First Manassas: A Visit to Matthews Hill

James N.

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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.

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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.

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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!"

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#2
Great pics! Thanks for sharing these. I have relatives that lived in the vicinity of Groveton and there's some speculation that they were literally in the "thick of it". Supposedly they helped take care of the body of Mrs. Henry after she was killed in the battle which overtook her home.
 

James N.

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dlavin

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Great pictures. Wife and I were there on a return trip from Charlottesville and stopped for an hour or two at Manassas, and got a tour of Henry Hill. If we had more time, I would have explored more of the battlefield...for another time. But as always, great write up.
 

Old Bay

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#9
Shanks Evans is one of my favorite Civil War personalities.

Roberdaeu Wheat was one tough hombre, too. He was expected to die, I believe he was shot through both lungs. His surgeon told him he was going to die. Wheat responded 'I don't want to die yet.' His surgeon countered with something to the effect that no one on record had ever survived such a wound, to which Wheat responded 'put my account on record.' He did survive the wound, but died later at Gaines Mill.
 
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Yes she was. There were Confederates in the house sniping at Union batteries. The Union guns turned on the house and opened up and Mrs. Henry was wounded, one of her feet being blown off. She died later on that day and became the first civilian casualty. Here's a more detailed account:

http://magazine.oah.org/issues/262/weinberg.html
 

bdtex

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#12
View attachment 75376
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.

Expired Image Removed
maj-gen-hunter-lc.jpg
p211.jpg
Expired Image Removed

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.

View attachment 75378

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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beeb.jpg
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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.

View attachment 75377

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!"

View attachment 75379
I have a friend that lives at Amelia Court House. Spent a good bit of time with him on my recent trip to Richmond/Petersburg. He told me that he visited Manassas once and he had to leave because he "could just feel death there".
 

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James N.

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I have a friend that lives at Amelia Court House. Spent a good bit of time with him on my recent trip to Richmond/Petersburg. He told me that he visited Manassas once and he had to leave because he "could just feel death there".
I might agree with your friend's assessment, but more likely in some of the out-of-way places like deep in the woods along the unfinished railroad cut rather than much-visited Henry Hill amid all the swirling local auto traffic.
 

Coonewah Creek

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Some under represented bits of the battle there and a lovely reminder of one of the few Civil War battlefields I have been fortunate enough to visit.
The 2nd Mississippi received its "baptism of fire" at First Manassas, specifically at Matthews Hill...
Sunday morning, July 21st found the 2nd Mississippi, 4th Alabama, and the two companies from the 11th Mississippi formed in reserve behind the Confederate line along Bull Run. The balance of Bee’s Brigade was still in transit to Manassas or stuck at Piedmont. By coincidence, both Beauregard and McDowell arrived at almost identical battle plans. Each intended to feint an attack with their left, but strike the main blow with forces massed on the right flank. Had both been completely successful, the armies may very well have simply pivoted around each other allowing an unobstructed march into the respective enemy’s capital! As it turned out, the less successful commander in actually implementing his plan would win the battle. When McDowell’s attack began on the Confederate left, Beauregard thought it was only diversionary and sent only two incomplete brigades, Bee’s and Colonel Francis S. Bartow’s, to that sector. “Double-timing” almost four miles, Bartow and Bee neared the Stone Bridge when they learned that Brigadier General Nathan “Shanks” Evans was being pressed on the left. Another two miles at the double-quick brought them up to Evans who was determinedly holding his ground against an overwhelming Federal force at Matthews Hill. The blow falling on the Confederate left was no feint.

