Unknown, 5th Massachusetts Infantry, On the Battle

16 11 2012

Letter From The Fifth Regiment.

We are permitted to publish the following letter from a member of the Massachusetts Fifth, giving his account of the battle of Bull Run: -

Washington, D. C., July 25, 1861.

My dear Father, – On Tuesday I sent you a few lines to inform you that I was still in the land of the living, which is something that I can account for but through the protection of Providence.  I was in the thickest of the fight; my company did nobly and charged the enemy three times. Our Colonel was cool, and well able to lead a regiment in the field. I cannot say as much for other field officers. Our Captain was like a tiger, in the fight. Your son endeavored to do his duty. The whole battle was, in my opinion, a poorly managed affair, and was fought against Gen. Scott’s wishes. I hope in future, they will let him alone.

To give you an idea of what was done in 24 hours, I will state, at 2 A. M., on Sunday, we left camp at Centerville (that is our division the third), marched ten miles through a circuitous route, to take a position on the enemy’s right flank. When we arrived, about 11 A. M., we halted only long enough to throw off our blankets and haversacks, then marched by a flank, double quick, about 1 1/2 miles to a swell of land and in front of Arnold’s Battery formed by company in close order and commenced firing by company, that is, the 1st company delivered their fire, advanced to the brow of the hill, then fall back, load and be replaced by the next company, and so on; Arnold’s Battery, as well as the enemy, all the time firing over our heads, and balls were thick enough to satisfy any one. Soon after the Mass. 11th were sent to support us on the left and the N. Y. 28th on the right. After being in this position about an hour, we were ordered to file off to the right to the road crossing the Bull Run, and support the N. Y. Zouaves and Rickets’s Battery. We had just got into position when the enemy made a charge on the Zouaves and the battery, driving them through our ranks and taking Captain Rickets prisoner. A good part of the Zouaves rallied on our rear, and with some of the Mass. 11th, we retook the battery and carried it off the field.

The battery had advanced to within 200 yards of the enemy’s works, which I think was wrong, as they (the enemy) had splendid batteries, and they were more rapidly served than ours. Their infantry were much inferior to ours. We drove them every time they made their appearance with fearful loss. We were at last obliged to retire to the hill where we had left our blankets; here we formed on the left of the Rhode Island boys, under Gov. Sprague and Col. Burnside, with a battalion of the 11th on our left, and endeavored to stop the retreat but it was too much for us, and what commenced as a withdrawal in good order soon became a mad flight. Gov. Sprague seeing there was then no hope of arresting it, marched around the right and on the outside of the woods in sight of the enemy’s batteries which was the only thing that saved us, as they, seeing us going off in good order, supposed the rest in the woods must be in like good order, and as they were evidently very glad to see us go, thought best not to trouble us. We have since understood that they were actually retreating when we were.

As we were coming out of the woods about five miles from the battle-field, one of their batteries opened on us with shell, doing great damage, and piling the road with ambulances and baggage-wagons, and preventing the artillery passing the bridge, and four of Arnold’s guns fell into their hands.

At about 7 P. M. I got into camp at Centerville, tired and hungry. There I found all the officers, three sergeants, three corporals, and twenty-five privates. I immediately threw myself on the ground, and went to sleep, not having eaten anything since morning. After about an hour’s sleep was called up by the Adjutant, and ordered to fall in as noiselessly as possible. An order had been given to fall back on Washington. For about three miles the regiment marched in good order by the flank, but after that the cavalry passed us, and the regiments began to crowd by each other and got mixed up, and some command was lost. My company kept their position with great difficulty until we arrived at Fairfax, when they dropped off from exhaustion by the road side.

I kept on with the hardy ones and before I reached Camp Mass. at 11 A. M., was overtaken by those that had rested. Here I found all but 18 or 20 of the Co. I took a cup of coffee and laid down to rest tired enough I assure you. I could not have slept more than half an hour when we were aroused by the order to fall in, it was raining big guns. Water and mud to our knees. Tired and hungry we marched to Washington a distance of 8 miles over a road that is bad enough in dry weather, and perfectly horrible in wet.

On reaching Washington, who should I meet but Dan —, John’s old friend who put money in my hands to get a new pair of pants and clean underclothes, my pants being covered with mud and cut in two places by shot. I then went to his room had a wash, took supper with him, and slept the night in his bed.

I do’nt care about breaking any of the articles of war, or I might tell a hard story about some of our high officers.

Boston Daily Advertiser, 7/30/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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