Monday, July 8, 1861
Far from the arid, sandy climates of Texas that he had called home for so many years, Brigadier-General Henry Hopkins Sibley had ventured to Richmond, Virginia. He hoped to convince President Davis of the need to secure southern New Mexico Territory (the unofficial Confederate Territory of Arizona) for the South. This would, he assured Davis, greatly raise the chances of securing a Confederate route to the California gold fields.
Before resigning from the United States Army, Sibley was most famous for his “Sibley Tents” and the stoves that went inside them (called “Sibley Stoves”). He invented the teepee-styled tents in 1857 and they caught on quickly throughout the Federal Army through the late 50s and well into the Civil War. Though Sibley went South, his tents stayed with the North.
On this date, in view of his “recent service in New Mexico and knowledge of that country and the people,” President Davis ordered (the actual word used was “entrusted”) General Sibley with raising a small army to drive the Federals from that department.
He was to work in concert with Brig-General Earl Van Dorn, who had just recently captured the famed ship Star of the West and was commanding in San Antonio. Sibley was not only authorized to raise a force to take New Mexico Territory, but to set up a military government once it was taken.
Word was also sent to Texas governor Edward Clark and Van Dorn. General Sibley would leave for San Antonio immediately.1
Why Won’t Patterson Attack?
Union General Patterson, whose troops occupied Martinsburg, had greatly overestimated the force to his front. The Confederate Army of the Shenandoah, commanded by General Joseph Johnston, could muster only 11,000 men. Patterson thought it to have 26,000 soldiers in its ranks and so balked at following Col. Thomas Jackon’s brigade after they met at the Battle of Falling Waters.
On this date, however, Patterson issued moving orders for his force, numbering over 14,000. The army would split in two, both columns taking parallel roads south. Thomas’s United States Regulars would lead off the march, with Stone’s Brigade, fresh from the Rockville Expedition, to lead the second column. Both would be followed by a division of troops (made up of three brigades each).
The march was to begin the next morning, moving south towards Darkesville, where Johnston’s army was waiting.2
The Army of the Shenandoah was waiting near Darkesville. It had been waiting there for four days, expecting Patterson’s larger force to attack at any moment. An attack, however, did not come and did not look like it was about to come. Frustrated, Johnston ordered his army back to Winchester.3
As the army was moving south, Col. Jackson received word that he had been promoted to Confederate Brigadier-General. This was on the urging of General Johnston, who admired Jackson’s “courage and conduct” at Falling Waters. Jackson was very happy with the promotion, writing his wife that it was “beyond what I anticipated, as I only expected it to be in the volunteer forces of the State.”
While the promotion was more than Jackson expected, the move south to Winchester was more than Jackson wanted. As his brigade set up camp on the hills just north of town, he regretted not having the chance to properly face Patterson. The war would not be won by retreating when threatened. “I want my brigade to feel that it can itself whip Patterson’s whole army,” wrote Jackson to his wife, “and I believe we can do it.”4
Neither Jackson, Johnston nor the men of the Army of the Shenandoah knew why Patterson didn’t attack. Patterson, however, was only to keep Johnston from joining with General Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac at Manassas. While an attack wasn’t necessary to accomplish this, pressure of some sort was. It was that sort of pressure that Patterson had in mind when ordering his columns to move south at dawn the next morning.
Beauregard Hatches a Plan and Hopes the Union Plays Along
General Beauregard, at Manassas, had sent out three brigades in the direction of Union General McDowell’s troops near Washington. He thought that he could read McDowell’s mind and that the Union troops would march to Manassas via Mitchell’s Ford from Centreville. In an attempt to ensnare McDowell, he ordered the troops to fall back if pressed, drawing the Union Army to the banks of Bull Run, where the rest of Beauregard’s men would fall upon their flanks and rear.
On paper, this wasn’t a bad plan. It did, however, require McDowell to play along and attack Mitchell’s Ford, Beauregard’s strongest point. He never considered for a moment that another point might be chosen for it being weaker than the others.
With three brigades over Bull Run, Beauregard received intelligence that McDowell was about to attack with 40,000 soldiers. He flew into a fit of despair, writing his friend, Congressman Louis T. Wigfall that he was greatly outnumbered. “How can it be expected that I shall be able to maintain my ground unless reinforced immediately?” he asked Wigfall, requesting him to go to Davis to plead his case for more troops.
Perhaps sensing that his plan required the complete acquiescence of General McDowell, he exclaimed to Wigfall, “If I could only get the enemy to attack me,… I would stake my reputation on the handsomest victory that could be hoped for.”5
Ambrose Bierce Relates a Skirmish at Laurel Hill
In western Virginia, Union General Morris’s brigade had advanced to within a few miles of the Rebels at Laurel Hill, near Leedsville [now Elkins]. General McClellan wished for him to amuse the enemy while he himself made the main attack at Rich Mountain. The pickets and outposts of the opposing camps kept up a sporadic fire since taking their positions the day before.
The Union camp was established near Belington, “a blacksmith’s shop at a cross-roads,” wrote Ambrose Bierce of the 9th Indiana. As Bierce remembered it, “just before nightfall one day” [probably the 8th], occurred “the only real sharp little fight we had. It has been represented as a victory for us, but it was not. A few dozen of us, who had been swapping shots with the enemy’s skirmishers, grew tired of the resultless quarrel, and by common impulse, and I think without orders or officers, ran forward to the woods and attacked the Confederate works. We did well enough, considering the hopeless folly of our movement, but we came out of the woods faster than we went in, a good deal.”6
Bierce mentions the mortal wounding of Corporal Dyson Boothroyd of Company A. What he fails to mention, however, was that it was he who flung Boothroyd over his shoulder and ran out of the woods while the Rebels fired at their backs.7
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p93. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p161-162. [↩]
- Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography by Craig L. Symonds, W. W. Norton & Company, 1994. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by Robertson [↩]
- P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1995. [↩]
- A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography by Ambrose Bierce, Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1998. [↩]
- Rebels at the Gate by Lesser. [↩]