James Conner’s Hampton’s Legion Letters

27 10 2011

The transcription of this letter, sent to me by Eric Wittenberg, included the following note:

This letter, very lightly edited, was published in the Atlanta Constitution, 21 Apr [18]95, p. 22, c. 1, 2, under the title “Who is the Author?”  For some reason, the published copy has the salutation “Dear Sir,” and does not include a signature.  According to the article, it was found in a tru[n]k purchased at an estate sale in Lincolnton, N.C., and the editor solicited comments as to the authorship.  Two persons quickly responded, contending that the author was James Conner.  Id., 28 Apr 95, p. 12, c. 1-7; Id., 2 May 95, p. 7, c. 4.  The authorship was confirmed by Louis Von Standenmayer, the nephew of Conner, who stated that he sold the contents of the house in Lincolnton, but did not know that private family papers were being inadvertently sold.  Id., 14 May 95, p. 4, c. 5.  The bulk of the Conner papers are in the South Carolina Historical Society; this letter is the only item of wartime correspondence of Conner in the separate collection at South Caroliniana.

Interestingly, this 7/22/1861 letter appears to be an earlier version of this one written two days later. In many ways they are similar (in fact, one similar in its misspelling of “ate” as “eat” to other letters I’ve posted from unidentified members of the Legion), but note what Conner says in the first letter:

I have written in a great hurry, on my lap, and only for yourself and the family.

I think it likely that the second Conner letter was a cleaned up version of his first, fit for publication, or at least for distribution to other than family.

James Conner Portrait, South Carolina Statehouse

Here’s a brief sketch of James Conner, who at the time of the battle was acting major of the Legion, but was technically captain of Company A, the Washington Light Infantry:

James Conner: born 9/1/1829, Charleston SC; graduated South Carolina College 1849; pre-war lawyer, U. S. District Attorney 1856-1860; Captain, Hampton’s Legion, 5/61; Major, 7/21/61; Colonel 22nd NC 3/26/62; wounded at Gaines’s Mill, VA 6/26/62 – fractured left leg; JAG 2nd Corps AoNV 10/8/63; Brig. Gen. (special) 6/1/64; commanded McGowan’s Brigade/Wilcox’s Division/3rd Corps AoNV 6/64 to 8/64; Lane’s Brig/Wilcox’s Div/3rd Corps AoNV 8/64; Conner’s Brigade/Kershaw’s Div/1st Corps AoNV 8/64 to 10/64; wounded at Fisher’s Hill, Va. 10/13/64, left leg amputated; no record of parole; resumed law practice in Charleston, SC; Attorney General, SC 1876; commanded “rifle clubs” during Wad Hampton’s 1876 gubernatorial campaign; died Richmond, VA 6/26/1883; buried Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC.





More Hampton’s Legion

26 10 2011

Today I happened to look at some older computer files and emails, and turned up a few (well, quite a few) letters and such that I’ve collected and have yet to post. The transcription of this letter written by Captain James Conner of Hampton’s Legion (he started the day filling in for Major J. B. Griffin who was back in South Carolina with the Legion’s cavalry, and ended it in command of the unit) was sent to me by fellow blogger Eric Wittenberg. Eric also sent along another of Conner’s letters written two days earlier, and I’ll post that next. Thanks to Eric and to all you readers who have passed such great stuff along. That’s what Bull Runnings is all about – assembling this material for the use of enthusiasts and researchers.





Capt. James Conner, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (1)

26 10 2011

July 24th, 1861, 10 thirty P.M.

My dear Mother:

At twelve o’clock the orders came to leave by that night’s train.  We packed up and started, marching into Richmond at six o’clock, but the cars were not ready.  We piled our arms and lay down in the street until twelve o’clock, traveled all night, all Saturday and all Saturday night, and reached Manassas at six o’clock Sunday morning.  The cars ought to have made the trip in twelve hours, seven hours is the usual time, and we were ordered to take one meal cooked with us.

We then had orders to move, as the battle had begun, and while we were eating our mouthful of food, the cannon were roaring in the distance.  We marched about five miles and were halted by the Colonel just under the brow of a hill.  I could see the fight going on in the valley below.  A battery of artillery moved up at a gallop on our left end, and commenced firing on the United States troops.  This drew their fire in our direction, and as we lay down behind the hill, the grape and round shot came singing over our heads, sometimes so close that you could feel the air as they passed.

