Pvt. John O. Casler, Co. A, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the March From Winchester and the Battle

25 02 2013

July 18th we marched through Winchester and took the road leading to Berry’s Ferry, on the Shenandoah river, about eighteen miles distant. The citizens were very much grieved to see us leave, for fear the enemy would be in town, as there were no troops left but a few militia and Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry.

After marching a few miles we were halted, and the Adjutant read us orders that the enemy were about to overpower General Beauregard at Manassas Junction, and we would have to make a forced march. It was General Johnston’s wish that all the men would keep in ranks and not straggle, if possible. Then we started on a quick march, marched all day and nearly all night, wading the Shenandoah river about 12 o’clock at night halted at a small village called Paris about two hours, then resumed the march about daylight, and arrived at Piedmont Station, on the Manassas Railroad.

Our brigade was in the advance on the march, and when we arrived at the station the citizens for miles around came flocking to see us, bringing us eatables of all kinds, and we fared sumptuously. There were not trains enough to transport al at once, and our regiment had to remain there until trains returned, which was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We had a regular picnic; plenty to eat, lemonade to drink, and beautiful young ladies to chat with. We finally got aboard, bade the ladies a long farewell, and went flying down the road, arriving at the junction in the night.

The next day, the 20th of July, we marched about four miles down Bull Run, to where General Beauregard had engaged the enemy on the 18th, and repulsed their advance. There we joined our brigade. We lay on our arms all night. We tore all the feathers out of our hats, because we heard the Yanks had feathers in theirs, and we might be fired on by mistake, as our company was the only one that had black plumes in their hats. We could hear pickets firing at intervals, and did not know what minute we would be rushed into action.

My particular friend and messmate, William I. Blue, and myself lay down together, throwing a blanket over us, and talked concerning our probable fate the next day. We had been in line of battle several times, and had heard many false alarms, but we all knew there was no false alarm this time; that the two armies lay facing each other, and that a big battle would be fought the next day; that we were on the eve of experiencing the realities of war in its most horrible form – brother against brother, father against son, kindred against kindred, and our own country torn to pieces by civil war.

While lying thus, being nearly asleep, he roused me up and said that he wanted to make a bargain with me, which was, if either of us got killed the next day the one who survived should see the other buried, if we kept possession of the battle-field.

I told him I would certainly do that, and we pledged ourselves accordingly. I then remarked that perhaps we would escape unhurt or wounded. He said: “No, I don’t want to be wounded. If I am shot at all I want to be shot right through the heart.”

During the night we heard a gun fired on the left of the regiment and I got up and walked down the line to see what had happened. I found one of the men had shot himself through the foot, supposed to have been done intentionally, to keep out of the fight, but the poor fellow made a miscalculation as to  where his toes were, and held the muzzle of the gun too far up and blew off about half of his foot, so it had to be amputated.

July 21st dawned clear and bright (and for the last time on many a poor soldier), and with it the sharpshooters in front commenced skirmishing. We were ordered to “fall in,” and were marched up the run about four miles, and then ordered back to “Blackburn’s Ford.” Our company and the “Hardy Greys” were thrown out as skirmishers, opposite the ford, in a skirt of woods commanding a full view of the ford, and ordered to fire on the enemy if they attempted to cross the run. While we were lying in that position heavy firing was heard on our left, both infantry and artillery. In a few moments we were ordered from there to join the regiment, and went “double quick” up the run to where the fighting was going on. The balance of the brigade was in line of battle behind the brow of a small ridge. We were halted at the foot of this ridge and Colonel Cummings told us that it was General Jackson’s command that our regiment should depend principally on the bayonet that day, as it was a musket regiment.

Some of the boys were very keen for a fight, and while we were down in the run they were afraid it would be over before we got into it. One in particular, Thomas McGraw, was very anxious to get a shot at the “bluecoats,” and when the Colonel read us the order about the bayonet I asked Tom how he liked that part of the programme. He said that was closer quarters than he anticipated.

Our regiment marched up the hill and formed “left in front,” on the left of the brigade, and on the entire left of our army. As we passed by the other regiments the shells were bursting and cutting down the pines all around us, and we were shaking hands and bidding farewell to those we were acquainted with, knowing that in a few moments many of us would be stretched lifeless on the field.

At this time our troops were falling back, but in good order, fighting every inch of the way, but were being overpowered and flanked by superior numbers. They were the 2d Mississippi and Colonel Evans’ 4th Alabama Regiments, General Bee’s South Carolina Brigade, Colonel Bartow’s 7th and 8th Georgia Regiments, Major Wheat’s Battalion (called the Louisiana Tigers), and Imboden’s Battery. They had resisted the main portion of the “Federal Army” and had done all that men could do, and had lost severely, but were still holding the enemy in check while we were forming.

