First Bull Run On to Washinton.

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major bill

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Some believe that the victorious Confederates could have take Washington after The First Battle of Bull Run. Other doubt they could have. Has anyone seen a studied investigation?

For example: How powerful were the Union reserves at Centerville? How many Confederate Regiments were organized and prepared for a battle at Centerville. Also when would have the Confederates arrived at Centerville and how long before night fell?

There is no way the Confederate Army was trained well enough to fight a night battle. I am not sure many Confederate officers would have been capable of organizing a night battle.

Part of capturing Washinton would have involved capturing the bridges intact. Although it might be possible, the bridges might have also have been destroyed. Building bridges or obtaining enough boats to conduct an amphibious assault, especially if the Union Navy controlled the Potomac River, seems risky. Moving up river and capturing a bridge or crossing at a ford would have taken a day or so.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Thank you for starting this.

I will post a fuller response later but in and around Centerville was the 5th Division (as well as the 4th Michigan at Fairfax Station/Court House - as per Orlando Wilcox's supplemental OR report). 5th Division had 2 brigades, each with 4 regiments of infantry and either 1 or 2 batteries of artillery. None of these troops had been involved in the battle in any way. Admittedly they are under the control of Dixon Miles who a later court of inquiry found to have been drunk. On the other hand regimental and brigade commanders do not appear to have been and it is these forces around which those troops that attempt to retire in good order from the battle coalesce around.

Further there is Richardson's brigade of the 1st Division that was at most very lightly engaged. These Bureaugard orders Longstreet and Bonham to drive off, the attempt that is made to do this feeble at best for when Richardson's guns open up the two Confederate brigades go no further forward and Richardson is allowed to leave the field unhindered. These forces then join Dixon Miles' troops - albeit with a somewhat strained command structure for it is Richardson who first suggests Miles is drunk. Indeed some reports suggest that Richardson effectively then takes over brief command of the 5th Division as well as his own 1st Division brigade. As to the truth it all seems a little murky and given the confusion of attempting to cover a rout that is I suppose understandable.

Whatever, could these troops have been driven off. Perhaps. The Confederates do have fresh troops. I will try and later on today look and see how many but I don't have time now. However, beyond these troops on the banks of the Potomac are at a minimum another 18 regiments of infantry. These are in and around the fortifications that McDowell and his troops had been building for two months. How good are they? Good question. I doubt they are that formidable (indeed there are some reports that suggest they are weak) but even so is the Southern army in a position to storm them?

I think this is the big question and if I had to guess I would say that a more vigorous Southern pursuit might have got them to the gates of Washington but I doubt they could take the city itself. Obviously though the panic that would have been caused would have been catastrophic...

Anyway, I will reply further later but thank you for bringing this up.
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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So, part two of my response.


Centerville is 3 to 5 miles from the battlefield dependent on route (most likely 3 to 4 miles). Fairfax Station and the 4th Michigan are at most another ten miles further on (I don't know their precise location – Fairfax Court House and Fairfax Station – both of which they are said to be at – are not quite the same place). It's another fifteen or so miles to the Washington Defences. So, that's c.30 miles from the battlefield to the outskirts of Washington... assuming that the Southern army takes the most direct route.

Now, let's look at the state of the Confederate Army. Evans, Bee and Bartow's brigades have been shattered. Jackson's brigade has been heavily engaged while Cocke, Elzey and Early's brigades as well as the Hampton Legion have also been engaged. That leaves as entirely fresh Bonham, Ewell, D.R. Jones, Longstreet and Holmes of the Army of the Potomac. That's c.20 regiments of totally fresh infantry and a minimum of 20 guns (There is some question over precisely how many guns the Washington Artillery had at this point).

So, let's assume that Bonham and Longstreet showed more desire for the attack than they actually did and that Bureaugard and his staff were able to send less confusing orders than they previously had been doing then there is a good opportunity to get 20 regiments to face 8-12 regiments at Centerville. Union troops that has just had the rest of its army rout through them and who are likely to be understandably nervous. Or at least that is the theory.