We then moved forward some distance, when we received order to advance to the support of some Georgia regiment.  They had been forced back, and we met them and formed in front of them, we were lying behind a fence.  At that moment, a large body of Yankees were seen moving round, endeavoring to turn the flank of the army and get to our rear.  The order was given to us to outflank them, and we moved down a lane running at right angles to that in which we were.  It was a broad lane, or country road, with deep gullies on either side.  The troops opposed to us were infantry, supported by artillery.  I could see them, but could not estimate them.  General Beauregard told Hampton today that there were at least four thousand.

As we commenced the movement, they opened a terrible fire on us of grape and canister and musketry.  The balls flew like hail and knocked the flint rocks, whistling all around us.  I was in advance, my company heading the Legion.  We faced to the right, and I ordered my men into the gully, hid under cover of that, and the fence on top of the bank, and returned the fire.  It was here we had the hardest fighting and met the heaviest loss.

At the very commencement of it poor Colonel Johnson was killed shot through the head.  He was in line with the first platoon of my company; he threw his sword up, and fell back lifeless.

Hot and heavy the fire fell all around us.  By this time I had got the men of the other Companies down into the gully and to work, but for the first four or five minutes, maybe only one-half that time, the Washington Light Infantry were alone in that lane and receiving the whole fire.  Hampton was in the center and I was on the right, the men in the gully, and he and I on top of the bank, looking out at the enemy and cautioning the men to keep cool, aim deliberately and take resting shots, and above all, to deploy out and not crowd.

Hampton’s horse was shot under him and he was on foot.  Barker alone was on horseback, and he kept dashing between Hampton and myself carrying orders.  Theodore Barker behaved splendidly.  His conduct was above praise.  It was glorious, and how he escaped being shot was a miracle.  Once he reeled in the saddle as he went down the lane, and I thought the poor fellow was gone, and I ran after him, taking one of my men with me, but we found that it was his horse slipping on the rocks that had made him reel.  Neither he nor his horse was hurt, though his gray charger was always in the thickest of the fight.  All the Legion are loud in his praise.

How long we held the position I cannot tell, but we checked the flank movement of the enemy.  Then they advanced from another point, and we were in danger of being surrounded, and fell back about one hundred and fifty yards under cover of a farm house.  Here, again, we made a stand, and had an awful fight the new and old body of the enemy crossing fire upon us.  It was terrible, and the men were falling around, and fearing that they would be surrounded.  It was the only time of the day the men looked dashed.

Hampton ordered the colors to the front, and I moved my Company up with them, and all my boys came right up and moved up to the head of the lane and exchanged fire.  Some artillery then came up when we were nearly whipped out, and relieved us, breaking and dispersing the new body that had advanced.  We then returned and gather the companies up, moved on, and halting in a bottom thickly wooded, had another regiment, I forget which, attached to us.  It was some Virginia regiment, so my boys said.  We then advanced about half a mile, and again engaged the enemy, driving them out of a farm yard, and ourselves taking possession of it.  They returned to take it, and the firing was hot and heavy.  Here it was that Hampton was shot.  We were fighting from the house and behind the thick hedge and paling fence of the garden.  They brought artillery up, and we in turn were driven out.  I was at this time in command of the Legion, and we fell back, closing well on the colors, to the bottom of the hill, and reformed.

I reformed the Legion, and we were supported by Wither’s Alabama regiment, and we then charged up the hill, and drove the Yankees out of the house and garden, and drove back the artillery.  Advancing, and leaving the house behind us, we kept forcing them back.  They broke and scattered as Kershaw’s regiment came up, and I united with Kershaw and sent Barker off to Beauregard for orders.  He told us to unite with Kershaw.

It was now about four o’clock, the enemy in full retreat and Kershaw determined to pursue.  We were now only one hundred and sixty strong.  We had gone into action in the morning six hundred and odd.  We pursued the enemy about four miles.  They halted as we pressed them hard.  Kemper’s battery galloped up the road and took possession of the crest of the hill, wheat fields on each side of the road.  Cash’s South Carolina regiment on the left, Kerhsaw’s and ours on the right, and the Palmetto Guards thrown out as skirmishers.  The artillery opened and played havoc with them, and the cavalry came upon their flank, and were preparing to charge, when they fled, and the cavalry captured twenty-one pieces of artillery and lots of baggage.  We were then ordered by Beauregard to cease pursuit.

