The general confusion which reigned can scarcely be more accurately described than by detailing the experience of a single regiment. The One Hundred and Nineteenth New York Volunteers was in Schurz’s division. It was commanded by an officer of German birth, but long since an American citizen. No more gallant, intelligent man wore uniform, or one better fitted for a pattern soldier. Well read in military matters, he had never yet been under fire, and was nervously anxious to win his spurs. The regiment was a good one; but only three or four officers, and a small percentage of enlisted men, had seen service.
This regiment faced south on the pike just west of the fork in the roads. Under arms in an instant, when the firing was heard on the right, it was soon ordered by one of Schurz’s aides to throw itself across the fork, and hold it at all hazards. But the suddenness of the attack had momentarily robbed Col. Peissner of his steadiness, for he was a good drill-master. Instead of facing to the right, counter-marching, filing to the left across the road, and coming to a front,—the simplest if longest movement being the best in times of such excitement,—he faced to the left because his left was nearest to the fork, filed to the left, and then, instead of coming on the left by file into line, he moved astride the roads, and ordered “Front!” This brought the regiment in line with its back to the enemy. The men instinctively came each to an about-face, and the file closers broke through to the now rear. There was no time to correct the error. The regiment, which would have fought well under proper circumstances, from the start lost confidence in its officers and itself. Still it held its ground until it had burned almost twenty rounds, and until the Confederate line was within fifty yards in its face, and had quite outflanked it. Then the raking volleys of such a front as Jackson was wont to present, and, more than all, the fire of Buschbeck’s brigade in its immediate rear, broke it; and it melted away, leaving only a platoon’s strength around the colors, to continue for a brief space the struggle behind the Buschbeck line, while the rest fled down the road, or through the woods away from the deadly fire. This regiment lost its entire color-guard, and nearly one-half of its complement killed or wounded.
There is much discrepancy as to the time during which the Eleventh Corps made resistance to Jackson’s advance. All reliable authorities put the time of the attack as six P.M. When the last gun was fired at the Buschbeck rifle-pits, it was dusk, at that season about quarter past seven. It seems reasonably settled, therefore, that the corps retarded the Confederate advance over about a mile of ground for exceeding an hour. How much more can be expected of ten thousand raw troops telescoped by twenty-five thousand veterans?
Rodes, now quite mixed with Colston’s line, still pressed on, and between Hooker’s headquarters and his elated foe there was scarce an organized regiment. Hooker’s fatal inability to grasp the situation, and his ordering an advance of all troops on Howard’s left as far as the Second Corps, had made him almost defenceless. The troops which should have been available to stem this adverse tide were blindly groping in the woods, two miles in front,—in pursuit of Jackson.