Bureaugard/ Johnston need to police the battlefield. Round up prisoners... and there are lots of prisoners, gather discarded guns and rifles and so on. Now logically the units that had been most engaged should do this but staff work on both sides up to this point had been poor so there is no certainty that it would have been divided up like that. Furthermore the (barely adequate) roads are clogged with panicked civilians. Civilians that badly hampered the retreat of the Union army and are likely to have a similar impact on the Confederacy. They are also likely to create even more prisoners that need to be guarded. Therefore Centerville may only be a few miles away but is the possibility of capturing it illusory?

Well, the battle ends around 5PM. Let's assume that Southern troops are prompt to follow. Even so a battle for Centerville can't start until 6PM at the very earliest (McDowell had The US 'Regulars' hold in place and try and protect the retreat and getting past them would have taken time). Again let's assume Centerville is taken. What now? Washington. That's still maybe twenty five miles away. The Battle of Centerville must have taken time. Lets be arbitrary and assume the Union basically collapses. It will still cause a delay... and more prisoners. So, twenty minutes/ half an hour is lost there. So, it's 6:30ish, the roads are clogged and they have at most four hours of light left (looking at www.timeanddate.com) That requires six miles an hour. Doable? For cavalry certainly but these are volunteers. Fresh troops.

So is a more accurate question, could what (little) cavalry the South had have taken Washington and its 18 fresh infantry regiments assuming that the infantry are able to coordinate sufficiently to defeat the forces at Centerville. In a word... No. No chance. The South are cavalry light (not as light as the North, but still cavalry light) and have maybe 1,500 horseman and no 1,500 horsemen ever formed could shift 18 fresh infantry regiments from behind fortifications.

I am sure they could have caused panic and more efficiently attempted to pursue the 'retreating' army but I think it is perfectly understandable why they don't. They are split up in to many little packets and only Stuart has a formed command of any size – and they had already attacked and been repulsed by Union infantry (in so doing slowing down the Union troops and allowing the Confederates time to create a new defensive line).

All that said then, what about an attack on Washington the following morning? That seems more reasonable. However now one has given time for the rest of the Union Army of 'Northeastern Virginia' to attempt to reform...

Therefore despite people like Jackson thinking they should have pressed on I think that the South would have found that Washington was a hard road to travel...


[Obviously I am more than interested in hearing alternative views]
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Part Three!

Having become interested in this I've just been reading Dixon S Miles' 5th Division OR. Unsurprisingly although claiming to currently be ill (as of the 24th) on the day of the battle (the 21st) he paints himself as energetic and firmly in command, Richardson of the 1st Division temporarily reporting to him (Something that Richardson admits in his OR. He then goes on to paint Miles as initially a meddler and then a possible drunk - though this claim is specifically attributed to Colonel Stevens in Richardson's OR. This appears to be Lt. Col Stevens, 2nd in command of the 3rd Michigan and formerly of the 51st Michigan Militia). Miles also more importantly notes that he had been ordered to fortify Centerville and that despite the lack of tools some limited fortifications were made. Obviously this means that any attack on Centerville (which likely would initially have been held by the brigades of Richardson (1st Division) and Davies (5th Division)) would become more difficult and/ or time consuming. Blenker's 5th Division brigade seems to have briefly been 'mislaid' and/ or impeded by 'fugitives from the battlefield'... a point Miles makes sure not to highlight/ passes over quickly in his report but depending on when any attack on Centerville occurred would have eventually become available.

[Much of the rest of the report then focuses on McDowell's 'meddling' in Miles' great defense plans and that McDowell was issuing orders to his brigades without consulting or informing him and had specifically removed Richardson from his command. Miles' final words I will quote:

"In closing this report I would make a personal allusion to my condition during the day. I had lost my rest the two nights previous, was sick, had eaten nothing during the day, and had it not been for the great responsibility resting on me should have been in bed."

Was this why he was mistaken for being drunk, or was he actually drunk? Certainly there are those who thought Miles was!]

Anyway what it means is that there are 'some' fortifications at Centerville. Furthermore McDowell/ Miles/ Richardson thought it a reasonable defensive position. Therefore it looks like attacking Centerville might not be the easiest of propositions. Therefore while I previously suggested that taking Centerville seemed (potentially) achievable... now I am less certain. Definitely it would have required a concerted Confederate effort and perhaps it would make more sense to flank the position. Of course that all takes time. Time the Confederates don't have if they intended to take DC...
 

major bill

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So let us say between 6,000 and 6,500 Union soldiers at or near Centerville. So let us speculate that it would require 4,000 to 8,000 Confederate troops to storm the place. Are we looking at no less than 4,000 effective Confederate soldiers needing to concentrate at Centerville by 6 to 7 PM perhaps maybe by 7:30. This would require that the cross Bull Run Creek by 5 to 6 PM.

