Unknown, 2nd NYSM, On the Battle

2 04 2013

{Extract from a private letter}

Virginia, July 22, 1861.

Dear –: – I write to inform you that I am alive, unhurt and well. We have just got out of a severe battle, in which many of our brave boys were slaughtered.; but I have not time now to five you many particulars. We were marched up a road made expressly for us by the rebels. They opened their battery at the head of this road, and drove us back to the woods. We rallied, and, by the mismanagement of our incompetent general – Schenck – we were brought back on the same masked battery. We could not see any obstruction, or an enemy to fire at. The ground seemed to vomit out grape and canister in torrents. It is the general opinion among the men, that we were betrayed by our commanding general of division. Indeed, Col. Tompkins was under that impression, although he did not express it; for, when he received orders to attack the hole where these infernal machines were, he told the general he would not, and commanded his men to obey no orders that they did not receive from him – he would lead them to victory, and not to needless slaughter. When the order to lie down was given, a battery opened on the edge of a wood, tearing everything before it. Had our colonel followed the order of the general, we ould have been all cut to pieces. The Eight suffered severely, as also did the gallant Sixty-ninth, and brave boys of the Zouave regiment. They deserve immortal honor for their many gallant deeds.

This was no battle – it was a wholesale slaughter. The very ground opened, and blew us to atoms. Col. Tompkins deserves great praise. He saved two-thirds of our regiment by flanking us into the woods. The enemy seemed to understand our move; for, in less time than I can write, the Black Horse Cavalry dashed out on us; but O God! what a bloody reception they got from us. Nearly, if not quite, one hundred of them were left dead upon the field of their exploit.

I was attacked on the way from Vienna by a few straggling dragoons. We had provisions for our men, and I was in command. We made two horses by the operation, and I lost the little pistol which you presented to me. I missed it when two miles from the place where we were attacked; but I went back with ten men and a dark lantern and recovered it. This was very risky; but it was your gift.

We cut the Eight Regiment of Georgia all to smash. We have several prisoners. We were badly beaten, but not defeated or discouraged in the least. We will give it to them again. We are ordered to Washington, for the reason that this temporary success may encourage the enemy to attack the city. Our battle-flag is pretty well used up. I will send it home as a memento of what we have gone through. An infernal scoundrel on horseback tried to capture it from our sergeant; but he fell to the earth like lead. The pole and spear is broken, and the flag is all in ribbons.

As I said before, it is the opinion of the men that some of our generals were in league with the secessionists; if they were not, they are inexcusable on the ground of utter incompetency for their positions. Give us better officers in command, and we will face the devil and all his hosts in secessiondom.

Yours, etc.,


New York Sunday Mercury, 7/28/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 35-36


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