I am in command of the Legion, and have a great deal to do, but will try to drop you a line.

Yours, J.C.

Moffett, ed.,  Letters of General James Conner, CSA. pp. 40-43

Notes 1

Notes 2





Unknown, Hampton’s Legion [?], On the Battle (3)

11 09 2011

Further Particulars of the Manassas Battle – The Capture of Sherman’s Battery

We have some very interesting and authentic accounts of the battle at Manassas, from an officer who was in the thickest of the action, and who testifies to the extremely courageous and devoted action of the Hampton Legion, that held one of the most important positions in the fight, in front of the deadly fire of Sherman’s Battery.

The infantry companies of the Legion joined the line of battle about 9 o’clock in the morning, having marched seven miles, after a hastily-snatched breakfast, to take their part in the general action. In a few moments after the line was formed, Col. Johnson fell by a shot from the battery. He was instantly killed, the ball striking and tearing away the upper portion of his head. Colonel Hampton himself, assisted by Surgeon Darby and Adjutant Barker, bore the body from the fire.

At this instant, the men missing for a moment the presence of their commander, cried out “We have no commander.” Capt. Garey, who was commanding the left wing, suddenly called out, “Follow me, Hampton Guards, follow to victory.” The effect of the tones of the command was instant. The noble and gallant Edgefield company made a rushing charge towards the enemy, in advance of the rest of the Legion nearly three hundred yards, and so far on the left flank that for a moment they were under the fire of the Washington Artillery. The Guards advanced to within 1– or 120 paces of the enemy. Unable to maintain their position, they retired, falling back upon the column of the Legion. It was then that Col. Hampton, after a few thrilling words at the head of the Legion, ordered its fire to be opened upon the deadly battery that was mowing down his ranks.

Nobly and gallantly did his men respond. Firing by file and maintaining their position, they stood steadily until three o’clock in the evening, under the deadly fire of one of the most destructive batteries in the Federal army.

At this time of the day, the Legion fell back about 200 yards, when Gen. Evans, of South Carolina, rode up to the line, and making himself known to the men, added his noble and patriotic encouragements to those of their gallant commander.  A shout rises as Beauregard himself rides to the line, and in stirring words appeals to the Legion to hold its devoted position but a few moments longer, and the victory would be won.
The men were suffering horribly from the most aging thirst, when a number of officers and privates volunteered on the desperate mission of bringing water from a ravine near by through the fire of the enemy. But three returned from the gallant errand. Lieuts. Bates and Tompkins, of the Watson Guards, and private N. N. Cartlidge, and they just in time to join Col. Hampton’s last and desperate charge upon the battery.

The Legion had advanced about thirty paces, when the charge was joined by the 49th Virginia Regiment, under command of Col. Smith, who led the charge on foot – his horse having been shot from under him. Col. Hampton offered his own horse. At that time, when within about 150 yards of the battery, Colonel Hampton received his wound. He was struck by a ball in the temple. As he was raised, the cool and self-possessed gallantry of the brave man was exhibited. In calm and affecting words he exhorted Co. Smith to stand by the Legion and to help to support its flag. The words added a new spirit to the combined charge. The Legion advance to it with its right wing under the command of Col. Conner, and the left under that of Capt. Garey – the command of the intrepid Watson Guards, who had so distinguished themselves in the opening of the action, being devolved upon Lieut. W. D. Jennings, until joined by Lieuts. Bates and Tompkins, who had undertaken the brave mission of bringing water to the suffering men through the thickest of the fire.

The slaughter of the enemy at the battery, as the combined charge of the Virginia Regiment and the Hampton Legion swept over it, is said to have been terrific. The fugitives were pursued by the companies of the Legion to near Centreville. For four or five miles, the pursuit is described to have been over dead bodies, which strewed the retreat of the enemy.

The Legion reports about thirty killed and mortally hurt, with the immense number of nearly three hundred wounded – truly a gallant record. Neither its cavalry companies nor artillery arrived in time for the action; had they done so, quicker work would have been made by the Legion. As it is, with the gallant record it has made, and the compliments of Beauregard given it the day after the victory, it may boast, indeed, to have had a distinguished part in the glorious day.

