John Ellis and the 71st NY at Bull Run

20 07 2011

[Via Pony Express]
The Battle of Bull Run *
—-
Personal Narrative of a San Franciscan
Col. John S. Ellis and his Four Brothers in Battle

Col. John S. Ellis of the 1st Regiment of California State Militia, and Sheriff elect of San Francisco – who is now on a visit to the East – served as a volunteer (attached, for the [ponce?], to the 71st New York Regiment) during the battle of Bull Run. Four of his brothers were also members of the same regiment. Col. Ellis has written a private letter to a friend of this city, giving a graphic account of the battle, which we are permitted to publish. The narrative will be read with deep interest by the personal friends of the gallant Colonel, and the public at large. He writes as follows:

New York, August 2, 1861.

I have had such an exciting time of it since I arrived [24th June] that this is the first fair opportunity I have had to write a letter.

* * *

I immediately proceeded to Washington in uniform, and took with me the flag which the National Guard commissioned me to present to the Massachusetts 1st. I found them encamped on Georgetown Heights. I fixed the 6th of July, for the presentation to come off. The regiment formed a hollow square to receive my party and myself. We had four carriage loads. Among others, were Senators McDougal, Wilson of Massachusetts, Colonel Hooker, Judge Satterlee, and George Smiley. They had a fine band playing patriotic airs. McDougal made a speech; also Senator Wilson, and the Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment made a beautiful one. The regiment gave me nine cheers. In the evening we had a grand “blow-out” in Washington.

I was all through the battle of Bull Run as a volunteer, attached to the 71st Regiment, armed with a rifle and sabre-bayonet. All my brothers were there also – five of us. We started at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning; marched none hours without resting three minutes at a time, and having in that period traversed about 15 miles, went right into action without breakfast; fought until 6 o’clock Sunday night; then retreated, marched all night and did not reach our camp till 9 o’clock Monday morning – all without anything for food except a hard, dry cracker, which I could not eat. We marched over 50 miles.

My brother Julius was shot in the foot while at the head of his company, waving his sword and cheering on his men. When he fell, I was with Gus on the howitzers. I heard the cry “Captain Ellis is killed!” and immediately rushed to the spot. The cannon balls were ploughing up the earth all around; shells were bursting and crashing through the trees directly in our rear, and the Minie balls were battering and humming in all directions. I immediately carried him off the field, and for nearly a quarter of a mile in direct range of the enemy’s guns; but, through God’s providence, our party were not hit. I finally found a doctor and ambulance, and put him in, and told my brother Sam not to leave him a moment. Fortunately I did so, as Sam did not allow him to remain at the hospital, but got him on the road. The hospital later in the day was shelled by the enemy and the wounded killed or taken prisoners.

I then went back to the fight and rejoined Gus, who was doing fearful execution with his 12 pounder howitzers. The 71st drove back the enemy three times, and completely cut up the Alabama regiment; and Sherman’s battery on our right silenced one of the enemy’s batteries until they got out of ammunition. We did our share; we drove back the enemy whenever he showed his face, and for a long time thought we had gained the victory. But alas! how much were we mistaken! Other regiments were ordered to charge into the woods and were met by masked batteries which poured into their bosoms the most terrific fire. The enemy had planted his guns in every conceivable position on the very points our troops had to advance by. No one knew where these batteries were located, how many guns were mounted, nor in what force were the enemy. No men unsupported as we were could advance without being annihilated. The regiments of our brigade were withdrawn from the unenviable situation, and formed in a large field; when, over the distant hills, came the enemy in force – a line of battle a mile long – outflanking us in all directions, with other parallel lines of lesser strength. Every blade of grass gleamed with a bayonet. This was too much for our unsupported troops, and they gave way. The 71st, however, was the last to leave the field, and retreated in line of battle, (with the enemy not 500 yards off,) until we reached the woods, when we flanked into the narrow road, and kept good order until the flying artillery came tearing through our ranks in full retreat. Their baggage wagons and ambulances so choked up the road that we could not keep the ranks for several miles. At Bull Run Crossing the enemy had allowed us to pass, and we never dreamed they had a masked battery there; but in the evening they shelled us, and a good many men were killed close to us (Gus and me). A shell exploded near us, and a spent fragment hit Gus under his arm and blackened it for nearly the whole length.

I cannot here relate all the scenes I saw, the horrible wounds inflicted, and all the incidents of this most shameful and unnecessary battle – for which the troops feel they were sacrificed by the stupidity of their generals. Suffice it to say our men fought bravely; and I can only account for the panic with which they were seized by the facts that the teamsters took fright and drove their wagons pell mell through them, and that many of the regiments had totally incompetent field and company officers – many of hwom acted cowardly – and the most of whom didn’t know what to do. We only had about 12,000 men engaged, and the enemy had all the way from 60,000 to 90,000 – out of sight, behind masked batteries, and in the woods. As it is, we routed them whenever they came out, until their reinforcements came down upon us, as I have related.

My brother Ash (Captain of Company K, 70th N.Y.S.T.,) just off a sick bed, was physically prostrated by the exertions of the day, and was carried into battle between two of his men, one of whom was shot dead. His Colonel was shot through the heart, and a majority of the Captains killed and wounded. He was hit by a spent ball which paralyzed his left leg. I subsequently met him on the road limping between two men and got a seat for him in one of the Rhode Island wagons. I was not even scratched – a most wonderful escape, as men were knocked over in every direction. The hum of the shells and whiz of the Minies filled my ears for the next 24 hours.

