Our Army Correspondence
Letter from One of the Hillsboro Band.
National Hotel, Washington,
July 24th, 1861.
Mr. Boardman: – Dear Sir: When I wrote you last, we were on the eve of marching forth to battle. We did not march as soon as we expected. We left Camp Upton Tuesday evening at 3 o’clock, and marched to Fall’s Church, where we were joined by three Connecticut and one Maine regiment, under command of Gen. Tyler. The 1st and 2d Ohio and 2d New York regiments were under command of Gen. Schenck. We marched as far as Vienna without meeting any of the enemy, where we encamped for the night. The next morning the reveille was beat about 4 o’clock, and we got up and marched to Fairfax, about 4 miles distant. — Schenck’s brigade was in front to-day. They took the front each alternate day, the brigade that marched in front one day taking the rear the next. We had not proceeded very far before we found the road blocked up by trees that the enemy had felled across the road to obstruct our progress. The pioneer corps went forward and cleared the way. — About 9 o’clock we had come within a mile and a half of Fairfax, when the artillery in front fired a few shots, and we started up the hill on a double-quick. When we got to the top of it we could see their wagons leaving on a little faster time than double-quick, and could see a long line of bayonets glittering in the sun, following them at about the same speed. Our brigade formed in line of battle, and filed off to the left for the purpose of cutting off their retreat, but owing to the obstructions in the road they were a little too late, although there were some few prisoners taken.
When we arrived opposite Germantown we found a line of earthworks, about three hundred yards long, thrown up across the road. Our artillery fired a few shots into them; no enemy appearing, skirmishers were sent forward, and they reported it vacated. They had vamosed the ranche without firing a shot, and in such a hurry that they left their fires still burning and their meat cooking. Our boys now began to think that they were all a set of cowards, and never would fight, and that we would have Richmond in a few days; but in this they were sadly disappointed. — We encamped to-nigh about 5 miles from Centreville, which is situated on a singular-looking elevation, of considerable height, commanding a view of the valleys on each side for a distance of several miles, forming a natural fortification of great strength, on top of which the enemy had thrown up earthworks, but these too were deserted. — About 10 o’clock we heard a heavy cannonading going on in front, which gradually grew more rapid till about 2 in the evening, when intelligence was brought back that we had taken 69 pieces of artillery and 12,000 men. A great many of our men actually believed it, although there were only four regiments of our troops involved in it; but they had come to the conclusion that one Northerner was a match for five Southerners. Our men drew off with a loss of 30 killed and 25 wounded. — Gen. Tyler was very much censured for running his men in thus, as he had orders not to go further than Centreville that night. We encamped about a mile beyond Centreville, between that place and Bull’s Run, where we lay without further adventure, except that the Ohio boys talked of throwing down their arms and refusing to go into the fight, because they were being kept beyond their time; but Gen. Schenck made a speech to them Saturday evening, that aroused their patriotism. He is a better speaker than General.
On Sunday morning at 2 o’clock, we began the forward march, making as little noise as possible. A little after sunrise the skirmishers fired a few shots in front, and drove in the enemy’s pickets, when Carlisle’s battery was sent forward with a large 32-pound siege gun, to throw shells among them and draw the fire of their batteries, but in this they failed, for they did not return a shot. Soon the infantry on the right became engaged, and from that time till after four o’clock in the evening the firing was incessant. About 10 o’clock the 1st and 2d Ohio regiments were ordered to take a battery in front by flanking it. We filed to the left into a pine thicket so dense that a rabbit could scarcely go through it, through which there was a road cut of just sufficient width to admit four men abreast. The 2d regiment was in front. I had a musket, and was in the front company. Just as the first company and a part of the second had come out into the open field, which was a little meadow, about 150 yards across, a masked battery opened on us from behind a stone fence, which sent a shower of grape shot whistling about our heads, but we fell flat on our faces and they went over without doing any further injury that mortally scaring some of us. d scarcely got up till we saw the flash of their guns again, and a cloud of smoke, and down we come again. This we stood, without a man flinching, four times, and as we had neither Colonel nor General to lead us, some Captain, I believe it was, gave the order to retreat, which most of us did in good order, though some ran like Indians, and were not seen any more that day. At 2 o’clock the word spread through the ranks that the victory was ours, and the enemy were driven back at all points; but about this time Gen. Johnston reinforced them with a fresh body of 18,000 men – almost as many as we had in the field altogether, – and the battle began afresh with more fury than ever. A fierce cannonade and an incessant discharge of musketry began on the left and continued along the whole line. About three o’clock our artillery ammunition gave out, and then they played on our defenseless columns with great fury and precision. Each particular ball appeared as though it had been aimed at some particular object. Our brigade, being unprotected, withdrew from the open field into the woods.