The names of Captains Conner, Garey, Adjutant Barker and Surgeons Darby and Taylor are mentioned among those who distinguished themselves heroically in the fight.

The escapes of many of the men through the storm of fire are described as almost miraculous. The South Carolinians are better shots than the enemy. At three fires from one of the Corporals, J. W. Tompkins, two Yankees were seen to bite the dust; and at one time in the action, Lieutenant Jenkins, with a revolver, fired into the enemy a number of shots, nearly each one of which struck its man. Many of the Legion had their clothes torn through with bullets.

Richmond Examiner, 7/25/1861

Clipping Image





Unknown, Co. A, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (3)

3 09 2011

Extracts from a Private Letter

{From a Member of Hampton’s Legion}

Camp Johnston
Six Miles from Manassas, July 30.

I will endeavor to give you some particulars of the fight, although you will by this time have heard thousands of reports, as every man sees different on such occasions. We received orders on Friday, the 19th inst., to appear at the Central Depot in Richmond, at 5 o’clock, p. m. We found it impossible to be there so early, and, consequently, did not get there until 8 o’clock. We then stacked arms, and lay down on the ground and slept until two that night. We left Richmond at the last named hour, and arrived at Manassas on Sunday morning around four o’clock. Shortly after, we heard the roar of artillery. Col. Hampton then drew us up in line and addressed us, the substance of which was, that we were about to go into battle, and hoped we would prove ourselves South Carolinians worthy of our State and [?]. We then took up the line of march for the field, at which place we arrived about nine o’clock. Col. H. ordered us to take the extreme left, and stand until we were cut to pieces, or drive the enemy back.

We advanced steadily forward, shells bursting all around us. We were then dressed into line, and I never expect again to see cannon balls and shells fly as they did that morning. It is a mystery to me how one man escaped in the Legion. We stood our ground for one hour, alone, under one of the hottest fires Gen. B— says he ever saw. I gave myself up for gone, but still kept loading and firing. Poor Phelps was shot dead at my side; also a man by the name of Blankensee. Bomar was wounded just to my left. Finding it impossible to hold our position, we retreated to a small clump of woods, and then the cry was, “We are surrounded; we are outflanked.” At this critical moment, the Georgia and Mississippi regiments came to our assistance. We then not only maintained our position, but kept the enemy in check until about 2 o’clock. At this time, Gen. B. came up with Kershaw’s and Cash’s regiments, and Kemper’s Battery and Johnston’s column. His appearance was worth to us 10,000 men. It rallied the wounded as well as the others. Those that were unable to rise from the ground raised their hands and cheered him as he passed along the line. We were then at close quarters with the scattered remnants of the Legion, and I assure you it was hot work. The order was given to charge the enemy’s battery, which, upon the second charge, fell into the hands of our troops. It proved to be the famous Sherman Battery. After this charge, the enemy, completely routed, took to flight. Our men pursued them as far as Centreville. They left everything, in the shape of eatables and drinkables, that you can think of – champagne, lemons, sugar, etc. We took, among other things, some trunks, We captured 70 ambulances, fitted up in the most fancy style; also, a carriage and six horses, with a sword and trappings, supposed to have belonged to some general officer. The woods around were strewn with the dead and dying. A man who has never been upon a battle field can form no ideas of the horrors of one. The roar of musketry, combined with the shrieks of the wounded and dying, and the sight of mangled bodies, is truly horrible. I saw a ball from one of the enemy’s rifle cannon cut a man in two. I witnessed Bartow’s horse shot from under him. He (Bartow) was a noble fellow. When he fell, two of our men helped his men to carry him from the field. A regiment of our Zouaves was pitted against the Fire Zouaves of Ellsworth; they killed all but about 200 of them; the bloody bowie knife did ample work. The Washington Artillery, of New Orleans, is one of the noblest band of men I ever saw. I give them the credit of gaining the victory; they fought like lions, actually mowing down the ranks of the enemy. In our advance, one of our men saw a wounded Yankee lying down; he went up to him and gave him some water; when he turned to join the company the fellow coolly drew his pistol and fired at him, but missed; our men immediately turned round and bayoneted him. I escaped with a Minnie ball through my hat. It just grazed my head. I send you, by Mr. R., a piece of a bomb shell picked up on the battle field. The Yankees are a mean, contemptible people. They sent, under the white flag, to know if Gen. B. would allow them to bury their dead after the fight on Thursday at Bull Run. Gen. B. assented, and the scoundrels, instead of burying their dead, commenced to throw up entrenchments. We found it out and very soon run them off. I took a walk over the battle field a few days ago, and the dead Yankees are not all buried yet. The bodies are in a dreadful condition, and the whole atmosphere is filled with the most disgusting smell. The idea, to me the most lamentable, is that the best blood of the South is being spilled whilst fighting against the lowest, most despicable and degraded men, not only of the North, but I believe of the world. The prisoners are, nearly all of them, the most miserable looking creatures I ever saw. Ely, the member of Congress taken prisoner, is an exceedingly low looking man. The enemy resorted to all kinds of deception and chicanery to take advantage of us; they used both the Palmetto flag and the Confederate flag while advancing upon us, and for some time completely deceived our men. they also got and used our signs of recognition. It is very hard to distinguish our men from the enemy when at close quarters, their uniforms are so much like ours. I am now compelled to close my letter, as the mail is about to start for Manassas, but before doing so let me say that no women of any country could be more kind to the sick and wounded men than the women of Virginia. Our wounded are receiving every attention; they are sought after and carried to private residences, and all that can be done to make them comfortable is being done. The farmers around the country where we are now stationed carry, daily, as many as forty and fifty of our men at a time to dine with them. Give my love to all the boys, and tell them I never expect again to see them.

