Civil War Photo Contest
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- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Above, an NPS Ranger-led talk on Matthews Hill, which has been only relatively recently opened for interpretation.
The battle of First Manassas began here on Matthews Hill around 9:30 a.m. the sultry morning of July 21, 1861 when the leading Federal brigade of Rhode Islanders commanded by Col. Ambrose Burnside finally arrived following a march that was supposed to have brought them here hours earlier. Burnside's was the first of two brigades comprising Brig. Gen. David Hunter's division, followed by that of Brig. Gen. Samuel Peter Heintzelman; below top l. to r.: Burnside as a colonel, Hunter; bottom l. to r. Heintzelman, and Union commander Irvin McDowell.
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Capt. William Reynolds' battery of Rhode Island artillery armed with then-new James rifles accompanying Burnside set up here along with the infantry to shell Confederates seen approaching from the opposite side of a cornfield marked by the fence line below. Both sides rushed for the cover of the rail fences, but the Rhode Islanders soon had the advantage of higher ground.
The Confederates were members of the small brigade of just 1,100 men led by Col. Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans, below at top left, who had rushed from the nearby Stone Bridge when warned by "wig-wag" signals received from Capt. E. Porter Alexander, "Look out for your left. You are flanked." Evans' South Carolinans and the Louisiana Battalion of "Tiger Rifles" of Maj. Chatham R. Wheat (below top right) actually charged the oncoming Rhode Islanders sending them into some confusion and causing them to halt. Evans took position along the fence on the opposite edge of the cornfield in the bottom of a swale where he contested the Federal advance, allowing the South Carolina brigade of Brig. Gen. Barnard E. Bee (bottom left) and two Georgia regiments led by Col. Francis Bartow (bottom right) to rush to the scene of action.
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Although Wheat was seriously wounded and his dispirited men halted, Burnside began to lose control of the situation and demanded help; he was soon supported by a battalion of U. S. Regulars and as Heintzelman's leading brigade also began to arrive, their numbers soon began to carry the field. Additional Federal artillery spread the gun line across the road to the west and into the fields opposite the Rhode Islanders. In the photo below, the Manassas-Sudley Road is out-of-sight in a depression past the last gun; the hilltop in the background held another Federal battery.
As the Federal line lengthened it threatened to overlap Bee's, Bartow's, and Evans' which soon began to crumble under the pressure, the men retreating across the Warrenton Turnpike and onto Henry Hill in the background in the photo below where Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson's recently-arrived Virginia Brigade waited in the treeline as yet unseen. Union commander Gen. Irvin McDowell also arrived about that time and seeing the Confederates in flight towards Henry Hill rode to the front of his lines shouting, prematurely as it was to turn out, "Victory! Victory! The day is ours!"