“P. J. R.”, Co. D, 69th NYSM, On the Fight at Blackburn’s Ford and the Battle

25 01 2012

The annexed letter was commenced before the engagement, but finished in Fort Corcoran after the unfortunate rout: -

Centreville, Va. , July 20th, 1861.

Our position is unchanged since 7 p. m,. Thursday, and I expect we will begin to fight about 10 this morning. Several very heavy guns were placed in position. The great trouble in all this affair is, that so many were brought up to be shot at without being permitted to approach the batteries of the enemy. One regiment after another were ordered to the front, and there they had to stand and be slaughtered like sheep. Not a shot did we fire, but had to receive all that came from our enemies. The reason we did not fire was because we could see no enemy. They had a trap or masked battery (their old trick). Our men are boiling to retrieve the disasters of yesterday; some of the men and regiments of our brigade disgraced themselves by their incendiaryism on their march hither; burning houses and sacking them, shooting, stealing and killing all the live pigs, turkeys, and ducks; and supplying themselves with all the edibles in their reach. Three of us found a barrel of flour, and we started for the woods, and baked four good cakes, which were of service to us from Wednesday night till yesterday. It was darkies who cooked for us and whom I paid. There are no white people left here, all have gone with the rebel army and left their slaves behind. Col. Sherman, who commanded our brigade, has the names of forty-five men who disgraced themselves as mentioned, but not one of them belongs to the 69th. Thank God there are so few Vandals among us. The homes were completely sacked, and every article of value stolen; what could not be taken away was torn up and destroyed. This is deserving of reprobation, and it will, besides, hurt our character with our friends and enemies. Gen. McDowell has issued general orders censuring such conduct and announcing penalties for any like offence.

It was awful to see men in the heat and perspiration of a long and tedious march, under a scorching meridian sun of July, rushing by the hundreds and fighting for as much water as would wet their lips, but to nineteen twentieths of them their efforts were in vain; water was only obtainable by a very few, and they were the ones who could fight for it the best. I tried in vain from earliest dawn to 3 p.m., to get a tin-full to quench my thirst, but failed; once, when I had a cup full in my hand and was already anticipating the reward of half an hour’s patience and perseverance, my cup was wrenched from me by an unseen hand, and both cup and water “faded from my view.” Thank God, I bore it well, but went sorrowfully after my regiment; this was the first and only time I left my regiment and staid behind.

We were ordered up the narrow road leading to the masked battery, the order was given to throw away blankets and knapsacks, but the later contained all my food, and a few little valuables which I prized next to my life, and therefore I retained it, but the blanket I left beside a tree and found it fortunately on my return. The India rubber blanket is my chief protection, as it has rained every night since we came here. I place my musket on the ground and cover myself and it with the rubber blanket. Last night and the previous I was awakened by the firing of musketry, in each case bullets falling right into the ranks of our company. In the day time I was much more cool and collected than I ever thought to be, even when expecting to die by the bullets of the enemy, but this night-work is not at all to my taste. I am pleased to tell you that not one of our boys have shown the white feather. Tyler, McDowell and every officer of rank in the regular army, said that our coolness and courage was beyond all praise. Let naught be said, though, in dispraise of others, for as far as I have seen, all behaved bravely and stood to their colors.

Lieut. Dalton, of ours, was grazed in the forehead by a ball – it even turned the hat on his head and struck the man next him and sounded him severely. The flag of Sherman’s Battery was torn to ribbons, leaving nothing but the staff: but one man was killed and another wounded of the entire battery. Many poor fellows who were found wounded begged to be killed outright; still I heard but few of these cry, save when jolted over the stoney road. Col. Corcoran says our remarkable preservation was owing to “the protection of Almighty God, vouchsafed to the prayers of our good women at home;” and I endorse his opinion, and hope they will continue to pray until we are all safe and our country free from rebellion and civil war. The time of many of the regiments expired this week and last week, but as yet none have returned home, and we all feel, since we marched, that our country really needs us, and, therefore, do not complain; action is all we want if we are to stay any longer.

Capt. Meagher is winning laurels and is appointed Provost Marshal of the brigade: his bravery since Thursday, is proved.

Some of the First Massachusetts, I hear, marched clear upon the masked battery before they knew it, and had to fight with knives and revolvers; they could not use their muskets and were terribly cut up.

My feet blistered the first night’s marsh. Men drank freely of the brooks and streams where dozens were washing their bodies and clothes; the mud too was as thick as in your roads after a rain, yet all drank as if it was milk or good soup; I trust I shall never again see men so eager for drink, even officers and educated men were as greedy for it as others. I fortunately got a little vinegar from the Captain before the fight, and mixed it with water, this I kept and gave to some poor artillerymen, who needed it, when retreating from the scene of our disaster; I swallowed a little myself, dust and all, and felt greatly relieved.

P. J. R.

————

Fort Corcoran, July 23d, 1861.