Charleston Mercury 8/7/1861

Clipping Image





Unknown, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (2)

2 09 2011

The Manassas Battle

A young member of the Hampton Legion sends the following interesting letter in reference to the Manassas battle:

Camp neat Manassas, July 30, 1861

Dear Mother, – I have not as yet given you a sketch of the battle, and really I feel unequal to the task. At any rate I will give you my personal experience. About 10 o’clock, Friday, a dispatch came that the Legion must leave for Manassas that evening. We struck tents at 3 o’clock and by 10 were on our way for the Junction. After a tedious journey in box cars we arrived at daylight Sunday morning. We found orders awaiting us to eat breakfast and proceed to the battle ground. I, assisted by one who has since died of his wounds (Middleton), ground the coffee. We eat a hasty meal. loaded our pieces, and started for the battle field. After a march of seven miles we reached the place where the bloody scene was to be enacted. It was then about the time of morning service, and it occurred to me that while we were about to  engage in the conflict prayers were ascending in our behalf. Soon we were addressed by our Colonel as follows: “Men of the Legion, I am happy to inform you that the enemy are in sight.” He then exhorted us to strike boldly, to remember the cause in which we were fighting, to stand up for South Carolina. We were then marched to the top of a hill and ordered to lie on our faces, so as not to attract the notice of the enemy, as they were too far off for our muskets to reach them. By the imprudence of some, who stood up, we attracted their attention and soon a shower of balls fell among us, and the shells burst within a few feet of some of us – the balls from the rifled cannon hissing like serpents. We left this position, and now comes the part we took in this fight. The Legion was formed in a narrow lane. In front of us could be seen, in large columns, the enemy advancing. Dropping on our knees in a gully we awaited their attack. Soon we were met by a tremendous volley of musketry and artillery, whose effect was terrible. It was by this volley our brave Lieutenant Colonel was killed – Col. Johnson was brave to a fault. Immediately to my left was poor Phelps; a ball passed clean through him, striking me in the leg, but it had performed its mission and only gave me slight pain. I turned to Phelps, thinking he might have a parting word to deliver, but he was dead, without a groan he had passed away. A bullet passed very near, grazing my temple and causing the blood to flow. In every direction could be heard the groans of the wounded. We in our turn poured a volley into the enemy. At this time I made up my mind for the worst; the sickening feeling which at first came over me when beholding the wounded wore away; I saw we had a terrible struggle and could have met death calmly. We struggled with a greatly superior force all day, sometimes sorely pressed. We were opposed to ten thousand men. After a hard fight all day seven thousand troops came to our rescue under Beauregard, and we routed the enemy. It is almost impossible for you to conceive what a terrible sight it was. The battle field next day was covered with the dead of the enemy who lay in hundreds. I do not know how I escaped. A feel very thankful.

