The Massachusetts Fifth in the Fight.
The following is an extract from a letter furnished to the Journal from a member of the 5th Massachusetts Regiment, and gives an interesting account of the gallant conduct of that regiment in the recent fight: -
Washington, July 26, 1861.
It will be impossible for me to give you a description of the battle of Sunday, as I saw it in a different light from others close beside me. I can, however, tell you the part our regiment took in the battle. Was, as you know, were in Heintzelman’s division and in Franklin’s brigade. Our brigade consisted of the 1st Minnesota Regiment, 5th of Massachusetts, and 11th of Massachusetts, and we marched in that order. We left Centreville camp at about daylight, with three or four brigades in advance of us. The battle opened about two hours before we reached the field. On arriving there the 1st Minnesota took a position out of our sight. We were told to go to the support of one of our batteries, playing on the rebels. We at once started on the double quick, and halted on the top of the hill, directly in front of the enemy’s batteries. We were flanked by the 11th Massachusetts on the left. Col Franklin ordered us to charge down the valley, on to the enemy’s batteries. Col. Lawrence told us to wait for his orders; we did. He then ordered us to charge to the brow of the hill by companies, fire and retreat to the rear of the regiment, load and await our turn. Before the entire regiment had time to follow his instructions, we were ordered to cross the ravine and support the Zouaves, who then were in the thickest of the fight. In as good order as any double quick movement was ever made, did our regiment countermarch and form on the left flank of the Zouaves, who, according to all accounts, were subject to a galling fire. We did this, then halted for the word of command, which did not come. (Col. Lawrence had fallen while we were changing positions.) After a few moments delay we rushed to the support of the Zouaves, and held our ground as well as any regiment on the field; three several times we charged and only retreated when the whole field in our rear was crowded with flying soldiers, cavalry, artillery and citizens. We were utterly astounded at the flight of those in our rear, and even while the Zouaves were hurrying from the field the men cried loudly for their officers to lead them forward. I tried to do my duty during the fight. I walked off the field slower than I ever walked State street.
Our regiment formed under Capt. Brastow and filed to the rear of the Rhode Island brigade, and marched in good order to our old camp at Centreville. We had been there and hour or more when Col. Franklin ordered us to retreat instantly to Washington. I have no desire to praise our regiment. I know that the Zouaves say we were the only regiment who supported them well. Adjutant Fairbanks, aide to Heintzelman, told Capt. Brastow that our regiment stood their ground as well as any regiment on the field; that if others had done as well we could have held our ground.
The New York and other regiments were praised very highly, but they did not lose as many men in proportion to numbers as we did. We had 531 fighting men on the field and lost fifty-nine, which is over 10 per cent. So you see we must have had some work to do. In reference to our colors, the State flag was brought from the field by our Sergeant Major, the stars and stripes by the Color Corporal. Our defeat was caused by the want of a proper and prompt reinforcement. We won the field and it was for the reserve to keep it. The regiments facing the batteries did not retreat until the forces in our rear were entirely and completely broken up. In changing our position we were subject to a terrific fire, directed to sweep the road.
In our charges the balls flew around us like hail stones, and God only knows how we ever escaped as we did. The army officers could not stand the fire, but hastened from the field. There was no order or regularity displayed by any one. I saw a whole regiment refuse to obey the order to support the Zouaves. We did our best, that is all I have to say. The Washington papers speak well of us. The men rallied around the colors and stuck to them to the last. Every man of the Fifth would have preferred to have died then and there than to have returned to Massachusetts without our colors. We expect to return within a few days. The boys would like another chance at the rebels, and I think most of them will reenlist after a visit home.
Capt. Brastow is recovering from his bruises. I thought we had lost the old hero at one time, when he was thrown down and rolled in the dust by a charge from the cavalry, but he was on his feet and at our head, sooner than you can read this. He inspired us all.
The army is nearly organized; but few stragglers can be seen. The Zouaves are nearly all in camp. Our regiment could be called out in thirty minutes.
Boston Daily Advertiser, 7/30/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy