“Stephen”, 2nd Maine Infantry, On the Battle

14 11 2012

Letter from the Second Regiment.

Headquarters 2d Maine Regiment,

Arlington Heights, Va. near Fort Corcoran, July 27th.

After a disastrous battle, and an ignominious retreat, although the 2d Maine strictly obeyed orders, and nobly performed the duty assigned them, as the official report will testify, I embrace the present opportunity to once more resume our correspondence.

Our regiment, before the conflict, having been attached to Col. Keyes’s brigade and Gen. Tyler’s division were held as a reserve guard, until arriving at the scene of action, when suddenly the reserve was dispensed with, and we were literally run two miles and plunged into a masked battery, with the fond assurance that success was certain, and the day our own. After the first charge, however, we were fully convinced that we reckoned without our host, and that we had aroused more passengers than we imagined the infernal machine contained. Upon the second charge we did splendidly, sending many a misguided Southron to his long home, and for a moment the enemy’s lines apparently receding, we felt quite inspired. At this juncture, the battery still belching forth its torrent of iron hail, we were ordered o retire, which we did in good order, and having sheltered ourselves in the woods near  by, we then attempted to take the monster by a flank movement, which possibly might have been crowned with success, ,had more despatch been exercised. Our boys fell in lively, but the 1st and 2d Connecticut regiments seemed to prefer a recumbent position. Receiving the order to advance, we were repulsed, without loss, a third time, the enemy, on account of our delay, having anticipated the attack.

Failing in this, our last attempt, amid shells rifle cannon and Minnie rifle balls we retired from Bull’s or Bloody Run, feeling that without avail, we had nevertheless nobly performed the task assigned us. Would to Heaven we could tell a different tale.

In our first charge, Capt. James of Co. C fell mortally wounded, while bravely leading on his command. At the same fire, Wm. J. Deane, color bearer, fell wounded fatally while vigorously sustaining the flag presented to is the day before by the ladies of California formerly residing in Maine. This flag was for a short time lost, but finally regained. The flags presented at Bangor and New York are badly riddled, but will again, I trust, lead us on, not to defeat but victory. Color Sergeant Moore, I forgot to add, was also shot dead on the first charge, the aim of the enemy being directed to the glorious Stars and Stripes under which they heretofore received unnumbered benefits and unbounded protection. In returning from the field it fell to my lot to see and grasp by the hand both Capt. Jones and Sergt. Deane – the former being borne to the hospital by his comrades in arms and the latter already there under the care of Dr. Allen and Lieut. Skinner, who have since been taken prisoners. Dr. Palmer desired to remain at the hospital but Dr. Allen insisted that he should move on. Capt. Jones, receiving a ball through the spine, will probably never recover. Sergt. Deane, being apparently wounded thro the wind-pipe, his case was considered doubtful.

By the way, to give you a specimen of Southern chivalry, so much in vogue. While our Surgeons were amputating limbs and extracting lead from our wounded and dying, the valiant “Black Horse Cavalry”, so called, charged upon the hospital and all were taken prisoners – but owing to a galling fire from our ranks, they were unable to hold their position and with great loss and few prisoners rushed their steeds into the woods beyond.

I live in the hope that our regimental loss in killed, wounded and missing will not exceed one hundred, but the death or absence of even one brave fellow from our ranks is too much, when we reflect that apparently nothing has been gained by the struggle. Our regiment and all others would have been literally cut to pieces were it not, after the first fire, for the order to lay down and reload, by so doing the enemy’s fire, most of the time, was too high, and passed harmlessly over us.

By the way, Washington Harlow, of company C, reported wounded and in hospital, is incorrect. He is wounded and missing. Samuel Nash, of company A, reported wounded, is with us, alive and well. Rev. Mr. Mines, our Chaplain and one of the bravest of clergymen, is taken prisoner – not shot as some affirm. I trust that as regards surgeons and chaplains at least, there may speedily be an exchange of prisoners.

From all we can learn, Beauregard is inclined to deal justly with all and the acts of Indian barbarism that have been committed thus far are not through his orders. The loss of the enemy is far greater than ours, and from one of the 69th New York regiment who has made his escape I understand that Richmond is more a city of mourning than rejoicing. The truth is we gained the day, but, humiliating as it must be to us all, lost it through the incompetency of some, either officers or civilians, [?] the [?].

Among the distinguished busy-bodies on the field, there were too many Congressmen and reporters, and too few real commanding officers. But the die is cast and we must look hopefully to the future.

Our brigade, which comprised three Connecticut regiments and a portion of the New York 8th, whose term of enlistment has about expired, is now broken up, and we are temporarily attached to Col. Sherman’s command – 3d Brigade. We soon hope, however, to again be under Col. Keyes, who is both a skilful, cautious and humane commander, and much esteemed by us all.

Gen. Tyler, I must confess, we do not adore, but in the late engagement cannot say but that he obeyed, to the letter, the orders of his superiors in command. The whole movement was ill-timed, badly arranged, and horridly engineered, and my only wonder is, that we are not all laying upon the battlefield, under the [?] rays of a July sun.

On Sunday evening, our regiment, having retired in good order to Centreville, we were assigned the honorable part of guarding for the night, the battery commanded by Captain Ayres, but at about ten, P. M., jaded and fatigued, the whole army was ordered to Fairfax, and our march was continued until we arrived at Alexandria, twenty-five miles distant. Could we have retained our position at Centreville, even now we should have been there, but fate ordered otherwise, and we now have a demoralized army, and a disgraceful flight to patch up as soon and as best we may.

Our boys, owing to fatigue, ragged clothes, no money, &c., are not in the best of humor, as may be supposed, but with many promises ahead, and by the blessing of God, we soon hope to be in better circumstances, trusting that when we again move onward, we shall have a Commander-in Chief in whom we may have [?] confidence.

One thing has been demonstrated – that infantry cannot cope with masked batteries, and that a successful retreat – if retreat we must – cannot be accomplished without sufficient artillery and cavalry. Time alone will heal the present shock, and to time must be left the [?].

The general health of our regiment is good, although our camping ground is not in a very healthy locality, as we are now obliged to occupy the old camping ground of the New York 69th, which , upon our arrival, was not troubled with extreme neatness.

In a few days I hope to write you more in detail.

Yours in haste,

Stephen

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy








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