Lt . Luther C. Warner, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

Letter from Lieut. Warner.

We are gratified to be able to print this afternoon the following extracts from a private letter received last evening from Lieut. L. C. Warner, of Company C, First Regiment. He gives a graphic and evidently truthful account of Rhode Island’s participation in the fight of last Sunday, and the intelligent reader will readily gleam from its perusal a confirmation of a remark made to Mr. Wm. E. Hamlin by one of the soldiers after the battle, that Lieut. Warner was one of the bravest men on the field.

Camp Sprague,
Washington, D. C., July 24, 1861.

Lewis Pierce has just called on me with sad news from you, and brings a paper recording my death first and afterwards a prisoner. My first duty after arriving at Washington was to telegraph you of my safety. I went to the office and immediately sent a despatch. Our company supposed I was lost, until I came into camp. After we came off the field of battle our company stacked arms near a piece of woods. There were two of our men missing, one of whom I knew was wounded. I stayed longer than I was aware of, helping to attend the dying and suffering, also in getting Capt. Prescott’s body off the field, not thinking of any retreat being ordered, as we were victorious on our part of the field.

I was absent just an hour, and then started to join our Regiment, but when I got down to where we stacked our muskets, they were all gone, and the rebels were firing shells and grape after them as they were retreating. I started after them upon the run, running nearly two miles. I got sight of the regiment, and renewed my exertions to overtake them, but I was so exhausted I could not, and getting over a fence, which adjoined a piece of woods, I stumbled and fell, completely exhausted and nearly melted. I could not arise but lay there fully one hour. I then started alone through the woods, not knowing where I should get to, but I found one path on which we came, before it got too dark, and followed on. I picked up a Sharpe’s rifle, cartridge box, balls, &c. which some poor tired soldier had left, loading the same, determined to defend myself when I came out of the seven miles long woods. I saw several soldiers of other regiments, and continually overtaking them all along, until we had a party of about thirty. When near Bull’s Run Bridge we were fired upon by some of the rebel scouts and one of our men killed. We returned their fire with deadly effect, for we saw three of their number fall. The bridge was covered with dead men, horses, teams, &c. in one mass, so much so that we could not cross where the rebels shelled our forces on their retreat.

We waded across the river waist deep. After going half a mile we came upon several hundred of our men resting. Hardly had I reached them before the shells began to come again from the rebels from a high hill on our right. The men fired and then began to retreat in confusion again. I was alone until I reached Centreville. Here some three regiments who were held in reserve were drawn up in line of battle to meet the enemy if they advanced. The mad all they could of our retreating ones join them. Finding I was an officer they mounted me on a horse and I rallied the broken columns all I could, and had some four or five hundred soon in line. I talked, begged and plead with them to make a stand and give the rebels one more volley. Did not have to wait long before the shells came, but it was so dark they fell short of us. After firing a few times they ceased, when all of a sudden, from the woods on our left, came the Black Cavalry. When near enough we poured three volleys into them which must have killed many for they fled in haste. Then came the shells again, one of which exploded near me killing my horse, and I fell headlong but without a hurt excepting a slight scratch. It was a narrow chance. They now ceased firing, so I concluded to press forward.

I still clung to my rifle and started again. I had not gone but a short distance before I had a chance to use it upon one of their horsemen who fired at me on the run. He tumbled off dead, I think. I had hardly time to load again before another one dashed at me. I made him bite the dust. He uttered a tearful oath as he fell. I looked at him as he lay with the moon shining upon him, and he looked more like a devil than a human being.

I tried for some time to catch his horse, but I was too tired to run. He was a noble animal, but I think rather wild. Again I trudged along, taking to the woods all I could, then cross lots, keeping near the road for my guide, until I came to Fairfax Court House. Here there were several thousands of our soldiers resting. We left this place well guarded. Here I met one of the Band, and we started together for Washington. Clinging to my rifle, I travelled all night long, resting only twice to eat three crackers which I had in my knapsack, the first food I had put into my mouth since the evening before.

Day broke at last, when our journey was not accomplished. My feet swelled so that I had to take off my shoes and walked over ten miles barefoot. At 20 minutes past 11 o’clock I reached Fort Corcoran, on Arlington Heights, completely used up. It began to rain at 6 A. M., and I was wet through. I had to throw away my blanket and coat in order to carry my rifle. Col. Baker at the Fort took me into his tent, and gave me dry clothes, refreshments, &c. Then I sought rest and did not awake till after dark, I could not cross the river then and therefore remained. I returned yesterday morning and as I remarked in my letter this morning, immediately called at the telegraph office to apprize you of my safety, although I was so lame it was most impossible for me to walk.

This all seems like fiction, as I wrote you this morning, but it’s true. Our men were glad enough to see me, and the officers, too, for they thought me lost, as I was a whole day behind them. I am now getting along nicely.

This truth is prominent: We (the R. I. troops) were the first in the field; first in the fight, and the last to retreat. Tell everybody of this, for it’s so.

Providence Evening Press 7/27/1861

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4 responses

13 10 2011
Brian Kammerer

Excellent individual account of the Federal retreat. Must have been a harrowing experience with the enemy shelling and running at you from all sides.Lt. Warner was one lucky guy. Finding that Sharps rifle was very fortunate. Great post…thanks
B

14 10 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Brian – more to come.

16 12 2011
Charlie N.

Was it ever confirmed that the 1st Rhode Island was first in the field,first to battle,and last to retreat ? I realize that Lt Warner was definetly in a forward position, but with the confusion of the day,along with Pride of unit chivalry, maybe its a Bold statement. Logistics aside-Lt Warner should be commended for several of his actions,including protection in the rear movement of his retreating comrades.

19 12 2011
Harry Smeltzer

As far as being last to leave the field, there are 5 or 6 regiments who make that claim at Bull Run. Tough to prove or disprove, Charlie.

But yes, Burnside’s brigade was in the van of Hunter’s division, which led McDowell’s assault column. However, it was the 2nd RI, not the First, who formed line of battle first.

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