More on the Manassas Battle.
The following interesting letter from an officer in Major Wheat’s Battalion, addressed to his father, in this city, will be read with interest:
Battle-Field, Near Manassas Junction,
Wheat’s Battalion, July 2[?], 1861.
Dear Father — I received yours of 16th inst. yesterday night. I wrote you about same date from camp “Stuart,” and expect that you are in receipt of it, long ere the date of this.
We have been for the past week or ten days constantly on duty, our position, as the advance portion of the army, necessarily involved incessant and unflinching duties from officers and men. The enemy, previous to the 21st inst., were ubiquitous. The three or four battle previous to that date were well contested, but all resulted in their defeat. The camp equipage, baggage, &c., of our command were sent to the rear on the morning of the date of my last letter, and since then till now your son has been innocent of a change of linen or water to wash himself, except what the Heavens furnished in the shape of rain and dews, and they only contribute to render his dusty habiliments of the hue and character of the soil and road, with variegations of colors fixed and indelible.
Our duties have tried the mettle of our men; without covering, without blankets, half clothed, scarcely half fed, bivouacked where duty demanded our pickets to be placed, our men have stood it all, and bravely. I have seen them night after night lying uncovered in woods and fields, hungry and half-naked, (officers faring the same,) expecting the advance of the enemy every moment, without a murmur. Day after day, exposed to rains and an almost intolerable heat, they unflinchingly performed their duties. After marching and counter-marching, without tents, clothing or anything to render them at all comfortable, they were led on the glorious morning of Sunday, 21st inst., to beat back Lincoln’s horde of northern barbarians, when for forty-eight hour previously they had not tasted food. Most gloriously did our battalion acquit itself. We have earned an undying fame.
The enemy, variously estimated at from 40,000 to 60,000, made a feint upon our front, which was easily and readily understood. Our battalion being in advance, and holding the post of honor on the left, were ordered to meet them as they endeavored to flank us. Our whole force did not number on the field 1800 men. Marching to take our position, we were fired upon by the South Carolina regiment and one of our company shot down; he fell at my feet. After the fire of the South Carolina regiment upon us from a point blank distance, concealed as they were in the woods, the enemy opened upon us a most terrific storm of shell, canister shot, chain shot, &c., taking position with only our little battalion, about 420 strong, the balance of our force of 1800 being under cover, we charged the enemy at the point of the bayonet and maintained, under the most incessant and murderous fire, for fully one hour, our position; and had our little battalion been supported we could have captured the enemy’s batteries and soon given another turn to events as they transpired.
I am anxious that you should hear from me, and cannot enter into a lengthened detail of the battle of the 21st. I write in a great hurry, but this I can say, that but for our battalion assuming the position it did, crossing a field at the charge, under the fire of eight thousand of the enemy, in position, protected by artillery, armed with the most improved weapons, the field would have been lost. All kinds of praise is accorded us. From Gen. Beauregard to the humblest private it is a source of wonderment how, being volunteers and unaccustomed to battle, we stood the fire we did. i can only say, personally, I endeavored to do my duty. I escaped most miraculously; fully one hundred shots were fired at me in a single instant. I entered into the engagement in my short sleeves, and showing a conspicuous mark, was fired upon from all points; just at the moment, at a deliberate aim, with my little carbine, I killed and officer or a man in front of their standard. The order to us being to fall back, as I retreated, being all alone, openly exposed, my white shirt a mark, I thought the eight thousand men opposed to our little battalion had opened upon me. Such an avalanche of shot, shell, &c., I do not care very soon to experience or risk the hazard of facing.
Our battalion was terribly cut up, seven commissioned officers of the eighteen who engaged in the battle being wounded. Our company lost half of its numbers in wounded. The flag we bore – ours being the centre flag company – evidences the fire we stood, there being no less than fifteen to eighteen perforations from the enemy’s bullets. I have not time to enumerate the wounded and killed, except of our company, and even this I may err in recapitulating, as returns are not complete: Capt. Miller, small bone of leg broken; Lieutenant Dickinson, acting adjutant, shot through the thigh; Lieut Care, son of Dr. Carey, shot in the foot, and when lying on the field stabbed through the thigh by a Yankee officer, whom he killed; Major Wheat was shot early after the opening of the engagement, through the body, the bullet going entirely through his body, just back of both nipples; we thought he was killed, but he was brought from the field alive, and though pronounced mortally wounded he is fast recovering, and we only hope for him to live to lead us to millions of such glorious victories. We can whip the Yankees. At no time did we have more the 15,000 men engaged. Our battalion have earned their laurels. I cannot write more. I will send details, though I may have to copy many things embraced in this letter.
Thank God for my escape.
Daily True Delta, 8/8/1861
*Possibly 1st Lt. William D. Foley
Contributed by John Hennessy