As promised, I am posting another excerpt from my new novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. You can purchase copies via my website, www.jdrhawkins.com, through Amazon, or from Barnes and Noble. Thanks for reading!
By mid-July, the Union Army finally began to move, and on Thursday, the 18th, the Alabamians received orders to strike tents and cook two days’ rations in preparation of a march. The sick, who were principally suffering from the measles, were left behind in Winchester.
While the men marched through town, women, old men, and children came out to see them, calling, “Please don’t leave us to the Yankees!”
The foot soldiers set off, marching throughout the day and all night, until they were finally allowed to sleep, but only for two hours. At daylight, they resumed their march, continuing on through the day, from the Shenandoah through Ashby’s Gap across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their uniforms were beginning to show signs of wear, in that shoes and wool coats had sprouted holes, kepis, forage caps, and Egyptian-style havelocks were beginning to fray, and rations were becoming sparse.
Storm clouds mushroomed, thickening to a dark gray by dusk, and obscured the setting sun. Around 10:30 p.m., the Confederate soldiers arrived at Piedmont Station in a miserable, torrential downpour. They sloshed through mud while trying to keep their gunpowder dry. Completely exhausted, the men struggled to obtain what little rest they could under their temporary shelters, which failed to provide much remedy from the rain. At midnight, they took a train to Manassas Junction, arriving at approximately 9:00 a.m. on the morning of the 20th.
The men marched about two miles north of the junction before being allowed to bivouac near what they learned was referred to as Ball’s Ford. They rested in their temporary camp for a few hours prior to assuming their position, defending the stone bridge that spanned a creek known as the Bull Run River. It was along this road that the enemy was expected to come. Shortly after sunrise on July 21, a Sunday, the distant boom of cannons announced their foe’s arrival.
It wasn’t long before the Yankees came into view: their appearance seemed surreal. The men of the 4th Alabama were confronted with the entire advancing Union Army. As they neared, the regiments on either side of the North Alabamians fell away. Colonel Jones ordered his men to hold fast while he had them march up a hill to a low fence surrounding a corn field.
General Bee galloped over to the regiment and commanded them by calling out, “Up, Alabamians!”
The men rushed over the fence, and advanced at a double quick to the top of the hill. Colonel Jones ordered them to lie down just below the crest, to fire, load, and fire again. The Federals became entrenched only about 100 yards from where they were.
Struggling with their obsolete weapons, the soldiers bit off cartridges and loaded their muskets as rapidly as they could. All the while, Colonel Jones sat calmly atop Old Battalion with one leg draped across the pommel of his saddle, observing the enemy’s movements. Upon his command, the North Alabamians rose, delivered a volley, and after waiting for his signal, fell back upon the cool, damp earth. They were spread from the corn field on their right to a pine woodlot on their left. The men fought on for over an hour with only artillery to support them.
Glancing at his comrades, Hiram took a moment to catch his breath. The situation at hand was dangerous, yet dreamlike. He had envisioned this moment for months, and had discussed it with his fellow comrades. Still, the realization that it was actually taking place was difficult to comprehend. His heart was beating so hard that it felt like it was in his throat. He glanced at Bud, whose face was blackened from powder. Obviously concentrating with all his might, Bud continued to jump to his feet, fire, and fall down again while grimacing. Men around them fell with thuds like acorns from oak trees. Bullets whizzed all around them, sounding like angry wasps. Some whistled and ricocheted, haphazardly hitting and missing men as they screamed, moaned, and cursed the wretched Yankees.
One man who thought he could fire better if he remained standing, bragged to the men close to Bud, “Watch how nicely I can take that officer off his horse.”
Just as he took aim with his rifle, a Yankee bullet penetrated his skull. He fell in a heap, his brains splattered onto the field. Bud glanced at Hiram, shook his head in dismay, and kept firing like nothing had happened. Stunned, Hiram forced himself to shake it off, continuing to fight as well.
For some reason, the Union Army ceased firing at noon. Bracing themselves for another attack, the Rebels utilized the time to check their firearms. Word came that artillery was running low, which caused a slight panic, but Jones assured his men that they could win the battle before their ammunition ran out.