It was there at this moment that General Jackson received the name of “Stonewall,” and the brigade the ever memorable name of “Stonewall Brigade.” General Barnard E. Bee, riding up to General Jackson, who sat on his horse calm and unmoved, though severely wounded in the hand, exclaimed in a voice of anguish: “General, they are beating us back!”

Turning to General Bee, he said calmly: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet.”

Hastening back to his men, General Bee cried enthusiastically, as he pointed to Jackson: “Look yonder! There is Jackson and his brigade standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer. Rally behind them!”

They passed  through our brigade and formed in the rear. I knew they were South Carolinians by the “Palmetto tree” on their caps. General Bee and Colonel Bartow fell, mortally wounded. The enemy, flushed with victory, pushed on, never dreaming what was lying just beyond the brow of the hill in the pines. There seemed to be a lull in the firing just at this time, and Sergeant James P. Daily, of my company, walked up to the brow of the hill, but soon returned with the exclamation: “Boys, there is the prettiest sight from the top of the hill you ever saw; they are coming up on the other side in four ranks, and all dressed in red!”

When we heard that, I, with several others, jumped up and started to see, but Colonel Cummings ordered us to “stay in ranks,” and Daily remarked: “We will see them soon enough.” Sure enough, in a few seconds the head of the column made its appearance, with three officers on horseback in front, and marching by the flank, with the intention of flanking one of our batteries – the Rockbridge Artillery, Captain W. N. Pendleton. In a few minutes they spied us lying there, and I heard one of the officers say: “Hello! what men are these?” At that moment some of our men who, evidently, had the “buck fever,” commenced, without orders, firing some scattering shots. The enemy then poured a volley into us, but as we were lying down the balls went over our heads, harmless.

That morning we had been given a signal to use in time of battle, to distinguish friend from foe, which was to throw the right hand to the forward, palm outward, and say, “Sumter.” When this regiment (which was the 14th Brooklyn, N. Y.), appeared in view Colonel Cummings gave the signal, and it was returned by one of the officers, but how they got it was a mystery. So, when the scattering shots were fired by some of our regiment, Colonel Cummings exclaimed: “Cease firing, you are firing on friends!” and the volley came from them at the same time, and I know I remarked, “Friends, hell! That looks like it.”

Colonel Cummings, seeing his mistake, and also seeing a battery of artillery taking position and unlimbering, in close proximity and in a place where it could enfilade our troops, determined to capture it before it could do any damage. I don’t think he had any orders from any superior officer, but took the responsibility on himself. Then came the command: “Attention! Forward march! Charge bayonets! Double quick!” and away we went, sweeping everything before us; but the enemy broke and fled.

We were soon in possession of the guns, killed nearly all the horses, and a great portion of the men were killed and wounded; and we were none too soon, for one minute more and four guns would have belched forth into our ranks, carrying death and destruction, and perhaps have been able to have held their position. As it was, the guns were rendered useless, and were not used any more that day, all though we had to give them up temporarily.

We were halted, and one of my company, Thomas Furlough, who had belonged to the artillery in the Mexican war, threw down his musket and said: “Boys, let’s turn the guns on them.” That was the last sentence that ever passed his lips, for just then he was shot dead.

While this was going on, the enemy were throwing a force on our left flank in the pines, and commenced pouring it into us from the front and an enfilading fire from the flank, and were cutting us to pieces, when we were ordered back, and halted at our first position.

Then we were reinforced by the 49th Virginia and the 6th North Carolina Regiments, commanded by Colonel Chas. F. Fisher (who was killed a few minutes afterwards) and “Extra Billy” Smith. This mad our line longer, and we were ordered to charge again. The charge of Jackson’s men was terrific. The enemy were swept before them like chaff before a whirlwind. Nothing could resist their impetuosity. The men seem to have caught the dauntless spirit and determined will of their heroic commander, and nothing could stay them in their onward course. The 33d Virginia, in its timely charge, saved the day by capturing and disabling Griffin’s battery, altho’ they could not hold it just then. The name won that day by the brigade and its General is immortal.

In this action our regiment (the 33d Virginia), being on the extreme left, was alone, the balance of the brigade not charging until later, and we were terribly cut up and had to fall back. General Jackson said he could afford to sacrifice one regiment to save the day; and it was the first check and first repulse the enemy had received, and during the remainder of the day the battle turned in favor of the Confederates.