I have to record to total defeat of our forces yesterday, we fought twelve hours and were marching six hours previously. A remnant of our brave regiment saved themselves by a march of fifty miles last night among the rest. Thank God, I have not even a scratch, although all my best friends are either dead or wounded or in the hands of the enemy. I am laid up and only reached here at 4 a. m. to day (over forty miles in eight hours). We were taken to the shambles to be slaughtered; we got no chance to fight, but we stood until we were more than half thinned; all we have saved is our honor. We have lost our principal officers, and have made the bravest stand during the day, save the Second Rhode island and the Fire Zouaves.

A more disastrous affair could not well be imagined – eight or ten thousand of our troops flying panic stricken and firing upon each other. My feet are black and swollen, and I feat that I shall be unfit for duty for a long time. About a hundred of us started for this place, over forty miles distant. The road was blocked up by our enemies. Our men are straggling back to camp and all are as badly off as myself. We marched in quick and double quick time over ten miles, then fought twelve hours and then made our hasty retreat when we found every other regiment flying in disorder and confusion. I turned up my pantaloons and marched just so until this morning. I was nearly the last to leave the field, but fear I did not do much good while there, save to rally round our flag, which was completely riddled; and our Colonel could not be persuaded to leave until he saw all the rest leave us. The rebel scoundrels fired upon our ambulances and dragged out the wounded. Since then we have not seen the Colonel. I am at present unable to write a full account of the affair, but shall endeavor to prepare one soon. Only about eighty-seven of our company, which numbered on hundred and twenty-two, are left, Meagher was the bravest of the brave. Pray that God may avert the destruction of our Republic.

P. J. R.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863

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Contributed by Damian Shiels





“R.”, Co. K, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

24 01 2012

The following letter from a member of Captain Meagher’s Company, the “Irish Zouaves,” Co. K, 69th , was received by R. J. Lalor, Esq., by whom we have been kindly allowed its use: -

Fort Corcoran, Arlington Heights.

July 22, 1861

Doubtless you have heard, ere this, of the terrible engagement of last Sunday. The affair is of such  importance in out annals that I hasten to give you a succinct account of it.

After the ad affair of Thursday at Bull’s Run Ford, where we lost a good many man of the Union troops, our regiment, with all the others engaged and in the immediate vicinity, were encamped in and around Centreville, on each side of the road lead to that place and towards Manassas Gap. We remained perfectly quiet on our respective camping grounds, save when our pickets and those of the enemy met. That the rebels were receiving reinforcements, was proved by the constant arrival of trains every night, as well as by outside intelligence. We, too, were receiving reinforcements and by Saturday night were ready for making an attack. We were ordered to hold ourselves in readiness by midnight, and, accordingly, by that time we were awake, prepared to march. When we reached the road, we went double quick for nearly two miles. Then, having crossed a bridge safe and gained the hill top, which had been obstructed by the enemy, we turned into the woods and remained there for some time, drawn up in line of battle.

Our good chaplain, Father O’Reilly, blessed us; and many were the prayers sent up to heaven that our arms might be nerved to strike terror into our enemies, and this save our distracted country.

The large gun “Long Tom,” commenced to throwing shell at 6.30 a. m. The rebels did not answer, but reserved their fire for a more favorable opportunity. Failing to bring them out, and our regiment having the right of the line, or advance post, we were ordered to move our quarters and approach the front. In doing so, we were obliged to move at double quick most of the way, and to ford a stream or two, knee high. This was a serious disadvantage to us, but our brave boys seemed not to mind it. Still further on we had to defile along a narrow path way among trees and shrubbery. Even this we did in safety, and soon gained an open plain, where we could perceive the position of the enemy, from the constant discharge of heavy guns.

Again changing our locality, we had to move through some meadow; and, just nearly as we passed the last one, a murderous fire was opened upon us from a ravine to the left by the enemy’s sharp-shooters. Our entire regiment halted, and facing about, fired two volleys into them though, without seeing them. This stopped their fire, and upon examination afterwards, we found that terrible chastisement had been inflicted upon them by us. The pace was strewn with their dead, and one officer had no less than seventeen balls in him. But we paid well for this; for one of the first men to fall was our recently appointed Lieut. Colonel, Captain Haggerty, of Co. A. His loss to us was beyond repair, as he had proved himself a true soldier under every circumstance, and was endeared to us all. He was brimful of courtesy and kindness to the humblest as well as to the highest in rank or station, though seemingly rough at times in his manner.

Poor Costelloe of ours – C. K – a recent arrival from Waterford, Ireland, and beloved by us all for his amiability and tenderness of character, fell also in this first fire, with three balls in his left breast and right cheek. They both died easily, almost instantaneously, for their wounds were too near the seat of life to permit them to suffer long.

When we had rounded the house used by our skirmishers as an hospital, directly in the enemy’s front, we were permitted to halt and rest after our severe march, and to recruit for the coming struggle. We could see one regiment after another of our forces assault the enemy and advance upon his position, but it was evident to us that up to this time no effect had been produced upon his batteries, though death and destruction were dealt out to him by our brave volunteers.

At last the order came for the 69th to try and do what the others had failed in. We advanced with hopeful hearts in close line of battle, exposed to the hot shot and shell which were instantly poured in our ranks, though, fortunately, at first with little effect. One ball, however, came near killing our brave Colonel, who treated the matter quite coolly.