After two hours of quiet, the Yankees resumed their assault, and the Confederates fought off several Union advances. Men in colorful garb fashioned after French Algerian Zouaves attacked first, but were driven back. Then came, one at a time, three other regiments, but all eventually broke and ran. Their uniforms caused confusion, for men on either side were dressed in both blue and gray, including Colonel Jones, who wore the blue uniform he had donned while previously serving in the U.S. Army.
The men spied two unknown regiments clad in gray, approaching in a line on their right. Assuming they were Confederates, the Alabamians signaled by raising their hands to their caps while giving the password, “our homes,” and the unknown regiment signaled back by mirroring the action. Law ordered his soldiers to form a line behind the new arrivals. As soon as the 4th unfurled their flags, they were quickly surprised when the culprits turned and opened fire on them. Several men were shot, screaming in agony while the deceivers perpetrated their lines. Others reacted by bursting into hysterical laughter, contrary to what the situation demanded.
The 4th Alabama was finally flanked. As the regiment was commanded to retire, James Alexander fell, a bullet piercing his abdomen, sending his entrails splattering. Bud witnessed his terrible injury, but was unable to assist, and although in shock, he retreated with his regiment in a tornado of chaos. Old Battalion was hit in the leg, forcing Colonel Jones to dismount. In a hail of bullets, he too was hit in both thighs, and crumbled to the ground with a broken left leg. Law immediately took command, managing to retire his troops, but was compelled to leave Jones on the field because Union soldiers had forded Bull Run River. Major Scott went down, shot through the leg. Law fell next, his arm broken by a Yankee’s bullet, and was quickly taken from the field. The remaining Alabamians now had no one to guide them, and stood befuddled in mass confusion while men writhed around them on the ground, bloody and dying, as smoke and thunder filled the air.
Hiram and his comrades fell back through a skirt of woods, descended a hill, and formed a line, trying to regroup, regardless of the humid, withering heat, their parched thirst, and the horror that engulfed them.
Captain Tracy delivered a patriotic speech, saying, “Strike for the green graves of your sires. Strike for your altars and fires, God and your native land.”
He then asked for volunteers to retrieve Jones, but was convinced by another captain that the effort was futile. At a loss, the regiment awaited orders, watching survivors from other divisions scatter or huddle together in a nearby ravine.
Generals Johnston and Beauregard arrived on their right.
Johnston asked, “Where are your field officers?”
“They’ve been left on the battlefield,” came a response.
Another man asked the general to place the regiment in position, to which Johnston replied that he would, once he analyzed the situation, and the generals rode off.
It was now two o’clock. All of a sudden, General Bee rode up on his steed, excitably waving his sword.
“What body of troops is this?” he hollered at them.
“Why General, don’t you know your own troops? We’re what remains of the Fourth Alabama!” Enoch Campbell exclaimed.
The general appeared calm but perturbed. “This is all of my brigade I can find,” he stated to the soldiers. “Will you follow me back to where the firin’ is goin’ on?”
“Aye, sir!” yelled Hiram, at first not recognizing his own voice.
“To the death!” added George Anderson.
Bee immediately set the men into action, leading them forward into the fray. On the other side of the ravine awaited a brigade of Virginians commanded by General Thomas Jackson, who sat stoically upon his steed.
General Bee brought him to the men’s attention, and said, “Let us go and support Jackson! See he stands like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”
As the regiment moved left, an artillery battery cut through their ranks. Bee and his army veered right, while the rest of the regiment moved forward into the woods.
Mayhem prevailed. The men were unable to distinguish friend from foe. Forced to fall back, they retired in a hurricane of bullets to await further orders. Hiram and Bud trailed behind, and as they retreated, Hiram overheard Bee address Jackson.
“General, they’re pushin’ us back!”
Jackson replied calmly, his blue eyes barely visible from beneath his forage cap, “Well, sir, we shall give them the bayonet.”
General Bee ordered his men to retreat to a nearby hill. The Rebels fell behind it, and fortified the hill. Suddenly, the field began to grow quiet, except for the frantic wails of injured soldiers. To the Alabamians relief, the Federals were retreating. With one hand, Hiram withdrew his pocket watch, and wiped sweat from his brow with the other. Clicking the timepiece open, he saw that it was nearly five o’clock. The battle had gone on for seven hours.