Henry Hill


Return .9 mile down the Chinn Ridge Road, past the Chinn House site and continue past the road you came on for another .6 mile to where the road joins SR 234 about 150 yards south of the entrance to the community college. Turn left (north) and go .5 mile to the entrance to the Visitors' Center. Your route along SR 234 parallels the final Federal defensive line. Drive up and park in the Visitors' Center lot and walk back west about 150 yards to a blue sign on a knoll midway between the museum building and SR 234 north of the museum driveway.

At 1700 on the thirtieth General McDowell and his aides frantically directed troops toward Henry Hill as the defenses on Chinn's Ridge began to crumble. Pope shifted his headquarters to the Robinson House and Sigel's Corps occupied the hills north of the Stone House.

Milroy's Brigade, diverted en route to Chinn's Ridge, was the first unit to take up position along the Sudley Road. He covered the area from the park entrance to the grove of trees to the north.

Meade's and Seymour's Brigades of Reynolds' Division crossed from the north, first taking up a position close to the Henry House. Ransom's Battery set up to Milroy's right rear. The Pennsylvanians came forward as they saw Confederates approaching. Meade covered the line from the grove north to the Stone House.

General Milroy became increasingly overwrought in the course of the fighting.

I soon received an order to move my brigade off to the left on double quick, the enemy having massed their troops during the day in order to turn our left flank. I formed line of battle along the road, my left resting near the edge of the woods in which the battle was raging. Soon our troops came rushing, panic-stricken, out of the woods, leaving my brigade to face the enemy, who followed the retreating masses to the edge of the woods. The road in which my brigade was formed was warn and washed from 3 to 5 feet deep, affording a splendid cover for my men. My boys opened fire on them at short range, driving the rebels back to a respectable distance. But the enemy, being constantly re-enforced from the masses in their rear, came on again and again, pouring in advance a perfect hurricane of balls, which had but little effect on my men, who were so well protected in their road entrenchment. But the steady fire of my brigade, together with that of a splendid brass battery on higher ground in my rear, which I ordered to fire rapidly with canister over the heads of my men, had a most withering effect upon the rebels, whose columns melted away and fast recoiled from repeated efforts to advance upon my road breastwork from the woods. But the fire of the enemy, which had affected my men so little, told with destructive results on the exposed battery in their rear, and it required a watchful effort to hold them to their effective work. My horse was shot in the head by a musket ball while in the midst of the battery [that was] cheering on the men.

George G. Meade's troops were fighting just north of Milroy. He reported that after moving north across the Pike, Reynolds' Division was ordered south of it to Henry Hill.

It was ordered to march back to the plateau of the Henry House. At this point the brigade, in conjunction with the division, was deployed in line of battle and charged down the slope of the Henry House ridge toward the Sudley Springs Road, driving before it such of the enemy as had advanced across this road, and taking a position in this road, which was firmly maintained under heavy infantry fire until it was relieved by Buchanan's brigade of regulars.

It is due to the Pennsylvania Reserves to say that this charge and maintenance of this position was made at a most critical period of the day. The enemy had repulsed the attack made by us on our right flank and had himself assumed the offensive on our left flank. His infantry had emerged from the woods, had already secured one of our batteries, and was advancing to the Henry House ridge, which, if he had succeeded in gaining, might have materially altered the fortune of the day. It was the good fortune of the Reserves to be brought into action at this moment, and by their gallant bearing and firm advance to compel the enemy to retire to the shelter of the woods, where he was held in check until the close of the action.

Sykes' two brigades of regulars arrived next. Colonel Chapman's men were ordered immediately to take up a line south of Milroy along the Sudley Road to confront a building threat to the flank. The regulars occupied a line south from the park entrance down to the community college.

My brigade was ordered by Generals Pope, McDowell and others to advance to our proper front; then toward the left of the position occupied by the Federal forces. My arrival was most opportune.

Not a regiment or brigade of the immense reserve held on that field was in effective proximity to repel the advance of the enemy at the point of their approach. The Seventeenth Infantry, leading, marched to the point indicated, followed by the Eleventh, Sixth, Second, and Tenth, and occupied the edge of the wood, through which a heavy force was advancing against us. The line was formed with the Sixth Infantry advanced a little way in the woods. Here, cooly and calmly, my brave troops awaited a visible evidence of the presence of the enemy, when a volley was poured into their lines, with what effect could not be seen for the cover of underbrush, &c. It was replied to by a terrific fire of musketry. The firing continued three-quarters of an hour with no material decrease on the part of the enemy. One effect of our fire was notable-the enemy was checked.

The brigade coolly delivered its fire until our loss urged a withdrawal. The enemy, finding himself checked here, dispatched a force farther to the left, with a section of artillery, threatening our rear. The Ninth New York Regiment of Volunteers, on the left of our line, soon retired, exclaiming, "It is too hot," thus leaving our flank exposed. This also urged the withdrawal of the left. Another volunteer regiment left our right after being engaged but a few minutes. When the First Brigade moved up within view I ordered the brigade to fall back. While this was being done the enemy opened on us with grape and canister, firing very rapidly; but few casualties were caused by it, however. The First Brigade advanced toward the fight of the position left by us. My brigade fell back some 600 yards to Bull Run Hill, on the side toward Centreville. We rested here until orders were received, about 6:30 p.m., to march to Centreville. We reached Centreville about 11 p.m., and bivouacked for the night.

Colonel Chapman was referring to the 12th and 14th U.S. Infantry from Buchanan's Brigade serving as a mobile reserve. They came forward and allowed Chapman's men to withdraw and reorganize; Buchanan recounted,

from this point I was ordered across the turnpike to a position on the plateau between the Henry and Robinson houses, where the brigade was deployed in line of battle, with its fight resting on the Henry house.

