#44 – Col. William B. Franklin

21 09 2008

Report of Col. William. B. Franklin, Twelfth U. S. Infantry, Commanding First Brigade, Third Division

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp.405-407

HEADQUARTERS FIRST BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION,

Department Northeastern Virginia, July 28, 1861

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to make the following report on the operations of the brigade under my command in the action at Bull Run on the 21st instant:

The brigade consisted of Light Battery I, First Artillery, Capt. J. B. Ricketts; the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment, Colonel Lawrence; the Eleventh Massachusetts Regiment, Colonel Clark, and the First Minnesota Regiment, Colonel Gorman. The Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment had been attached to the brigade until the morning of the 21st instant, but as its term of service expired on that day it refused to go forward, and when the remainder of the brigade marched forward it marched to the rear. The brigade left camp near Centreville at 2.30 a.m., in the following order: 1st, Minnesota regiment; 2d, Ricketts battery; 3d, Fifth Massachusetts Regiment; and, 4th, Eleventh Massachusetts Regiment. The Minnesota regiment was arranged with the two front companies ready to act as skirmishers; the next three companies as the advanced guard, and the remainder of the regiment formed the head of the column. The men were furnished with three days’ provisions in their haversacks.

At Centreville a delay of more than two hours took place, to enable General Tyler’s and Colonel Hunter’s columns to pass Colonel Heintzelman’s. The march then recommenced, and continued without interruption until the brigade reached Bull Run, about 11 o’clock a.m., after a march of about twelve miles.

Colonel Hunter’s column had by this time become engaged with the enemy, and Ricketts’ battery was immediately ordered to cross the run and hold itself in readiness for action. The Minnesota regiment was ordered to cross to support the battery, and was, by a subsequent change in the order, placed in position on the left of the field. The Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts Regiments were, for a very short time, held in reserve on the left bank of the run. Ricketts’ battery was directed to take position in a field towards the extreme right of our line, and commenced firing at a battery of the enemy placed just beyond the crest of a hill on our left. After firing for about twenty minutes at this point, the battery was moved to a point about one thousand feet from the enemy’s battery, where it was immediately subjected to an incessant fire of musketry, at short range, disabling it almost immediately. Here Captain Ricketts was severely wounded, and First Lieut. D. Ramsay was killed. The battery also lost, in the course of a few minutes, eleven non-commissioned officers and men killed, and fourteen wounded. Many horses were also killed, so that the battery was entirely crippled, and its remains were drawn off the field, all of the guns being left on the field.

While the battery was in its first position, the Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts Regiments were brought to the field, and took position just behind the crest of a hill about the center of the position. Here they were slightly exposed to the fire of the enemy’s battery on the left, and were consequently thrown into some confusion. This was shown by the difficulty of forming the Eleventh Regiment, and by wild firing made by both regiments. They fired without command, and in one or two instances, while formed in column, closed in mass.

From this point both regiments were ordered to proceed to the vicinity of the point where Ricketts’ battery was disabled, to try to get back the guns. They went there, and, with the help of some other regiments on their right, the enemy was driven from the guns three times. It was impossible, however, to get the men to draw off the guns, and when one or two attempts were made, we were driven off by the appearance of the enemy in large force with heavy and well-aimed volleys of musketry.

The First Minnesota Regiment moved from its position on the left of the field to the support of Ricketts’ battery, and gallantly engaged the enemy at that point. It was so near the enemy’s lines that friends and foes were for a time confounded. The regiment behaved exceedingly well, and finally retired from the field in good order. The other two regiments of the brigade retired in confusion, and no efforts of myself or staff were successful in rallying them. I respectfully refer you to Colonel Gorman’s report(*) for the account of his regiment’s behavior and of the good conduct of his officers and men.

Colonel Hartranft, of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment, whose regiment refused to march forward that morning, accompanied me to the field as aide-de-camp. His services were exceedingly valuable to me, and he distinguished himself in his attempts to rally the regiments which had been thrown into confusion.

I respectfully recommend to your favorable consideration the officers of my staff – Capt. Walworth Jenkins, First Artillery, acting assistant adjutant-general; Lieut. J. P. Baker, First Dragoons, aide-de-camp, and Lieut., C. H. Gibson, Second Dragoons, acting quartermaster and commissary of the brigade. Their efforts were unremitting in carrying orders and in attempting to rally the dispersed troops.

I cannot refrain from paying a tribute to the gallantry of Captain Ricketts and Lieutenant Ramsay. The service has sustained a serious loss in the temporary removal of Captain Ricketts from duty, and the cool and determined bravery of Lieutenant Ramsay was admired by all who witnessed it. It may be a consolation to his friends to know that he unflinchingly died a soldier’s death, regretted by all.

I transmit with this a list of the killed, wounded, and missing of the brigades.(+)

It is my firm belief that a great deal of the misfortune of the day at Bull Run is due to the fact that the troops knew very little of the principles and practice of firing. In every case I believe that the firing of the rebels was better than ours. At any rate I am sure that ours was very bad, the rear files sometimes firing into and killing the front ones. It is to be hoped that practice and instruction will have corrected this evil by the time that we have another battle.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. B. FRANKLIN,

Colonel Twelfth Infantry, Comdg. First Brig., Third Div.

Capt. C. McKEEVER,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C.

* See Series I, Vol. 51, Part I, pp. 22-23

+ Embodied in division return, p. 405

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