Thomas D. Norris, Co. A, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

28 01 2012

The annexed letter, from a member of Co. A, 69th Regiment, gives some interesting details of the fight:-

Fort Corcoran, July 22, 1861.

My ever dear and beloved Wife.

I suppose you feel unhappy at present on account of passing accounts from the seat of war. I should not wonder, ,if you knew the half of our poor fellows that are lost or left behind. It would be no use for me to try to give you anything like a description of the battle field. – Enough to say, that besides bomb shells and rifle cannon shot, we had musket balls about our ears as thick as hail almost all the time from six in the morning until six in the evening, and a noise to be compared to nothing earthly. – Through the mercy of God, and the watchful eye and protecting shield and interceding care  of our glorious and blessed Mother, I was saved from even a scratch. Now you see how thankful we have a right to be to God for his excessive kindness to us at all times, and particularly now.

I tell you, my loving wife, it was an awful day. We left our camp about three o’clock yesterday morning, and marched about three miles through wood, &c, crossing streams knee deep, until we came or went to the scene of action, which was about three-quarters wood, and the remainder in little naked spots scattered amongst the trees. We opened fire on the enemy at ten minutes to six in the morning, and got no reply. We repeated and repeated, and got no reply still; so we drew nearer and changed our position  and gave them another salute, but with the same effect. We could not see a man nor hear a shot unless our own, until they, (the enemy) had everything as they pleased, and then, O my dearest, did we not have music! In a short time after the fight commenced, we saw a grand battle about a mile away between 8 Secessionists and some of our Union troops. The 69th were ordered to the relief of our party. Off we went in double quick time, crossing a river up to our knees, and soon we were before the enemy. We let them have it quick and hot; and in less than three minutes we put them to the route. But our noble and brave Haggerty, who was acting as Lieutenant Colonel, rushed so bravely in before us, and was about taking a prisoner, when he fell a victim to a ball that passed through his heart. Our Artillery gave in very early in the day; our cavalry rendered us very little or no assistance, while the enemy’s batteries played on us hot and heavy all the time. Our infantry had to do the best they could. The enemy were entrenched on the left of a battery that was playing directly on the Sixty ninth. This entrenchment was filled up with Southern riflemen, who could receive reinforcements from a wood that covered their left in spite of our troops. My dear wife, here is where they committed a slaughter on our troops, who went up, one regiment after another. The 14th, of Brooklyn, were cut up pretty much, as well as I can think; so were our Eight Regiment, of New York. The Fire Zouaves, ,who fought like tigers, were cut up badly. Our time was now come; so we advanced towards the aforementioned battery, into a hollow, and, stooping down, and letting their rifled cannon balls whiz closely over our heads, we passed immediately under their battery to their left and took our position in front of the entrenchments. Then the firing commenced, when a great many of our poor fellows fell. The firing continued from ten to fifteen minutes; and, our fellows getting confused, from a retreating Ohio regiment, who ran through our ranks, had also to retire from a hidden foe, for we could only see their heads and shoulders), a force far greater in numbers than ours, and who were to be aided by about three hundred cavalry who were bearing down on us. We took our flag of Erin, with the Stars and Stripes, away, all right, although some of our boys were obliged to work hard for it. Colonel Sherman, fearing the cavalry still, told the bravest of colonels (Colonel Corcoran), to from square. The gallant colonel said, “I have not as many as I like to do so; but we’ll do the best we can.” So the brave and determined colonel formed us into square, and so we retreated, receiving a fresh flanking fire from our adversaries as we went along, and a great many of our men were wounded in this way, amongst the rest our adored Col. Corcoran and Captain Clarke were both wounded in the legs. I believe the colonel was not much hurt. Their cavalry followed is all the way; and this, with a flank fire from the woods on both sides as we retreated, caused the artillerists to loosen their horses and ride them off, leaving their guns all in the hands of the enemy. This was about six o’clock in the evening; and we marched to our camp, about 30 miles, and reached there about daybreak. There was a reinforcement sent to meet the enemy, and if there are licked we’ll expect the enemy every day to attack Alexandria and Fort Corcoran. They won’t have masked batteries then, and you may be sure that we’ll let them have what they want, and what they will have. Oh! how surprised you would be to see T. F. Meagher, riding his poor steed, with one of its hind legs blown almost away – the fleshy part of it was all gone. Oh! my dear wife, he is a brave soul, and was with us all the time, under shot and shell, encouraging and cheering us up, and giving us a hurrah, for old Erin, now and again, that warmed is to the heart. With him and our own beloved Colonel, we could not help feeling ourselves blessed. About the other officers I won’t say anything, as it would be hard to pick a choice of them; they are all regular trumps – although I prefer Lieuts. Kelly and Strain, they being our own Company’s officers. I need not tell you that all the regiment are in great gloom at the loss of Lieut. Col. Haggerty – moreover Company A, whose Captain he was. I forgot to tell you that Acting Brigadier general Sherman publicly thanked the 69th for their desperate fighting; and when they were formed into line, after the first battle, he and his staff rode in front, with his hat in his hand, cheering for them. Give my love to all, and do you continue to pray for your own loving husband.

Thos. D. Norris.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863

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Contributed by Damian Shiels

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