A field over a quarter of a mile had to be crossed, then a fence to be cleared, and then another field of equal length till we reached the foot of the hill and woods occupied by the enemy. Here we halted a few moments, and then flanked along to the right across another field of equal length, and through an entrenchment and high stream, and then up a hill, before we stopped to fire or give the enemy a proof of our storming capacities. Worn out by our long and quick march, still more so by the fatigue of clearing fences, ditches, and streams, we stopped for a moment and fired deliberately into the enemy. Then another volley, then another, and we charged up the heights to their battery with all the impetuosity of our race; but we were “like sheep sent to the slaughter”. The cannon belched forth their shells in our midst, killing our men in groups, and scattering them in all directions. But, even then, they halted, tried to close up, and fired again; and then, just as we seemed to be carrying our point, we found ourselves being fired into on the right flank and rear by the rebel cavalry, who emerged from the woods and struck down and picked off all the men near them. It is even said that we were fired into by our own troops – of course, by mistake. But of this I am certain; our own cavalry, who had partly broken our ranks, when charging up the hill, were not to be found when we needed their protection.

Our flag of the Stars and Stripes was well struck, and the standard-bearer of the dear old Green Flag was shot down; but the flag was instantly raised again. One of our wounded men who carried a flag was shot down, and the flag was torn from his grasp. Raising himself up, he again attacked his rebel antagonist, struck him down, and carried off one of the Secession flags; but this was not long permitted to remain with him, for he was again charged upon, and the trophy taken from him, besides being taken prisoner. However, having a concealed revolver, he shot down the two soldiers in charge of him, and captured a Captain’s sword and a prisoner, both of which he brought in safely to our camp. His name is John D. Keeffe, and he is worthy of being recorded among our truly brave men.

I could recite to you numerous other instances of bravery deserving of record, but it would not be possible to do justice to all.

Captain Thomas Francis Meagher gained the greatest credit of the day. His horse was shot when he first reached the field, the ball going farther and killing one of Company E, and when we reached the gap at the foot of the hill, he brandished his sword and called upon the brave Zouaves of the Sixty-ninth to follow him. His valor and bearing during the entire battle is the theme of every tongue. Lieut E. K. Butler also distinguished himself, and gained much in the favor of his scattered and decimated company. Our Colonel, too, showed the greatest coolness and bravery throughout the fight. He stood to the last, and rallied the remnant of his scattered forces, and took us off the field in a square and with our colors flying high; but he didn’t do this till after all other regiments had retired or were retiring. When we had gained the road, and had halted at the temporary hospital, we were charged by the cavalry again, who made sad havoc among the flying remnants of every regiment which had not gained the road. They broke and fled in all directions, and were pursued and cut down at all points. Such a scene was scarcely ever before witnessed.

This was the last point at which I saw our gallant Colonel, who, I am told, was wounded in the leg. He slipped quietly off his horse, and tried to rally his men; but the crowd and the pressure of the remnants of all the other regiments, rendered it impossible.

What remained of our regiment rallied round the Green Flag in Centreville, and after  consultation it was thought best to retire to Fort Corcoran and recruit, as we had not a field officer left to direct our movements. Captain Meagher here joined us and led us home, when we had to come to this decision.

This bold charge up that hill clean into the enemy’s batteries, will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Our company can only muster this morning about 80, with those who were left to guard the fort, out of 123. Lieutenant Conolly, a really brave man, has not been heard of since we rallied round our flag and formed the square. His loss will be deservedly regretted by us all.

Our Company suffered more than any in the regiment, on account of their red jackets, I suppose. Three men went out with me from the Fort to the battle fled [field?].  I alone returned. Many others of ours have the same story to tell. The Fire Zouaves, Fourteenth New York, and the Second Rhode Island, acted nobly and bravely in the grand charges they made upon the enemy when he showed himself before his batteries. So, also, did the Thirteenth New York. But it is safe to say that none made a bolder stand or a grander charge, and retired so slowly and steadily, and in such good order as did the 69th, when the fate of the battle was decided. The Herald and other papers may talk of a “great victory,” but by those engaged in the battle it cannot be considered anything but a great defeat. The generalship displayed was none of the highest, as you will believe when you learn that of the immense force of Union troops in the field, not more than one regiment at a time was ordered forward, and these at different points. We were not even protected by the cavalry and artillery. The former were not near us when we wanted them, though they were permitted to stand directly on our front, where they remained when we were advancing in line of battle, until Col. Corcoran, seeing that his line must inevitably be broken by them, ordered them off. They then moved to our right, and, strangest of all, it was from this point that the most terrible havoc was made upon us by the Rebel cavalry, who rushed out of the woods upon our men when their backs were turned, and they were engaged in charging upon the masked batteries, and cut down and trampled them to death. Most of the men lost by Company K were lost or taken prisoners here.

I blame none, censure none, for these blunders and omissions, nor do I offer any better plan of attack than that which was here adopted, but I must say that I expected better things of those who are appointed, and are supposed to possess the requisite qualifications of good generals. I trust they will be held responsible for the immense sacrifice of life on that terrible day.

