“C”, Co. K, 27th New York Infantry, On the March and the Retreat

23 12 2012

From our regular Correspondent.

Letter from the 27th.

———-

Camp Anderson,

Washington, D. C.

August 5, 1861.

Friend Black: – I had intended soon after the memorable “battle before Manassas,” to write as full an account as possible concerning the advance of the 27th, the engagement following, and the final repulse and retreat to Washington, but as two weeks have since quickly elapsed, ,and letters have been daily received concerning the battle, and your readers were also favored with your letter from “Camp Anderson,” dated July 24, it will be almost unnecessary to have still another statement. Our retreat, no – we don’t call it a retreat – simply a retrograde movement together with the fatiguing march following, left the men, as you know, quite disheartened, but quiet and freedom from drill since our return have restored the usual good feeling, and we again hear issuing from the door of this and that “mess” the notes of patriotic songs which evince an increase of patriotic feeling and exuberant spirits. As not much has been written concerning it, I will write more particularly concerning

THE MARCH.

My last I think closed with a brief notice of orders to cross the Potomac, which was done within three hours of the command, the regiment singing, as we passed through the streets and over the Long Bridge, national airs, and hurrahing as we touched the “sacred soil,” with a right good will. Upon arriving on the Virginia side we found thousands in advance of us, and were followed by regiments from Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut and New York. In the rear hundreds of ponderous baggage wagons jolted over the stony road, regiments of cavalry clattered over the uneven ground, and the rumbling of artillery here and there along the [?] combined to make up one of the grandest scenes ever witnessed, viz: an advance movement of the American Army.

That night, fatigued by a forced march of sixteen miles, we halted at eleven o’clock six miles from Fairfax Court House, and encamped in a large field, with ripe sheaves of wheat as pillows and mattresses, a blanket for covering, and the sky as one grand tent. The rumble of baggage wagons, which filed by in one continuous train, lulled us to sleep, and in the morning roused us. A savory breakfast was cooked from [?] found in a cellar near by, and at eight o’clock we were again on the march, over a road obstructed by fallen trees and rail fences, which the advance removed, and at half past ten the order was given to form into platoons, and we ascended a hill in full view of the enemy’s earthworks, which had been deserted but two hours previous.

Smoking camp fires and an untouched breakfast told of their hasty departure. But a short distance farther on, and we were at the notorious village, Fairfax Court House, and from and old rusty dome or steeple of insignificant proportions, floated a small faded “pelican flag,” which was quickly removed, and in its stead out to the breeze went “[?] Red, White and Blue.” Our patriotic adjutant struck up the Star Spangled Banner, and the regiment joined in the chorus, the full and hearty sound floated with the dust surrounding into the face and eyes of the few rebel occupants of the town, one or the other of which had the effect to make them look very severe. Everything in town had a deserted appearance, and in the entire march a large proportion of the dwelling past were vacated.

The division halted a short distance beyond, and in the rebel camps surrounded by earthworks on either side for the protection of rebels, with marks every where around us of their presence, we spent the second night out of Washington, several members of our company sleeping even in a tent occupied the night before by a rebel Major.

Independent foraging parties went around shortly after the halt, and collected and bro’t in from different parts of the camping ground a good supply of coffee and honey, a beef that had been killed the morning previous, several tents and various cooking utensils.

Acting on the principle that “stolen fruit is the sweeter,” chickens were served up in all manner of ways, ,and the supply of beef being scanty a fine bullock was found near by and added to the rations, being cooked for the following day. Yes with all this there were many acts of destruction to be regretted. Looking up from pilot bread and blackberries, I saw the flames encircle a large barn but a short distance off, and in a few moments it was in ashes. Smoke was seen in other directions, and it was reported that owners were destroying their property that it might not come into our possession. How true this was I do not know. That night for the first time we heard the cry ring out on the night air, “turn out! turn out!” and crawling from under boughs and blankets used as covering, every man jumped for his musket, and was quickly in his place. We knew we were in an enemy’s country, completely surrounded by rebels who, but the night before, slept where we were sleeping, and all expected something, but were disappointed when told that the alarm was caused by an accidental discharge of a sentry’s gun, followed by the order to “stack arms.” Next morning we proceeded on and halted in the afternoon at the last camping ground, Camp Hunter, three miles from Centreville.

