Pvt. Virgil A. Stewart, Co. A, 8th Georgia Infantry, Recalls the Battle

2 09 2011

It was on a bright, beautiful Sunday morning that one of the world’s most remarkable battles was fought. Gens. Gustave T. Beauregard and Jos. E. Johnston were the Confederate leaders, and Gen. Winfield Scott commander of the Northern army. Jefferson Davis was on the field, cheering the hosts in gray. It was here that Gen. Thos. J. Jackson got his nickname “Stonewall.” Francis S. Bartow, colonel of the Eighth Georgia Regiment, had our command, and Gen. Bernard E. Bee was also there, with his South Carolina battalions.

Predictions had been made by the Washington contingent that the flag that carried in its folds the love of these hotly patriotic Southerners would be furled forever. A large crowd of spectators came out from Washington in their fine carriages, with nice lunches and plenty to drink in celebration of the expected Union victory, and the festivities were to be continued that night in the capital.

The tides of battle surged back and forth. Units of the Southern army were cut to pieces, and the remnants retreated. Seeing some men turning to the rear, the gallant Bee shouted, “Look at Jackson there; he is standing like a stone wall!” The men rallied. Reinforcements for us came up, and by 3 o’clock in the afternoon the rout of the Union army was complete. Beauregard and Johnston wanted to push on to Washington in the hope of ending the war, but Davis said no.

Practically half of the Eighth’s 1,000 Georgians fell dead or wounded, or were captured or lost. The Fourth Alabama was also well decimated. Bartow led his men to an exposed eminence which was too hot to hold.

When the command to retire was given, I did not hear it, and soon found myself with none but dead and wounded around me. I fell back to a thicket and met Jim Tom Moore, who said he did not know where were the rest of the men. Ike Donkle sang out, “Rally, Rome Light Guards!” About a dozen came out of the thicket and were immediately fired upon by a regiment in a protected position. The Romans returned the fire, then fell back to cover. My hat and coat were well riddled, but my skin was untouched.

Among our dead were Jas. B. Clark, Dr. J. T. Duane, a native of Ireland, who had come to Rome only a few years before and opened a dental office; Geo. T. Stovall, a bachelor, superintendent of the First Methodist Church Sunday School, and perhaps the most beloved young man in the town; Charles B. Norton, a clothing merchant, and D. Clinton Hargrove, a lawyer, my uncle and a brother of Z. B. Hargrove. Charlie Norton was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Norton and a brother of Mrs. Wm. M. Towers. Among our wounded were M. D. McOsker and L. T. (“Coon”) Mitchell,* son of Dan’l. R. Mitchell, one of the four founders of Rome.

When Charlie Norton was shot, he pitched forward and fell across me, for I was on my knees firing. He was the first Light Guard member to be killed. It was a horrible sight; men falling all around, some dying quickly and the others making the day hideous with their groans. Considering that so many were our boyhood friends, it was all the harder to bear.

Bartow fell mortally wounded, and was attended by Dr. H. V. M. Miller. A short time previously he was attempting to rally his men. Frenzied at his heavy loss, he seized a flag from the hands of a color bearer. It happened that these were the colors of a South Carolina unit under Bee. The incident was noticed by Bee, who rushed up and snatched the colors from Bartow. Bee also lost his life in this fight. Had he and Bartow been spared, it is quite likely they would have fought a duel.

As the Eighth Georgia marched off the field at the conclusion of the battle, Gen. Beauregard saluted and cried: “I salute the Eighth Georgia with my hat off. History shall never forget you!”

Capt. Magruder received two wounds at First Manassas. Later, at Garnett’s farm, near Richmond, he was wounded twice on the same day. Part of his nose and right jaw were torn away, and his shoulder was badly shot. Having had his face bandaged, he was rushing back to the front when a middle-aged man in homespun suit and broad-brimmed hat stopped him and said:

“Major, you are more seriously wounded than you realize. You must take my carriage and go to the hospital.”

Capt. Magruder pushed on abruptly, telling the man to mind his own business. A soldier who saw the meeting asked Capt. Magruder a moment later if he knew it was Jefferson Davis he was talking to. Capt. Magruder turned quickly and apologized, explaining that nearly all the officers had been incapacitated or captured, and that he must take command. He went through the thickest of the fight, fainted and was borne from the field. After a while he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. At Petersburg he was wounded twice; once slightly and suffered a broken arm. Surgeons insisted on amputation but he refused and his elbow was always stiff thereafter. He was sent to “Frescati,” the Magruder homestead in Virginia, which he had helped put in order to receive his wounded comrades.