Our artillery, too, was easily captured by the rebels. When the Virginia cavalry made their last charge at the hospital near the bridge and Centreville, the men in the foremost ranks of our artillery cut the traces and fled, leaving the guns an easy prize to the enemy. In accounts of battles previously read by hour humble servant it was always thought necessary to well protect, with cavalry or infantry, or both, the artillery companies. Yet Sherman’s Battery and “Long Tom,” a very heavy piece, brought up expressly to counteract the effect of the enemies’ heaviest guns, were permitted to fall into their hands without an effort being made to prevent it.

Of the many missing in our company, and in all the rest of the regiment several are known to be killed, many others only wounded – unless they have subsequently fallen into the hands of the Secessionists. Other are missing, of whom nothing at all is known. I trust that they may yet turn up, and that we shall be gratified by their safe restoration to their many friends in and out of the regiment. We deeply deplore their loss for we can attest to their courage and manly bearing on that day. I saw poor Maguire, for the last time, raise his piece aloft, waving it as if it were a sword, and calling upon the Zouaves to make one more bold charge and rout the Rebels. I fear he is lost.

R.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1861

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Contributed by Damian Shiels





A Scholarship Award in Honor of Dr. Joseph L. Harsh

23 01 2012

The Board of Directors of Save Historic Antietam Foundation Inc. voted at their November meeting to establish a stipend for scholars willing to research selected aspects of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, especially the battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg. The award is named in honor of Dr. Joseph L. Harsh, longtime professor at George Mason University, and author of the prize-winning trilogy on the Maryland Campaign.  Through the generosity of the family and friends of Dr. Joseph L. Harsh, SHAF is able to provide an annual stipend of up to $2,500 for those who apply to undertake project beneficial to understanding various aspects of the campaign and battle.  The stipend will be offered annually and will be awarded based on a decision by a committee composed of representatives of the SHAF Board of Directors, the Harsh family and Antietam National Battlefield.  It is our hope that this funding will allow research on unresolved issues concerning the campaign.  If a scholar does not have a topic in mind suggestions can be provided by SHAF.

Applicants need not be enrolled in any school, but must provide evidence of their ability to perform the research required for completion of the project. Because this award honors a great scholar it is imperative that the completed project reflect the highest standards of scholarship and research.  Topics must be approved by the stipend committee, and the successful applicant will present his/her finished project at a ceremony in conjunction with the annual anniversary commemoration at Antietam National Battlefield and also produce a written summation in a format suitable for publication.  Applications can be made to SHAF no later than February 15, and the award will be announced by March 1.  Research must be completed by September 1.  The guidelines and more details are available at the SHAF website, www.shaf.org.

We are delighted to make this stipend available to all students of the Maryland Campaign, and eagerly await the results of this project.

Application Procedures & Timeline

  1. Applicants must submit a brief statement of a project, a research methodology and relevance of the topic to furthering understanding of the Maryland Campaign of 1862.  They will also provide a brief resume’ emphasizing their historical and research credentials. 
  2. In the event that the applicant does not have a topic in mind the SHAF Board of Directors will generate a list of possible topics and make it available for potential applicants. 
  3. Applications should be submitted by mail to SHAF, P.O. Box 550 Sharpsburg, MD 21782 or emailed through our website, www.SHAF.org.  All applications must be received by February 15, of each year. 
  4. The stipend committee, made up of three members of the SHAF Board, a representative from the Harsh family, and from the Antietam National Battlefield will choose an awardee annually to receive the stipend, and the committee will also oversee the project.  The criteria used to choose an awardee shall be determined by the stipend committee. 
  5. Unsuccessful applicants may re-apply as often as they like. 
  6. Members of the SHAF Board of Directors are prohibited from applying.




Preview: Larry B. Bramble, “For Liberty”

23 01 2012

Larry B. Bramble’s For Liberty is billed as “my ancestor’s story of immigration and the Civil War.” Bramble examines his great-great-granfather’s (and various other relatives’) move from Europe to the United States and his experiences as a Union soldier during the Civil War. In doing so he tells a larger story of immigrants and there experiences not only in the war but in becoming a part of, and shaping, a new society. The bulk of the book deals with the war, with engagements spanning the conflict from beginning to end and from theater to theater, and focusing on the actions of the regiments in which members of Bramble’s family served.





Col. Hiram Berry, 4th ME Infantry, On the March to Manassas and the Battle

17 01 2012

[A series of letters from Col. Hiram G. Berry, 4th Main Infantry]

Headquarters 4th Maine Vols.,

Camp Knox, Fairfax County, Va., July 13, 1861.

Since writing my last we have moved onward apace. We are now encamped on the east side of Alexandria and Manassas Gap railroad, near the town of Fairfax. I am well and never experienced so good a climate as this of Virginia. The country through which we have passed since we left Alexandria is one of the finest imaginable. The plantations are of the medium size, of about 1,000 acres on the average. Houses large, airy, comfortable and well arranged. Most of the people are to my mind secessionists. ‘Tis sad indeed to see so fine a country in so bad a fix; nevertheless, no help for it now but to fight it out. We move forward again in a day or two from five to ten miles. The whole line is some eighteen miles long, and advances at the same time. Our route is down the railroad spoken of above, on its eastern side, or its left flank.  We build bridges as we go along, and also a telegraph. The regiment is in fine health and works hard. I am at work from four in the morning till eleven at night, sleep on the ground and am as well as ever in my life. I dress in blue flannel, have also uniformed my entire regiment in same manner. All feel better since they put on flannel.  ‘Tis the only fit thing to wear in this climate.