We did not follow them far, for fresh troops were coming in all the time, and we had lost severely, and were considerably demoralized. I then took a stroll over the battlefield, to see who of my comrades were dead or wounded, and saw my friend, William I. Blue, lying on his face, dead. I turned him over to see where he was shot. He must have been shot through the heart, the place where he wanted to be shot, if shot at all. He must have been killed instantly, for hs was in the act of loading his gun. One hand was grasped around his gun, in the other he held a cartridge, with one end of it in his mouth, in the act of tearing it off. I sat down by him and took a hearty cry, and then, thinks I, “It does not look well for a soldier to cry,” but I could not help it. I then stuck his gun in the ground by his side, marked his name, company and regiment on a piece of paper, pinned it on his breast, and went off.

I then saw three field officers a short distance from me looking through a field glass. I very deliberately walked up to them and asked them to let me look through it, and one of them handed it to me. When looking through it I saw, about two miles off, what I took to be about 10,000 of the enemy. The field appeared to be black with them. I returned the glass, saying: “My God! have we all of them to fight yet?” Just at that moment “Pendleton’s Battery” turned their guns on them and I saw the first shell strike in the field. I don’t think it was five minutes until the field was vacant. I felt considerably relieved. I had had enough of fighting that day. We had gained a great victory. The enemy were completely routed and panic-stricken, and never halted until they arrived at Alexandria and Washington.

My company only numbered fifty-five, rank and file, when we went into service, but, ,so many having the measles and other ailments, we went into the fight with only twenty-seven men, and out of that number we lost five killed and six wounded. The killed were William I. Blue, Thomas Furlough, James Adams, John W. Marker and Amos Hollenback. The wounded were Sergeant William Montgomery, John Reinhart, Robert C. Grace, Edward Allen, A. A. Young and Joseph Cadwallader.

The regiment went right into action with about 450 men, and lost forty-three killed and 140 wounded. Our regiment fought the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves and the 1st Michigan, which poured a deadly volley into us. While we were engaged in front, Colonel Cummings ordered the regiment to fall back three times before they did so. All the troops engaged suffered more or less, but the loss of the 33d Virginia was greater than that of any regiment on either side, as the statistics will show, and it was the smallest regiment, not being full and not numbered.

We worked nearly all night taking care of the wounded, for nearly all of the enemy’s wounded were left in our hands. I took a short sleep on the battle-field. The next day was rainy and muddy. The regiment was ordered to “fall in,” but not knowing where they were going, I did not want to leave until I had buried my friend, according to promise. When they had marched off I hid behind a wagon, and Sergeant Daily, seeing me, ordered me to come on. I told him never would I leave that field until I had buried my friend, unless I was put under arrest. He then left me, and I looked around for some tools to dig a grave. I found an old hoe and spade, and commenced digging the grave under an apple tree in an orchard near the “Henry house.”

While I was at work a Georgian came to me and wanted the tools as soon as I was done with them. He said he wanted to bury his brother, and asked if I was burying a brother.

“No,” I replied, “but dear as a brother.”

“As you have no one to help you,” he said, “and I have no one to help me, suppose we dig the grave large enough for both, and we can help one another carry them here.”

“All right,” I said, “but I want to bury my friend near the tree, for, perhaps his father will come after him.”

So we buried them that way and gathered up some old shingles to put over the bodies, and a piece of plank between them. Then I rudely carved the name on the tree.

Captain William Lee, who was acting Lieutenant Colonel, was killed, and our Sergeant Major, Randolph Barton, a cadet from the Virginia Military Institute, was severely wounded.

That evening there was a detail made from each company to bury the dead, and we buried all alike, friend and foe, and this ended the first battle of “Bull Run,” and the first big battle of the war.

There is no doubt but that the timely charge of the 33d Virginia turned the tide of battle and saved the day for the Confederates. Colonel Cummings took the responsibility upon himself and ordered the charge just in the nick of time, for in five minutes’ time the Federals would have had their battery in position and would have had an enfilading fire on the brigade and Pendleton’s Battery, and made their position untenable. I herewith append a letter from Colonel Cummings, and one from Captain Randolph Barton, which bear me out in my statement, and more fully explain the situation and results. Also one that I had written to my parents three days after the battle, and which is still preserved.

Cummings Letter

Barton Letter

Casler Letter

James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 21-33

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3 responses

26 02 2013
Randolph Barton III

From the great-great-grandson of Randolph Barton, I want to say what a pleasure it is to read of his actions here. Thank you for his site. Should you wish, you can read more about his actions, and those surrounding his brothers and extended family in Winchester, in my aunt’s book _Defend The Valley_ by Margaretta Barton Colt.

26 02 2013
Harry Smeltzer

Stick around, Randolph. I have a letter from your ggf coming up. I have your aunt’s book here on my shelves, by the way.

26 02 2013
Randolph Barton III

Thank you. I will be sure to do so, and look forward to reading his letter.

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