Surgeon Charles Carroll Gray, 2nd US Cavalry Diary Entry on the Battle

8 08 2011

21st. Deluged by crossing columns of infantry; at day break halted on the hill at Centreville. Never felt so depressed in my life. Moved in close order over the fields & through the woods far to the right, a heavy cloud of infantry skirmishes on the left. As the sun rose I could not help thinking that many were looking at it for the last time. I said so the officer next me & he ["declined & fell"] into poetry to this effect – “And Ardennes moves above them her green leaves dewy with nature’s tear drops as they pass, grieving, if aught inanimate he grieves over the unreturning brave. (Wilson 1st – 4th Cavalry now dead. Rode a bobtailed gray horse.). Sen. Wilson gave us speed as we went down the Braddock road at a sharp trot. Marched & marched & marched, making a long detour to the right with the intention as we guessed to turn the enemy’s left at Manassas. Heintzelman next left. Tyler extreme left. Miles in reserve. As we cleared the woods about 10, we heard heavy artillery firing far to our left & the wise said Tyler’s division was engaged. Went ahead at a sharp pace. Horses & men* glad to dismount at a small stream (Cub Run) & drink.

*[Note in margin:] Here such of us as had anything to eat devoured it for fear of accidents. I divided my small lunch with Lt. Custer (of Drummond’s Co.) who had just joined us from West Point this morning. C. became afterward quite prominent & was killed June 25th ’76 on the Little Big Horn. Drummond after many escapes was killed at Five Forks, April 1865 – the last cavalry fight of the war.

[?] Drummond sings, &c. Found in the ravine & moved at a gallop to the extreme right and wailed orders. The ground to our left well sprinkled with dead & wounded. Our infantry close behind us (8 cos. regulars, 4 cos. marines, 8th N.Y. Mil., 14th Brooklyn – Red Legs) went into fire very stadily. Having no wounded of my command needing help, I turned my attention to the volunteers (mostly of Burnside’s brigade to our left & rear). Had a little talk with Douglas Ramsay just before he went into action with his battery (Rickett’s). Poor fellow he was soon killed. Soon an orderly from Dr. Magruder summoned us back to Sudley Church where in the few houses scattered about the wounded were being rapidly collected. There was another Dr. Gray there (Fire Zouaves) & some confusion arose thereby.

Retreat began between 4 & 5 P.M. I think, leaving a field strewn with dead and wounded as the troops streamed down the road past the church. I went out to find my horse. Horse gone but I presently found him with Asst. Surg. Silliman (serving with artillery) astride. He told me of the death of Capt. Ricketts & his Lieut. Ramsay, and further that his own horse was killed or missing & he had accordingly appropriated mine finding him riderless. I could not subscribe to the arrangement (wish I had) & he went in search of another mount. Soon ran into my cavalries – who looked anything but jubilant – and reported to Maj. Palmer. He seemed in a awful state of mortification and when I asked for orders he ‘wept’ for reply. Presently the cavalry & regular infantry moved slowly forward & I rode on the flank till meeting Magruder and [Averill?] (of the Rifles afterward Maj. Gen. Vols) with [B?] or O’Bryan afterward killed. We halted in Cub Run to water our horses & talk it over. As to the wounded, what was to become of them? All agreed that some of the medical officers should stay & become prisoners and take chances. Magruder (Asst. to Med. Director) said he could not – being a Southerner it would be very awkward & he didn’t believe he would be of much use – he “wouldn’t order me to remain but thought it would be well if I were willing to do so.” [Averill?] & the other officers were like minded, as in truth I was myself; so I bade them goodbye & rode back toward the field & to the little church in the grove. The grove full of stragglers mostly unwounded & many of them without arms. They could not be urged forward but loitered along or sat down as though the war – or this part in it at least – was over. They did not seem frightened but stupid, tired, & indifferent.