My father came down to the Navy Yard and he and I brought Julius home. The day before yesterday the Regiment returned here – sop all our boys are now at home except Ash, who is in for three years. Julius has received a very severe wound neat the tendon Achilles. I think a fragment of a shell must have struck him with its pointed end and passed on, as the surgeons cannot discover any foreign body lodged.

Remember me to all my good friends; you know very well I cannot write to them all, so when you meet them, say that I desired you to say that I am lively and hope to be among them before long.

Through the effects of this battle we have lost much of our prestige, but I think it is a lesson we my profit by. It has wonderfully raised the spirits of the Rebels, and men say they are preparing for an attack on Washington. If they should, and are repulsed, they would find it difficult to recover. We can lose battles and it only makes us mad – they cannot afford reverses.

By the way, I was also in Washington on the 4th of July and saw the parade of 23 New York regiments – a fine sight truly.

I leave for San Francisco on the 11th instant – solus.

Your old friend,
John S. Ellis

* San Francisco Bulletin August 20, 1861

Meta





And Yet Another

20 07 2011

And here’s another piece on a letter to a newspaper from a Bull Run participant, this time from John Ellis of the 71st New York and on Scott Patchan’s blog. I’ll get this one from the 8/20/61 San Francisco Bulletin transcribed ASAP.

I intend to include all the letters and newspaper accounts coming to light now in the resources section of Bull Runnings, but in order to do so I must have as much information as possible. Ellis is a good example of enough information. Full metadata, or as far as I’m concerned an image of the source document, is best. If it’s published, I need to have all the information that would be included in a footnote. Snippets of letters without dates or citation info, which is what many bloggers post, won’t be included here.





Virtual Tour of Cannons at Bull Run

20 07 2011

Craig Swain has this very cool bit giving a virtual tour of the critical gun positions at Bull Run. Check it out!





Letter From the Fire Zouaves

20 07 2011

Here are two accounts from a member of the 11th New York Infantry, Lieutenant Edward Burgin Knox (that’s him on the left in the image on the left, when he was with the 44th NY, Ellsworth’s Avengers). Both are provided by Ron Coddington, the first in a New York Times Opinionator piece, and the second on Ron’s blog, Faces of War. Knox’s writing appeared in the Wisconsin Patriot on August 3, 1861. Ron generously provided the photo here and also has sent me a transcription of Knox’s account, which I’ll post to the Resources section soon.





Thornberry Kids

18 07 2011

John Hennessy has this great post up at Remembering: Musings on Fredericksburg and Manassas, in which he dissects this famous image of Sudley Springs Ford in March, 1862. See other photos from this collection here.

With the anniversary fast approaching, there are lots of blog posts and newspaper articles popping up every day that concern First Bull Run. I don’t announce them all here, but I do try to keep up with them on Facebook and Twitter. Use the links I’ve embedded in their names to follow Bull Runnings there and keep up with the latest Bull Run news.

I’m still getting inquiries regarding whether or not I will be at the ceremonies and events at the battlefield this week. I have no official role there. I may head down that way on Thursday or over the weekend just to check out what’s going on, but I’m not sure just yet. If you go, please be sure to take lots of water and drink it regularly, before you get thirsty. The plains of Manassas is a very hot place indeed in the summer. I mean, really, really hot. If you see me there, please say hello.





MOC Bull Run Artifacts Video

17 07 2011

Hat tip to Kevin Levin for bringing to my attention this video of artifacts from the battle in the collection of the Museum of the Confederacy.





Manassas Battlefields Then & Now

14 07 2011

I received my inscribed copy of Garry Adelman’s Manassas Battlefields Then & Now: Historic Photography at Bull Run in the mail today. It’s a great – if short – book, a must have for every Bull Run nut. Both of you.





Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable

13 07 2011

On June 14, 2011 I was privileged to speak to the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable in the Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Virginia. About fifty or so folks gathered for my presentation The First Shot at Bull Run: Peter Conover Hains Remembers.

This is a first-rate group and venue. Unfortunately I ran long once again and didn’t have time for Q&A, though a few folks did approach me afterwards with some good inquiries. My thanks to president Bill Wilkin, VP Cecil Jones, Secretary Dwight Bower, Treasurer Gary Mester and Program Chairman Chris Custode, as well as board member Craig Swain who helped book me, and board member Jim Morgan who graciously introduced me. My son and I had a great time.

Thanks also to the good folks at the Weider History Group, who hosted my son and me for lunch the next day and gave us a tour of their Leesburg offices.

Craig also made a video recording of the whole presentation and posted it to YouTube in six parts. The first segment is posted below. You can find all six parts here.





2nd Maine at Bull Run

12 07 2011

Go here for an article on the colors and color guard of the 2nd Maine at Bull Run. Hat tip to Robert Moore.





More Bull Run Research & Commentary Coming Soon…

12 07 2011

John Hennessy of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP has graciously notified me of his intent to discuss some First Bull Run topics on the newly rechristened blog Remembering: Musings on Fredericksburg and Manassas. Far from detracting from what I do here at Bull Runnings, this is great news for anyone interested in the single most important event in the history of this or any other planet. John has authored important studies of both battles on the Plains of Manassas. I can only imagine what this walk through his files will turn up, and expect really, really good stuff.








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