About 6 p.m., I was ordered to take the battalion of the Twelfth and Fourteenth to a wood to our left and front, to support Meade's brigade, then severely pressed by the enemy; and almost immediately after placing these troops in position, I observed that the Third and Fourth had also been ordered up. I found the enemy in very strong force in the wood, and during the heat of a very severe engagement discovered that he was flanking me with large masses of troops. I immediately commenced to gain ground to my left, so as to meet his movements, and held him in check for nearly an hour. But at length I found the contest too unequal; my command was being cut to pieces; the ammunition of the men nearly expended, and, the enemy's masses vastly out numbering my force. I was forced to give the order to retire. This was done in most excellent order, the men marching steadily and slowly and I resumed my position on the plateau.

The other part of the Brigade consisting of the 3d and 4th U.S. Infantry moved forward near the Henry House road to support Meade and were joined later by the 12th and 14th U.S. coming from the south. Captain Hiram Dryer, commanding the 4th U.S. Infantry, described the action.

We had not been long in position on the plateau above mentioned, then engaged on the left and about 500 yards in our front. On arriving in rear of General Meade's line, which was lying down and firing from a ditch, I halted the regiment and opened fire by battalion, firing six rounds. The enemy having disappeared in front of this position and moved to his right, where he was massing a large body of troops in a dense forest, I received an order from Colonel Buchanan to move the Fourth to the left. I immediately placed the regiment about its length to its left, on a road immediately in front of the woods, where the enemy were expected to make their appearance in a few moments. We had not long to wait for them, when we discovered that they were two brigades strong, by battalion in mass, not 20 yards distant. I immediately gave the command to fire by the battalion, and we gave them three rounds before they could recover themselves enough to reply. Their loss must have been terrible. I then received an order from Colonel Buchanan to retire. I immediately gave the command to face about, and marched in line of battle about 30 yards to the rear, halted and faced about, and gave them another volley.

The enemy's fire having become very severe I here faced about and marched about 60 yards more, halted, and faced about. The left flank of the regiment being covered by one of our own regiments the order was given to fire by wing, firing two rounds, when we were ordered to fall back to our original position on the plateau above mentioned, where we remained but a few moments, then receiving an order to fall in and march to Centreville.

The folding southern flank of the U.S. line was bolstered next by the 86th New York (Steuben Rangers) of Sanders Piatt's small brigade attached to V Corps. It went into line and held off Confederate attackers massed "six rods" away. (T. F. Shoemaker, Elmira Weekly Journal)

This occurred about where the museum is.

The 86th New York, in turn, was supported by Ferrero's Brigade of Reno's Division and Schimmelfennig's of Schurz's Division posted on Henry Hill to the north. Ferrero's Brigade took up a position with a six-gun battery on the knoll west of the museum, lining up right to left, 51st Pennsylvania, 21st Massachusetts, 51st New York. Captain Charles E Walcott, 21st Massachusetts, described the final action.

... just before sunset General Reno suddenly ordered the brigade to move to the left at the double-quick. I can conscientiously say that the regiment and brigade responded to the order with hearty enthusiasm and a stem determination to show the Army of Virginia how they had learned to fight in North Carolina. As we hurried across the field by the flank, shot, shell, and pieces of railroad iron rained around us from badly served rebel artillery, but we were soon covered by the hill on which we were to take our revenge; the 21st losing in the passage of about half a mile only four men.... As we came to the hill, General McDowell, known to us all by his peculiar white hat, came up to General Reno and shook hands; the last Union troops withdrew from our front, and we moved into position on the crest of the hill, drowning the rebel yells with cheers for ten thousand men. The white-haired General Milroy, who stood alone on the crest as we came up, was frantic with joy as he welcomed us; and, as we dressed our lines, rode along our front, shouting like a crazy man. ... In our front was an open space of a few hundred yards of gently sloping ground ending in a grove. Behind us a struggling mass of artillery and wagons were trying to cross the bridge over Young's Branch, blocking the road as far as we could see, and not a soldier that we saw or knew of besides ourselves stood in line of battle, or in reserve. Close in our rear, under the shelter of the hill, a temporary hospital had been established, and all around us the ground was thickly covered with wounded men. The mere fact that the thin unsupported line of fifteen hundred men waited there so steady and fearless for the assault of the rebel masses which were forming in their front, was an act of heroism seldom paralleled in war. General Reno ... walked along the line, ordering the men to lie down and keep perfect silence, and then took position in the centre. We had not long to wait: the sun had set, and it was beginning to grow dark, when we heard a confused hum, and the rush of many feet in our front; stand up was the order, and every man was on his feet; the open space in our front was now alive with the rebel masses, and General Reno gave the welcome order, "Give them about ten rounds, boys. Fire!" A simultaneous volley rolled from infantry and artillery, and then it was every man for himself, and they made quick work: our cartridges were of such small calibre that no ramming was required, and the men had hardly got well warmed up before the firing was stopped. Nothing was standing on the field in front of us, and a chorus of groans and curses filled the air.

The Confederates made one more small attack along the gully south of the museum, then darkness and disorganization ended the fighting. Reno's men pulled out about 2100. Cadmus Wilcox recalled,

the firing continued till after dark for more than half an hour and then gradually ceased. The artillery continued to fire after the musketry had ceased, but by 8:30 it had all ceased. My brigade bivouacked at this point of the field.

(This engagement took place about opposite the museum driveway.)