the delays mentioned), the enemy was not yet assembled to oppose us in great force (a confidence which I think the facts justified); that we might successfully attack him in front, while the division of Tyler should fall upon his flank and rear.
When we reached the front of Hunter's column, the battle was just commencing. The events of the battle-field will be described in the reports you will receive from other quarters. I was near the commanding general until some time after the arrival of Sherman's brigade on our left. Being accidentally separated, I saw yourself on the right, and, joining you, we observed for some time the action ont he heights, where the enemy made his final and successful stand. As we were observing, the zouave regiment of Heintzelman was driven back, leaving Rickett's battery, upon which we observed the enemy charge.
You left me here, and I remained a few minutes longer, and anxious spectator, and for the first time beginning to anticipate a possible defeat. Two brigades of Tyler's division had passed over the run, and I supposed (and believe the commanding general supposed) that the entire division was over. If so, the stone bridge was unguarded, and if we were defeated, our retreating columns might be cut off from Centreville by the detachments of the enemy crossing this bridge. I became so anxious on this point, that I sought you again and found you at some distance int he rear. After some consultation, you, on my assuming the responsibility, sent an order to Colonel Miles to move up two of his brigades tot he stone bridge, and to telegraph the Secretary of War to send up all the troops that could be spared from Washington. While I was returning towards the front, intending to rejoin the commanding general, I saw our front give way, and it soon became evident that we were defeated.
i have stated that it was a part of the plan of the battle that Tyler's division should pass at or near the stone bridge. Two of his brigades actually did pass, but not at the bridge (they finding fords a half mile higher up), and connected themselves with our left. In anticipation that the stone bridge would be blown up, Captain Alexander had been instructed to prepare a trestle bridge to replace it. This he had on the spot, but there appear to have been no mines prepared under the bridge. Captain Alexander passed over his pioneers one by one, and set them to cutting away the abatis, 200 yards in extent, obstructing the road. This task was accomplished, and the way was opened for Schenck's brigade to fall on the enemy's right at the moment when our lines finally gave way in front.
It will be seen from the above that the combination, though thwarted by adverse circumstances, was actually successful in uniting three entire divisions, excepting the brigade of
Schenck, which had just opened its way to fall on the enemy's right at the moment when our line finally gave way in front, upon the decisive point.
A fault, perhaps, it was that it did not provide earlier for bringing the two brigade of Miles (in reserve at Centreville) into action. One of his brigades (Richardson's) actually did participate, though not on the battle-field, and in its affair at Blackburn's Ford probably neutralized at least an equal number of the enemy.
On retiring to Centreville, my opinion was asked as to maintaining our position, and I gave it in favor of a prompt retreat, for I believed the enemy was far superior in numbers, and that, elated by his victory, he would pursue, and I believed that a defeated army actually driven back on Washington before a pursuing enemy would endanger the safety of the capital.