War of the Rebellion: Serial 016 Page 0524 OPERATIONS IN N. VA.,W. VA.,AND MD. Chapter XXIV.

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This movement would have left Porter with Sykes alone to hold the Manassas road and cover the retreat of Ricketts' worn-out troops, who then were stretched along the road for 4 or 5 miles both toward Sudley and back toward Manassas Junction, while Morell should cover the retreat of the center of the army. But now, before Morell had time to commence this movement, came a report from him that the enemy was coming down in force to attack his front and flank. Porter might in a few minutes have to meet the attack of 20,000 men. The purpose to cover the retreat of Sigel must needs be abandoned. Hence Porter dispatched to Morell:

General MORELL:

Hold on, if you can, to your present place. What is passing?

F. J. PORTER.

Again:

General MORELL:

Tell me what is passing quickly. If the enemy is coming, hold to him and I will come up. Post your men to repulse him.

F. J. PORTER,

Major-General.

And again, in reply to advice from Morell that they had better retire, &c.:

We cannot retire while McDowell holds on.

Notwithstanding contradictory testimony, we believe it was at this time that Porter ordered Piatt's brigade, of Sturgis' command, about 800 men, to move back to Manassas Junction and take up a defensive position to cover the expected retreat.

General Porter reported to General McDowell his views and intentions in the following dispatches:

Generals McDOWELL and KING:

I found it impossible to communicate by crossing the woods to Groveton. The enemy are in great force on this road, and as they appear to have driven our forces back, the fire of the enemy having advanced and ours retired, I have determined to withdraw to Manassas. I have attempted to communicate with McDowell and Sigel, but messengers have run into the enemy. They have gathered artillery and cavalry and infantry, and the advancing masses of dust show the enemy coming in force. I am now going to the head of the column to see what is passing and how affairs are going, and I will communicate with you. Had you not better send your train back?

F. J. PORTER,

Major-General.

General McDOWELL or KING:

I have been wandering over the woods and failed to get a communication to you. Tell how matters go with you. The enemy is in strong force in front of me, and I wish to know your designs for to-night. If left to me, I shall have to retire for food and water, which I cannot get here. How goes the battle? It seems to go to our rear. The enemy are getting to our left.

F. J. PORTER,

Major-General Volunteers.

General McDOWELL:

The firing on my right has so far retired that, as I cannot advance and have failed to get over to you except by the route taken by King, I shall withdraw to Manassas. If you have anything to communicate, please do so. I have sent many messengers to you and General Sigel and get nothing.

F. J. PORTER,

Major-General.

At artillery duel is going on now; been skirmishing for a long time.

F. J. P.