
|Shells were exploding overhead as Captain Ricketts' men dueled Gen. Thomas Jackson's artillery, directly across the field. Sharpshooters' bullets thumped into the wooden limber chests. On the rear slope, horses were screaming and dying. Suddenly from the far woods came an eerie, blood-chilling cry, the rebel yell. Through dense smoke, Ricketts could see Confederate infantry starting across the field.|
Rickets, in his official report, described the fire from Henry house and then the Confederate charge.
"We ascended the hill near the Henry house, which was at that time filled with sharpshooters. I had scarcely gotten to the battery before I saw some of my horses fall and some of my men wounded by sharpshooters. I turned my guns on that house and literally riddled it. It has been said that there was a woman killed there by our guns. We did not move from our position. In fact, in a very short time, we were not in a condition to move, on account of the number of horses that were disabled. I know it was the hottest place I ever saw in my life. And I'd seen some fighting before. The enemy had taken advantage of the woods, and the natural slope of the ground, and delivered a terrible fire upon us."
Up to that moment, the Confederates appeared to be losing the battle, and possibly the war. Here the momentum shifted. At Henry House and other stops on the tour, exhibits reveal how the battle rushed toward the unexpected climax at Ricketts' guns. In the Confederate charge, Ricketts was badly wounded in the leg, captured, and taken to Confederate headquarters at the nearby Lewis plantation.
Sometime after 1903, veterans of the 7th Georgia Infantry erected at least six markers on the Manassas battlefield to locate battle positions. Only this marker and one other survive. Colonel Francis S. Bartow was killed while leading the 7th and 8th Georgia against Captain James B. Ricketts' battery located here. During the battle, the 7th Georgia suffered 153 casualties out of 580 men present.
|monument dedication in 1865||The monument today|
Union soldiers built the Henry Hill Monument to commemorate those who died at First Bull Run (Manassas). For many civil war veterans, this had been their first battle. Intense memories drew both Union and Confederate soldiers back to this scene years after the war.
|Henry House, as it would have appeared, just after the battle||After souvenir hunters had removed most of it||As it appears today. This house was constructed after the war|
The morning of the battle was hot and still. Except for a few details the scene mirrored today's pastoral landscape. Fields lay fallow, overgrown with tall grass. Around the Henry House grew rose bushes and a small peach orchard. Eighty-five year old Mrs. Judith Henry was inside, bedridden, too old to work the farm that had been in her family more than a century.
At ten o'clock Confederate cannon suddenly rumbled into position on the rise 100 yards ahead. There artillerists turned their guns toward Matthews Hill. Mrs. Henry had insisted on remaining in her house. That afternoon she was killed by an artillery shell meant for sharpshooters firing from her windows.
Mrs. Henry's grave and inscribed headstone are in the cemetery nearby.
|From the ridge beyond Stone House 15,000 Federals were swiftly advancing in this direction. Confederate Capt. John Imboden rushed four cannon into position here, to try to slow the Federal attack. Behind this slight rise, the artillerist had some protection from enemy bombardment. Through the smoke and dust, Imboden's men could see the outnumbered Confederate infantry starting to fall back from Matthews Hill. The cannoneers kept firing at top speed, knowing it would take massive reinforcements to stop the Yankees.|
In his official report, Captain Imboden described the bombardment. "Well we unlimbered about one hundred yards north east of the Henry house, undercover of a slight swell in the ground, immediately in our front. The first round or two from the enemy went high over us, in seeing this we directed our fire low. The effect was very destructive to the enemy. Shot and shell of the enemy's rifled artillery bored there way several feet in to the hillside, and did us no harm. It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of shells from the enemy's fine rifle guns exploded in front of and around my battery on that day. But so deep in the ground, that the fragments never came out. After the action the ground looked as if it had been rooted up by hogs."
Retreating Confederates fled past the Robinson House (the next tour stop) where Wade Hampton's South Carolinians made a desperate stand.
|You are standing at the historic Robinson farm lane and fence line.|
Shot-up Confederate regiments stumbled past, in retreat from Matthews Hill. First along Warrenton Pike, then in Robinson's Lane. Col. Wade Hampton's South Carolinians, who had arrived by train only hours before, tried to delay the Union advance. Slowly, with volley after volley of musket fire, the Union wave forced Hampton's Legion back past the Robinson House toward the pine woods behind you. At this point the Confederate Army seemed on the brink of defeat.
Two weeks after the battle, one of Hampton's solders described the fighting in a letter to the Charleston Coureur.
"The legion was formed in a narrow lane. In front of us could be seen in large columns the enemy advancing. Dropping to our knees in a gully we awaited their attack. Soon we were met by a tremendous volley of musketry whose effect was terrible. Immediately to my left was poor Phelps, a ball passed clean through him, striking me in the leg. In every direction could be herd the groans of the wounded. We in turn poured a volley into the enemy. At this time I made up my mind for the worse. I saw we had a terrible struggle before us."
On this battlefield there was no time to build earthworks. Soldiers used every wrinkle of terrain for protection, firing prone from road cuts, or behind field stones and fence rails.
|about 1862||the ruins today|
The home of James Robinson - a freed slave - stood here at the time of the battle. That morning hundreds of Confederates streamed through the yard as they retreated from the Union attack. Surprisingly, the property suffered little damage in the first battle, but Union troops sacked the house and fields during Second Manassas. For these damages, Congress awarded Robinson $1,249 by a Private Act of March 3, 1873.