About half-past three a causeless panic began among the citizens, of whom a great number came out from Washington to see the fight, which had a very injurious effect, for the panic spread like wild fire. About 4 they had outflanked us and came in on our rear, and their cavalry made a charge on our hospital, which was in our rear and totally unprotected, and cut off all who made their appearance on the outside of the house, and then came thundering down the road to where our brigade was drawn up in the woods, but as they came opposite to the left wing they poured in a destructive fire on them, and then turned and charged down the road in the other direction, on the broken columns of the retreating Fire Zouaves, who had done prodigies of valor that day. But they rallied, and almost annihilated the cavalry of the enemy, which was splendidly mounted.
A little after 4 it was announced that our brigade was surrounded and cut off, being in the rear, but we were determined to cut our way through. Col. McCook rode along the lines and said, “boys we have got into a trap, and now we will have to fight our way out.” — He was the only officer that the men appeared to have any confidence in. — We sent two field-pieces ahead to clear the way, but they had but a few pounds of cartridges, and were soon silenced, and left. The road was literally blocked up with broken wagons, gun carriages, ambulances, killed and wounded horses, and dead and dying men. Oh! it was a horrible sight! — A great many men threw away their guns, belts, cartridge-boxes, blankets, haversacks, canteens, and in fact everything that would impede their flight. The Ohio regiments were not broken but once, and that was in crossing a narrow bridge over Bull’s Run. Before they got across the enemy came up and opened fire on our rear, but as soon as we got over the hill a little we formed in line of battle, as there was a line of battle formed in our front advancing to meet us. We took them for enemies, and prepared to charge them, but they proved to be some who had rallied and were returning to our assistance. The enemy’s cannon kept thundering on our rear till we got under cover of some fresh batteries that had been brought up and placed on the heights at Centreville, and when they opened on them they drew off.
After we got to Centreville we stopped and slept an hour, and then were ordered to retreat. We marched the whole of that night. Gen. Schenck detailed the two Ohio regiments as the strongest, and marched us as a rear guard to protect the flying and broken army.
The road was crowded with fugitives all the night. But few regiments came in as regiments. Most of them were all broken up, and every man to shift for himself. If the enemy had have been in condition to take advantage of our defeat they might have turned it into a perfect slaughter. If they had sent a battery and one regiment around ahead of our men — demoralized and despirited as they were by their defeat, and crowded, packed and jammed together in the narrow roads, — they might have slain or taken them by the thousands.
The next morning a very cold rain began, and continued to pour down torrents all day. When we came to the river we found it guarded, and not a man was allowed to pass. So there we were forced to lay all day in a soaking rain, without a particle of shelter and no fire, after standing to our arms from 2 o’clock Sunday morning, in many instances without a morsel of food, for most of the men threw away their haversacks. The soldiers laid down in the mud and rain like beasts, for Nature could hold out no longer.
About dark the Ohio regiments got leave to go over the river into the city and get comfortable quarters, and I suppose they slept soundly that night, if they were not disturbed by dreams of bombshells bursting over their heads, as I was.
O. S. Glenn.
The [Hillsborough] Highland [County, Ohio] Weekly News, 8/8/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy