October 15 — It was nearly noon to-day when we left our bivouac. We moved in the direction of Manassas and marched rapidly. At two o’clock we were on the broad and almost level plain of Manassas. The plain of Manassas proper is about five miles long and some three miles wide, with scarcely anything on it to show or tell that it is an inhabitated section of count try; here and there I saw a few old deserted dwellings on which Time is busily and successfully plying its destroying hand.
At a few places I noticed some earthworks and field fortifications that were constructed by General Beauregard’s forces in the summer of 1861. The works, too, are in the hands of the great destroyer, their faces being deeply seamed, — the work and ravage of passing rains and winter’s frost,— the parapets thickly overgrown with weeds. I saw the house in which General Beauregard had his headquarters during the summer of 1861. It is a brick structure with a little grove in front, situated on a small eminence or swell that rises from the surrounding plain, about a mile north of Manassas Junction.
If it is true that the spirit of man loves to linger around the spot where the earth-imprisoned soul was released from its fetters of clay, then the gray gauzelike October haze that hung over the plains of Manassas this afternoon may have been full of invisible flitting spirits hovering over the scene of their last footsteps on earth and watching their own sleeping dust that is so thickly strewn over the silent plain where they shuffled off their mortal coil.
We did not sight any Yankees to-day until late this afternoon, about a mile north of Manassas Junction; they were retreating toward Centreville. We pursued them until they crossed Bull Run at Blackburn’s Ford, and then and there they said by actions, which sometimes speak louder than words, “This far you may drive us, but no farther.” On the north side of Bull Run at Blackburn’s Ford a wooded hill or bluff-like ridge rises abruptly from the bank of the little stream, and the hill affords a first-class position for artillery, as it thoroughly commands all the adjacent fields on the south side of the run.
Notwithstanding the impregnableness of the enemy’s position our cavalry assailed it from the south side of Bull Run, with a heavy line of dismounted sharpshooters in advance; but we soon learned by striking experience, and plenty of it, that all efforts to dislodge the enemy with our small force, however discreetly they might have been made, would have proved perfectly futile, for when our line of sharpshooters got within rifle range of the enemy’s position a line of infantry opened fire from the underbrush along the north bank of the run, and it seems that the whole hillside was full of infantry hidden among the trees and bushes. When we first heard the infantry fire and saw the puffs of white smoke rising from the underbrush we put our guns in battery and fired a few shell into the hillside just to ascertain what was hidden along the verdant slope. We soon found out, for we stirred up a brisk and lively fire from a Yankee battery that was concealed in the thick brush about halfway up the hill, and from the way their guns thundered and their shell howled, they were heavier than common field pieces. I saw one shell plunge through a little clump of oak sprouts near my gun, and it mowed them down like a young tornado armed with a scythe, and judging from the way projectiles tore up the ground around us, and threw clods and gravel, their battery was hurling something at us about the size of a nail-keg, and regular ditch diggers.
The field we were on was perfectly level and our position was wholly and openly exposed to a raking fire of the enemy’s battery, which was strongly posted on a higher and more advantageous commanding situation. Consequently after we had fired about half an hour and found that the enemy intended to remain on the defensive, we withdrew our guns under fire and fell back toward Manassas Junction. We are bivouacked to-night near the old headquarters of General Beauregard, and wood of every description is so scarce here that we could not find enough for stakes to make hitching places for our horses.
The position we occupied to-day when we were firing on the Yankee battery near Blackburn’s Ford is on the same field where General Beauregard fought and repulsed the Yanks on Thursday evening, July 18, 1861, just a few days before the battle of Manassas. Today as we were nearing Blackburn’s Ford I saw a man’s foot lying, with sole up, in the middle of the road. I have no idea of how it got there, or whether it was severed from its owner by a shell or the surgeon’s knife. All I know about the foot is that it was fresh, and its owner kept his feet much cleaner than I do mine, for it was the cleanest foot that I have seen since the war began.