I mentioned in my last that we were going to move camp. We started on Saturday and marched eight miles from the Junction to a pleasant camp. We are about four miles from Manassas. I felt very tired, but was obliged to go on guard.

Charleston Courier  8/8/1861

Clipping Image

 





Unknown, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (1)

1 09 2011

Hampton’s Legion

The following is an extract from a letter, written by a member of Hampton’s Legion, received in this city, dated Manassas, July 23: -

“I have survived a fearful day for the Legion. We arrived in sight of the enemy just as they had forced Gen. Bee back. We were ordered to sustain a battery posted on the extreme left. We formed round a farm house on the top of a hill at the right of the field battery, and found ourselves in advance of the rest of our line, and immediately opposite to a powerful battery of the enemy stationed to the right of a thick wood which protected the infantry on his left. For half an hour we were in total uncertainty where to fire, amidst the whistling of bullets. Conner’s company and the next company on the right of the Legion made a stand bravely under a galling fire. We succeeded in rallying the rest of the men, when Gen. Bee came on the ground and ordered us to fall back on Gen. Jackson’s position.  His order to retreat carried off a large proportion of the companies. Those that remained fought nobly in the most exposed position. Col. Johnson fell near me, very soon after we got into the fight, from a ball in the head. He died instantly. His loss is irreparable to the Legion. We succeeded in maintaining our position after one or two partial retreats and rallies, and until Gen. Beauregard came on the ground and ordered us to retire to a position taken up in our rear by the artillery.

We brought off Col. Johnson’s body and the wounded, and after a little while received another order to advance to meet the enemy, who had nearly turned our left. Reinforcements came up in the midst of a struggle against fearful odds, and the battery on the left was saved.

I have nearly used up my gray horse, and find a shot grazed his fetlock.

In reply to Gen. Beauregard’s enthusiastic praises of the Legion, the President replied in his calm manner, “I knew they would fight.”

Conner and the remnant of the Legion, after the pursuit, remained near the day’s fight.

Col. Hampton, late in the day, received a bullet on the side of the temple. The wound is not dangerous, though the ball is under the skin.

We will re-form the scattered Legion to-day and play our part out. It has made its mark beyond our utmost expectation, though it has suffered severely in Col. Johnson’s death. I cannot pretend to open the volume of sensations crowded into one day. I feel quite well and fresh today and ready for another start.”

Charleston Courier  7/29/1861

Clipping Image





Unknown, Co. A, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (2)

30 08 2011

Extract of a Private Letter

From a member of the Washington Light Infantry

Camp of the Legion
Manassas Junction, July 24,

On Friday afternoon, at [?] o’clock p. m., we left our camp at Richmond and started for this place. The distance is only a hundred and fifty miles, but as we were travelling as freight, and on a freight train, our progress was terribly slow. At some places we stopped three hours at a time, waiting for other trains to pass, but at last we reached the long wished for goal of our desires, Manassas Junction. Beauregard, as you are aware, commands here in person – the invincible, idolized Beauregard. When we reached this place, which was at daybreak Sunday morning, we understood that Gen. Beauregard was momentarily expecting an attack from the enemy, who were advancing on this place, in great force, via Centreville. Col. Hampton received a despatch ordering the advance of the Legion as soon as they had eaten breakfast. We pitched one large tent, crowded all our baggage into it, burned all our letters, eat a hasty breakfast, and took the road. Just as we were leaving camp we heard the artillery, about six miles distant, firing upon the enemy.

The morning was calm and beautiful; a clear, cool Sabbath morning; and while, at home, our friends were quietly preparing to go to Church, we were hurrying on to the field of battle. It was a strange Sabbath day! As we hurried along through the beautiful forest roads, the men in excellent spirits, conversing cheerfully and hopefully of the work before us, I was forcibly reminded of these lines from Byron’s Waterloo:

“And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,
Grieving, if aught inanimate o’er grieves,
O’er the unreturning brave.”

Alas! how true of many of them – unretruning. At the first fire, two fell, who never spoke again, one of them, young Phelps, of Charleston, the other a brave Pole, whose name was Blankenzie.

