The Civil War News & Views Open Discussion Forum

July 17, 2011

On this date 150 years ago, General Beauregard requested aid to repulse the Federal advance into Virginia. Beauregard was stationed near Manassas, Virginia, with a force of about 22,000 men. Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered General Joseph Johnston to Manassas so as to meet Beauregard's request for more troops.

The 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment in an advance position on the Braddock Road at Farr's Crossroad. At 6:30 A.M., the leading troops of Union General McDowell attacked the outpost which was about 2 ½ miles out from the camp. One of the sentinels, Private Mark Wethered of Company H, the Warrior Guards, captured the first Yankee to show himself. This was the first prisoner taken in the prelude to the Battle of Manassas. Another sentinel, Private William L. Kennedy of Company I, the Greensboro Guards, was reportedly the first man to fire shots for the Confederacy. As the Federal troops appeared, he shot at a group of five of them, took their return fire, reloaded his musket and fired again. He assisted a comrade in priming his gun which had miss fired while loading his own. Reportedly, those two first shots by Private Kennedy were hits, resulting in the first casualties. Private William Tarrant of the Taylorville community and also a member of Company H, the Warrior Guards, was patrolling his post when the Union advance began and he was shot through the leg, becoming the first Alabama soldier wounded. Thus, the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment produced the first "heroes" of that notable conflict.

The men on picket duty fell back, leisurely fighting as they withdrew from interval to interval along the Braddock Road. When they had reached a point about a quarter of a mile in front of their works, Company E, the Talladega Artillery under Captain Charles Shelley, arrived with their Minnie muskets and reinforced the pickets. Major John T. Morgan had come along and took charge of the men at that point. The enemy was held at bay for about an hour. It was during this part of the fight that Private James G. Watts of Company E was shot, loosing part of his ear. Colonel Rodes had what he considered to be fighting orders, so the rest of the Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Allen C. Jones, was drawn up behind the entrenchments. Only Company G, the Cahaba Rifles under Captain Christopher C. Pegues, was left at the camp as a reserve and also in order to guard the road from Fairfax Station to their camp.

This sharp skirmish continued between the men of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment and the enemy’s skirmishers. The Confederates were soon outflanked and largely outnumbered; however, they succeeded in stopping the enemy’s advance. The Union force then moved their artillery forward and once this came into view, the men of the 5th Alabama out in front of the works were drawn in to meet the enemy from the entrenchments. They remained at the breastworks about another hour and a half.

Colonel Rodes was then informed by General Ewell, that he was about to fall back along with the forces at Sangster’s Crossroads and the Station. Colonel Rodes had sent Captain J. D. Webb to report to General Bonham with instruction to remain with him at Fairfax Court House until his force was overpowered and put in retreat. Subsequently, after the firing had ceased and the 5th Alabama had been drawn back into the entrenchments, Captain J. D. Webb returned to inform Colonel Rodes that the enemy was in full view at Fairfax Court House and General Bonham’s force was in full retreat. He also carried orders from General Bonham to retreat at once. Colonel Rodes called in the skirmishers on the flanks of the entrenchment and commence the retreat in an orderly fashion. After they had retreated as far as their encampment, Captain William Fowler of Company H, the Warrior Guards, realized that he had hung his sword upon a tree while posted in the works and had forgotten it there. He hurried back to retrieve it and found not one of the enemy in sight.