Pvt. William Callis Kean, Co. H, 28th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (1)

17 05 2013

Near Stone Bridge Prince WM July 24

My Dear Sukey In accordance with my promise I now take the 1st opportunity of writing to assure you of my safety.  I was in the action on Sunday which I will now designate as the Battle of Stone Bridge as it was fought near or around that point; In the first place let me assure you my dear that I escaped without a scratch & I don’t think either Billy or Garlick was in the action.  Charles  was not.  Now Sukey all I can do is to give you a description of the fight so far as I saw it.  No doubt you will read in the papers splendid descriptions of it but then I know Sukey will read with interest what I write, Well I begin.  Last Wednesday we were ordered to retreat from Camp Manassas back in good order, in Centerville we remained there only about half an hour, then took our line of march to Stone Bridge or near it.  Camped in the open field without a protecting tent until Friday night then crossed Bulls Run & camped in the woods.  Sunday morning hear the firing of cannons about 8 o clock & the answering fire of our pickets on our right at the enemy as he brought his batteries into position.  About 9 we fell back over the creek. The fire of Cannon was then heavy on our right left.  We took a position near a ford to defend it in case the enemy should try to pass. The attempt was made about a half mile above us Between 10 & 11 o o clk the fire of musketry  commenced furiously & the cannonade was terrific. Our regiment held its position by the ford until about 2 in the evening.  the battle raging up the creek all the time. At that hour we were ordered into action.  The fight was evidently at the time going against us, we were gradually falling back & the Yankees advancing.  That was the crisis.  After moving about a half a mile, we passed under the fire of the battery on the enemies extreme right, I saw a heavy shot fly over our column as we passed the line of this battery & fall about 75 yds from us.  We were marching out double quick then.  I then felt uneasy Sue; but saw at a glance they had not the range accurately & that they could not get it before we passed under a hill.  We formed under that hill in line of battle & marched up [through] an orchard. When we breached the top of this hill the scene burst in all its wild and awful horror on my sight. Ill try & give you a faint idea of it.  Imagine a knoll on the hill about 300 yds wide about 3/4 of mile to the front & right another open field framed in by thick pines, this field [was] shaped like a horseshoe with the concave side toward us.  The outside lined with four heavy batteries having the range accurately an[d] praying incessantly on the line we are about to pass. Our brave  Cav. volunteers started on the dangerous passage advance[ing] about 100 yds without the protection of a friendly line & then comes the insane command “halt”.    Our boys did so.  At this time I heard the hissing in quick succession of two projectiles from rifled pieces.  I felt I think afraid & moved my head first to the right & then to the left, At this moment a shell burst on my right about 20 yds in advance & as many feet in the air.  I never felt fear afterwards.  At length the order came for us to advance & we did so in common time betwn & descended the opposite side of the hill.  All this time Sukey the air was filled with missiles thrown from rifle cannon front flank & rear they came but the hand of God was evidently there. not a man was hurt. One battery I noticed in particular the center one I saw a column of white smoke gush from the muzzle of the pieces curl in graceful circles above it & then heard the hissing of the balls. Rising beautifully, beautifully in the air it reached the highest point & then descending completed its graceful circle by plunging in the earth about 30 yds in our rear. It was an ugly customer shaped like a sugar loaf. O Susan it was a horrid field. The rout of the enemy was utter. Our Calvary pursued them took m[an]y prisoners a vast amount of baggage, wagons, & etc. Many guns & cannon while the wood & field was in some places covered with dead bodies. The first dead man I passed made me shudder but that feeling was soon lost & on the field I soon looked on every species of wound indifferently. But I did not lose my humanity as one thing will prove to you. I passed one of the  Zouaves wounded badly. I approached him and asked if he wanted water. Yes he said faintly. I leaned over my fainting bleeding enemy; put my musket down passed my left arm tenderly as a brother around his neck, raised his head, poured the last drop of water from my canteen down his parched throat.   He then said “will you be so kind as to move me to that tree” I called a friend to help me but was ordered on and had to leave him. The Zouave died. Sukey I was driven by thirst after that to drink water said to be mixed with human blood. I felt better after that act of kindness. “The mercy I to others show that mercy show to me” I now say confidently to you some men hath sneered at expressions of sympathy from an enemy. I know of them. I cried steady to while under fire. I will never strike or taunt a disarmed fallen enemy. The field was dreadful & the smell hard to bear every kind of wound met the eye. Here a body almost cut in two by a cannon shot, there an arm again a leg. I answered two things I had often heard before. One was that a man killed by a gun shot wound always had an expression of pain on his face. This is true Sue, I did not see one but had an expression of agony stamped indelibly on his face by the very hand of death. The other a man cannot tell where a shell will fall by the hissing sound it makes in the air. I passed over a different part of the field after the enemy was in full retreat. The sight sickened me to the heart. Alas! For poor humanity & to select Gods own holy day for the devils own work but they our enemies must have it so. I now have a musket taken on the field & hope I may be permitted to keep it if I live. Don’t you think I ought to have it, Suky? Now Sue Ill tell you what I think of the numbers engaged killed i.e on each side? But let me tell you it is only my own personal opinion, tho I have seen no estimate, and of course entitled to no respect. I think the Yankees have about 60 thousand men. We have about 30 thousand when I entered the field & 40 thousand when the enemy retreated for we were constantly reinforced from Manassas which was only 5 miles distant. Jef Davis got to the field before the battle closed. Johnston & Beauregard were back then I think during the day. I estimate our loss at 500 killed 1500 wounded, which the enemy must have lost killed, wounded & taken between 7 & 10 thousand probably as much as the latter. Had the Cavalry been aided by a regiment of foot in the pursuit, we would have killed or taken more. Sukey if I live to see you again will give you a better description of the scene. God grant that I may live to see your sweet face once more. The Yankees were well clothed well armed well fed. better prepared. All of them wore splendid canteens & haversacks. Believe no more what you hear about them as starving raggeds. I know it to be false now. Please write to me at once. Same Direction

Your own affect W.C.K.

Dr. Bruce Venter, ed, “The path will be a dangerous one…but I for one do not fear to go”: The Civil War Letters of William  C. Kean, Goochland County Historical Society Magazine, Volume 43/2011, pp. 25-28

Used with permission. For purchase of this volume, contact the Goochland County Historical Society at 804-556-3966 or goochlandhistory@comcast.net.

Transcription courtesy of Goochland Historical Society.

William Callis Kean on Ancestry.com








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