The Confederates had built signal stations on high elevations, and
from one of them signalmen spotted the Yankee advance and used their
wig-wag flags to send Evans news of the move toward Sudley Ford. He
realized at once that the enemy intended to attack the left flank of the
Confederate army, namely his own tiny command. He sent word to
headquarters at once and then took action on his own. The Yankees had to
be stopped or delayed long enough for Beauregard to send reinforcements.
Faced with three full brigades in his front and two divisions coming at
him off to the left, Evans had but one thought. Outnumbered around
twenty-to-one, he decided to attack.
A LOUISIANA TIGER (BL)|
(click on image for a PDF version)
THE FIGHT FOR MATTHEWS HILL (10:00-11:30 A.M.)|
Colonel Evans arrives on Matthews Hill shortly before Colonel Ambrose
Burnside's brigade. After thirty minutes of fighting Evans's brigade
gives ground grudgingly. Reinforcements under the command of General
Barnard Bee and Colonel Francis Bartow rush to Evans's assistance. As
the two lines exchange volleys of musketry, two more Union brigades
under Colonels William Sherman and Erasmus Keyes cross Bull Run and
threaten to cut off the Confederate left from the rest of the army. The
Confederate line disintegrates and the men begin streaming toward the
The combative Confederate left a mere 300 men at the bridge to
skirmish with Tyler's division and moved the balance northwest to a
ridge called Matthews Hill. There he took cover in a line of trees, and
around 10:15 when the head of Burnside's column came into sight across a
field Evans opened fire. It took Hunter's column by surprise, and for
the next several minutes the Yankees were in some confusion before they
established a battle line. Then, incredibly, Evans charged right into
the center of the Union line. Leading the attack were the colorful
Louisianians of the First Battalion, dressed in their baggy striped
zouave pants, with bowie knives in their hands. The attack could hardly
turn back Hunter, but it did delay him, and that was all Evans hoped
for. Around 11 o'clock the first reinforcements, portions of Bee's
brigade, arrived on the field to strengthen Evans's paper-thin line, and
soon thereafter Bartow arrived with two Georgia regiments. Now the
Confederates totaled about 2,800 men, still a fraction of what the
Yankees had, but enough to mount a spirited defense.
AMBROSE E. BURNSIDE (LC)|
Again Evans readied an attack, then the small Confederate line swept
up the southeast slope of Matthews Hill. This time they raced into an
inferno. In fifteen minutes the Eighth Georgia was cut to pieces.
Bartow's horse was shot from under him. The Fourth Alabama advanced
alone after all the other Confederate regiments were halted in the rain
of lead and found itself facing much of Hunter's line alone. "Our brave
men fell in great numbers," a captain said days later. Soon they found
the enemy advancing and faced Yankees in front and on both sides. They
were almost surrounded and had to retreat under a galling fire. The
Federals had the momentum. Evans would launch no more attacks. But he
had bought time. Now he would start to pay for it with lives as the
enemy came on.
COLONEL AMBROSE BURNSIDE (ASTRIDE THE REARING HORSE) URGED HIS MEN
FORWARD IN THE FIGHT FOR MATTHEWS HILL. (LC)|
THE TIMELY ARRIVAL OF BRIGADIER GENERAL BARNARD E. BEE'S BRIGADE
MOMENTARILY CHEERED THE FEDERAL ADVANCE AT MATTHEWS HILL. (PAINTING BY
DON TROIANI, PHOTO COURTESY OF HISTORICAL ART PRINTS. SOUTHBURY, CT)|
The Confederates pulled back off Matthews Hill and across a stream
called Young's Branch as they saw the first elements of Heintzelman's
division start to come into line with Hunter. Worse, to their right they
could see that Sherman had finally tired of waiting on the north bank of
Bull Run and had crossed his men in a shallows upstream of the stone
bridge. There was no choice but to pull back what little of Evans's
command was posted by the bridge and consolidate all of the remaining
Southerners on this part of the field. By now some of the regiments were
in tatters. The Fourth Alabama had lost every one of its field officers,
and the remnants were scurrying stubbornly up the slopes of Henry Hill
just south of Young's Branch. Some distance behind his advancing line,
McDowell saw the battle going his way despite the delays and setbacks of
the morning, and took off his hat and rode along his lines shouting
"Victory! Victory! The day is ours."
Perhaps not just yet, for Evans, Bee, and Bartow were not done
resisting the Yankee push. Moreover, though taken by surprise,
Beauregard and Johnston were reacting well. Thanks to Evans in
particular, their battered left flank had held beyond all expectation.
Now all across the ground below Bull Run brigade after brigade was on
the march to the left, all intent on converging on Henry Hill. At that
very moment the train bearing Kirby Smith's brigade was nearing the
junction, and those men could be on the battle line in a few hours if
the Confederates held out. The battle was out of Beauregard and
Johnston's control, to be sure, but they were still in the fight. They
both rode to the front to direct the placement of reinforcements as they
arrived, and then while Beauregard remained there, Johnston went behind
the lines to hurry forward each brigade as it came available. And up on
Henry Hill itself, even as the battered defenders prepared to receive
what looked like the strongest Yankee thrust yet, some looked to the
rear and saw the approach of a fresh brigade. Thomas J. Jackson was on
McDowell's "victory" was not won yet, not so long as those Rebels
stayed put on Henry Hill, and now he concentrated on driving them from
it. Shortly after 1:30 his line was stable enough to start the push
across Young's Branch. Sherman and Porter formed the line. With them
were two batteries of artillery commanded by Charles Griffin and J. B.
