Chinn's Ridge


Return to Route 29. Turn east (right) and retrace your route back 1.1 miles to the intersection with route 234. Turn right (south) on SR 234, go .5 mile, and make a right turn onto a road opposite the driveway to the Visitors' Center. This park road will take you to Chinn's Ridge. Follow it .6 mile to a stop sign. Turn right and go .3 mile up the hill to the parking spaces on your left. You are at the site of Hazel Plain, or the Chinn House, on the south side of Chinn's Ridge. The original structure represented by the present foundations was built in 1804 and was used as a hospital after both battles.

When on 30 August at 1630 McDowell learned from Reynolds of the obvious Confederate buildup on the Federal flank, he reacted by shifting whatever forces he could to Chinn's Ridge and Henry Hill.

Nathaniel McLean's Brigade of Schenck's Division had been on Chinn's Ridge since 1400, apparently overlooked by his division and his corps (Sigel's).

McDowell had directed Reynolds to a position around the Chinn House, then redeployed him from there about 1500. By the time Reynolds' last element, Hardin's Brigade with Kerns' Battery (G, 1st Pennsylvania Light), approached the Pike in front of Chinn's Ridge, Hood's men were on it. Hardin at McDowell's direction turned and fought a brief action on the ridge center and west of Chinn's Ridge. Colonel Hardin was severely wounded, Captain Kerns was killed and his battery captured. The dying Kerns told some 4th Texas soldiers "I promised to drive you back, or die under my guns, and I have kept my word."

James Longstreet described his advance.

My whole line was rushed forward at a charge. The troops sprang to their work and moved forward with all the steadiness and firmness that characterizes war worn veterans. . . . The attacking columns moved steadily forward, driving the enemy from his different positions as rapidly as he took them. My batteries were thrown forward, from point to point following the movements of the general line. These, however, were somewhat detained by an enfilade fire ... on my left. This threw more than its proper share of fighting upon the infantry.

And Colonel McLean described what happened.

Much to my surprise, Gen. Reynolds put his troops in motion and marched entirely past and across my front to what point I am not informed. . . . I immediately changed the position of my troops and deployed in line of battle the 73d and 25th Ohio regiments fronting the west and to the left of the battery and the 75th and 55th Ohio . . . on the right of the battery, thus making my line of battle fronting the west, with the battery in the center and 2 regiments on each side. I could by this time see the enemy advancing on my front and a little to my right, driving before them a regiment of zouaves. They came on rapidly, when some troops advanced to meet them from behind a hill on my right. These troops were also driven back in confusion, and as soon as they got out of the way, I opened upon the enemy with the 4 pieces of artillery, throwing first shell, and as they approached nearer, canister. I also commenced a heavy fire with infantry, and in a short time the enemy retreated in great confusion. During this time, my attention had been called to a body of troops advancing toward my position in the rear of my left flank, and supposing them to be enemies, I gave the order to turn 2 pieces of artillery upon them, but countermanded it upon the assurance of some one who professed to know the fact that they were our own troops, and I readily believed this, as their clothing was dark, and then rested easy, thinking reinforcements were coming to take position on my left and occupy the place vacated by Gen. Reynolds.... Soon after this a heavy force of the enemy, much superior to my own, marched out of the woods across the position formerly occupied by Gen. Reynolds, in front of my left flank, and swept around so as to come in heavy force both on the front and flank of my left wing. This force opened a heavy fire upon the 73d Ohio. . . . I immediately, when this attack was made, gave the order to change front, so as to repel it if possible, but the retreat of the battery at this moment interfered some what with the movement, as it passed through the 75th. The 55th on my right flank . . . wheeled by battalion to the left and came up into line . . . and the other regiments speedily formed on his left and delivered such a heavy and continuous fire that in a short time the enemy ceased to advance, and commenced to fall back. My men followed with cheers, driving the enemy back rapidly.

