1861 October 2: Munson’s Hill
War news from the October 2, 1861, issue of The Hudson North Star.
Munson’s Hill and Upton’s Hill, which play a role in the first portion of this week’s news, are located close to Washington, D.C., and near Falls Church, Virginia. Munson’s Hill gets its name from the Daniel O. Munson who settled there in 1851 and started a farm and nursery. Upton’s Hill took its name from Charles H. Upton, a newspaper editor who settled in the area in 1836. At the time of the Civil War, Munson’s Hill overlooked a broad, flat plain called Bailey’s Crossroads and had a commanding view all the way into Washington, D.C., and Washingtonians could see the massive Confederate flag atop Munson’s Hill. Observers at the U.S. Capitol could also see Confederate cannon mounted all across Munson’s Hill.
After the First Battle of Bull Run, the Confederate troops quickly occupied Munson’s Hill and the adjacent Upton’s Hill, with the Confederate headquarters at Falls Church. During the night of September 28, 1861, the Confederate troops suddenly withdrew. The Union Army eventually discovered, to its embarrassment, that the cannon on Munson’s Hill were really just logs painted black.
B Y T E L E G R A P H.
HIGHLY IMPORTANT NEWS—
Advance of Gen. McClellan—Rebels
Evacuate Munson’s Hill—Terrible
Blunder of Our Troops—They Fire
Into Each Other—Rumors of the Rebels
Crossing the Potomac.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29.
Detachments from Generals Richards’ [sic],1 Keyes’,2 and Wadsworth’s3 brigades, and also General Franklin’s4 division, are now occupying Munson’s Hill.
Early this A. M. the pickets from Gen. Smith’s5 division advanced to and now occupy Falls Church. Neither this nor the preceding movements met with any opposition whatever, as the rebel army had on Friday night retired from the whole line of their position on the line of Washington.
Upton’s Hill, this side of Falls Church in necessarily included among the points now held by Federal forces.
The positions at Munson’s and Murray Hills afforded the rebels an unobstructed views at all our fortififications and other defenses. There was no signs to show that they had ever mounted any guns there.
Our troops are now employed so as to show that they do not merely intend to temporarily occupy their present positions.
The advance of General Smith upon Falls Church from Chain Bridge was accompanied by events of the most deplorable character.
By some unaccountable blunder, Col. Owens’ [sic]6 Irish Philadelphia regiment, in the darkness of the night, mistaking for rebels Capt. Molks battery, which was in advance, sustained by General Baker’s7 California regiment. Baxter’s8 Philadelphia Zouaves and Col. Friedman’s9 Cavalry, fired a volley into the troops last mentioned, killing and wounding large numbers.
The Col. of the regiment, not knowing whence the firing came returned it with marked effect. The horses attached to Molks’ battery became unmanageable and the tongues of two carriages were broken, owing to the narrowness of the road.
Lieut. Bryant, having command of the first section, ordered the guns to be loaded with grape and canister, and soon had them in range of the supposed enemy. Word was sent him that he was in company of friends.
All was excitement, and a long time escaped before the actual location of [?] was ascertained and confidence re-established. Several were killed and larger numbers wounded.
The whereabouts of the enemy have not been discovered. Their pickets are discernable at distant points. The most probable theory is that the rebels are making a feint retreat, as they did previous to the battle of the Bull Run, with the view of drawing our troops into ambuscades.10 Their encampments show that they had at no time over 10,000 men in front of Washington.
It is believe here that the rebel forces are concentrated between Aquia Creek and Manassas Junction, with their right wing on the Potomac.
A messenger who has just arrived here from the Chain Bridge, brings a report that the enemy are in strong force at Leesburg, and that the entire army has been divided, one division having taken position above Washington and the other below the city. This statement is hardly credible, but it is certain that important events are at hand.
The President has given assurances that drafting for the army shall not be resorted to in the West until the Eastern States have furnished their full quota of the 500,000 men.
1. Israel Bush Richardson (1815-1862) was a career military officer—nicknamed “Fighting Dick”—until 1855 when he took up farming in Michigan. At the start of the Civil War he organized the 2nd Michigan Infantry. He was promoted to colonel on May 25, 1861, and given command of the 4th Brigade in Brigadier General Irvin McDowell’s Division.
2. Erasmus Darwin Keyes (1810-1895) was a career military officer and had been General Winfield Scott’s military secretary from January 1, 1860, to April 1861. When the Civil War broke out, he became colonel of the 11th U.S. Infantry and led the 1st Brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. In August of 1861 he had been promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 1st Brigade in McDowell’s Division.
3. James Samuel Wadsworth (1807-1864) had spent the majority of his life managing his family’s estate in New York, later entering politics. He was a Free Soil Republican and was a member of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference that attempted to prevent the Civil War. Prior to the war, he had no military experience at all. He had served as a civilian volunteer aide-de-camp to Major General Irvin McDowell at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 8. McDowell recommended him for command and, on August 9, 1861, Wadsworth was commissioned a brigadier general. On October 3, 1861, he received command of the 2nd Brigade in McDowell’s Division.
4. William Buel Franklin (1823-1903) was a career miliary officier. He was appointed colonel of the 12th U.S. Infantry in May 1861 and soon after was promoted to brigadier general.
5. William Farrar Smith (1824-1903) had just been appointed a brigadier general on August 13, 1861.
6. Joshua Thomas Owen (1822-1887) commanded the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry, commonly called the “Irish Regiment” for its predominantly Irish composition.
7. Edward Dickinson Baker (1811-1861) was a lawyer and politician, with military experience in the Black Hawk War and the Mexican War. He was a good enough friend of Abraham Lincoln that Lincoln named his son Eddie (Edward Baker Lincoln) after Baker. In 1851 Baker moved to California, and in 1860 he moved to Oregon where he was elected to the U.S. Senate. When the Civil War broke out he was authorized to raise a California infantry regiment—although he recruited primarily in Philadelphia and New York City—and Baker became the colonel of this “California Brigade.” A few months later he was assigned command of a bridage in General Charles Stone’s division. Baker will be killed shortly, on October 21, 1861, at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff—becoming the only sitting U.S. Senator killed in the Civil War.
8. DeWitt Clinton Baxter (1829-1881) was the colonel of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry, also known as the Philadelphia Fire Zouaves. The regiment had been mustered in on August 10 and had only left for Washington on September 16. It was part of Baker’s “California Brigade” and was claimed by the state of Pennsylvania after Baker’s death.
9. Max Friedman (1825- ) was the colonel of the 5th Cavalry/65th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. They, too, had just arrived in Washington, having left Philadelphia on August 22nd.
10. An ambuscade is a sudden attack from a concealed position; an ambush.