Ricketts. Hunter had been wounded early and was out of action, but
Heintzelman's division was arriving and starting to go into position on
the right of Hunter's line, now commanded by Porter. At last the
numerical advantage on this part of the field was starting to become
manifest. Surely the Rebels could not resist a concerted onslaught by
this gathering host.
THE DEATH OF A YOUNG CADET
Charles R. Norris was a 17-year-old cadet at the Virginia Military
Institute when the war opened in April 1861. While the older cadets were
ordered out to Richmond to assist in training incoming volunteers Norris
and some of his classmates remained in Lexington to guard the Institute
and help train locally organized troops. Duty and the prospect for
future service prevented the cadet from chafing at his assignment to a
somewhat isolated post. Writing to his family in Leesburg, Virginia, he
declared, "You need not send for me or want me to come home for I would
not leave for a thousand dollars."
On April 22 Norris joined nine of his fellow cadets on a detail to
accompany a shipment of ammunition to Harpers Ferry, where the men
reported to Thomas J. Jackson, then in command of the post. Jackson,
himself a former V.M.I. professor, valued the discipline and experience
of the cadets and kept them on hand to drill the inexperienced soldiers
of his newly formed brigade. Norris remained with Jackson's command
through the early summer and was present when orders arrived to transfer
the brigade to Manassas Junction. An officer's absence provided the
cadet with an opportunity for greater service, and Norris assumed the
role of acting captain of a company in the 27th Virginia Infantry.
CHARLES R. NORRIS (COURTESY OF CHARLES R. NORRIS, 3RD AND FAMILY)|
When Jackson's Virginia brigade arrived on Henry Hill
during the battle on July 21, the 27th Virginia took up position near
the center of the Confederate line. As the battle reached its climax,
the Virginians braved a storm of iron from Union artillery on the far
side of the bill. When Jackson unleashed his troops on a charge to
capture the enemy guns, Norris cried out to his men, "Come on boys,
quick, and we can whip them!" While leading his company out onto the
field, the boy captain was struck by a bullet or shell fragment and fell
dead. The next day his older brother, Joseph, located Charles's body and
carried the remains home for burial in Leesburg.
At his death on the battlefield, Charles Norris was wearing a V.M.I.
cadet dress coatee. Proud of his school, he had traded garments with
fellow student Charles Copeland Wight and chose to wear his new coat
into battle. The coat he wore, long treasured by the Norris family,
still bears evidence of his fatal wound and serves as a poignant
reminder of one family's loss.
HARPER'S WEEKLY ILLUSTRATION COLONEL HUNTER'S ATTACK AT THE
BATTLE OF BULL'S RUN.
On the far side of Henry Hill, the remnants of Evans's and Bee's and
Bartow's commands took refuge. However, they had bought time for
reinforcements to arrive, and now fresh troops started coming. First
came Colonel Wade Hampton and the infantry of his South Carolina
legiona unit with infantry, cavalry, and artillery all in one. He
went into line on the right of the Confederate front, his men still
panting from having just arrived on a train from Richmond and then run
to the front, and from the Warrenton pike to cover the withdrawal of the
Confederates across Young's Branch.
Then came Jackson. He had his men up at 4 A.M. that morning,
expecting to go reinforce Longstreet at Blackburn's Ford. But then later
in the morning he heard the firing off to his left at the stone bridge.
Like Bee and Bartow before him, he did not wait for orders, but assuming
the battle to be there, he instantly put his brigade in motion. By
about 11:30 he approached the scene of action and moved up the back
slope of Henry Hill. Once on the crest, he put his five Virginia
regiments in line just behind the summit, informed Bee of his arrival,
and told his men to lie down and await either the attack of the enemy or
instructions from Johnston.
Here a legend was born. Bee rode to Jackson when he heard of his
"General," he cried, "they are beating us back."
"Sir, we'll give them the bayonet," Jackson calmly replied.
Bee seems to have regarded the bayonet comment as an
orderthough he and Jackson held equal rank and seniorityand
so he rode back to his command. The confusion was pervasive. A mere
captain commanded the Fourth Alabama now, yet no one could find him at
the moment. Disoriented, Bee did not even recognize some of his own men
at first. Told at last who they were, he shouted, "This is all of my
brigade that I can findwill you follow me back to where the firing
is going on?" They said they would, and he led them back into the
inferno. But before doing so, he almost certainly said something else,
but none present ever agreed on precisely what it was. A few days later
a newspaper man said he was told that Bee cried out, "There is Jackson
standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will
conquer." A few days more, and people in Richmond spoke of Jackson's men
being so staunch under fire that "they are called a stone wall."
Thus was born "Stonewall" Jackson. Yet no one knows for certain what
Bee said, or what he meant exactly. The remark seems like
testimony to Jackson's firmness under fire, yet at the time Bee said it,
Jackson had not yet become engaged and had his men lying down behind the
crest. Others thought it might not be a compliment at all, but rather a
snide comment to the effect that while Bee's men were being mauled,
Jackson kept his command out of the fight, immovable like a stone wall.
Whatever the case, Jackson would be "Stonewall" for the rest of
WADE HAMPTON (VM)|
BARNARD E. BEE (VM)|
Bee later rallied his men and led them in a bayonet charge toward
Griffin's and Ricketts's batteries. They came under a terrible fire, and
then Bee plunged from his horse, mortally wounded. Only minutes later,
on another part of the field, Bartow fell with a bullet in his breast.
"They have killed me, boys," he cried. In minutes he was dead.