About five miles from camp we first saw the enemy. A dense column of them were steadily moving up a lane, about half a mile off, upon which our artillery was playing with fearful effect. At each discharge of our pieces a wide break would suddenly appear in the long line of glittering bayonets, and ere they reached cover, many a foeman bit the dust. While on a hill, the enemy turned their artillery on us. The miserable scoundrels, contrary to the usage of civilized warfare, fired chain shot at us; but their aim was not good, and they flew over our heads, whistling like a flock of blackbirds. One round shot struck under the belly of Col. Hampton’s horse, covering him with the red clay. Finding that we were too far off to attack the enemy here, we wound around the base of the hill in order to cut them off. As we came out from the cover of the hill and reached a little hollow sparsely covered with trees, the enemy poured a withering fire upon us – round shot, chain shot, shell, musket and rifle balls fell like hail among us; it seemed as if a great hurricane was sweeping the valley; bushes and trees were cut to pieces. Here the Legion lost their first man. I cannot tell how many fell. The Manning Guards had three men killed  by one grape-shot; they were terribly mangled, but the poor fellows did not suffer, as they were immediately killed. Here we paused a few moments, then hastily forming mad a rush up the hill, but could find no enemy. We then filed down a lane, deploying the men at the same time under cover of a rail fence. We could now see their columns advancing – one immediately below us of three thousand, one to the left about five thousand, and to the right about ten thousand strong. The column nearest to us had a palmetto flag, and by this means completely deceived us. An old Texan scout, who was along with us, told us they were enemies, but our officers would not believe him; he, however, advanced to the fence, and laying his rifle on a gate post, took a long and steady aim, and when he fired the smile of satisfaction that lit his rugged countenance showed that his aim had been true. The Texan’s shot drew the fire of the enemy upon us, and the musket balls flew in clouds above us. Some ten of our men fell; two of them partially blinded by splinters – Ancrum and Bob Baker, from Charleston. Ancrum’s face was fearfully disfigured. Bob Bomar was reported mortally wounded, and so was old Mr. Ga. Jervey of Mount Pleasant; others were wounded badly, but are in a fair way to recover. We now poured a deadly volley amongst the Yankees, and, jumping the fence, charged them; but they were too fast for us, and succeeded in joining their column to the right. We took one prisoner, who came up voluntarily to Lieut. Logan and told him that he surrendered himself a prisoner. Logan took his rifle – a magnificent breech loading piece (one of Sharpe’s patent) – and gave it to old Calvert – our Texan scout – a splendid shot. Calvert ensconced himself in a little hollow, and, with the Yankee’s rifle, picked off fifteen of the enemy. We now advanced by the right flank to another lane, where we lay for an hour or two under the fire of twenty thousand men. The air was filled with balls. We were partially covered by a ditch about eighteen inches deep; and here my Zouave drill helped me a great deal in loading lying down. Lieut. Col. Johnson was killed here by a Minnie ball passing through his temple and out the back of his head. He fell without a groan. As we lay in this ditch, the balls flying over us sounded just as if we were in a swamp, with clouds of mosquitos about our ears. Several times, when I raised my head to fire, the balls would cut the edge of the ditch, and throw the dirt in my face. One spent ball cut my upper lip, but gave me no pain. Three times we were driven from this position, and twice, unsupported, regained it. The third time several other fresh regiments assisted us. We fought through lanes, over fences, around farm houses and in all sorts of places. Once we came near losing our colors, and when our company rallied to its support, only thirty out of ninety were left together. Col. Hampton was shot, and our gallant Capt. Conner, senior Captain, took command. About 3 O’clock Kershaw’s regiment, with several others, reached the field, when they gave a cheer and firing one volley advanced at the charge; the enemy’s column broke in confusion, and fled like dogs. The battle raged along a line of several miles, and everywhere our troops, though badly cut up, were victorious, and about five o’clock the rout became general. President Davis arrived at this time from Richmond with seven thousand fresh troops, they were, however, too late to take part in the fight. The five hundred cavalry pursued the enemy some miles. Infantry followed them as far as Centreville. Every now and then the flying artillery would wheel into line and pour a deadly volley into their ranks. The enemy threw away everything. We captured sixty-two pieces of artillery, among which were Sherman’s celebrated battery and Doubleday’s famous big rifle cannon; whether we got all his pieces or not, I cannot say. Cochrane, of New York, was killed, and a great many others of the big men either were killed or captured. About two thousand of the enemy were killed on the road to Centreville. The Louisiana Zouaves fought like tigers; a squad of them with bowie knives in hand, chased some twenty-five Yankees into a thicket, and there cut them up with their knives. They are terrible looking fellows; a great many of them are Frenchmen, savage-looking brown fellows, with black, cropped heads and wiry moustaches. I could relate much more that is horrible to think of, now that the excitement is over, but will refrain on account of the ladies. Such a battle was never before fought in America. For ten or eleven hours seventeen thousand men were opposed to seventy five thousand, and at the end of the time utterly routed them, capturing all their artillery and taking one thousand or more prisoners, and killing thousands of others. Seventeen thousand is the highest estimate of our men who were actually engaged, and seventy five thousand is the lowest estimate of the enemy. Some of the prisoners say that they had eighty-five thousand, and others ninety. The enemy were so confident of victory that they took only three days’ provisions, thinking that would suffice to take them to Richmond. Letters were found among their effects, written to their families, informing them that on Sunday they would attack Beauregard, and then push right on to Richmond. Alas for all human calculations, they never reached Manassas. About one thousand visitors [came from?] Washington to see us whipped, among them numbers of Congressmen. When the news reached them that their troops were in retreat, they fled like sheep, leaving wagons and carriages behind them, stored with champagne and good things of all kinds. I have not told a tenth part of the events of that day, but hope at some future day to tell you[all in person?]. The retreat of the enemy from Fairfax was very amusing. An old gentleman from there says that all of their [forces?] who were beaten here fell back on that place, together with Congressman, Members of the Cabinet, &c., and that at 12 o’clock at night a scout brought them word that our troops were advancing. He says that such fear and confusion were never seen before. In a few moments the place was deserted, baggage, arms, ammunition, everything was left behind. President Davis says that he has all the arms he could wish for, and that the 21st of July was Southern Independence day.