Bee brought his units into battle array extending Evans’ line comprised of the 4th South Carolina and Wheat’s 1st Louisiana Special Battalion (the famed Louisiana Tigers). The 2nd Mississippi and the 4th Alabama came next from left to right and were soon joined by Bartow’s 8th and 7th Georgia regiments, respectively, with the 7th being held somewhat to the rear in reserve. Colonel Falkner was detached with Companies A, C and K in an attempt to silence or force back an enemy battery. Therefore, only seven companies of the 2nd Mississippi were initially put into the battle line. The line began a general advance, but the Federal weight in numbers eventually became overwhelming. Forced to withdraw, the regiments of Bee’s Brigade became separated and the 4th Alabama suffered particularly heavy losses. Only two companies of the 2nd Mississippi – B and G – under the command of Captain Hugh R. Miller and a remnant of the 4th Alabama were still with Bee when the incident arose that gave birth to the legend of how “Stonewall” Jackson got his nickname. Bee fell mortally wounded while leading these men against the advancing Federal line.

The remainder of Evans’ and Bee’s brigades drifted to the rear of Jackson’s line, deployed in battle formation on the reverse slope of Henry House Hill. Here they were met by reinforcements from other parts of the field and coming straight off the cars at Manassas Junction. Seven companies of the 2nd Mississippi not with Bee reformed and Colonel Falkner reported to Beauregard for assignment. These companies were placed in line to the left of an ad hoc battalion assembled by Colonel William “Extra Billy” Smith. This battalion was made up of the one still organized company of the 4th South Carolina, the two companies of the 11th Mississippi, and three companies of his own regiment, the 49th Virginia. This command extended Jackson’s line to the left. Soon the just-arrived 6th North Carolina State Troops joined on the 2nd Mississippi’s left, reaching almost to the Sudley Road and forming the extreme left of Beauregard’s new line. It was approximately 1:00 p.m. when the 2nd reentered the battle that soon became a confused melee of infantry, cavalry and artillery. Major Chase Whiting (later promoted to Major General), who assumed command of Bee’s Brigade after he fell, gave credit to the 2nd Mississippi for the capture of Rickett’s (Battery I, 1st U. S. Artillery) Federal battery. He reported,
'Deprived of their leader with most of their field officers shot, the Brigade still enticed [entered?] the fight directed by the commanding General in person. The Second Mississippi in particular, seven companies strong, charged with other troops and captured Rickett’s Battery, all the horses of which they killed with their musketry. The honor of this brilliant feat of arms they share with a portion of the Eleventh under Lieutenant-Colonel Liddell, the Sixth North Carolina which lost its Colonel, [Charles F.] Fisher, and a portion of Colonel Hampton’s Legion.'

The unit usually given credit for the capture of Rickett’s Battery is the 33rd Virginia of Jackson’s Brigade, made possible due to the confusion caused by their approach in blue Virginia militia uniforms.

Colonel J. E. B. Stuart, commanding the 1st Virginia Cavalry, wrote in his report, “Just after the cavalry charge [against the New York Fire Zouaves] our re-enforcements arrived upon the field and formed rapidly on right into line. The first was Colonel Falkner’s regiment (Mississippians), whose gallantry came under my own observation.” Although Stuart does not mention the capture of the battery, Captain John M. Stone of the Iuka Rifles, Company K, 2nd Mississippi, did write of having overrun a Federal battery during the fighting.

Attack and counterattack continued until 4:00 p.m. when the continual arrival of fresh Confederate reinforcements allowed the Southern battle line to overlap the Federal right flank. A general advance was ordered, rolling up the Union line and putting McDowell’s green troops to disordered flight. Captain Stone, who would eventually replace Colonel Falkner as the 2nd Mississippi’s commander, penned the following in a letter to his mother after the battle, “The highest ambition of my life has been realized. I have been in one great Battle for the rights of my Country.” Little could Stone have known that he would later lead the regiment on numerous other bloody fields, many of which would make First Manassas pale in comparison.

The 2nd Mississippi officially reported losses of 25 killed, 82 wounded and 1 missing at First Manassas. Although reports do not give the regiment’s strength, based on statistical estimates derived from the bimonthly muster rolls and the fact that Colonel Falkner earlier reported about 200 convalescents in camp, the regiment may have numbered 550-600 troops in the field on July 21st. Company G claimed to have carried the largest number of men into battle – 68 rank and file – when compared with the other companies in the regiment.
 



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