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Report on Actions of Powhatan Virginia Cavalry Troop at the Battle of First Manassas. July 21, 1861

Report of Capt. John F. Lay, commanding Squadron of Cavalry, of operations July 18 and 21.

CAMP PICKENS, VA., August 15, 1861.

COLONEL: I am ordered to make a report of the operations of my command upon July 18 and 21 upon the field. I have omitted to do so hitherto simply from the fact that I did not know it was expected of me.

Acting immediately under the orders of the general commanding, on the morning of the 18th, with my command consisting of my own company (the Powhatan Troop) and the Little Fork Rangers, commanded by Capt. K. E. Utterback I acted as an escort to the general commanding to the field, and took position some 400 yards west of McLaw's house, and there remained until some hour or two after the firing commenced, during which time I had to change my position, then directly in range of the long Parrott gun, the shell of which were falling about us and in full view, I thought, of the enemy's position. When the firing at Mitchells Ford commenced I moved by order with the general to a position near that ford, and during the day acted immediately under his orders, transmitting orders to the various commands.

By order I dispatched Captain Utterback with his company to report to General Longstreet, to aid in the pursuit when the enemy were retiring, which order was promptly obeyed, but not fully carried out, as immediately afterwards the order for the pursuit was countermanded.

That night I returned with the general to camp, and during the intervening days was actively occupied in the transmission of orders to various points, among others dispatching three couriers under a forced and rapid ride to Piedmont at night to communicate with General Johnston's command. In this ride a very valuable horse was seriously injured.

On the morning of the 21st I early received orders, and marched as an escort to the general commanding with the same command as before to a position upon the road near to Mitchell's Ford. From this position I was ordered to fall back, owing to a fire from the same long-range gun, attracted, doubtless, by the dust from the cavalry and wagons upon the road. From this point I dispatched various orders to commanders at different points, and then with my command moved with the general to a position near Lewis house, when it was ascertained the enemy were making their flank movement in that direction, when I was stopped by order of the general, through his aides, and remained in position during the day, furnishing, under orders, couriers to different commands, guides into position for batteries and regiments, and mount- ing aides and other officers when ordered to do so.

During the morning, the cavalry being ordered to fall back from this position, in the absence of any immediate commander I reported to Colonel Munford, in command of the cavalry forces near me, and acted under his orders until I could dispatch a messenger to receive orders from the general or one of his aides. By order of Colonel Munford, Captain Payne, of the Black Horse [Cavalry]; Ball, of the Chesterfield Troop, and myself selected a position for the cavalry, and there remained in formation ready for instant movement, when I received orders to resume my former position under the hill southwest of Lewis' house. From this position I sent off couriers as desired. By request of an aide I sent my surgeon with two men and a horse to aid in the recovery of the body of General Bartow. In this effort they were unable to succeed, owing to a heavy advancing fire, this aide properly refusing to permit them to go in. Here I lost a horse, but have since recovered him, slightly wounded in the foot. Here, by order of General Johnston, I was successfully engaged for two hours in rallying stragglers from infantry commands and sending them to him, who reformed them under the hill below Lewis house.

When the order for the pursuit was given I was in advance of the main body of the cavalry, and started off with Colonel Chesnut, with orders, however, to report to General Beauregard. Before reaching the Warrenton turnpike, below Fairfax House, not finding the general, and learning that he was on [the] other side of the run road, I asked permission to go on, which was granted by Colonel Chesnut, he stating his purpose to accompany me. We were starting upon the main road to Centreville, when a messenger from the adjutant-general ordered me to the left, to disperse a body then apparently forming, but which proved to be of our own men. From this point I advanced beyond the ford at Sudley, taking and paroling prisoners and aiding Colonel Jordan in caring for the wounded at or near that point, and with him returned to camp with men and horses much wearied and exhausted.

I lost no men from my command. One horse, while his rider, acting as guide to a battery, was taking down a fence, was struck by a shell and instantly killed. Two others, while on active courier duty, died from heat and exhaustion; others are permanently injured, I fear.

In conclusion, my officers and men were cool and composed, ready promptly to obey all orders most of them under fire repeatedly during the day; some of them constantly with the general in his exposure, and with his aide, Colonel Chisolm. I had no opportunity other than to discharge those duties assigned me, which I hope were as efficient as they were cheerfully rendered.


Captain, Commanding Squadron of Cavalry.

Col. Thomas Jordan, Assistant Adjutant-General.

SOURCE: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 2, pgs. 572-573

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