———-

Headquarters 4th Regiment, Maine Vols.

Fairfax Station, July 15, 1861.

We are under marching orders and leave at three o’clock this afternoon with three days’ food in haversacks Baggage of all kinds, tents, everything left behind. The whole line, some 18 miles, advances today. We form its left wing. I hope all will be well with us, and trust in God it will be.

———-

Camp Knox, two and one-half miles from Fairfax Court House,

July 18, 1861.

(Written by camp-fire.)

We are now two and one-half miles from Fairfax Court House, on south side, having turned the enemy’s position and taken some twenty prisoners. They report the main column to have left over two hours before us. We have taken their camp, tents, 200 barrels of flour, bacon, sugar, tea, etc. — a pretty good show for hungry men. Captain Walker’s men took possession of these works, called Fairfax Station, in the name of the United States, and the 4th Regiment in particular. The works consist of three earth batteries or breastworks, with no guns. They were constructed to cover infantry, and in good style. My men are in excellent condition. We have fifty axe-men to clear the way, as the enemy have felled trees across the road, torn down bridges, etc. We clear the way, make the roads, scout the country for half a mile ahead, and advance main column. My men work like tigers, and are the admiration of all the army officers. We have one thirty-two and two twenty-eight pound rifle cannon, mounted on carriages, with ammunition, etc.  My men (under command, of course,) have dragged these guns the last twelve miles. The army men who had them in charge got them stuck in a dreadful ravine — hills one-half mile on each side — and gave them up. The Massachusetts 5th tried a hand and gave up also. Colonel Heintzelman said he would try the 4th Maine Regiment and they would bring them if power could do it. I got the request and dispatched Bean and Carver, with their companies, and went also myself. We manned the guns, made our arrangements, and in one-half hour had them at the top of the hill, and turned them over to Colonel Heintzelman in front of the earthworks of the enemy, having dragged them ten miles.

Long roll sounds to fall in. We are now only eight miles from Manassas Gap, and bound thither, enemy in front all the way, trees across the roads, bridges all burned, etc. Hard labor to clear the way. We shall take position in the rear of the enemy to cut off retreat. The left wing, in which we are, has to march in a circuitous road in consequence. I have not yet had an accident of any kind in the regiment since I left Portland. The Fifth lost two men by accident yesterday. Regimental organization stronger every day. New York Fire Zouaves are with us. They are a fine body of men, and the strongest ties of friendship exist between them and this regiment.

Morning — No more now; I am ordered to march.

———-

Alexandria, July 23, 1861.

I am here again with my regiment, acting under orders, having arrived last evening amidst a most pitiless rain storm. We broke camp at Fairfax, near a place called Claremont on Thursday morning at two o’clock, marched to a spot near Centerville, some fourteen miles and located. Stayed there Thursday, Friday and through Saturday.  On this last march we drove some 5,000 of the enemy before us. Sunday morning at half-past one o’clock, we broke camp and marched with the main column of some 30,000 men to attack the enemy at a place called Bull Run, some fourteen miles distant. The brigade my regiment was in was halted till two P. M. some six miles from battlefield to act as a reserve, to go when needed. At that time we moved forward to join our own division, which was having a dreadful light. We moved at double-quick time in one of the most melting of days. Men threw away everything except their guns and equipments, and arrived on the field in less than an hour. The ammunition of our artillery gave out, and also of the regiments which had been in action. The ammunition trains for some reason did not get up to us. We were ordered into position at once, and stood our ground until ordered off by General McDowell. We stood the fire about one hour, holding the enemy in check till the retreat of the main body took place, and we were ordered to move. Two full batteries of the enemy played upon us and if the shot had been well aimed, it would have been worse for us. As it is, it is bad enough — sergeant-major shot through the heart, twenty-five privates killed, three company officers wounded, (Bird, Bean and Clark,) two prisoners, sixty-odd wounded, some very slightly, one hundred and nineteen missing; most of these, however, will soon be in.

My regiment fought bravely and stood their ground manfully. T have no cause of complaint in that respect. We marched fifty miles without halting except to tight a battle — without sleep also. I have lost everything. No change of clothing — nothing. Lost one of my horses, the best one — killed. Say to General Titcomb that one of my flags was carried through the fight — the stars and stripes presented in New York. It is riddled with bullets. I have done my best and my whole duty, as I hope. I am sorry indeed to have lost so many, many men in a losing affair. Not less than 3,000 killed and wounded on our side and prisoners — say twice as many more of the enemy. The victory was ours up to one-half hour of our arrival on the ground. At that time the enemy was reinforced by 17,000 men, and that fact together with the failure of ammunition lost the battle. Our part was to fight, and cover as far as possible the retreat.