George M. Battey, Jr., A History of Rome and Floyd County, pp 142-144

Contributed by reader Rick Allen

Unknown, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (2)

2 09 2011

The Manassas Battle

A young member of the Hampton Legion sends the following interesting letter in reference to the Manassas battle:

Camp neat Manassas, July 30, 1861

Dear Mother, – I have not as yet given you a sketch of the battle, and really I feel unequal to the task. At any rate I will give you my personal experience. About 10 o’clock, Friday, a dispatch came that the Legion must leave for Manassas that evening. We struck tents at 3 o’clock and by 10 were on our way for the Junction. After a tedious journey in box cars we arrived at daylight Sunday morning. We found orders awaiting us to eat breakfast and proceed to the battle ground. I, assisted by one who has since died of his wounds (Middleton), ground the coffee. We eat a hasty meal. loaded our pieces, and started for the battle field. After a march of seven miles we reached the place where the bloody scene was to be enacted. It was then about the time of morning service, and it occurred to me that while we were about to  engage in the conflict prayers were ascending in our behalf. Soon we were addressed by our Colonel as follows: “Men of the Legion, I am happy to inform you that the enemy are in sight.” He then exhorted us to strike boldly, to remember the cause in which we were fighting, to stand up for South Carolina. We were then marched to the top of a hill and ordered to lie on our faces, so as not to attract the notice of the enemy, as they were too far off for our muskets to reach them. By the imprudence of some, who stood up, we attracted their attention and soon a shower of balls fell among us, and the shells burst within a few feet of some of us – the balls from the rifled cannon hissing like serpents. We left this position, and now comes the part we took in this fight. The Legion was formed in a narrow lane. In front of us could be seen, in large columns, the enemy advancing. Dropping on our knees in a gully we awaited their attack. Soon we were met by a tremendous volley of musketry and artillery, whose effect was terrible. It was by this volley our brave Lieutenant Colonel was killed – Col. Johnson was brave to a fault. Immediately to my left was poor Phelps; a ball passed clean through him, striking me in the leg, but it had performed its mission and only gave me slight pain. I turned to Phelps, thinking he might have a parting word to deliver, but he was dead, without a groan he had passed away. A bullet passed very near, grazing my temple and causing the blood to flow. In every direction could be heard the groans of the wounded. We in our turn poured a volley into the enemy. At this time I made up my mind for the worst; the sickening feeling which at first came over me when beholding the wounded wore away; I saw we had a terrible struggle and could have met death calmly. We struggled with a greatly superior force all day, sometimes sorely pressed. We were opposed to ten thousand men. After a hard fight all day seven thousand troops came to our rescue under Beauregard, and we routed the enemy. It is almost impossible for you to conceive what a terrible sight it was. The battle field next day was covered with the dead of the enemy who lay in hundreds. I do not know how I escaped. A feel very thankful.

I mentioned in my last that we were going to move camp. We started on Saturday and marched eight miles from the Junction to a pleasant camp. We are about four miles from Manassas. I felt very tired, but was obliged to go on guard.

Charleston Courier  8/8/1861

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Unknown, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (1)

1 09 2011

Hampton’s Legion

The following is an extract from a letter, written by a member of Hampton’s Legion, received in this city, dated Manassas, July 23: -

“I have survived a fearful day for the Legion. We arrived in sight of the enemy just as they had forced Gen. Bee back. We were ordered to sustain a battery posted on the extreme left. We formed round a farm house on the top of a hill at the right of the field battery, and found ourselves in advance of the rest of our line, and immediately opposite to a powerful battery of the enemy stationed to the right of a thick wood which protected the infantry on his left. For half an hour we were in total uncertainty where to fire, amidst the whistling of bullets. Conner’s company and the next company on the right of the Legion made a stand bravely under a galling fire. We succeeded in rallying the rest of the men, when Gen. Bee came on the ground and ordered us to fall back on Gen. Jackson’s position.  His order to retreat carried off a large proportion of the companies. Those that remained fought nobly in the most exposed position. Col. Johnson fell near me, very soon after we got into the fight, from a ball in the head. He died instantly. His loss is irreparable to the Legion. We succeeded in maintaining our position after one or two partial retreats and rallies, and until Gen. Beauregard came on the ground and ordered us to retire to a position taken up in our rear by the artillery.

We brought off Col. Johnson’s body and the wounded, and after a little while received another order to advance to meet the enemy, who had nearly turned our left. Reinforcements came up in the midst of a struggle against fearful odds, and the battery on the left was saved.

I have nearly used up my gray horse, and find a shot grazed his fetlock.

In reply to Gen. Beauregard’s enthusiastic praises of the Legion, the President replied in his calm manner, “I knew they would fight.”

Conner and the remnant of the Legion, after the pursuit, remained near the day’s fight.

Col. Hampton, late in the day, received a bullet on the side of the temple. The wound is not dangerous, though the ball is under the skin.

We will re-form the scattered Legion to-day and play our part out. It has made its mark beyond our utmost expectation, though it has suffered severely in Col. Johnson’s death. I cannot pretend to open the volume of sensations crowded into one day. I feel quite well and fresh today and ready for another start.”

Charleston Courier  7/29/1861

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New Tag Line

1 09 2011

“Dulce Bellum Inexpertis” has been Bull Runnings’ tag line for four years now – you can find it at the top of the column over to the right. Basically it means “War is delightful to those who have never experienced it.” I explain why I use it in more detail here.

You’ll notice a new quote below it that I just posted today. It is the close to this letter printed in a Charleston paper in August 1861 and attributed to a Chaplain W. L. I. of Hampton’s Legion. The author’s identity is problematic: no one with those initials appears on any roster of the Legion (UPDATE: Reader Dave D points out that “W. L. I. ” probably stands for “Washington Light Infantry.” Doh!). But it’s a good letter nonetheless, and the quote captures the essence of what I’m trying to do here in the Resources section.

“I am sending you these little incidents as I hear them well authenticated. They form, to the friends of the parties, part of the history of the glorious 21st. More anon.”


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