Letter from the Second Battery
Camp Clark, Washington
July 27, 1861
Messrs. Editors: – With your permission I will endeavor to give some account of the part taken by our battery in the battle of Bull Run.
Saturday, July 20, we were encamped near Centreville, with the regiments of the brigade. In the evening we received orders to march at half past one o’clock the next morning. We were ready at that time and proceeded to the encampment of the Second Regiment, where we halted until Col. Slocum’s voice was heard forming the regiment into line, and in a few moments we were on the march for the battle field. The road was very rough indeed, and quite hilly – so much so that we had to chain the wheels on the gun carriages as we descended. When we came to the bridge over Bull Run Creek, the order was given for one carriage to pass at a time, as it was very weak. Soon after daylight we left this rough and dusty road, and turned to the right in through the woods, and came out upon a large field or plain. Here the cavalry advanced and the picket guard extended some half a mile to the right and left of us. While we were crossing this plain, or soon after entering upon it, we heard the report of a large gun, and the explosion of a shell, as many thought a signal. The cavalry galloped alongside the wood, on the opposite side of the plain and pointed out the path for us to pursue.
After marching some four or five miles we seemed to bear to the left towards Manassas Junction, and soon entered the woods again and marched in a Southerly direction some two or three miles. I heard no one caution us that we were near the battle field; but was somewhat startled by two reports of cannon and then by volleys of musket bullets flying all around us. I looked ahead for orders, thinking that it was time we should receive them. I saw our General and the Engineer Corps as I supposed coming as fast as their horses would carry them, and soon one of them said “Forward, Battery.” I heard Capt. Reynolds ask “In what position,” and again came the order “Forward, Battery.” I cautioned my men to keep cool, and whip their horses into a run, for it looked like warm work. In going some ten or twelve rods, we came out into the main road; our men dismounted, and tore down the fence and turned to the left into an open field amid the shower of bullet and cannon balls. Then came Capt. Reynolds’ order, “Forward into line of action, front.” We got into action very quick, some twenty yards from the edge of the woods on an elevation, and within thirty yards of several regiments of the rebels, (who were firing upon us as fast as possible) and a battery about one and half miles directly in front of us on a high elevation of land.
My lead horses on the guns were somewhat frightened when we came on to the field, and I took the reins of my lead horse to get him at his post. About the same time a cannon ball went through my blanket that lay across the shoulders of my own horse, and entered the breast of my leader, killing him instantly, and about the same time, the driver, Joshua Brown, was shot, one ball entering his thigh and another the calf of his leg. He was left on the field, but not dead. Before I could get my horses in position three of them were killed, my own horse shot in the hind leg by the explosion of a shell, but as for myself I did not get a scratch. I dismounted my own horse and ran to the fun. Within twenty yards of us were the rebels, advancing. I thought for a moment our Battery was lost; but the 2d Rhode Island Regiment made a fearful charge and gave a most hideous scream, and never will I forget how that rebel flag looked as it bobbed out of sight under the hill.
We opened fire first upon the rebel infantry and then upon their battery. The latter was silenced in something less than an hour. Again a reinforcement of the enemy’s infantry advanced, and the day looked dark. But a regiment from Maine was ordered to protect our battery, and came up to the rear of our caissons in the utmost confusion. I ran up and asked for the Colonel. No one knew where he was. I asked for the Captains of companies but there were none in front. I said your officers are cowards. Why don’t you come support our battery? Some of them said they would if they had any one to lead them. I then said, “Follow me,” and they did so. As we came near our guns on the right, the Colonel came running up and said, “Halt, Maine regiment; I have command here.” I said “Why don’t you take it then.” He gave the order to march to the right flank. Then came Gen. Burnside and ordered to march to the left flank and support the Rhode Island men.
Gov. Sprague was foremost in the fight, and inspired the men with coolness and courage. When asked about the character of several regiments that were coming up on the left, he said, “Give them a shot and make them show their colors.” The shot and shell were falling around him thick and fast, and his horse was shot under him as he was leading his men into the battle.
The loss of our brave Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, Captain Tower and Lieutenant Prescott, enraged the soldiers so much that we gained our position and held it. After we ceased firing, Col. Hunter came up with the blood running down his neck, and said, “Well done, Rhode Island, you shall be remembered forever.” We thought we had won the battle, but the enemy were reinforced, and we were ordered to assist Ricket’s Battery, some twenty rods to the right. Here we were so much exposed that we were ordered to a concealed position some sixty rods nearer. We soon silenced the masked battery to which we were opposed.
It was soon discovered that our army was falling back. I asked a regiment of Regulars that lay flat on the ground in the rear of our Battery to relieve my men, who were perfectly exhausted. I begged and entreated them, but it was of no use. We fixed the last shot of shell, when the Colonel of the Regulars marched them from the field. We did not leave this position with the Battery until our support was gone. We fell in the rear of the retreat. Regiment after regiment and other batteries passed us. The field and the road were strewn with provisions, muskets, blankets, pistols, swords, axes, shovels, wagons overthrown, and everything you can imagine, while the wounded were begging in vain for a chance to ride. The enemy here brought their artillery to bear upon our rear. On arriving at the bridge they commenced to shell us. One horse was killed near me, and several men, and I told my command to get away as best they could. There were about forty killed at the bridge. The rebel cavalry charged on Sergeant Hammond, as he was bearing a wounded man, but he escaped them with the loss of his cap. We arrived at our camp of the night before about 8 o’clock and, after resting awhile, took up our march to Washington. The streets were crowded with citizens, although it rained hard as we marched through, and many eyes were dimmed with tears for the loss of the Rhode Islanders.
Providence Evening Press 7/31/1861