On the thirtieth of August at 1700 McLean repelled Hood's and Evans' assaults in desperate fighting. But then he had to confront Corse's Brigade of Kemper's Division, which proved to be the group seen to his rear earlier. Corse approached from the southeast up to the Chinn House. Private Alexander Hunter, 17th Virginia, described what happened.

We neared the Chinn House, when suddenly a long line of the enemy rose from behind an old stone wall and poured straight in our breasts a withering volley at point blank distance. It was so unexpected, this attack, that it struck the long line of men like an electric shock. Many were falling killed or wounded and but for the intrepid coolness of its colonel, the 17th would have retired from the field in disorder. . . . Now individual bravery made up for the disaster. . . . The line of blue was not fifty yards distant and every man took a sure close aim before his finger pressed the trigger. It was a decisive fight of about 10 minutes, and both sides stood up gamely to their work. Our foes were a western regiment from Ohio, who gave and received and asked no odds.

McLean was pressed back nevertheless.

The forces permitted to approach our rear had got into such a position as to rake us with grape, canister, and musketry while we were attacked severely in front. Under all this, however, my brigade retained the hill until I myself gave the order to fall back slowly . . . only when my attention was called to a heavy force of the enemy approaching to attack us on our then right flank but former front. I saw that it would but destroy my whole command to await that attack, and therefore gave the order under which we left the hill.

Generals McDowell and Sigel both began to react to the worsening situation on the left. McDowell earlier had ordered Hardin's Brigade to turn and fight. Then he directed first Tower's then Stiles' Brigade of Ricketts' Division to cross to Chinn's Ridge. Tower's men arrived first in good order, Alexander Hunter of the 17th Virginia recalled,

there was hardly a breathing spell ... and the enemy was upon us with a fresh line....

We were now loading and firing at the swiftly approaching enemy, who were about 200 yards distant, advancing straight towards us and shouting with their steady hurrah, so different from the Rebel yell. It was a trying moment and proved the mettle of the individual man. Some ran or cowered white with fear behind the Chinn House ... ; others yet stood in an irregular form and loaded and fired unmindful of the dust and noise of the hurtling shell and screaming shot....

When the Union troops came up to retake the Chinn House, our men began to give ground. On the Yankees came in splendid style, with the Stars and Stripes waving and their line capitally dressed. It was a perfect advance, and some of us forgot to fire our muskets while watching them. In their front line was a little drummer beating a pas de charge. The only time we ever heard the inspiriting sound on the battlefield. The dauntless little fellow was handling his sticks heavy, too, for the roll of the drum was heard above the noise of the guns.

Continue north down Chinn's Ridge. The road after leaving the parking lot traces the first Federal line until it was turned by Kemper's attack. About .3 mile down the ridge is a pulloff. Pause. East of it is a grove of trees with a boulder honoring Col. Fletcher Webster, 12th Massachusetts, son of the great orator. The stone was brought from Daniel Webster's home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and emplaced in 1914 by the 12th Massachusetts veterans. Continue down the ridge .3 mile to the parking lot at the end.

Tower's Brigade was pushed back onto Stiles' men, who fought midway down the ridge to protect the guns set up there. The 11th Pennsylvania was the center regiment.

Here a most murderous fire of musketry swept the hill. . . . In our front long gray lines in echelon formation bristly with steel and fringed with sheeted flame, were moving magnificently and steadily through the storm. We were upon the open, naked fields. Instantly, our fire opened and in as many minutes our flag went down 5 times. (Phil K. Faulk, National Tribune, 19 February 1881)

General Sigel ordered Milroy's Brigade onto the ridge. The 5th West Virginia started out, but Pope countermanded Sigel, sending Milroy to Henry Hill.

At 1730 the 5th West Virginia tied in with Schenck's Brigades under Colonels Koltes and Krzyzanowski, which were committed as Tower and Stiles started to collapse. Colonel Gustav Muhleck of the 73d Pennsylvania in Krzyzanowski's Brigade described what happened.

We reached the top of the hill under a terrific shower of shell, solid shot, chain, &c. I deployed at once. The enemy was right in front, advancing slowly but steadily in deep, dense masses. A galling fire commenced from both sides. To our left, where we found the DeKalb regiment isolated from their brigade, a battery of some other corps d'armee had been abandoned. The last-named regiment, which General Stahel had wished Colonel Koltes to take under his temporary command (it being too far off from his main body), endeavored to save, the cannons, but in vain. The enemy by this time had brought up and posted near the border of the woods (south-southwest of our brigade) two sections of artillery, which, from a distance of scarcely 200 yards, covered my own regiment as well as the others with [a] perfect shower of projectiles. It was at that supreme moment that the brave Colonel Koltes rode up to the front of his brigade, and swinging his sword high in the air, while ordering his command to take that rebel battery, that a fragment of a shell killed both horse and rider. A rush was made toward the rebel cannons. Some of my men with Second Lieutenant Kennedy, Company F, reached the pieces, but were unsupported, surrounded, and the lieutenant made a prisoner. He escaped a few moments afterward, a man of Company D, Seventy-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, killing the rebel who had made him a prisoner. The terrain was most unfavorable for deploying, being surrounded right and left by woods, with a deep ravine in the rear, and forming a kind of clearing not more than two acres in length.

The combat here raged fierce and terrible for about half an hour, when our small regiments, exhausted and decimated and unsupported, had in their turn to fall back, though not before Colonel Koltes, who saw the enemy outflank us on the right, had given the order to fall back a little on our right and make a stand again. By this time immense forces of the enemy poured through the woods in splendid order and fighting desperately. The colors of my regiment had become rags. I had lost five of the color-bearers and nearly one-half of the eight companies I brought into action. Two companies had been detailed by General ______ to stop the stragglers of the corps which did retreat from the plain beneath. My acting major, Capt. A. Bruckner, had fallen too. My adjutant was a prisoner. My own horse had been shot under me by four balls. We then slowly left the field, still fighting, and taking along the dead body of Colonel Koltes, whom my men carried that night on muskets to Centreville, which latter place the regiment reached rather in broken fragments, and where they rallied again on the next morning.

The vigorous assault of Corse's Brigade, Kemper's Division, on the Federal guns precipitated the clearing of Chinn's Ridge. Corse reported,

at this time, discovering a battery of the enemy to the left and rear of the Chinn house, I ordered a charge of the whole line. The order was gallantly responded to and brilliantly executed, the enemy being driven from their guns. Great gallantry was displayed by all engaged, Lieutenant-Colonel [F G.] Skinner, First Virginia, dashing forward in advance of the whole line, was the first to reach the battery, and I saw him dealing deadly blows with his saber to the Yankee gunners. The steady veteran Terry, with the gallant Twenty fourth, delivered a destructive volley into the enemy's ranks on our left and pushed forward to the charge. The valiant Patton led the heroic Seventh Virginia.

North of the Pike, for most of the battle, Sigel had set up a gun line along the Dogan House Ridge, deterring Hood's and Law's people's efforts to cross the road. The Federals north of the Pike pulled eastward to conform with the southern part of the line.

Meanwhile, two batteries and two brigades of D. R. Jones' Division moved up the Chinn Branch east of the Chinn House. Most of the Federals withdrew back down Chinn's Ridge to the Stone House, the 5th West Virginia and 83d New York, however, moved directly east to Sudley Road and joined the line forming there. As the Southerners moved northeast, they came under fire from the direction of Sudley Road and changed direction to confront the new resistance.

R. H. Anderson's Division moved to the right of D. R. Jones and engaged along Sudley Road; later, Drayton's Brigade of Jones' Division extended Longstreet's right flank even farther eastward.

Longstreet's Corps then aligned north to south with D. R. Jones on the left and R. H. Anderson/Drayton on the south and southeast.