I am well, but exhausted, and my men are nearly so. I will mention names of men belonging to Rockland killed :

Company B — Asahel Towne, B. W. Fletcher, Chas. O. Fernald.

Company C — Dennis Canning, P. H. Tillson, S. P. Vose, Jarvis B. Grant.

Company D — J. A. Sparlock, Wm. B. Foss, Geo. C. Starbird, James Bailey.

Company H — G. F. Cunningham, James Finn, West W. Cook, E. W. Anderson.

 ———-

Claremont, Va.

Undated

My health is better than for the past two weeks. I feel quite the thing again. I have not been sick, but somewhat exhausted, growing out of the fatigues consequent upon the movements of two weeks ago. The regiment is now getting over in a measure its recent troubles. I hope they will soon be themselves again. Never was a braver set of men than those who went into battle under my command. They were perfectly cool, did exactly as I wanted, obeyed all my orders and behaved nobly. They should have the thanks of those they battled for and I doubt not will have them. As for my poor self, I tried to do my whole duty. Strange as it may seem to you I was no more excited than ordinarily when in earnest. I did not believe I should be hit in any way, and I did not think of it at all. My mind was occupied by my command entirely. Men fell all around me, killed and wounded. The ground was covered with men and horses, some mine and some of other regiments, who had passed over the same ground. Chapman left me only one minute before he was shot. He came for orders to my post by the Regimental colors; asked for orders with a smile. I gave them, he extended his hand, we exchanged blessings, he cautioned me against unnecessary exposure, and we parted for the last time. He was shot through the heart immediately on resuming his post.

I shall come out all right I have no doubt; shall do my whole duty, and I never again, probably, shall be placed in such a position should the war last for years as that at Bull Run.

You ask me if reports are true concerning carrying the flag, etc. I do not care to say much about myself; I leave that to others. My color-sergeant was shot in the battle. I did carry the flag throughout the entire engagement. It was my post in battle beside or near it. I at once raised it after it fell. Poor flag ! ‘Tis indeed a sorry looking concern for one so pretty when presented. Cannon shot and musketry have well-nigh ruined it, but torn as it is, it is the pride of the regiment. My labor has been to get the confidence of my men, their entire confidence on all occasions. I think I have succeeded, and whilst I am severe on them in the discharge of their duties, nevertheless I try to take care of them in all emergencies. I do not believe there will be any more engagements for some time, and then when they do come it will be principally with artillery.

Major-General Hiram G. Berry: His Career as a Contractor, Bank President, Politician and Major-General of Volunteers in the Civil War Together with His War Correspondence Embracing the Period from Bull Run to Chancellorsville, by Edward K. Gould, pp. 57 – 59, 65, 67-68.

Thanks to reader Terry Johnston





Pvt. James Rorty, Co. G, 69th NYSM, On the Battle, Imprisonment, and Escape

16 01 2012

The 69th at Bull Run.

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The annexed letter from one of the gallant 69th, who was taken prisoner with Colonel Corcoran at the Battle of Bull Run, gives some interesting details regarding that event, and the subsequent treatment of the prisoners by the Confederates, which have not heretofore been laid before the public: -

New York, Oct. 12, 1861

To the Editor of the Irish-American:

Sir – As anything relating to the late campaign of the 69th, and the present unfortunate position  of its brave Colonel and some of its members, must be interesting to your readers. I desire to lay before them through the medium of your wide spread columns, the following sketch as well to correct certain prevalent erroneous impressions as to present some facts on the subject hitherto unpublished, and unknown to the public.

