Pvt. Alexander Campbell, 79th NY, Describes the Battle to His Wife

5 05 2009

To Jane Campbell

Washington, DC

July 26th 1861

Dear Jane

I expect you will think it strange of me not writing you sooner.  I certanely would but they saud around here that no Letters was aloud to Leave here since the Battel of Bulls Runn whether it was true or not.  Anny how you must have heard that I was all safe.  There was a telegraph Despach came her[e] enquiring if I was all safe & the Magear said to me he answered it so I thought it would ease your mind til I would get a chance to tell you myself.  I came out of Battel without a scratch.  So Did James & Matthew & Brown.  I cant see how we all came off so safe for it was such a tremendous shoure of bullets that god onely knowes how anny of us is Left to tell the tale.  I cannot begin to tell you about how the battle begun and how it ended.  It would take me a week to write all the sights & seans I seen & came through since I wrote you Last.  I wish I could sit in my own house & tell you out of my own mouth all about it.

I was acting as right guid in McFadgan.  He & James & David Ireland was in washington.  It was fortunate that she {Ireland’s wife} came.  It was perhaps the means of saving therr Lives.  If you see Daniel Gillie or anny of them that worked in McMasters tell them that Daniel Larence is all safe & you are to tell Anney Ireland that her friend walker is safe & that william faset cannot be accounted for.  He got wounded in the arm and Left the field & has not been seen since.  The regiment suffered verry severe.  Captain Brown was killed by a cannon ball his side was almost carried away & cap shilling was killed by a cannon shot.  Manson & farask were taken prisoners & our captan cristie has cleard to new york.  He never stoped to se how his men was nor nothing.  If anny of you went to enquire after us at him I know the answer you would get.

We are all back in washington & going to encamp in the out skirts of the city & we might not Leave again till we come home.  I am shure I dont want to  go into virginia again.  We have come trough more hardships since we went over the Potomac than I would Like to go trough again.

I am writing this in John Stewarts.  Mrs. [David] Ireland was staying here.  She has gon out since I came in & she feels wuite happy and told me to tell anney that whe was in for the ware.  She says times is verry slack in new york.  I dont care how hard they were I would Like to be in it.  I think we have dun our share of the fiting & we ought to give them that wants to get out as bad as we did a chance.  There is not a man in the regiment but is quite willing to get back.

I suppose you wont have received anny money yet from the union Defence committee.  I Dont see how you are to get along.  I dont think that they intend to give us anny.  They have got us here & they can do what they Like.  It Look like it any how.

I almost forgot to tell you that in passing trough a place called germantown where there had been some of the reables but had run when they knew that we were comming I found a knapsack Lying in of the road with James Campbell wrote in side of it & I cut the pice out & took it with me.  I could almost sware it is my Brothers write & what makes me think so it was south carolina troops that was there.  It makes me feel verry bad to think that I was so near my own Brother & him on the one side & me on the other.  I might have shot him or he might have shot me & would not have knowen it.

I cannot say no more this time expecting to here from you soon & Little Jonney.  Poor Little fellow.  Little did he k[n]ow how his father is or the Danger he was in.    Its as well for him.  Many is the home that was Left fatherless on that Bloddy 21st of July.  It was sunday too – it is always sunday our army makes its grand moves.

Address to washington DC.  I am & the rest are well hopping this will find you all the same.  Good Day.

I remain your Afficonate Husband

Alexander Campbell

Tell [Brother] Peter when you se him that I will write him soon & that he will Pleas send some Paper.

————

Washington

Sunday July 28th 1861

Dear Jane

I take the oppartunity of writing you sume more oirticulars about Last sundays work.  We were encamped about 1 mile beyond Centrevell [Centerville, Va.] which is about 30 miles from washington.  We got orders on saturday [20 July] to march that night & we got our things packed up & 2 days rashings was served out to us and we were all formed in Line expecting to proceed but it wa[s] posponed untill nixt morning.  Sunday at two o clock [A.M.] we got ready at the time but did not get off so soon.  Some other regiments went & took there grond in the woods untill we all got up then our regiment & another one struck off to the right & scoured the woods to see if there was anny of the enimy Lurking there.  There was sum shots fired but wee saw no one until we got out of the wood.  We could see them away off the hights in front.  We were ordered to sit down but to be ready to spring up in a moment.

There was a battery of artillery on the road a Little below us the battery that accompanied our brigade and it comenced firing shells to find out the enemys position.  They knew what they were about and they did not fire a shot from there masked batterys.  Then there a company taken from the regiment on our right 13 of new york & they commenced firing with there rifels at the enemys pickets which was returned.  Then 4 cannon was brought up and comenced shelling the enemy which could be seen in great numbers running in all directings.  Sum of our men went up in trees & got a fine view of the enemy comming in in great force.  We were still Lying in the outskirts of the wood and could see dust rising out among the trees.  They when I say they I meen the enemy were coming in from manasses Junchon to reignforce there position away on the right.  Hunters Division came on the enemy first & musketry firing commenced in earnest.  It was one continual roll of which I niver heard nor can I compare anny thing I ever heard with it.

It was not Long then till we were ordered up in to action.  Then Jane I thought  I might never see you and Little Jonney again.  I thought that James or mat or myself could not all come out clear which thank god we have.  There was one of our company william Mitchel [w]ho has a Large family in N Y & when he got shot he Looked up and said my god my family my family.  I could tell a thousand Such things only its better not.  I would not cared half so much if it was not for the sake of you and Jonney.  Poor little fellow.  I am looking at him while writing.  His Likeness is Lying before me.  I expect he is changed a Little now.