So perhaps 4,000 to 8,000 organized Confederates are read to attack by let us say 7 to 7;30 PM after taking a little time to organize the assault. Add about a half hour to make the assault and drive off the Union defenders. A little time to reorganize after the assault and move on toward Washinton DC. So we are looking at 8 PM to 8:30 PM. Infantry, probably unimpeded, could make 4 plus miles an hour. It is almost 25 miles to Washington and the roads are clogged and I feel 4 miles pre hour improbable, but perhaps possible. At dark they are still about two hours from Washington. Inexperienced soldiers moving in the dark on clogged roads can not reach Washington until after midnight. Then is the task of attacking prepared defensive works in the dark and capturing a bridge across the river.

By the time they reached Washington the Confederate soldiers would be at the end of thier endurance. I simply can an see an attack on the defenses on the Virginia side of the river until dawn. Neither the men nor the officers were trained to conduct night assaults. I am not sure any Confederate general present could organize a large night attack.
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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@major bill - I think that is realistic. My timeline was for if everything went absolutely perfectly. I don't think it would have (it never does!) and even in my timeline they can't reach the manned Washington defenses before nightfall! It's much closer but still not possible unless you send the cavalry ahead to launch some sort of desperate and utterly futile assault (Cavalry does not do well against dug in infantry in (admittedly rudimentary) fortifications no matter how green the infantry is... or how experienced the cavalry is - which the Confederate cavalry isn't.).

Personally and after looking at it more closely my opinion is that yes the Confederates could have pursued harder. Gathered more prisoners/ guns/ rifles etc but Washington no matter how tempting it looked was simply out of their grasp. Yes Jackson (mongst others) was right in thinking that if it could be taken it should be... but I don't think it could.

Others may disagree but at the end of the day (including in the Washington defenses) the Union has no less than 31 fresh infantry regiments supported by at least 20 guns which include 2 x 20pdr Parrott Rifles. This artillery includes a man named Henry Hunt whose OR shows that he at least still had plenty of fight left in him despite a couple of narrow escapes. He of course goes on to become one of the premiere artillery commanders of the war.

As to a Confederate night attack? I think that would have resulted in mass panic - on both sides - but especially the side attacking and the possibility of Confederate brigades attacking one another as they groped through the darkness seems troublingly likely. After all they had massive difficulty telling friend from foe during the day. In the night... no chance and people become naturally jumpy at night.
 

major bill

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I think you are right Hussar Yeomanry. although I have never conducted real combat in the dark, I have been in many military exercises. Once it gets dark one can toss out the rule book on movement rates and assaults. As I told my sergeant once during a night "assault", I only had to retake night navigation twice at Officer Candidate School, One redo at Officer Basic School, and I will have you know I got a 72% in the night navigation course at Officer Advanced School." The sergeant seemed less than confident about the upcoming night "assault". I assured him I knew right where we were and right where the "enemy" was. Twenty meters in to the "assault" we set off the explosion in the simulated mine field and the air filled with flares. So I was right on about where we and the "enemy" were. They were dug in on the high hill with machine guns and we well in the middle of a mine field getting killed. I was fairly happy it was only a military exercise.
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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I actually have more to say on this (of course I do!). Having read Colonel O.O. Howard's OR things get worse for the Confederacy if they want to take Washington for despite the serious mauling his brigade has taken and that he has lost contact with at a minimum half of the 5th Maine he is able to get what remains off the field unhindered. These promptly take position as a reserve for the forces at Centerville before being sent on to Fairfax Court House where they camp for the night.

I have also now read more about the Court of Inquiry that was convened regarding Colonel Dixon S Miles. Now I had assumed (always dangerous) that the army had ordered it. No. It was Miles himself who demands it so that his name can be cleared for it is obvious that he (and the rest of the army) have heard about Colonel Richardson reporting the allegation from (Lieutenant) Colonel Stevens that Miles was drunk. As Miles is really rather senior in the small organisation that was the Regular Army it duly sits in investigation on the 12th August with now Brigadier General William Franklin representing the infantry, Colonel John Sedgwick representing the cavalry and Captain Truman Seymour the artillery.