Popular as the corps was, it had many grievances (most of which were owing to the hastiness of the organization, and the shortness of its term of service), but it seems to me that the report of Brigadier General Sherman after the battle of Bull Run, contains a statement which does the greatest injustice to the Regiment, and which has become the heavier grievance from being borne in silence and thereby tacitly admitted. He says, “after the repulse of the 2d Wisconsin regiment, the ground was open for the 69th, who advanced and held it for some time, but finally fell back in confusions.” He omitted saying what many witnessed, and what Col. Corcoran, confirmed in Richmond (when we first saw the report) that he rode up and ordered Col. Corcoran to draw off his men, while we were still obstinately maintaining our ground, not only against the main strength of the Confederates hitherto engaged, but, also, while pressed hard on the right flank by the fresh troops (Johnson’s) which Gen. Smith and Col. Elzey had just brought from Manassas, and which, according to the official report of these officers, numbered 8,000 men. I do not pretend to say that we could have held the position against such overwhelming odds, but as we did so until ordered to abandon it, simple justice and fair play should have prompted Sherman to tell the whole truth. The manner in which he managed, or rather mismanaged his brigade, is more open to comment than the conduct of any regiment during the day. Inferior in numbers as we were to the enemy, he increased the disadvantage by keeping one excellent corps idle (th 18th N. Y. V.), and bringing the others into action separately and successively, allowing one to be broken before another was brought to its support, and thus throwing away the only chance of success that remained. Notwithstanding the heavy reinforcements the Confederates had received, they were so badly beaten and disheartened up to this time that there can scarcely be a doubt but that a vigorous, simultaneous, and combined attack of Sherman’s brigade and Keyes’ would have carried their position. Instead of this, after our regiment (leading the column) had turned their right under Gen. Evans, dispersed and almost destroyed the crack corps of the south – the N. O. Zouaves, instead of following up our advantage and pushing home the flying foe we gave them time to change their position, concentrate their strength, and deploy their fresh troops. We have reason to be thankful that our ill timed delay was not entirely fatal to us, as it would have been had not Beauregard’s order to General Ewell to get [in our rear mis]carried. Again, when our attack failed, and the retreat began, Col. Corcoran endeavored to cover it by forming his men in square, in which order it moved to the point at which we crossed Bull Run, where on account of the woods and the narrowness of the path down the bluffs that formed the west bank, it had to be reduced to a column. Sherman, who was in the square, told the men to get away as fast as they could as the enemy’s cavalry were coming. This prevented Col. Corcoran from reforming the men on the other side of the Run, a movement which would have not only effectually repelled the enemy, but would also have covered the retreat of every battery lost subsequently. It was in his efforts to remedy the disorder and straggling caused by this “license to run,” that Col. Corcoran (who, from the unfortunate and irreparable loss of Haggerty, and the absence of all his staff, was obliged to be somewhat in the rear) was cut off from the main body of the regiment, by the enemy’s horse, and being able to rally only nine men, moved into a small house, to make a better defence, but was induced by some of his officers to surrender as resistance was hopeless. Meantime about half a dozen men had joined him at the house, of whose arrival he was ignorant. Trifling as the reinforcement was, he surrendered so reluctantly that I verily believe had he known of it he would not have surrendered without a desperate fight. As I shared all his subsequent misfortunes, and witnessed the manly fortitude with which he bore them, the consistent dignity with which he repelled all overtures for any parole that would tie up his hands from the Union cause, and repulsed some Southern friends who endeavored to seduce him from it, it may not be improper to sketch his prison life. Owing to the inadequate arrangements for our accommodation in Richmond it was afternoon on the 24th, before some of us got anything to eat, so that we had eaten only once in four days. The colonel was extremely exhausted, but desired all his men to be brought to him “that he might take a look at – and know,” as he said, “those who had done their duty to the last.” Learning that some had no money, and wanted clothing badly, he gave $20 out of his own scanty resources to be laid out for their use. He also purchased and sent a number of shirts to the wounded of his corps, and sent some money to many of them also. He was never allowed to go out, not even to the hospital, to see his wounded men, which latter I heard him complain somewhat of. He was kept quite apart even from us how were in the same building, although some of us managed to see him daily or oftener. I wish to contradict, however, a statement which has obtained universal currency about him which is an unmitigated falsehood. He never was in irons, nor was he threatened with them from his capture until his removal to Charleston on the 10th ult., when we last saw him. Rigidly as he was watched, and great as was the importance attached to his safe keeping – the consistent bearing of which I have already spoken, had won for him the respect of every Southerner, and though it at first drew on him the virulent abuse of the Richmond press, even it ultimately changed its tone and declared “that the consistent obstinacy of that most impudent and inveterate of Yankee prisoners, Col. Corcoran, was preferable by far to the repentant professions and cringing course of some prisoners to obtain parole.” As to our general treatment it was harsh, although as long as any hope of the Government making an exchange remained, our guards were courteous and communicative, and I feel bound to say that the cavalry to whom we surrendered (the Clay Dragoons) acted in every respect like chivalrous and honorable men. Latterly, however, some regiments of raw recruits – mere conscript boys, whom the 10 per cent levy had drawn out, committed great atrocities on the prisoners, firing through the window at us on the slightest pretence of breach of the regulations. Several shots were fired into the room where the 69th were confined, and one man of the 2d N. Y. S. M. was wounded in the arm. Shots fired into the buildings were said to have resulted fatally, but as we could not get to them I cannot vouch for the fact positively. Atrocities like these, coupled with the prospect of being sent further South, induced many to try to escape, but the great majority failed, and were put in irons. As, however, none of the 69th, save two who were unsuccessful, had tried, your correspondent thought it became the honor of the corps to make an attempt, and accompanied by Sergeant O’Donohue, of Co. K, and Peter Kelly, of Co. J, left Richmond on the 18th ult., passing the sentries in disguise. Captain McIvor, who intended to accompany us, was unfortunately suspected by the guard, and put in irons. I regret to see he has since been sent to New Orleans. Our provisions (2 lbs. of crackers) soon ran out, but Virginia is full of corn, and we lived on the enemy. After travelling a week (solely at dead of night) we came on the Confederate lines on the Potomac, above Aquia Creek, and after running into the most advanced cavalry outpost, from which we escaped narrowly, and coming in contact with sentries for miles along the river, we at length found shelter and concealment in a deserted fishing house. Having built a raft to reach the Potomac fleet which was in sight, it turned out to be too small, and O’Donohue embarked alone on it, and reached the Seminole, the captain of which, however, refused to send a boat for us who remained on the Virginia shore, and insisting on sending O’Donohue to Washington, we were left to our own resources, and built another raft on which we reached the Penguin during the following night, and were sent aboard the Yankee. The engineer, Mr. Carpenter, and one of the crew furnished me with a complete suit of clothing which took away my naked, half savage appearance, and the steward, Mr. Fitzpatrick, attended to our famished and ravenous appetites with similar humanity. As this aid was no way official, and came solely from a generous and humane spirit we shall always cherish grateful feelings towards these gentlemen. From Lieutenant Ross(?), of the Navy Yard, Washington, and the captain of the Philadelphia steamer, we received similar kind treatment. Trusting that the length of this communication, will not render it objectionable,

I am, sir, yours truly,

James M. Rorty.

