Pvt. Caleb H. Beal, Co. H, 14th New York State Militia, On the Battle

25 06 2012

Arlington Va, Camp Porter

July 23rd, 1861

Dear Parents,

Thank God my life is spared, which is a miracle I assure you. The last letter I wrote you was the day before we marched to the battle field we, started at 2 O Clock that night and marched until 10 O Clock the next morning, and then were engaged in one of the most terrific battles ever fought in this country without stopping to rest at all, and we were all tired out when we arrived, we dropped our blankets and haversacks tore down fences, and rushed right up a steep hill to the enemies batteries.

I have often read of battles but never thought I should see the horror of war, which I did yesterday. I have seen enough. I pray and hope I may never witness such a again, but we are in for the war and may have to be in another battle before 3 weeks.

We fought bravely and the 14th as hard as any other regiment, but we were all obliged to retreat with a great haste, we are all back to our old camps that is those who are alright, all jaggered out having marched all night and yesterday through woods swamps and a hard march it was as we were afraid we should be cut off by the enemy, and if we had been it would have made an awful for all of us. We were in such confusion my legs are all swollen and my feet blistered and if you could look at our camp this morning, you would see a lot of dirty tired and limping lot of soldiers. It rained when we reached our camp and we all laid down and slept just as we were having all lost our blankets.

The rebels are the most cowardly I’d ever heard of. They actually came out of the woods and bayoneted our wounded, and the report is this morning that they have burned up the building where our wounded quartered. The rebels were all concealed in what is called masked batteries being ditches 14 feet deep in the edge of woods and you can not see them until you come right upon them. They say they extend for 3 miles and every little way is a battery. If they had come out in the field in a fair fight we should have cut them up awfully, but they had every advantage of us, they are very tricky. They came out and waved the American Flag and enticed our men to rally thinking it was our troops and when we got near them they drop the flag and fired on us doing awful damage.

We did not have so many men as we expected as one brigade which was to attack the batteries at another front from us were led 10 miles out of the way by their guide. Our Colonel was wounded and I helped to carry him on a litter for a good ways, he I think is not dangerous, although he did not speak and looked like a corpse, every one in the regiment is rejoicing over his narrow escape.

As we fought for 5 hours amid shower of cannon balls, grape shot bomb shells and bullets, at one time we were slipping down and marching up a hill to avoid the fire, when the 71 st reg. of NY mistook us for the enemy and poured a volley in to us, which you can judge somewhat of when I tell you that 6 or 8 of us were all in a heap in the dirt and the bullets striking nothin’ a fool of us. One of my mess mates had his cap taken off by a cannon ball. We made 3 rallys up the hill. But the enemy could not be got at. The zouaves were cut up awful! Our Major Jourdan was one of the bravest officers on the field riding and leading us on with, now boys “recollect your uniform, Brooklyn, and the Flag of your country.” With cannon balls striking all about him, we all thought that the enemy took him for Gen’l Mc Dowell as they kept up a continual fire at him, but it was the will of divine Providence that he should not be shot.

You will see all the publications in the paper which will give you statistics of numbers more accurate than I can, get the NY Times or Herald if you can.

When I woke up last night I found your letter laying beside me and was glad to hear from you. I read it and fell back to sleep again, and slept till this morning. This is all I can write now. I’am so tired and exhausted, tell the girls I received their letter, but had not time to answer it. Give my love to all and when I get settled I will try and write a gain.

Your affectionate son C H Beal

Excuse haste

P.S. Send some newspapers if you please.

We have marched altogether for the last 3 days 70 miles.

One in the regiment is rejoicing over his narrow escape.

—————–

Transcription courtesy and with permission of The Red Legged Devil

Original in the private collection of Anthony Dellarocca, Genealogist and Historian with the 14th Brooklyn Co. E (Living History Group)

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