Among the wounded was Sweat, whom I have mentioned in one of my letters. He and I were in a ditch, when the Company was ordered to fall back. We both turned for a parting shot. Just as he fired he fell back wounded in two places, in the side and arm – severely but not mortally. There are not more than one-third of the Company who have not received a scratch of some sort. There are more holes through coat tails and hats, than one can count. But I have written enough.

Charleston Mercury 8/5/1861

Clipping Image





Unknown, Co. A, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (1)

29 08 2011

Private Letters

Extract of a letter from a member of the Washington Light Infantry Volunteers

Manassas Junction, July 23, 1861

We were thirty six hours coming from Richmond without any food or sleep. Arrived at Manassas Sunday morning, swallowed a few morsels and immediately proceeded to the field of battle. Arriving there we were placed in the advance position. We saw the enemy approaching as in solid columns. As soon as they came within musket distance we gave them a volley which caused them to retreat. They again rallied, and supported by Ellsworth’s Zouaves, advanced an poured a volley of fire amongst us which was most disastrous. Johnson was then killed, and we were compelled to retreat. Beauregard then appeared amongst us, inspired us, and volunteered to lead us if we would follow. We gave him cheer after cheer. The order was then given to charge, which the men obeyed, and carried Doubleday’s batteries of six guns at the point of the bayonet.

The flower of the U. S. Army were against us. The Legion has the honor of carrying the day, and keeping 18,000 men at bay for two hours, subjected to the most galling fire of musketry, shells and cannonry. We went upon the field with six hundred and returned with three hundred.

We pursued the enemy as far as Centreville. The road along which they retreated was strewn with their dead and dying – horses, guns, ammunition, clothing, baggage, provisions, &c., literally covered the ground – fifty-three pieces of artillery captured.

I had the honor of bearing our banner, when we captured the celebrated Doubleday battery. My gun is torn up, and I escaped almost miraculously. None of the boys are hurt. Our Company lost thirty-nine killed, wounded and missing. Captain Conner behaved gallantly. I am sorry we lose him, as he now commands the legion.

Charleston Courier 8/7/1861

Clipping Image





Still More Hampton’s Legion Resources Coming

29 08 2011

I still have a few more letters from members of Hampton’s Legion to post. However, the writer’s of these letters were not identified in the newspapers in which they were printed. So, if you’re one of the Legion’s devoted, umm, legions and can help me out with some ID’s, I’d really appreciate it. And it’s a way for you to live forever on the internet. So , you’ll have that going for you. Which is nice.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 899 other followers