Captain Alexander Wilkin, Co. A, 1st MN, On the Battle

3 08 2011

Camp Gorman
July 23, 1861

Dear Father

I telegraphed yesterday immediately upon our arrival supposing you would feel uneasy upon hearing the result of the action at Bull Run. I got in yesterday morning. The Colonel with the rest of the regiment proceeded to Washington and were stopped at Georgetown. I came on here and am in command of the Camp. The night before the action I could not sleep as I had no blanket and the weather was very cold. We started at 2 1/2 in the morning, marched 15 miles to the battle field (I having a severe cramp in the stomach and a sprained knee), fought for several hours and then walked back here 40 miles by the next morning and I am now as good as ever. I walked at least 60 miles in 26 hours. The day was disastrous but as for myself personally and in fact the Regiment is concerned have nothing to regret.

We were ordered to the support of Rickett’s battery but as we were passing around them and they were unlimbering their guns the batteries of the enemy commenced playing upon them. Not fifteen minutes after Capt. Ricketts, his 1st Lieut., about 100 out of the 120 men and the same number of horses were killed on the spot. Col. Heintzelman, the Commander of our brigade, rode up and said that he had ordered up a regiment (I did not understand which) which had refused to come up and ordered us up to a wood where a body of men lay. We fired into the woods and the enemy’s riflemen fired upon our left within 60 yards of us. A large number of our men fell but only 3 of mine were wounded. Heintzelman’s aid then ordered us to fall back upon the woods but I did not hear the command and supposed the regiment had got into a panic. I had determined before I went into action that my Co. should never retreat — by order. I gave the command, “Co. “A” stand fast” and part of my first platoon stood fast. We saw a Mississippi regiment on our left. We turned and fired upon them for some time knocking them down right and left when it was said that they were our friends. They were only about 75 yards from us. They raised their hands and said that they were friends. I ordered the men to cease firing. One of them came up and I went up and spoke to him and asked if they were friends. He said they were. I asked what regiment and he said Mississippi. Some one said they wanted to deliver themselves up. I again ordered the men to cease firing; but shortly after one of my men fell by my side. I told the men to fire away and I borrowed a musket and fired myself. The enemy retreated and I and a few of my men followed. We fell in with Major Larsen of the Zouaves and some of his men and went in together. I took one prisoner and sent him off after taking his gun, shortly after two of the enemy jumped up. I fired upon one of them and he fell dead. I met several wounded men whom the Zouaves wanted to kill but I ordered them off and called upon the Major to prevent them, telling him his regiment would be disgraced by such conduct — when he interfered. I took a loaded gun from one of the Mississippians and left mine. I fired shortly after and think I hit. I only fired three times as I was obliged to be constantly among the men giving them orders.

At length we came to a road and looking over the other side of the field beyond I saw a long body of Cavalry. Thinking however they might be our own men I ordered our men not to fire. I felt tolerably certain they were the enemy and drew up to fire once but desisted. About this time there was heavy firing in our rear which I supposed came from our friends as we had chased the enemy ahead of us. I called upon them to desist and told them they were firing upon their friends but the firing continued and I saw there was no chance to get through. I then told the Zouave Major that we had better follow up the road until we got beyond the line of firing. He told me to go on first which I did but finding the fire hotter the further we went, turned and went in the other direction, where the firing was less. After a while as I was going up a little hill I saw a large body of the enemy drawn up in a line. I stepped back out of sight and followed a lane up a ravine and looked to see who were ahead. Seeing a large body of men drawn up to the left and supposing them to be the same which had fired on us in the woods, I walked up to them passing a wounded officer of our army who begged me to help him up. I said my poor man I would but you are heavy and I am not strong enough, but I will endeavor to get you help. I then called to the troops nearby and told them they had been firing upon their friends. But just as I spoke I saw by their uniforms they were enemies. I then turned leisurely to the right when I found another body. I was hemmed in and had no resource but to go through the gap which I did with a cross fire upon me from both. I did not think it possible to escape, the balls were falling around me like hail. I was made exhausted and soon laid down under cover of the bank at a little stream, between the enemy and a body of our own men on the opposite hill.

After resting a while I went a little further to where there were several Zouaves and several Michigan men who were firing. One of them threw his canteen to me and I took a drink. Our men retreated or moved on. When I got up and moved on a little further to the woods, soon there was a general retreat. After a while I saw Col. Heintzelman and told him I did not know where the Regiment was and asked him if I could be of any service. He said no, and that he had seen our colors to the right. I went back and tried to find them bout could not. We saved our colors. Our Regiment was the farthest in the advance and bore the most severe fire. After the order to retreat they and the Zouaves got mixed up and rallied and charged three times sustaining sever loss. I never saw such coolness. The men with me were perfectly cool and took deliberate aim killing great numbers of the enemy, many of them smiling and laughing all the time. I had a good many hunters and troopers and scouts. I had but one officer along with me, Lieut. Welch who is of Co. “F” who rallied part of his men and fought with me. A braver, cooler little fellow I never saw. Some of our men killed 3, 4, and 5 of the enemy. Some of them as they fired would turn to me and say Captain, I dropped that fellow, and I would turn and see them fall. They must have killed or severely wounded most of them as they were good marksmen and took deliberate aim. In my shots I never took better aim at a bird.

Some of the Germans in the rear fired wild and I had constantly to caution them against shooting our own men in front. Poor Welch I am afraid is gone. He was wounded twice and I think must have been left. He may be a prisoner. One of my men took a lt. Col. of the Mississippi. He rode up supposing us to be Georgians. There is no doubt our Regiment and the Zouaves deserve more credit than any other troops in the field, but we are Western men and won’t get the credit. I have not seen Gorman after we drew up at the woods. Lt. Col. Miller behaved nobly. As far as I can learn more credit is given to me than any other officer, but I yield to young Welch. It is generally said that after the first fire men become reckless and do not realize their danger but I did not get enough excited and felt my danger all the while. Whenever I could conveniently get a tree or other object between me and the enemy I did so and probably save my life by it. A battle like that is a terrible affair. The firing of the artillery and musketry is perfectly fearful.

As we filed off from the road to support the battery a shell struck near me under the horses of one of the batteries. Going in a little further a six pound ball passed close to my feet. Many of our men and officers had very narrow escapes. Many of them having several balls through their clothes, canteens, etc. Capt. McCune was killed at the first fire. We do not know how many men and officers are lost. A great many are missing. Most of our regiment are at Washington, but I remain in our old camp in command with about 125. I have about 25 men missing and among those present quite a number are wounded.

Love to all.

Send to Weck.

Yours affly.

Alex

Transcription and letter image at Minnesota Historical Society

About these ads

Actions

Information

2 responses

3 08 2011
Brian Kammerer

Again…another wonderful up close and personal account which describes the battle in all of it’s horror and confusion as was your other post of the return of the body of Col Fisher of the 6th NC.
In the words of Clarence Edward McCartney (Highways & Byways of the Civil War – published-1926- Dorrance and Company Inc)
Bull Run is forever first. First in the emotions it stirred; first in the hopes and fears which it inspired; first in the pain and anguish which it brought to northern and southern homes; first in the splendor and romance of battle which it displayed to the combatants- for the simple reason it was the first time. There hovers ever a solemnity and hush about the last and the first things. Men would fall by the thousands, greater defeats could be inflicted and victories won; but never, never again, could the nation or it’s armies, pass through the experiences of that July Sabbath on the hills about Bull Run.

3 08 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks for sharing, Brian.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 899 other followers

%d bloggers like this: