Col. Arthur C. Cummings, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (2)

26 02 2013

 Arlington, Va., November 10, 1896

John O. Casler, Esq.:

My Dear Friend: If you could realize the great pleasure your letter gave me you would not regret the time spent in writing. As you know, the 33d Regiment, which I organized at Winchester, was made up from Hampshire, one company; Hardy, one; Frederick, one; Rockingham, one; Page, one, and Shenandoah five, and as I have hardly ever been from home for the last fifteen years I rarely meet any of the old regiment, and when I do, or hear from them, it is a source of the greatest pleasure, especially when I learn they are getting on well, as I am sure you are.

As you say, I never had a great deal to say, and am somewhat reserved in my manners, but from my experience as Captain in the Mexican war I found that the greatest service I could render the men under my command was to see they were as well taken care of and provided for as circumstances would permit.

I am pleased to know that you have written your experience of “Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade,” and when your new edition is published I will certainly procure a copy, as I am sure of being interested in it.

I noticed one slight mistake in your letter with regard to myself, but of no importance. I did not resign, but for what I regarded as sufficient reason (not necessary to state now) was not a candidate for re-election at the reorganization of the army. Was elected to the Legislature, in which I served the last years of the war, until the surrender; practiced law for some fifteen or more years, since which I have devoted myself to my farm a few miles from Abington.

The law was my profession, which I commenced to practice the year after the close of the Mexican war. I have had two letters from Randolph Barton recently, whom you may remember, who had for the first time since the close of the war visited the battle-field of the First Manassas, and who seems to be much interested in the part performed by the 33d and the Stonewall Brigade on that memorable 21st of July, 1861.

Barton was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va., at the commencement of the war; was assigned to the 33d when I was organizing it at Winchester in the early part of July. I had no field officer at that time, and made him Sergeant Major. He was a bright young man, an Adjutant General on General Walker’s staff, and is now a prominent lawyer in Baltimore. He desired my recollection of the part performed by the 33d and the Stonewall Brigade, which I furnished him, and which corresponded pretty well with his own, with a few minor exceptions.

Our army left Winchester about 2 o’clock on the 18th of July, the Stonewall Brigade in front. The 33d did not reach Manassas until a little before daylight on Saturday morning, the 20th. On Saturday morning we marched out and joined the other regiments of the brigade in rear of McLane’s Ford, on Bull Run. Our line of battle extended from about Union Mills, on Bull Run, on the right, to the stone bridge. It was expected we would be attacked upon the right and center, but when it was ascertained early Sunday morning that the enemy was marching in the direction of the stone bridge, with the evident design of turning our left flank and reaching the Manassas Gap railroad, the Stonewall Brigade was moved up Bull Run and somewhat parallel with it (making short stops at intervals) until we reached the brow of the hill in front of the “Henry house,” where the brigade was formed in line of battle in a thicket of small pines. In the meantime, the battle was raging in the direction of the stone bridge, and our forces were being driven back before overpowering numbers. The line of the brigade was formed, with the 5th Regiment on the right, then the 4th and 27th (the latter two supporting Pendleton’s Battery), then the 2d and 33d.

At that time the brigade was the extreme left of our army, and the 33d,, on the left of the brigade, was ordered to lie down in the edge of the pines, which, aided by the conformation of the ground, at that time concealed us from the sight of the enemy, who, in large numbers, were pressing towards our right.

Our orders were to wait until the enemy were within thirty paces, then to fire and charge with the bayonet. About that time General Jackson came along the line and directed me to look out for the enemy’s artillery. As you are aware, the 33d had just been organized before we left Winchester, and, with the exception of two or three companies, were perfectly raw troops, and two of those, Captain Holliday’s (afterward Governor) and Captain Jones’ (afterward Colonel) were left behind, one as guard and one on detached service, and consequently were not in the field. So there were but eight companies present, numbering about 400 men, for active duty. When General Jackson directed me to look out for the enemy’s artillery, Captain William Lee, who was acting as Lieutenant Colonel, and a gallant man he was, and I walked out on the plateau and saw the artillery of the enemy moving rapidly up the Sudley road to our front and left, and large bodies of the enemy’s infantry moving along the hill towards our left flank, and we returned immediately to the regiment.

There had been some confusion in the regiment, produced by a solid shot being fired towards the regiment and tearing up the ground, together with the appearance of some red-coats on our left. Previous to this time the enemy’s artillery fire had been directed towards the regiments of the brigade and at Pendleton’s Battery. This little confusion in the regiment, and the fact of the men being raw and undisciplined, made me uncertain as to what would be the result, if I waited, as directed by General Jackson, until the enemy was within thirty paces. And, therefore, as soon as I returned to the regiment I ordered the charge, without waiting, as directed, until the enemy was within thirty paces, with the result that the enemy’s battery was taken, or rather, as I think, a section of it, without, as I believe, a gun being fired. No old regulars ever made a more gallant charge, though not a very regular one. Of course, we could not hold it without support, in the face of such overwhelming numbers, though the horses were shot down, and I have now an artillery bit, cut from one of the horses, which I have used ever since.

The 33d suffered more in the first battle of Manassas than any regiment in our army.

I regretted very much Captain Lee’s death. My acquaintance with him was short, but I esteemed him very highly. He was a true and gallant man, and being from the old army, and experienced, was of great service to me. My friend Barton is also of the true blue order. I have long cherished the hope of visiting the Valley, where I would meet some of survivors of the 33d, but suppose I must be content to remember them with the greatest kindness.

I am now in my 75th year, and feel the heavy weight of years. Very truly your friend,

Arthur C. Cummings,

Colonel, 33d Virginia Infantry.

James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 34-37








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