Capt. William H. Baird, Co. H, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

12 12 2012

The 38th in Battle.

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Heroic Conduct Of The Geneva Volunteers.

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Interesting Letter from Capt. Baird.

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Camp Scott, near Alexandria,

Head Quarters 38th Reg’t,

2d Brigade – July 23d, 1861.

Dear Brother:

We have had a battle, of which you will probably be informed before this reaches you. I saw by the last N. Y. Tribune that there was no mention of the fact our regiment belonged to the Second Brigade. We do, however, belong to it, and have proved ourselves worthy of a share of the distinction which that brigade acquired in the battle.

Never did men fight longer or with more determined courage than the 38th and the Fire Zouaves did in this battle, against overwhelming odds that we had to encounter. We were ordered to be ready to march on the morning of the 21st, at 1 o’clock. We stood ready to march from that time until half past 5 o’clock. We then started and marched about 9 miles, stopped only about 10 minutes, when we were ordered to support our battery. We followed the battery in line, dressing on our colors. We went on double quick time for about one mile. When we got within half a mile of the position to be occupied by the battery on an eminence, cannon shot and bombs went whizzing by and over our heads at the rate of 12 a minute. I took out my watch and counted them. Before we came to a halt we had to cross three fences. After we cot in range of their batteries, I never saw a rifle pointed with more accuracy than they pointed their rifled cannon. Our battery was soon unable to sustain the awful fire to which it was exposed. We were then ordered to follow and support another battery on a hill, three-fourths of a mile on our right. We went at a quick step to the position assigned us. The Massachusetts 4th, as soon as we had taken our first position – before we left to support the second battery – shamefully left us to contend alone. We had scarcely reached our second position, going the entire distance through a shower of musketry, heavy shot and shell, when our battery was knocked all to pieces by a shot from a rifled cannon, which struck a wheel of a gun carriage, killed one gunner, took off a leg from another, and killed two horses, leaving it a perfect wreck. We were lying behind a rail fence some ten rods in rear of the battery, ready to support it from a charge of the enemy’s cavalry. By this time, however, the rebels made a charge on another gun at our right. – They come out of the woods in front of us. – We were there unsupported, the Fire Zouaves were the nearest regiment to us, they being half a mile in our rear. We met the rebels in between and in front of the gun they were trying to capture, and pen cannot describe the awful scene that followed. Musket balls went through and through our ranks by hundreds. As we were then unsupported, and the enemy had about 1,000 to our 688, we were compelled fall back, which we did in tolerable order. – They followed us to our battery, by which time we had got loaded and formed pretty well. Our Col. was weak with the heat and fatigue of the march, being so sick when we left our camp the he could not keep his seat in the saddle; our Lieut. Colonel was covered with boils, but he kept the field on foot, being unable to ride; our Major was struck by a ball near the ankle, which disabled him, and he was taken prisoner. The command fell on the Captains, and some of the sustained themselves well; particularly Capt. McQuade who had a leg shot off and was taken prisoner; and Capt. McGrath. Lieut. Funk of Co. C, proved himself a hero throughout the fight. There were others who fought well; but some of the officers in all the regiments should be reduced to the ranks, and some of the privates put in their places. There are privates in my company that would fill the places with honor to themselves and credit to the State.

I mention particularly Harry Stainton, who had his right hand shattered by a musket ball, kept on loading and firing with his left hand, and did not appear excited or alarmed in the least; also Byron Stevens, D. W. Farrington, Theron Stevens, Peter D. Roe, Charles Dorchester, Wm. Barker, (shot through the knee, kept on loading and firing,) John H. Morrison, Hugh Dunigan (shot through the thigh, breaking the bone, had two fingers shot off, and was taken prisoner,) Isaac Ritche, (wounded by a musket ball in the calf of leg, but walked with difficulty, ) John Hallam, (hurt with splinter in head, still kept with his company loading and firing,) John M. Robson, (shot in neck by a spent ball, not serious – after he was wounded he shot one fellow;) Charles Stone, Charles Halsey, Henry Bogart, and Menzo W. Hoard. All of the above men proved themselves capable of going into anything however desperate.

