John Pelham’s Account of the Battle

8 12 2008

A letter from Lt. John Pelham to his father first appeared in the Jacksonville, AL Jacksonville Republican on August 8, 1861.  This excerpt appeared in the newsletter of the John Pelham Historical Association, The Cannoneer, Vol. 2, No.1 (see here)

MANASSAS JUNCTION,
July 23, ’61

I just write to let you know that we have had one of the most desperate battles ever fought on American soil. It was the most desperate — the enemy fought long and well, but victory is ours; it was a splendid victory too. Jeff Davis made his appearance on the field, just as the last of the Yankees were in full retreat. I was under a heavy fire of musketry and cannon for about seven hours, how I escaped or why I was spared a just God only knows. Rifle balls fell like hail around me. Shells bursted and scattered their fragments through my Battery — my horse was shot under me, but did not give out till the fight was almost over. I was compelled to take one of my Sergeant’s horses and ride through. At one time I dismounted and directed the guns — one of the gunners asked me to dismount and shoot the Federal’s flag down. I did so — you ought to have heard the cheers they gave me. I directed all my guns three or four times apiece. My men were cool and brave and made terrible havoc on the enemy. They fought better than I expected they would. The highest praise is due them. We shot down three U.S. flags and dislodged the enemy from several positions. I was complimented several times on the field of battle by general officers and a great many times after the battle was over by other officers.

You may want to know my feelings — I felt as cool and deliberate under the shower of lead and iron as if I had been at home by our fireside — I did not feel fear at any moment; I can’t see how I escaped — a merciful Providence must have been watching over us and our cause. We slept on our arms last night but were not disturbed. The battle began about 8 o’clock but did not become general until 10 o’clock. We fought desperately about 9 1/2 hours, but I was under fire only about 7 1/2 hours; the enemy attacked our left flank and then tried to turn it. We had to change our line of battle and fight them on their own ground.

We whipped old Scott on Sunday — his great fighting fortunate day on ground of their own choosing in open field. They poured down overwhelming numbers on us. I firmly believe they had three to our one — but I don’t know positively how many they had — certainly between 50,000 and 100,000 men. A great many prrisoners told us, they expected confidently to whip us here and then go to Richmond. We have got about 1000 prisoners and the cavalry are bringing them in continually. We took the celebrated Rhode Island battery of rifled cannon, also Sherman’s great battery of the same kind of guns — also the West Point battery that I have drilled with so often.

They say we have taken 90 pieces of Artillery — I have not seen all of them, but I have seen a great many. They had the best Artillery trains and equippage I ever beheld, but We have them now: I have no idea how many small arms we took, a great many. The victory was splendid and complete. Col. Forney’s Reg’t was not engaged — but the 4th Ala. Regt. was cut all to pieces. They fought desperately. The Col., the Lieut. Col., and Major were all shot down but neither of them are mortally wounded. I don’t know what the intention of our General is but I hope I will be able to write to you from Washington City before many weeks. Johnston’s forces were encamped at Winchester, but we all moved down here on getting a dispatch from Beauregard. We got here the evening before the fight — Beauregard repulsed them with considerable loss a few days ago.

I have seen what Romancers call glorious war. I have seen it in all its phases. I have heard the booming of cannon, and the more deadly rattle of musketry at a distance — I have heard it all nearby and have been under its destructive showers; I have seen men and horses fall thick and fast around me. I have seen our own men bloody and frightened flying before the enemy — I have seen them bravely charge the enemy’s lines and heard the shout of triumph as they carried the position. I have heard the agonizing shrieks of the wounded and dying — I have passed over the battle field and seen the mangled forms of men and horses in frightful abundance — men without heads, without arms, and others without legs. All this I have witnessed and more, till my heart sickens; and war is not glorious as novelists would have us believe. It is only when we are in the heat and flush of battle that it is fascinating and interesting. It is only then that we enjoy it. When we forget ourselves and revel in the destruction we are dealing around us. I am now ashamed of the feelings I had in those hours of danger. The whistling of bullets and shells was music to me, I gloried in it — it delighted and fascinated me — I feared not death in any form; but when the battle was won and I visited the field a change came over me, I see the horrors of war, but it is necessary: We are battling for our rights and our homes. Ours is a just war, a holy cause. The invader must meet the fate he deserves and we must meet him as becomes us, as becomes men.





