Pvt. John Clay Brown, 14th Brooklyn, on his Return to the Battlefield

18 09 2008

This is an exerpt of a letter written by a member of Company D, 14th Brooklyn recounting his return to the First Bull Run battlefield in March of 1862, around the time of many of the photographs you can view here.  A transcription of this letter was provided to Bull Runnings by Dr. Thomas Clemens of Keedysville, MD.  This post includes a short biography and photograph of the author, John H. C. Brown.  Only the greeting, the first paragraph, part of the third paragraph, and closing are reproduced below.  The “Sister” to whom the letter is addressed is Brown’s friend Mary Emma Chalmers, Dr. Clemens’ great-great grandmother.  See the full letter here.

Virginia, March 24th, 1862

Dear Sister,

Having great confidence in you abilitys of endurance I even now dare to address you even at this late hour.  You wrote me long ago and although some time in coming, notwithstanding, I determined to answer it immediately.  But dear Sister you know, or at least believe me your well known brother?  That I had a good chance I would have wrote before, but enough of this, Nuff cid.  You are aware that we left our old camp last week and proceeded to Fair Fax, a distance of fourteen miles in a heavy rain and mud ankle-deep.  excuse me?  Well half way Enos and I fell out and after a rest of twenty minutes we again trudge on, soon however unable to walk further, I took my boots off and put on my shoes.  This was when I arrived in Fair Fax, at which place I rested a few minutes and as I gazed upon the [fifty?] earthworks erected by the rebels I though[t] Did they think the Army of the Potomac would halt before that [ ? ]  They could not have thought that, it was but a faint to keep us back to allow them to have more time.  Well we pressed on and halted three miles this side of Centreville, at which place we formed Brigade again, stacked arms (loaded), and then after having a cup of hot coffee I laid down, wet, tired and sick after offering a prayer to God to take care of my friends, the army and myself and slept [sweetly?] I might say.  Well next morning we awoke to find that the rebels had left and in their retreat had blown up both of the large bridges at Bull Run and also Cobb [Cub] run.  Well after being there the third day we all donned our red pants and marched to Centreville there we stacked arms and the Gen. gave us leave to visit the old Battle ground.  It was a long walk, eight miles, but as we want to see the old field where we fought and some of us fell, it did not seem so far.  Well we arrived there about one oclock, and a tear would come as I would notice not one, two, yes ten of [ ? ] our boys unburied, all not one had a head on, oh the rebels will feel the effect of our sorrow when we meet them again.  How soon that meeting will take place I do not know but we hope [ ? ] the sooner the better.  The next day we sent a squad of men to bury them and mark the spot also where they lay.

[Second paragraph]

Mary, I hope you are well and doing well.  I often think of you and all the folks and of my sabbath school.  I long to see them again and hear their voices singing prayers to God.  What a blessed work teaching those little minds the way to everlasting life.  They, the teachers are doing as great a work as I, they are training their minds for heaven and I one of the wandering flock, defending my country, defending them and their parents from harm and danger, for I am sure if the rebels could gain the day they would hesitate at nothing.  They would, as they have done already, break the laws of God and man but the race is nearly run, they have but a few short days to live and so have some of us, but if we are I feel [ ? ] it will be a glorious fate, but for them they will die in ignominity and shame, a disgrace to God and to their country.

[Fourth paragraph]

[Fifth paragraph]

Your affectionate friend,

John C. Brown


Antietam Anniversary

15 09 2008

I’m back from Sharpsburg, where the Sharpsburg Historical Society put on their annual Heritage Days festival.  I drove down Friday evening with my friend Mike, and met up with SHAF president Tom Clemens to set up our booth behind the German Reformed Church (UCC) early Saturday morning.  We manned the booth until it was time for us to head up the street to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for our talks at 2:00 and 3:00 PM respectively.  Prior to that, fellow bloggers Mannie and Brian showed up at the booth, Mannie only briefly to snap a few photos before heading back to the battlefield for his rangerin’ duties.  (By the way, I will never, ever submit my readers to photos of my ugly mug, so you’re safe here.)  While about 20 folks were in attendance at beautiful St. Paul’s for Tom’s talk on Shepherdstown, only 8 stuck around for my program.  And three of them were friends of mine!  But I hope everyone enjoyed the presentation, and a fairly lively Q&A ensued regardless.  I also realized that this fourth presentation of a version of my Threads program took place in the fourth different state, the others being PA, NC, & OH.  Tom, Mike, Brian, and I capped the day off with a nice dinner at Captain Bender’s in town, then I took Mike on a ride around the area, visiting the National Cemetery, the Pry farm, the Upper Bridge, Shepherdstown’s Cement Mill ruins, Ferry Hill Place, and Lee’s HQ before returning to our motel in Martinsburg.

