If the troops marched at 1 o'clock, none of them could have much sleep before starting, and, even if they could arrive at Bristoe by or soon after daylight, they must be in poor condition for a vigorous pursuit of the enemy, who was already some distance beyond Bristoe. But this was not regarded by General Porter as sufficient reason for hesitating to make the attempt to comply literally with the order. He still urged, against the advice of his division commanders, the necessity of implicit obedience. Then further consideration of the subject disclosed the fact that the road was filled with army trains, which had been pressing in that direction all day and as late at night as they could move, until the way had become completely blocked with wagons. The trains of the army moving back from the line of the Rappahannock had been ordered to take that road to the number of "two or three thousand." In the language of one of the most intelligent witnesses, the mass of wagons blocked together at places in the road was "like a lot of ice that jams in on the shore." The night had become very dark, or, as testified by most of the witnesses, excessively dark. It would have been difficult to march troops upon a plain and unobstructed road. It was a manifest physical impossibility to march over that road that night or to remove the obstructions in the darkness of the night. When this situation was made evident, General Porter reluctantly consented to delay the movement two hours, or until 3 o'clock. At that hour the march was commenced, but it was found that no appreciable progress could be made before daylight. Nothing was gained, or could have been gained, by the attempt to move before the dawn of day. It would have been wiser to have delayed the attempt to move until 4 o'clock.
A vigorous and persistent effort to make that march, commencing at 1 o'clock, could only have resulted in greatly fatiguing the troops and throwing them into disorder, from which they could not have been extricated until long after daylight, without making any material progress, and would thus have caused the corps to arrive at Bristoe at a latter hour and in a miserable condition.
Abundant experience in situations similar to that above described leaves no room for doubt what General Porter's duty was. He exercised only the very ordinary discretion of a corps commander, which it was his plain duty to exercise, in delaying the march until 3 o'clock, and in his attempt to move at that time instead of at 4 o'clock he showed only too anxious a desire to comply with the letter of his orders.
If the order had contemplated, as has been represented, an attack by the enemy at dawn of day, then it would have been General Porter's duty to start promptly, not at 1 o'clock, but at the moment he received the order, so as to have brought at least some fragments of his infantry to Bristoe in time to aid in repelling that attack. That was the most that he could have done in any event, even by starting the moment the order was received, and then his troops would have been in no condition for any aggressive movement that day.
General Porter reached Bristoe Station as soon as practicable with his corps on the morning of the 28th, and there remained, under orders from his superior commander, until the morning of the 29th, taking no part in the operations of the 28th.
In the morning of the 28th McDowell sent Ricketts' division of his corps to Thoroughfare Gap to resist the advance of re-enforcements from the main body of Lee's army then known to be marching to join
Jackson. Banks was at Warrenton Junction and Porter at Bristoe. The rest of the army moved from Gainesville, Greenwich, and Bristoe on Manassas Junction to attack Jackson at that place; but that gen-