Went up to the church, found that Lt. Dickinson, Adjt. 3d Infantry whom I had left under a tree wounded, had disappeared as well as my blouse which I had left under his head. Shells beginning to fly rather savagely through the trees & around the building, I made search for something to hoist that the nature of our “population” might be indicated. Found a dingy white piece of some sort, hanging on to my horse. This time, went down to the road to hang it from a branch. While engaged in this a small body of Virg. cavalry (Rockbridge Cavalry Guards?) came hurrying up the road driving a lot of prisoners before them like so many sheep. The Lt. commanding with flourish of pistol & much excitement pronounced me prisoner, concerning which matter I expressed myself of the same opinion, & endeavored to explain to him that I had remained voluntarily & solely on account of the wounded with which the vicinity abounded offering my parole to remain where I was for any number of hours on days he might mention, &c., &c., but to no purpose – He was in a great hurry, very much excited, & a trifle frightened I thought. Didn’t know anything about paroles, hadn’t any authority anyway, &c, & I must mount at once & come along to Hd. Qrs. I am the more persuaded that my hero was the least bit in the world scared, from the fact that a few minutes before a small body of cavalry had bound down as if to attack the rear guard (Sykes’ Infantry) of our retreating troops. The old “dough boys” paid no attention to the bold dragoons until they were pretty near, when suddenly they faced about, opened ranks and opened fire, while a piece or two of artillery – Griffin’s I was told – which had been concealed by the infantry rattled into them & they were scattered like a flock of black-birds. Perhaps my Lt. was one of the discomfited – he had seen the affair no doubt. However he soon became more composed, though much elated with his goodly number of prisoners, momentarily increased as we moved up the road. None of them were wounded even slightly, nor did any of them so far as I recall have arms. What they had done with them I don’t know, thrown them away, as “cumbersome & dangerous” I suppose. We encountered two or three volunteer medical officers, but he made us demand for them to share my pilgrimage, but simply left them at their work when he found who they were & what doing. Left them “to be called for” in short. Whether he thought them of too great or little value to take away, or me of too great or too little value to leave, is a mystery. I don’t suppose he really had any theory unless perhaps as some one afterward suggested, he attached some fictitious value to a regular officer as prisoner.

Our company of prisoners – all with one exception beside myself privates or N.C. officers, and all on foot except myself, made slow marching though constantly urged. All had had a long day’s work of a particularly trying kind and many of them were of exceedingly poor material. All judging from my own feelings were hungry & thirsty, and it altogether was a bad job with no chance of improvement for many hours to come. Although I rode most of the distance it was the longest 8 or 9 miles that I remember. Toward dusk I saw that one of the prisoners – a soft stripling of 17 or thereabouts belonging to a N.H. regiment, was about to give out altogether, and having some vague notion that he might be killed if it became necessary to leave him persuaded the Lt. who had now become quite placable, to let me put the boy on my horse, which helped him through. (I might have spared myself the trouble for if I remember aright he died soon after in prison). Arrived at the Junction I made vigorous protest at being huddled into the pen with the rest of the folks I had come with. I did not know at the time that all the other officers, prisoners, to the number of 20 or more were inside; and so kicked up as much of a row as I could. It would probably have ended in my getting a bayonet stab or sabre cut on the head & being tumbled in by the heels; where my luck came in the shape of a creole Arty. Major from La. who was field officer of the day, or in command of the main gaurd or something of that nature. With the said genial creole I fraternized so successfully that I was permitted to report to the Medical Director of Gen. Beauregard, with the caution to look out not to step on the men; a needed warning for it was pitchy dark & beginning to rain & the men lay thick by the sides of the road & buildings. The wounds of many had ceased troubling as I found when stumbling along. (Mem.) a dead man never groans when you kick him, accidentally or otherwise. Well I thanked my friend from the land of cypress & alligator, & turned once my horse to him as [?]. It would have been in order for me to have warned him of the brute’s failing, had I not known that my major must be in no danger of needing such a mount. A man [?] to be shot is in no danger of being killed by a horse and my major was killed in action…(* And thus never had to know Kellogg et id omne genus). Found at the Hospital which was rather a small store turned into a depot of medical supplies & dispensary than an hospital, a Dr. or two prisoners like myself, and a [?] named Drew who claiming to be sick, had by some unexplained process of thimblerigging managed to avoid being “unimpounded” with the other officers. I came to know Drew well in after days and learned to admire his adeptness in ‘thimblerigging’ & his admirable skill in making much out of little. Through a little renegade Jerseyman, who was acting as Hosp. Steward or something of the sort, managed to get a little hard bread & what was more welcome plenty of water. (Mem.) They depend here for drinking water on rain & Bull Run five miles distant.

Transcrption and diary image.

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8 08 2011
Notes to Surgeon Charles Carroll Gray, 2nd US Cavalry Diary Entry on the Battle « Bull Runnings

[...] The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill notes that the diary from which this passage is taken covers the period from July 16, 1861 to July 28, 1862. Biographical information from the [...]

8 08 2011
Brian Kammerer

Just read the above posting…excellent read and very illuminating…dazed and confused…dead and wounded, seems to be the norm..it really must have been quite a scene…Love the incident with Sykes regulars and the section of Griffins guns that open up on the pursuing Cavalry.
Proceed with caution…
The description of Manassas Jnct with all of the recently deceased and wounded in the pouring rain is also sobering. No cheering and back slapping there.
“Next to a Battle Lost, the saddest thing is a Battle Won”- Wellington in the movie Waterloo
B

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