Due to a SHAF board manpower shortage, I again returned to the Festival early Sunday morning to set up the booth while Mike went back to the park for a tour.  Good friend Chris Army came down and visited for awhile after attending the early morning Ranger Walk, helping to take my mind off the mid 90’s (heat and humidity) conditions.  A couple board members showed up around lunchtime, and Tom provided me with a super letter by and photo of a 14th Brooklyn soldier who returned to the battlefield in March 1862 – I’ll be posting it later.  Mike and I then went up to the VC at the park and took a quick walk along the Union Attack Trail on the east side of Burnside’s Bridge – then it was back on the road for home.  I got here around 7:30.  High winds kicked in: the power went out in the 2nd quarter of the Steelers-Browns game, and I awoke this morning to a Black & Gold victory and some vinyl siding missing from the house.  Take the good with the bad.

Anyway, gotta get caught up, including writing my reviews-in-brief for America’s Civil War.  Back to posting after that.

Medal of Honor: Mary E. Walker

10 09 2008

Rank: Contract Acting Assisstant Sugeon (Civilian)

Organization: U. S. Army

Entered Service: Louisville, KY

Birth: 26 November 1832

Date Medal Issued: 11 November 1865 (Rescinded 1917; restored by President Carter 10 June 1977)

Places and Dates: Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861; Patent Office Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861; Chattanooga, Tenn., following Battle of Chickamauga, September 1863; Prisoner of War, April 10, 1864-August 12, 1864, Richmond, Va.; Battle of Atlanta, September 1864

Citation: Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, “has rendered valuable service to the Government, and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways,” and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Ky., upon the recommendation of Major-Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soliders, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and  Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made: It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.

Given under my hand in the city of Washington, D.C., this 11th day of November, A.D. 1865.

Andrew Johnson,

Top of the World, Ma!!!

10 09 2008

Bull Runnings and its not so humble host have made the big time with this notice of my upcoming program at Sharpsburg Heritage Days posted on the NPS website for Antietam National Battlefield.  I know it’s not much, but it’s pretty cool to me!  Let’s just hope things turn out better for me than they did for Cody Jarret.

I was going to work up a program based on the Kilpartrick Family Ties series, but now that both the NPS and the festival’s website have advertised that I will be doing my Bull Run Threads presentation I guess I’ll stick to that – an amended version of my last roundtable talk, which may include some stuff I was not able to get to in Columbus.  I think I’ll still work up a program on Kilpatrick, so if any of you are interested in that presentation, contact me through the comments section of this post or the Speaking Dates page to the right.

If you’re in town Saturday, please stop by for the SHAF lecture series, which also features Antietam authorities John Schildt and Tom Clemens.  Their programs are at 1:00 and 2:00 PM respectively, and I go on at 3:00.  All lectures are at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sharpsburg, and are free to the public.  And be sure to say hi!

New Sidebar Widget

9 09 2008

I’ve added a new item to my sidebar (those things that appear there in the column on the right are called “widgets”, so now that word actually means something outside of econ class fantasyland) – NOW READING.  This will give you some idea of my glacial reading pace.

#42 – Lieut. Col. Frank S. Fiske

8 09 2008

Report of Lieut. Col. Frank S. Fiske, Second New Hampshire Infantry

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, p. 401


Camp Sullivan, near Washington, July 27, 1861

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the movements of the Second Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers during the march and battle on the 21st instant. I give the time of our different movements as nearly as possible:

The regiment left its camp near Centreville at 2 o’clock a.m., and immediately took its place in the column of the Second Brigade, under Colonel Burnside. We continued in the column of the brigade until near the field of battle. On arriving at the battle-field (10.30) we were ordered up to support the Rhode Island Battery. Before arriving at the place indicated we were ordered on to the crest of a hill, in a field considerably to the right, exposed to the fire of the enemy’s batteries. We here fired upon some battalions said to be Georgia troops, who retired to the shelter of the woods opposite. After they retired the regiment was withdrawn under the shelter of the brow of the hill. We were then ordered to the left to support the Rhode Island Battery. The men took their position and fired several volleys. Colonel Marston was wounded here and carried to the rear (11.30 a.m.).

We were moved from here to a position on the left and in advance of the Rhode-Island Battery, where we fired a few shots at the retreating enemy. After remaining here an hour, more or less, we were ordered to report ourselves to Colonel Heintzelman (1 o’clock p.m.). The regiment moved to a position near his column, and I sent the sergeant-major there several times to report the regiment ready to render any succor or support they were able to afford. The sergeant-major was unable to meet with Colonel Heintzelman or his staff. After remaining in our position some time I received an order (2.30 p.m.) to advance to a position indicated, which was to the left and a quarter of a mile in advance of the troops engaged in that part of the field. The enemy were screened from our sight. As the men were exposed to fire from a battery and from musketry, I ordered them to lie down, and fire whenever any of the enemy were exposed.

After a short time we were ordered to withdraw. The men retired leisurely and in perfectly good order, halting once under the shelter of some woods. On our way to join our brigade we were ordered by an officer of dragoons, whose regiment was in advance in the retreat, to make haste, or we should be cut off by the enemy’s cavalry. Our column was formed again in the brigade, but before the formation was complete the retreat began, and continued, with a short rest at our former camp, near Centreville, to Washington.

The men obeyed orders with coolness and precision during the whole day. They took every position they were ordered to, and never wavered or retired until ordered to do so, and were among the last, if not the last, to leave the field. Their retreat on the whole route to their camp was unattended by tumult or any disorder further than leaving their ranks. Their conduct throughout the day inspires me with entire confidence in their courage and steadiness, and I hope will meet your commendation.


Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Second. N.H. Volunteers

Sullivan Ballou Letter Video Clip – “Honorable Manhood”

7 09 2008

Here’s that clip from the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War.  UPDATE: Sorry, the video portion has been removed, but at least we have the audio.

Note that the film used an abbreviated version of the letter.  The last line of the full letter appears on Ballou’s monument in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI.

Photo from this site.

Maj. Sullivan Ballou, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, to his Wife

6 09 2008

Camp Clark, Washington

July 14th, 1861

My Dear Sarah,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow.  Lest I shall not be able to write to you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.  Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but Thine O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my Country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.  I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government and to pay that debt.  But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as the only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me ,many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death – and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of all those I loved and I could find none. A pure love of country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear Death” have called upon me and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me in mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break.  And yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains, to the battlefield.

The memories of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come creeping over me, and I feel most grateful to God and you that I’ve enjoyed them so long.  And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.  I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar – that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and as my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you.  How thoughtless, how foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness and struggle with all the misfortunes of this world to shield you, and your children, from harm.  But I cannot.  I must watch you from the Spirit-land and hover near you, while you buffit the storm, with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience, till we meet to part no more.

But O Sarah!  if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you – in the garrish days and darkest nights… amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, or if the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.  Sarah, do not mourn me dead – think I am gone and wait for thee – for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care.  Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood.  Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters, and feel that God will bless you in your holy work.  Tell my two mothers, his and hers, I call God’s blessing upon them.  O Sarah, I wait for you there!  Come to me and lead thither my children.


The original Sullivan Ballou letter to his wife is not extant.  Several versions of the letter exist.  The above relies on Robin Young’s For Love & Liberty: The Untold Story of Major Sullivan Ballou & His Famous Love Letter, which cites as its source for the letter the Rhode Island Historical Society.

#41 – Lieut. Col. Frank Wheaton

6 09 2008

Report of Lieut. Col. Frank Wheaton, Second Rhode Island Infantry

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, p. 400


Camp Clark, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1861

SIR: In conformity with paragraph No. 723, Army Regulations, I have the honor to submit through you to the brigadier-general commanding the following report of the killed, wounded, and missing in the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the late battle with the secession forces near Bull Run, Va. A more detailed report, giving the names of all killed, &c., is now being prepared, and will be submitted at the earliest possible moment.

It is my mournful duty to record as amongst the first killed, as he was first in the fight, our gallant colonel, John S. Slocum, who was three times wounded, and left in a dying condition. Maj. Sullivan Ballou, while bravely assisting in changing the position of our center, was struck from his horse by a ball from a rifled cannon, and also left unconscious and dying.

The total loss of my command is 114 killed, wounded, and missing. Among the killed are Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, Capt. Levi Tower, commanding Company F, Capt. Samuel James Smith, commanding Company I. Among the wounded are Lieut. Stephen T. Arnold, temporarily commanding Company B, and Second Lieut. Henry C. Cook, Company I. The total number killed, wounded, and missing is 114; total number killed, 28; total number wounded, 56; total number missing, 30. A carefully corrected list of the names in full of all who are among the above will accompany my detailed report of the operations of the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the battle of the 21st instant, as also a list of arms, &c., destroyed or lost in action.

Thanking you for the compliment bestowed us on the field, and for having assigned us the advance on our way to meet the enemy and the lead in the fight and the rear in the retreat, I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Captain, U.S. Army, Lieut. Col.

Second Rhode Island Vols.

Lieutenant BEAUMONT,

First Cavalry, U. S. Army, Aide-de-Camp, &c.

#40 – Maj. Joseph P. Balch

6 09 2008

Report of Maj. Joseph P. Balch, First Rhode Island Infantry

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 399-400


Camp Sprague, Washington, D. C., July 23, 1861

SIR: I have the honor to report the casualties of this regiment, the result of the battle near Bull Run, Va., 21st instant: 13 killed; 39 wounded; 30 missing; total amount of loss, 78. We mourn the loss, among the first killed, of Lieut. Henry A. Prescott, Company D, a brave soldier, an accomplished officer, a gentle and pious man. Among the missing, of Capt. William L. Bowers, quartermaster, and Lieut. Sylvester R. Knight, Company D, probably both prisoners, as they were uninjured when last seen, subsequent to the action.

Notwithstanding a fatiguing march of seven to eight hours, we maintained the position assigned us, and the general commanding conceded to Rhode Island, upon the field, the honor of not only frustrating the attempts of a vastly superior force to outflank our left, but driving back in confusion their right flank.

In the retreat resulting from the turning of the right flank of our Army by the enemy, the regiment was brought off in good order, with the brigade to which it was attached, without further serious casualty other than the excessive fatigue arising from and natural to a march of some forty miles in fifteen to sixteen hours.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Major, Commanding First Regiment Rhode Island Vols.

Lieut. C. H. MERRIMAN,

Acting Asst. Adjt. Gen., Second Brigade, Second Division


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