Our flag was carried in the centre of the regiment. It dropped, some of the enemy started to get it. Byron Stevens started for it, but it was got by one of our regiment before he reached it. It had two musket balls through it, and it is safe in our hands. There are many others in my company proved brave men; hav’nt time to give all names. Not one but stood his ground and did his duty. We rallied three times and drove the enemy back into the woods. Never were muskets pointed with more deadly effect. They went down before us like grass before the mower; around one gun they were piled in heaps.

One rebel officer had been left on the field wounded in the leg. One of the men of our regiment – not one of my company, thank God – was about to bayonet him. I rushed up and struck up his musket with my sword, seized it, put my sword to his breast, told him to stop or I would run him through. The officer thanked me with a smile I shall never forget. I gave him my name and rank, and threw him a canteen of water of one of his men, who lay torn to pieces by a cannon ball, his head 10 feet from his body.

We drove them into the woods again where they had breastworks that could not be taken. We halted and poured volley after volley in upon them. Their firing ceased for about 3 minutes, when they formed behind their breastworks and opened it again. Had they fired with as much certainty as our men did, they would have swept hour whole regiment completely away. – The balls fell in and around us like hail. By this time the Ellsworth Zouaves had reached the field. They were soon compelled to fall back, the rebels having been re-inforced.

I can give no correct account of the number of killed and wounded, but they lay as thick as leaves around us. Pen cannot describe the scene. We fell back, advanced the second time – were compelled to fall back again; and thus we continued to fight for two-and-a-half hours; when the enemy were re-inforced by some 5,000 men, and brought another battery to bear on our flank. We were then compelled to fall back on the main body. By this time the Brooklyn regiment (Ward Beecher’s “pet lambs” – and lambs they are, indeed) – came up. They had scarcely fired their muskets before they ran like sheep down the hill.

I came across our Colonel. He could hardly stand on his feet, and being so weak he could not mount a horse, and if helped in his saddle, unable to retain his seat. I gave him some water, got him on a horse and kept him on until we arrived at our camp, a distance of 10 miles. He would swoon every few minutes and totter in his saddle. I would arouse him, and give him some water, which would revive him for a while.

Capt. McQuade of our regiment had one leg shot off and was taken prisoner. Lieut. Brady had his arm terribly shattered by a Minnie ball. I came near being shot by own men. – A field officer was knocked from his horse but not much hurt. The horse ran right in front of my company as we were lying behind the fence where we were ordered to protect the second battery – the one that was struck by a shot. The officer was running around the field for a horse, seeing which , I ordered my men not to fire until I got the horse. They had not fired a gun for some time. I had scarcely reached the animal, some five rods distant, when the whole front rank opened fire. The horse was shot in four or five different places while I had him by the bridle. I left him and ran towards my men. When I got to the fence the rear rank commenced firing. The fence was low, and I threw myself flat on top of it and rolled off towards the men. How I escaped being shot, God only know.

Wadsworth of our State, who was prominently talked of for Governor last fall, is a volunteer Aid to Gen. McDowell. There was never a braver man lived. I could not but admire the courage he displayed in the battle. – He rode along and through the lines with the same calm mien he would at a review, giving orders with a clear and steady voice, as if he were directing some ordinary business. He is worthy of a higher position.

Through the mercy of Divine Providence I escaped unhurt – worried out, all but my courage, which is as good as ever. I only feel out of humor at our being obliged to retreat.

I give below a list of the killed and wounded of my company:

John Orman of Geneva, killed.

Luther L. Mills, of Orcott Creek, Pa., both hands shot off.

Hugh F. Dunnigan, of N. Y., shot through the thigh and 2 fingers off – taken prisoner.

Wm. Barker, of New York, shot through the thigh – is in hospital.

Harry L. Stainton, Geneva, musket ball thro’ the right hand.

John M. Robson, Stanley Corners – shot thro’ the neck – slight wound.

Norton Schermerhorn, Flint Creek – hurt in the side by a spent ball – not seriously.

John Hallam, N. York, and Englishman – cut on the head, not serious.

Isaac L. Ritchie, Ferguson’s Corners – wounded in calf of leg, not seriously.

The following are missing, supposed to have been taken prisoners:

John Lamphier and Wm. Ross, both of Geneva.

From your brother,

W. H. Baird,

Commanding Co. H,

38th Reg’t, 2d Brigade

Geneva Gazette, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

William H. Baird at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy

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