Irish-American Weekly, 10/26/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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“W”, 2nd Vermont Infantry, Sets the Record Straight

15 01 2012

From the 2d Vt. Regiment.

In Camp at Bush Hill, Fairfax Co,, Va.

August 5th, 1861.

Messrs. Editors of the Free Press:

I notice some reports have gone to Burlington concerning the “Vermont Guard” not quite in accordance with the truth. For instance, the Times of July 26th says: – “Lieut. Sharpley carried the company into the battle and brought it off, showing throughout the contest the utmost coolness and self-possession. A cannon shot struck exactly at his feet on one occasion, plowing the earth and knocking him senseless; but on rising he went in again. He was ably seconded by Lieut. Weed.” I do not wish to detract in the least from the merits of Lieut. Sharpley. He has gained the reputation of being a brave and efficient officer, and he has the best wishes of all under his command. But as for his leading the company through the battle, I hardly think that Mr. Shaw (from whom the information purports to come) will admit that any member reported such a fact to him; nor will Lieut. Sharpley desire the reputation of so doing. Lieut. Sharpely did take command of the company when Capt. Drew became too exhausted to proceed farther, and led the company until rendered senseless by the cannon ball, when he was carried from the field by Mariam and J. S. Spaulding, and was not seen again by the company until it reached Centreville. Lieut. Weed took command after the misfortune to Lieut. S., and to him is due the credit of taking the company into battle and bringing it off, showing throughout all the coolness and self-possession ascribed to Lieut. Sharpley. He, certainly, was ably seconded by Orderly Bain. I would be unjust to Lieut. Weed not to give him the honor which he deserves. Lieut. W. is now in command of the company, and not a 1st Lieut. of another company, as another report says.

We are recruiting up now, and are occupied mostly on guard duty. We have now two companies each day for guard – one for a picket guard, and the other as a guard about the camp. Since Gen. McClellan has taken command, we have been kept very close, only two being allowed out of camp at a time, and then only with a written pass. Officer and men are debarred from the pleasure of going to Washington. On this account, intoxicating drinks have almost disappeared from camp. This produces a very beneficial effect upon the health of the men. We have but few in the hospital now.

Yesterday was a very sad day with us, rendered so by the death of Corporal Huntley of the Waterbury company. His disease was diptheria. Appropriate and very solemn exercises were held, and the corpse was started on its homeward journey. Today we are called to mourn another brother soldier – private Dow, from the same company, who died of the same disease. Thus have four of our number been laid low by this terrible disease. There are several others in the hospital suffering from diptheria, but none which are considered dangerous. The bodies of these young men have been sent home to their friends by members of the company.

Company G. has five men in the hospital at present; Sergeant Stuart and E. K. Sibley are in the camp hospital. The former was not wounded as you reported, but was sick with the measles at Centreville upon the day of the battle. By almost superhuman exertions he succeeded in walking to Alexandria, and has since been very weak. Sibley is down with the fever but is not considered dangerously ill. Nelson is wounded in the hospital in Washington, while we hear that Corporal Wilcox and private Bates are very badly off in the hospital at Annapolis; with these exceptions the company are enjoying good health.

Our regiment have not yet commenced work upon the entrenchments but we are employed rather as an advanced guard. Our pickets occasionally get a sight at those of the enemy, but no skirmishing of importance has occurred, nor do we anticipate any forward movement for some time to come. Indeed we are in no condition for such a move as we have half a dozen different kinds of guns and have but one shirt and one pair of socks apiece so that when washing day comes we are in a bad fix. Our fare is not much improved, but the boys stand up under all these difficulties much better than could be expected. How ling they will live with the miserable rations with which we are supplied is more than I can tell; yet we are promised better rations sometime, perhaps when we get back to Vermont. By the way there has been much excitement in camp for a few days past owing to the rumor, that we cannot be held out of the state more than three months, and that we shall then go home for the purpose of recruiting up. I think the boys are not homesick at all, nor are they discouraged, but they wouldn’t object to a short furlough.

All our grumbling about our guns bids fair to cease, as we have intelligence today from Mr. Hatch that he expects to procure rifled muskets for us. Gen. Davis and Lieut. Gov. Underwood, visited our camp to-day, undoubtedly for the purpose of finishing our equipment.

We have heard to-day that we are to move to the neighborhood of the 3d regiment, in a few days. At any rate you must not expect us to move to Vermont until Jeff. Davis and his rebel crew are no where.

W.

Burlington Free Press, 8/16/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy








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