Here came the first realization of genuine camp life. Luxurious land to be simply [?] as in the far distant future or remembered past. To be sure those who had money could purchase of accommodating pedlars who followed us, as long as their supply lasted, two inches of bologna for two shillings, a pie, very thin and nearly transparent, for twenty shillings, or a pint of very common “tangle-leg” for one dollar, but as the 27th hadn’t been paid off, they had as I say to look at these articles, and stand by while the regulars in the brigade, who clinked in their pockets and on the card table gold for four months pay, did the “shopping.”

During our stay a sentence was executed upon two deserters from the 3d Infantry, which was fifty lashes upon the bare back well laid on, branding with the letter D, one and a half inches long and one inch wide, forfeiture of pay due and coming due, and at the expiration of ten days they were to be drummed out of camp. It was a sorry sight and one which no one wants to witness more than once,

At one o’clock Sunday morning, July 21st, the bugle sounded, and at two we started for Manassas Junction, with minds fully made up for a complete victory. Going four miles we left the direct road and marched through a road cut through the woods, with but an occasional and very brief halt, fourteen miles which placed the division in a position to make the attach from the rear of the enemy. During the entire distance all the water we drank was of the muddiest kind, and breakfast had to be eaten while marching. At half past ten, after a halt of fifteen minutes, the 27th was ordered onward, and away we went, on double quick, into the battle field, saluted upon coming into view by a round from the enemy’s batteries, which directed fire upon us, and soon changed the occasional booming to a continuous roar. – Right here I might as well stop. I shall not, nor can I give a description of that battle; an account I might give, but that you have had entire. Pen and ink cannot describe the roar of the cannon, the rattle of musketry, the charge of cavalry, the groans and implorations of the wounded, and dying, nor the horrors of war. The 27th fought bravely and nobly, and compelled to retreat, tired and worn, we slowly moved back toward Centreville, leaving our dead and wounded to the mercy of the enemy. Our retreat was hastened by an alarm, and arriving at the stone bridge another alarm was given which was too real. The rebels had planted a battery near the bridge, and were pouring in shell and grape furiously. I was near the Rhode Island battery when we arrived at the bridge, and such a scene of confusion I scarce ever witnessed. The gunners unhitched their horses and mounting them dashed away through the crowd leaving the battery – four heavy brass pieces – in the reach of the rebels. The wagoners, who followed next, joined in the panic, and cutting the fastenings to the wagons left them standing and upturned along the road. Infantry crowded on and hurried across, and as far as the eye could reach was one dense mass of soldiers fleeing for very life, and strewing the road as they went with muskets, blankets and haversacks, some even throwing away shoes to free themselves from everything which prevented a rapid flight. Near Centreville, confidence was restored by meeting fresh troops, and with a more steady tread the march was continued, with but a short halt at Camp Hunter, till on Monday morning at nine o’clock, wet with drenching rain, we came into  Fort Runyon, (just across the river), weary, footsore and exhausted, having marched according to statistics at the War Department, sixty-four miles, and been six hours in the battle field, without rest during the entire thirty-one hours.

Why a defeat, “and whose fault is it?” are questions which every one first asks, It was not because bravery and courage were wanting, and General Scott compliments his Generals in the strongest terms. One thing is certain, reinforcements were lacking, and while the enemy, after each volley, relived the exhausted with fresh troops, we were compelled to repeat the charge. Co. “K” did gloriously! The timid and weak (what Co. did not have them!) dropped out one by one, and placed themselves in positions of safety, leaving the field free to the true soldiers, who, amid the hottest fire, did their work manfully and nobly, and richly deserved the proudest victory ever achieved.

Our Col. is fast improving, and although he has received the appointment of Brigadier General, we hope to see him with us again temporarily, if not permanently. I picked up a Rochester Democrat of Aug. 3d, [?], and was astonished to find in it an article headed, “Information (!) for friends and relatives of Co. K, [?],” which contained such a [?] of misstatements that it must not pass [?] [?]. With but one or two exceptions the entire communication is false from the beginning to end, and the various expressions of those who read it were certainly amusing. The writer’s attempts to make us notorious are refreshing, [?] doubt whether any would be able to endure it but those who (the writer says) “charged and took unsupported a battery eight times.” (!) The fact is we have become disgusted with the lies in circulation, tales of heroic deeds, and narrow escapes, &c. &c., and prefer simply plain and truthful statements concerning us, knowing that the former are an injury, while the latter is our due, and all that we desire. I am sorry to add as a finale, that two deserters from Co. K, named J. Carlos Humphrey and William Murdock, are at large having donned citizen’s clothes, and been absent from camp for over one week. Whoever will cause their arrest will receive the usual reward.

The bugle is sounding for roll call, and hoping to be more prompt,

I am &c.,

C.

Orleans Republican, 8/14/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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