I was saying we were not Long when we were ordered into action.  We had to runn on dubbel quick about a mile till we came to where the fiting was going on and the enemy was running up the [Henry] hill in great haste scattered in all directions & we thought the battle was all over but it was not right begun.  there masked batteries opened on us and such cannonnading.  We were ordered down the [Buck] hill right in front of there firing & when we got down a Little out of the way of our own artirlere commenced firing over our heads & they were firing in among us and when we got down in [t]he hollow we Lay down so as to avoid getting struck as much as possible and when Lying there I came verry near being shot from our own side.  A grapeshot struck the ground about 2 inches from my hip so you can amigon [imagine] the critical place we were in.

The amineshan of our artirally run out and we were ordered up the [Henry] hill to take it and such a shaturing I cannot begin to write about.  A man that is in the battle cannot tell much about it.  Annyhow we had them entirely Licked.  You could not se anny of them then.  We came down and the generals were forming the regiments in squares to receive calvelry.  Us and [the] 69[th New York] formed together but it was no use.  General Jonston had arrived with his whole army of fresh troops and we had non[e] so we had to retreat and such a retreat.  The most of the regiments was without officers and the generals rode off on horseback telling the men to hurry up or the enemy would be on them so they did come on us.

The calvelry came upon us on the road.  I wa[s] comming along myself the onely one I mean of our regiment to the road when bang went a volley from the enemys calvelry which had come up on us.  I runn right into the woods and came up with another of our regiment.  Then we came across a field running as fast as we could.  We tried to get into another wood.  I was not able to go anny farther so I Lay down and gave up all hops.  There was 2 more of us and we Lay in sight of the road.  We could see our army retreating and the men cutting there horses Loose from the wagons and monting there backs and galloping off as fast as they could.  We Lay a Long while then we started for the woods and kept in them till we came in sight of the ground we started from in the morning.  But there was no 79th there so we cept well up of the road till we came into centervall and the regiments that was at the fight tryed to get themselvs together but it was impossable.  Sume of our regiment was scatterered all around among the regiments.  I tryed to find out if mat or James was there.  I could not get anny word of them so I gave them up for Lost then started with a small party for alington hights.  Sometimes I would be [by] myself.  I traveled till I was sleeping wa[l]king along.  I Lay Down in some cut wheat that was near the road side and slept 2 hours or about that.  Then I started on the road again and I met in with one of our hand men.  He was as bad as myself in reguard to knowing anything about them.

So I marched on passing men on the way without shoes ot stokings and the most of them Lame.  On I went till I came to the place where we Left our tents & knapsacks and when I arrieved there the most of them wa[s] taken Down.  So I took my knapsack and started for fort corcran 4 miles more.  It was rainning verry hard too and when i arrieved at the fort the first thing I asked for matthew & James & I was told that they were all safe.  I did no[t] se them for some time after that.  Each one was stowed away the best way he could from the rain.  There was nothing for us to eat.  We were all entirely wore out.

I met with David Mcfadgan and he gave me Jonneys Likeness and I was glad to se it.  Muy space wont admit of finishing it as I would Like to.  Any how we are encamped in a verry nice place not verry far from where John stuart Lives.  Its not in the city and its not out of it.  Thats as near as I can give.  The place is verry nice but I am sick of sogren [soldiering] and I cannot feel satisfied no where but home and if I can get away at all I will come.  Mat & James is well.  J is to write soon.  So Jane this is a rough sketch of the battle & retreat of Bulls Runn.

No more this time But Remains

Your afficonate husband.

Aleander Campbell

I sent a piece I cut out of the k[n]apsack with Jamess name on it with on of our Company that has got his Discharge.

[Johnston, Terry A., Jr., editor, "Him on the One Side and Me on the Other": The Civil War Letters of Alexander Campbell, 79th New York Infantry Regiment, and James Campbell, 1st South Carolina Battalion, pp. 26-35]

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6 responses

6 05 2009
Terry Johnston

Harry:

It’s been a while since I’ve read these! Thanks for posting.

Two things that might interest other readers: (1) For the sake of clarification, the Matthew and James referred to several times were Alexander’s brothers-in-law (his wife Jane’s brothers), Matthew and James Ralston, also members of the 79th New York. (2) The piece of knapsack Alexander found on the road did not belong to his brother James. Though James had enlisted to serve in a South Carolina regiment, it was not at Bull Run. The brothers would, however, fight against one another a year later, at Secessionville, SC, where their respective units were heavily engaged in the battle.

6 05 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Terry. I intend to flesh the letters out a little in a “notes to” post. I try to keep that separate from the “resource”, in this case the letters themselves.

21 10 2009
Kathleen Baxter

My great grandfather was John Ralston, older brother of Jane, James, Matthew and William (and others!) . I am so excited to find and have ordered your book. I am also hoping I may find out more about the Ralstons.

21 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer

Kathleen,

I’m glad you’re excited, but keep in mind it’s not my book: it’s Terry’s. Terry is a great guy and I’m sure if you ask nicely he’ll answer any questions you may have.

22 10 2009
Terry Johnston

Kathleen:

If you see this, yes, I’d be glad to provide you with what information I was able to uncover on the Ralston family. It might take a while—I’d first have to locate the files, which could be a challenge. As I recall, I did learn a bit about John. Anyway, feel free to get in touch.

Terry (tajjr@earthlink.net)

21 09 2011
Interview: Terry Johnston, “Civil War Monitor” « Bull Runnings

[...] of the wartime letters of two Scottish-born brothers who fought on opposite sides [see extracts here]. I also spent eight years (between 1999 and 2007) on the editorial staff of North & South [...]

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