Lieut. Clarke Leftwich and His Crew’s Account of the Battle

8 01 2009

Richmond Enquirer, August 6, 1861, p 1

The Late Battle Near Manassas.

To the Editors of the Enquirer:

Camp near Centreville, July 29, 1861

Gentlemen: – In your issue of the 29th inst., there appeared a letter, purporting to be an official account of the action of the “Staunton Battery” in the great fight of last Sunday week, over the signature of its head officer, Capt. Imboden.  Though no one can doubt the courage and gallantry of the officers and men under the galling fire poured into them by the enemy’s forces; still there are some inaccuracies in the report, which I wish to correct. – Capt. Imboden, says he was the first (of the left wing) on the ground, and fired the first shot.  This is not the case.  The left half of Latham’s Battery – three pieces, belonging to Gen. Evans’s brigade, – were on the ground from twenty minutes to half an hour before, and had already opened the fire to the extent of twelve or fourteen rounds.  One of the pieces was to the right of the Staunton Battery, and commanded an open space to the right of a small belt of woods; while the other piece was to the left of the same belt, and within a hundred yards or so of the Stone House.  This piece was across the ravine, on the hill, 500 yards directly in front of the Staunton Battery – which Battery played over this piece during most of this engagement.  I was with this piece myself, and, from the last mentioned point, saw the Staunton Battery, and a regiment of infantry come over the hill, in our rear. – But before they came we had repeatedly fired into the enemy, who were formed in battle array immediately at the edge of the woods.

Furthermore, it was not the limber chest that “ran away,” as the gallant captain says, but the caissonIt was stationed at the Stone House in our rear, in the ravine.  The horses took fright, ran off, and dashed the caisson to pieces.  Some time after this, we had to retire in consequence of the enemy having driven in our support, who retired past our piece; while the enemy’s skirmishers tried to pick off the cannoneers from their guns.  This piece (ours) was then taken across the ravine to the hill, and planted a hundred yards to the right of the Staunton Battery, and remained there, together with our other piece, until the Staunton Battery retired from the field. -  Both pieces also continued firing for a short time afterwards.  And it was not until the Staunton Battery had retired that our piece had run out of ammunition.  I saw all this with my own eyes, and can, with the rest of the men, and the officer commanding the piece, vouch for its correctness.

As to the Alabama Regiment crossing to the north side of the Warrenton road, (as affirmed in Captain Imboden’s official report,) with our gun, that, too, is incorrect.  Our two six-pounders were brought from the Stone Bridge directly to the scene of action, (which commenced immediately after we took position,) unattended by the Alabama Regiment or a single individual except those commanding and manning the guns.  Nor did General Bee give an order to any one connected with Latham’s Battery, nor authorize anyone else to do it for him, during the time we were exposed to the enemy’s fire.  No gun or piece of artillery took position between the Staunton battery and the enemy, or with the Alabama regiment at any portion of the fight, except our two six-pounders.  Nor was any piece north of the Warrenton road except ours, during the engagement.  Probably, as ours was within three hundred yards of the enemy, and the Staunton battery five hundred yards in our rear, the Captain may have mistaken our gun for that of the enemy, as many of his balls fell within a few yards in advance of our gun.  But, if so, Col. Sloan’s regiment, and Major Wheat’s battalion, who first engaged 35,000 of the enemy, and fought and retreated under cover of our two six-pounders, have not forgotten it, nor did they mistake it at the time.

What our right and left half-batteries did, is known to Generals Evans and Cocke, and we seek no more notoriety.

We beg, most repectfully, as members of the piece referred to, to sign our names,

  • James W. Dickinson, Sergeant,
  • Charles Perry, Gunner,
  • Cannoneers:
    • R. B. Ross,
    • George Kendall,
    • W. S. Kinsey,
    • W. H. Bell,
    • Wm. S. Moore,
    • Wm. Reid

I affirm the statement, made in the above remarks, to be true in every respect, as I commanded the piece.

L. Clarke Leftwich,

Lieut. Commanding Gun

 

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14 responses

9 01 2009
caswain01

Harry,

Matching this with Imboden’s report makes me want to head back out on the field and do another survey of the ground. Might be good to have some line of site photos indicating “Imboden said he saw this…but Sgt Dickinson said he was doing this…”

Interesting that a lowly gun crew felt the need to correct the public record.

Craig.

9 01 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Craig,

I suspect that the letter was written by Leftwich, and the crew affixed their names as opposed to the other way around. But just to be safe, I’ve altered the title of the post.

Line of site photos would be great. Want to share?

9 01 2009
caswain01

Harry, I’m going to look at my stash of Manassas photos this weekend to see if I can “draw the scene.” If not, guess I’ll have to go on site and walk the ground again…. I know, tough duty, but someone has to do that difficult “boots on the ground” work.

I think if I have a photo that pans a little to the right of photo 3 on this marker entry (http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=8229), at least the “we were here and you were there” discussion can be laid over the modern terrain. Or would you suggest a different point of view?

Craig.

9 01 2009
Robert Moore

Oh man! I hate when something like this pops up after having written a book. It would have been nice to have several years back when I wrote about Latham’s battery. Did you get this from the Richmond Enquirer or was it included in the supplement to the ORs?

Harry, am I reading that right? Leftwich says that Wheat took on a whopping 35,000 Yankees?!

I’ve seen this type of thing before (groups of men…mostly Confederates… writing a newspaper to challenge accounts written in the newspaper). I feel it was just that the men wanted credit to go to where credit was due.

9 01 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Craig,

I defer to your judgment vis photo POV.

Robert,

I’ll be writing another post today, but I received a scan of this newspaper from Jim Burgess at the park. The overestimates are typical of Confederate reports, and typical of Union reports, for all actions throughout the war by everybody. Oh yes, even by folks like Grant. The fact of the matter is, both sides at BR had about the same number engaged (around 16-17,000), and about the same number available (33-36,000). We don’t include Runyon because he was held so far in reserve, just like we don’t count Johnston’s men left behind in the Valley.

9 01 2009
Robert Moore

I’ve seen some gross exagerations of numbers in battle reports, but the mention of as many as 35K against Wheat’s Battn. alone seemed perhaps one of the largest single over-estimations that I think I have ever seen at that level (from the perspective of one gun crew or even from the perspective of a battalion in battle). Then again, it was First BR.

You know, when you mentioned Johnston just now, you just reminded me of something. I think I have something in my files about some Virginia militia units from the Valley being closer to the battle than originally believed. I’ll have to see if I can find it.

9 01 2009
Brad Davidson

Woods now exist on Matthew’s Hill where they didn’t in 1861. The cornfield area in front of the Rhode Island Battery’s position is still open, but the site of Matthew’s farm house and the once open fields around it are now deeply wooded and tangled in vines, etc. This includes the open fields that the left side of the Union line occupied and the open field in which the 1st Louisana was first positioned upon its arrival on Matthew’s Hill as well as what was once an open field in front of the right side of the 4th Alabama’s position. Latham’s position on Buck Hill is still unwooded (and clearly visible from Imboden’s position) but I believe Davidson’s position is wooded and now not visible from Imboden’s. Trying to understand much of what happened on Matthew’s Hill is tough due to its present heavily wooded condition. NPS did make a small attempt recently to remedy this by removing a pine grove which was planted in front of the famous oak thicket which the 4th South Carolina occupied on Matthew’s Hill but it wasn’t enough. I do have a suggestion that might help. Once when I was at the park, I met Jim Burgess and he gave me a copy of part of the hand drawn map made by Captain D.B. Harris of Beauregard’s staff shortly after the battle. This map shows the positions occupied by both side’s infantry and artillery. If someone could persuade Jim to send a zoomable copy of the whole map, it might go a long ways towards everyone having a clearer understanding of the battle on Matthew’s Hill.

9 01 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Brad,

I’ve made the request, and will post the image if Jim is able to send it.

Harry

10 01 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Brad,

For reasons I won’t specify, the park is unable at this time to provide an image of the map. The map has been on loan to the NPS, and an estate needs to settle ownership. These things take time.

Harry

9 01 2009
Leftwich’s Gun Crew’s Rebuttal « Bull Runnings

[...] Gun Crew’s Rebuttal 9 01 2009 The letter to the Richmond Enquirerwritten by members of Leftwich’s gun from Latham’s Battery, contesting the report of [...]

10 01 2009
Brad

Let’s hope that one day it becomes available to the general public.

The day that I met Jim Burgess at the park, we had a short conversation about the then present condition of Matthew’s Hill, including the location of the oak thicket that the 4th South Carolina occupied . Jim told me that he had conducted a study, based in part upon maps drawn during the war, that showed the original location and configuration of the oak thicket. Over the years and through the mismanagement of prior NPS personnel, pines were planted around what was left of the oak thicket. These pines grew and spread out to such a point that they developed into a forest of their own which took over an area in front of and to the west of the oak thicket which wasn’t wooded at the time of the battle. Those pines and some other wooded areas around the battlefield which weren’t present at the time of both battles were removed as a result of Jim’s study. Anyways, Jim gave me a copy of the study he did regarding the oak thicket and Buck Hill which include copies of the maps he used to reach his conclusions. It is a fascinating and detailed study and Jim deserves all the thanks we can give him for trying to return the battlefield to its war time state.

Sadly though, most of Matthew’s Hill remains densely wooded. And what does this have to do with the questions poised above? Not much except that until Matthew’s Hill is returned to its original state, we are never going to be able to see this very important part of the battlefield with the prespective it deserves. You can’t stand at Imboden’s position on Henry Hill and see the field as he saw it. It’s near impossible to truly ascertain the position the 8th Georgia took when they drew up in line in “that awful place of death” to do battle near the Matthew’s farm. You have to really use your imagination to advance with the 4th Alabama up Matthew’s Hill because most of the position their right flank occupied is so densely wooded that you can’t see more than twenty feet in front of you. By leaving this part of the battlefield like this the whole battlefield suffers.

11 01 2009
caswain01

So I take it the side of Matthews Hill in question is not part of the “globally rare oak and hickory hardwood forest” that the conservationists protested about loudly when the park started the wood clearing in that area…..

11 01 2009
Brad

I’m no tree expert but whenever I’m walking around that part of Matthew’s Hill I see mostly pine.

12 01 2009
caswain01

Brad, my description of the woods was a veiled reference to a group which opposed the tree cutting at Manassas. Their stance was the trees represented some very distinctive ecosystem unique to Northern Virginia. The same group has been strangely silent with regard to the Wilderness Crossing plot (which includes a good stand of oak and hickory, intermixed with pine stands), that Wal Mart plans to clear.

I’m with you though, I thought once there were only two kinds of trees – dead ones and live ones. Then the wife explained about that third sort – Christmas Trees….

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