Report of Col. Willis A. Gorman, First Minnesota Infantry
O.R.–SERIES I–VOLUME 51 Part 1 [S# 107] pp. 20-23
HEADQUARTERS FIRST MINNESOTA REGIMENT,
Washington, July 26, 1851
SIR: I have the honor to communicate, as colonel of the First Minnesota Regiment of Volunteers, the events connected with the movements of my command, comprising a part of your brigade:
On Tuesday morning, the 16th instant, in obedience to your order, we took up the line of march, and on the evening of Thursday arrived at Centerville and bivouacked until Sunday morning, the 21st instant, at 2.30 o’clock, when we again took up our line of march, in obedience to your orders, to meet the enemy, then known to be in large force between Bull Run and Manassas Station, Va. Our march from Centerville to Bull Run was not marked by any extraordinary event, my regiment leading the advance of your brigade. On arriving at Bull Run the battle began to rage with great warmth with the advance column of infantry and artillery of another division, both being hotly engaged. Here Captain Wright, of the military engineers, serving as an aide upon the staff of Colonel Heintzelman, commanding our division, informed me that my regiment was needed to flank the enemy upon the extreme left; whereupon I moved forward at “quick” and “double-quick” time, until we arrived at an open field looking out upon the enemy’s lines. After holding this position a short time, Captain Wright, by your direction, ordered me through the woods, to take position near the front and center of the enemy’s line, in an open field, where we came under the direct fire of the enemy’s batteries, formed in “column by division”. After remaining in this position for some ten minutes I received orders from both your aides and those of Colonel Heintzelman to pass the whole front of the enemy’s line, in support of Ricketts’ battery, and proceed to the extreme right of our line and the left of the enemy, a distance of about a mile or more. The movement was effected at “quick” and “double-quick” time, both by the infantry and artillery, during which march the men threw from their shoulders their haversacks, blankets, and most of their canteens, to facilitate their eagerness to engage the enemy. On arriving at the point indicated, being the extreme left of the enemy, and the extreme right of our line, and in advance of all other of our troops, and where I was informed officially that two other regiments had declined to charger we formed a line of battle, our right resting within a few feet of the woods and the left at and around Ricketts’ battery and upon the crest of the hill, within fifty or sixty feet of the enemy’s line of infantry, with whom we could have conversed in an ordinary tone of voice. Immediately upon Ricketts’ battery coming into position, and we in “line of battle,” Colonel Heintzelman rode up between our lines and that of the enemy, within pistol shot of each, which circumstance staggered my judgment whether those in front were friends or enemies, it being equally manifest that the enemy were in the same dilemma as to our identity. But a few seconds, however, undeceived both, they displaying the rebel and we the Union flag. Instantly a blaze of fire was poured into the faces of the combatants, each producing terrible destruction owing to the close proximity of the forces, which was followed by volley after volley, in regular and irregular order as to time, until Ricketts’ battery was disabled and cut to pieces and a large portion of its officers and men had fallen, and until Companies H, I, K, C, G, and those immediately surrounding my regimental flag were so desperately cut to pieces as to make it more of a slaughter than an equal combat, the enemy manifestly numbering five guns to our one, besides being intrenched in the woods and behind ditches and pits, plainly perceptible, and with batteries on the enemy’s right enfilading my left flank and within 350 yards direct range. After an effort to obtain aid from the Fire Zouaves, then immediately upon our left, two or three different orders came to retire, as it was manifest that the contest was too deadly and unequal to be longer justifiably maintained. Whereupon I gave the command to retire, seeing that the whole of our forces were seemingly in retreat. Every inch of ground, however, was strongly contested by skirmishers through the woods, by the fences, and over the undulating ground until we had retired some 400 yards in reasonably good order, to a point where the men could procure water, and then took up a regular and orderly retreat to such point as some general officer might indicate thereafter.
I feel it due to my regiment to say that before leaving the extreme right of our line the enemy attempted to make a charge with a body of perhaps 500 cavalry, who were met by my command and a part of the Fire Zouaves and repulsed with considerable loss to the enemy but without any to us. I am more than gratified to say that I kept the large body of my regiment together and marched from the field in order and on the march, and near an open space where Colonel Heintzelman’s column left the Centerville and Manassas road in the morning and passed to the right we, in conjunction with others, repulsed the enemy’s cavalry, who attempted to charge. Before leaving the field a portion of the right wing, owing to the configuration of the ground and the intervening woods, became detached, under the command of LieutenantColonel Miller, whose gallantry was conspicuous throughout the entire battle and who contested every inch of the ground with his forces thrown out as skirmishers in the woods and succeeded in occupying the original ground on the right after the repulse of a body of cavalry. I deem it worthy of remark that during a part of the engagement my regiment and that of the enemy at some points became so intermingled as scarcely to be able to distinguish friends from foes and my forces made several prisoners, among whom was Lieutenant-Colonel Boone, of Mississippi, who is now in Washington and fully recognizes his captors. I regard it as an event of rare occurrence in the annals of history that a regiment of volunteers not over three months in the service marched up without flinching to the mouth of batteries of cannon supported by thousands of infantry and opened and maintained a fire until one-fifth of the whole regiment was killed, wounded, or made prisoners before retiring, except for purposes of advantage of position. My heart is full of gratitude to my officers and men for their gallant bearing throughout the whole of this desperate engagement, and to distinguish the merits of one from another would be invidious and injustice might be done. Major Dike and my adjutant bore themselves with coolness throughout. My chaplain, Rev. E. D. Neill, was on the field the whole time and in the midst of danger, giving aid and comfort to the wounded. Doctor Stewart, while on the field, was ordered to the hospital by a medical officer of the army. Doctor Le Boutillier continued with the regiment and actually engaged in the fight, neither of whom have been heard from since. That I have not unfairly or unjustly to the truth of history stated the facts in regard to the gallant conduct of my regiment is fully proved by the appended list of killed and wounded, showing 49 killed, 107 wounded, and 34 missing. The names and companies to which they belong, in detail, will more fully appear in the accompanying list and abstracts.(*) Among the incidents of the engagement my command took several prisoners, among whom was Lieutenant.Colonel Boone, of the Mississippi regiment, taken personally by Mr. Irvine, of my regiment, and since said prisoner’s confinement in the Capitol at Washington City Mr. Irvine, in company with Hon. Morton S. Wilkinson, U.S. Senator from Minnesota, visited him, when he promptly recognized Mr. Irvine as his captor and thanked him very cordially for his humane treatment and kindness to him as a prisoner. I deem it but just that this fact should be officially known, as Lieutenant-Colonel Boone was an officer of the highest rank taken in the battle.
The humble part which I have performed as an officer commanding one of the regiments of your brigade, individually and otherwise, is now left to you and those commanding the division.
W. A. GORMAN,
Colonel First Regiment of Minnesota
Comdg. First Brigade Colonel Heintzelman’s Div.,
Supplement to the official report of Colonel Gorman, of the First Regiment of Minnesota
CAMP MINNESOTA, July 26, 1861
The regimental flag borne by my color-bearer has through its folds one cannon ball, two grape-shot, and sixteen bullets, and one in the staff. The color guard were all wounded but the color-bearer, one mortally. The company flag of Company I was pierced with five balls and one on the spear head. Please attach this to my report.
W. A. GORMAN,
Colonel First Regiment of Minnesota