Sunday, July 19, 2015
July 18, 1861 - A passing encounter with Lincoln before Bull Run begins
Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South will be published July 21. As it happens, that is also the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run or, if you will, First Manassas. While Consul Bunch in Charleston began laying the groundwork for secret talks with the Confederate government (which he loathed), his friend William Howard Russell, the great war correspondent for the Times of London, was in Washington D.C. examining preparations for the battle everyone knew would be coming soon in northern Virginia.
Rumors abound about fighting that hasn’t taken place. The battle has been postponed for two days. Amid the furor, a passing encounter with Lincoln crossing Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s had a special telegraph set up to communicate with the general in the field.
July 18. … At the War-Office, at the Department of State, at the Senate, and at the White House, messengers and orderlies running in and out, military aides, and civilians with anxious faces, betokened the activity and perturbation which reigned within. I met Senator Sumner radiant with joy. “We have obtained a great success ; the rebels are falling back in all directions. General Scott says we ought to be in Richmond by Saturday night.” Soon afterwards a United States officer, who had visited me in company with General Meigs, riding rapidly past, called out, “ You have heard we are whipped ; these confounded volunteers have run away.” I drove to the Capitol, where people said one could actually see the smoke of the cannon ; but, on arriving there, it was evident that the fire from some burning houses, and from wood cut down for cooking purposes, had been mistaken for tokens of the fight. …
On my way to dinner at the Legation I met the President crossing Pennsylvania Avenue, striding like a crane in a bulrush swamp among the great blocks of marble, dressed in an oddly cut suit of gray, with a felt hat on the back of his head, wiping his face with a red pocket-handkerchief. He was evidently in a hurry, on his way to the White House, where I believe a telegraph has been established in communication with McDowell s head-quarters. …
On my return to Captain Johnson s lodgings I received a note from the head-quarters of the Federals, stating that the serious action between the two armies would probably be postponed for some days. McDowell s original idea was to avoid forcing the enemy s position directly in front, which was defended by movable batteries commanding the fords over a stream called “ Bull s Run.” He therefore proposed to make a demonstration on some point near the centre of their line, and at the same time throw the mass of his force below their extreme right, so as to turn it and get possession of the Manassas Railway in their rear ; a movement which would separate him, by the by, from his own communications, and enable any General worth his salt to make a magnificent counter by marching on Washington, only 27 miles away, which he could take with the greatest ease, and leave the enemy in the rear to march 120 miles to Richmond, if they dared, or to make a hasty retreat upon the higher Potomac, and to cross into the hostile country of Maryland.
McDowell, however, has found the country on his left densely wooded and difficult. It is as new to him as it was to Braddock, when he cut his weary way through forest and swamp in this very district to reach, hundreds of miles away, the scene of his fatal repulse at Fort Du Quesne. And so, having moved his whole army, McDowell finds himself obliged to form a new plan of attack, and, prudently fearful of pushing his underdone and over-praised levies into a river in face of an enemy, is endeavoring to ascertain with what chance of success he can attack and turn their left.