At the time of the battle, this field was a scene of confusion. Shells were exploding all around. Hot, tired, shot-up during the retreat from Matthews Hill, Confederate units had fallen out of line and were milling about. They felt they'd lost the battle and maybe the war. At that moment Gen. Joe Johnston and Gen. P.G.T Beauregard arrived on the field to rally the scattered regiments, and the Confederate line began to reform. Out of the woods to your right, filed fresh reinforcements, Gen. Thomas J. Jackson's Virginia infantry. The site of Gen. Johnston, wounded three times in previous wars, gave the battered soldiers new courage. Learning that the 4th Alabama had lost most of its field officers, Johnston personally led those troops forward, keeping the regimental flag at his side.
General Beauregard later wrote,
"The ground occupied by our guns was an open space just at the eastern verge of the plateau. Here thirteen pieces, mostly 6-pounders, were maintained in action alternating to some extent with each other, and taking part as needed all from the outset displaying that marvelous capacity of our people as artillerists which has made them, it would appear, at once the terror and the admiration of the enemy."
You are standing in the center of Stonewall Jackson's line, thirteen pieces of artillery, with infantry on the ground behind the cannon and concealed in the woods to your right. Along the rise (to the left of the photo) on either side of Henry House, Ricketts' and Griffin's Union batteries were starting to duel Jackson's artillery. Two hundred yards behind you, the 33rd Virginia Infantry was preparing the charge that would ignite the day's most violent fighting.
On the brow of this hill, Brig. Gen. Bernard Bee was desperately trying to rally his men when he caught site of Gen. Thomas J. Jackson with fresh troops at the edge of the pine thicket to your right. "Look!" Bee shouted. "There stands Jackson like a stone wall!" The nickname spread rapidly through the Confederate Army and throughout the south. "Stonewall" Jackson was on his way to becoming a legend.
"We advanced by hand to the front until finally the battery was upon the crown of the hill, entirely exposed to the view of their artillery and infantry. At this moment their fire fell like hail around us. Notwithstanding, my guns were as rapidly and beautifully served by the cannoneers, with as much composure and silence as they are when upon the ordinary daily drill." Maj. John B. Walton
You are about to follow in the footsteps of the charging Confederates.
The Virginians were waiting, tense, here at wood's edge - their first time under bombardment. Shells from Ricketts' battery exploded in the boughs overhead and plowed up the ground in front. When the two Union cannon rolled into position on top of the rise only 100 yards away, Col. A. C. Cummings gave the order to charge. Better to get the men moving, the colonel figured, before they panicked and before the Union guns could do more damage.
If the two canon had turned and used canister at this range, they would have shredded the regiment. For some reason the artillery did not fire, as if the Virginians were invisible.
|In clear view of the artillerymen here, Confederates lined up at the fence, trees and across the open field. These two cannon and supporting infantry could have stopped the Rebels cold, yet the four hundred charging Virginians were able to fire a musket volley at such close range that they virtually wiped out the Union gun crews. Congressional inquires failed to clear up the mystery. How did the Confederates manage to get that close?
"After I had been on Henry Hill about five minutes, a regiment of Confederates got over a fence on my front. I gave the command to one of my officers to fire upon them. He loaded the cannon with canister, and was just ready to fire when Major Barry road up to me and said 'Captain don't fire there, those are your battery support'. I said there Confederates, as certain as the world, their confederates. Major Barry replied 'I know their your battery support'. I sprang to my pieces and told my officer not to fire there. He through down the canister. The infantry regiment marched toward us, opened fire, and that was the last of us"
Though the 33rd Virginia captured these guns, the battle was far from over. New York infantry were marching up the slope from Sudley Road to counterattack.
Dead cannoneers lay in rows between their cannon, dead horses along the back slope; the Union guns were immobilized, but still a magnet for both armies. Up this slope marched the 14th Brooklyn, resplendent in Zouave uniforms. They managed to recapture Griffin's two guns, for a few moments.
From here to Ricketts' cannon (the start of the walking tour) the fighting fell into a bloody, seasaw pattern, Confederates capturing the line of artillery, Federals driving them off, then reinforcements again charging the guns. Late in the afternoon Confederates finally sized and held Henry Hill.
The battle was decided on Henry Hill, but ended on Chinn Ridge (the rising ground to the left). From here fresh Confederate brigades crossed Sudley Road and overwhelmed the Union right flank.
Expecting to outflank the Rebels, Col. Oliver O. Howard's Maine and Vermont regiments reached the top of this rise in two lines of battle. Suddenly the air exploded with shell fragments. A Confederate battery had opened fire from the Chinn House yard. Masses of Confederate infantry came charging out of the woods below.
There had been no training for this moment. This was the New Englanders' first time under fire. They managed to get off a few ragged volleys, then the parade style battle lines began to break.
The retreat gathered momentum, and soon the Union Army was headed back past Stone House and across Bull Run.
"I don't wish to say anything of what I saw on the field. God grant that I may never see the same again. Our retreat was all confusion and turmoil." Pvt. George S. Rollins, 3rd Maine Infantry