Their findings are precisely as follows:

STATEMENT OF FACTS.

1. That Col. I. B. Richardson was justified in applying the term drunkenness to Col. D. S. Miles’ condition about 7 o’clock p.m. on the 21st July last.

2. That the evidence is clear that Colonel Miles had been ill for several days before July 21 last – was ill on that day; that the surgeon had prescribed medicines for him, and on the day of the battle had prescribed for him small quantities of brandy.

The court, however, considers his illness as a very slight extenuation of the guilt attached to his condition about 7 p.m. on July 21 last.

OPINION.

The court is of opinion that evidence cannot now be found sufficient to convict Colonel Miles of drunkenness before a court-martial; that a proper court could only be organized in this Army with the greatest inconvenience at present, and that it will not be for the interests of the service to convene a court in this case.

The court is therefore of opinion that no further proceedings in the case are necessary.

II. The proceedings of the court of inquiry in the case of Col. D. S. Miles, Second Infantry, have been laid before the major-general commanding, and are confirmed.

---

Even though no further action is taken Miles' reputation takes a further nose dive for one thing this does not do is clear him of the allegation. Of course we now know that further allegations of drunkenness in the face of the enemy (Harpers Ferry) will dog what remains of his career...
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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And some more, more. [Included for completeness]

Having looked at the Union OR's in relation to this I have now started looking at the Confederate OR's and I feel I may have been a bit harsh on Longstreet (assuming his report is accurate) as during the day he receives orders to attack across Blackburn's Ford which he starts to do. Then he is ordered instead to hold the south side of the ford. Then he should seize the enemy artillery opposite him. No. He should wait. Ah. Then at c.5 PM he should attack again. Which he does in concert with parts of Bonham. (Bonham states he was ordered to only take part of his brigade and that he was specifically ordered to seize Centerville but Bonham's OR is odd in that it doesn't make sense. He claims to face no opposition until he reaches Centerville and yet it takes him 4 hours to travel maybe 3 and a bit miles as by the time he is in position to attack Centerville he states it is too dark so doesnt. Instead he retires to Blackburn's Ford) Longstreet on the other hand claims that they only traveled maybe a mile when Bonham orders them to hold position and then countermarch back to the Ford for water. [Basically the two OR's don't tally. There is another problem. Richardson/ Davies/ Hunt all claim to have briefly halted a Confederate brigade that attacked them before they withdrew. Hunt especially gives a very detailed account of this and yet while logically it is either Longstreet or Bonham there is no mention of this in either OR. On the other hand if it isn't Bonham or Longstreet who is it? I don't as yet have an answer though increasingly I don't think it was Bonham due to reading the OR of Colonel Bacon (7th SC) he does not mention combat]
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Was looking at something else when I came across Colonel Thomas A Davies OR so thought I would include it here for completeness. Interesting reading and relevant to this for he states something about the whole Dixon Miles affair that really doesnt appear in Miles' OR and that is:

"Having received this order from General McDowell, I left my command, and went to Centreville Centre to look after the sick and wounded and my own baggage train. I returned immediately to my command, and found that Colonel Miles had been superseded, and received an order from General McDowell to take command of the left wing, which I did..."

In other words Davies replaces Miles! Logically from his report we can infer that this happens around 7:00 or 8:00 PM... which ties in with the Court of Inquiry... and suggests that McDowell too thinks Miles is unfit. (Previously I merely had Richardson removed from Miles' control by McDowell - not a big thing because it was only a temporary attachment. On the other hand having Davies removed from his command is a big thing... though now looking at Blenker's report there is no mention of Miles in any way around that time. Indeed his absence seems... odd... though at the same time he does not state that he has been removed from Miles' command.)
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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In relation to Miles, McDowell does not mention relieving him of command in his OR. However what I hadn't noted is buried deep within it. Specifically he commends everyone - by name - there is however a glaring omition. Dixon S Miles. Richardson, Blenker and Davies are all commended.

Miles is not.
 
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