Let it Snow

6 12 2008

Don’t attempt to adjust your computer screen.  We control the vertical.  We control the horizontal.  For all you Californians, that’s snow falling on Bull Runnings, courtesy of WordPress’s extras.  You guys out there get great big giant fake breasts, we here in Pittsburgh get snow.  I for one am glad for it, ’cause if it was the other way around shoveling my driveway would be a real bear.

Happy Holidays!





New Map

4 12 2008

I know I haven’t posted much here or in the Bull Run Resources about the fight at Blackburn’s Ford on July 18, 1861.  I’ll get to that eventually, I promise.  But for now, I have updated the Maps page with the below image of a map of that action drawn by E. Porter Alexander.  Check it out.  Thanks to Jim Burgess of Manassas National Battlefield Park for sending me the image from the Park’s archives. 

Recently some e-quaintances and I were discussing the position of Ayres’ (Sherman’s) Battery during the fight.  It would appear from Alexander’s perspective the battery was situated somewhat to the east of the ford, but it’s not clear from the map to which of Ayres’ positions Alexander was referring.

You can leave comments here or on the Maps page, but here is probably better.

alexander-map





Cool Stuff Coming Up

3 12 2008

A few neat developments here at Bull Runnings.  With the help of friends Robert Moore and Jonathan Soffe, I think we’ve ironed out some problems with the CSA and CSA artillery OOBs.  According to Jim Burgess at the Battlefield, one of these is a problem which has persisted at least since 1947!  At the same time I think we’ve solved a related problem in the Bull Run bible, R. M. Johnston’s Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics.

I made the changes, but think I’m going to revamp the Arty OOBs a little.

I’ll also share an E. Porter Alexander map of the action at Blackburn’s Ford Jim provided.





Shout Out

1 12 2008

Thanks to reader Robert Moore II of Cenantua’s Blog for the numerous contributions he has made to this site over the past few days, while most of us were in turkey induced comas.  As a result, I have fixed a couple of inaccuracies in my CSA and CSA Artillery orders of battle (I had conflicting info noted on the OOBs – I try to do that when I’m not sure).  Check out the comments to posts here, here, here, and here.  Now it’s a question of me getting all this other good stuff incorporated into the site.  Thanks Robert for this and all the other help you’ve provided.  This type of reader participation is what I had in mind when I started this blog.  No blogger is an island.

Lest you think I just take anyone’s “word” for stuff, I do check everything out as much as possible.  In the case of the Culpeper/Newtown artillery, Robert is uniquely qualified to render advice because he has authored books on four of the Confederate batteries (including Newtown) present at First Bull Run.  These books are part of the Virginia Regimental History Series (VRHS), aka the Howard Series (those thin, gray volumes you see at NPS bookstores).  I plan on collecting the volumes for those units present at Bull Run, but individually and new they are not cheap.  Anybody want to trade any for OR volumes?

In the course of the flurry of comment exchanges this weekend, I wrote something along the lines of the the following, but it must have gone MIA.  Tell me if this is something you’d like to see:

I plan to write regimental biographies, which will work as follows:

  • A master page with all regiments listed and linked (one page for USA and one for CSA);
    • A page for each regiment with links to the following three posts:
      • Companies and commanders, including other names the companies were known as, along with county of origin.  Also numbers and losses for 7/21/61;
      • A very brief summary of the regiment’s movements on 7/21/61;
      • A full biographical sketch based on sources like Dyer, The Union Army, and Crute.  This will be easier for USA units than CSA, I think.







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