Edward S. Barrett, Civilian, On the Battle (1)

12 09 2014

Scenes of the Battle Field — Personal Adventures at the Battle of Bull Run

From The Boston, Traveller, Aug. 1.

Mr. Edward S. Barrett, of Concord, has, at our request, furnished us the following narrative of his experience on the day of the recent Battle of Bull Run. It will be found exceedingly interesting: and our readers will agree that if all the “civilians” who went to the field on that day had behaved as well as Mr. Barrett, there would be no reason to complain of them.

It is quite possible that the writer has in some cases used the wrong military terms, for he makes no pretension to military knowledge; but his narrative will be found in all important particulars as authentic as it is interesting. It commences with the night before the battle:

On Saturday evening, the 20th of July, I heard we were to start at half past two the following morning, and our line was to be in readiness at an early hour. We had occupied the camp at Centreville since Thursday night. Wrapping my blanket around me, at 10 o’clk I stretched myself upon the bare ground to sleep. The night was cool, and at 12 o’clock I awoke feeling very cold, and unable to sleep more, I anxiously waited to hear the signal to prepare. At two o’clock our drum sounded through the camp, and was repeated through the numerous camps around us, and in half an hour forty thousand men stood ready to battle for the Union.

The Fifth Massachusetts regiment, which I accompanied, was in the division under Heintzelman, acting Major General, and our regiment was the third in the column. The First Minnesota, under Colonel Gorman, led forward by the Massachusetts Eleventh, Colonel Clarke; then the Fifth, Colonel Lawrence, with the regular cavalry and a battery of artillery leading the advance. We waited, in marching order, from half past two o’clock till after six before the order was given to advance, and then we learned that Colonel Hunter, with eight regiments, including Governor Sprague’s command had preceded us, and we were to follow. General McDowell and staff heading our division.

Mounted on a secession horse, which I had captured two days previously, I followed in rear of the regiment, in company with Quartermaster Billings and Surgeon Hurd. From Centreville we took the extreme northern road, leaving the Warrentown road on our left, which General Tyler had taken with his division. Passing through a forest of heavy oak timber some three miles in length, we emerged into the open country, with a wide interval on our left, and the Blue Ridge Mountains distinctly visible on our right. We had heard and occasional cannon shot during the morning, but not until ten o’clock was there any sound of a general engagement. The heavy cannonading on our left and in front caused the march to be hastened, and our men could hardly be restrained, so eager were they for the fight. About a mile and a half before we reached the field the men began to throw away their blankets, haversacks and all unnecessary appendages, the different regiments trying to throw them into a pile, or as near together without halting. I tied my horse near the hospital headquarters, and hastened to the head of the column, which advanced in double quick time till they cam within reach of the enemy’s guns. The fight was raging on our left and in front as our division came into the field. I could see that the enemies batteries were posted on a long ridge, with woods extending on either flank, and separated from us by a valley. It was now about half past eleven o’clock. General McDowell ordered one brigade, under Colonel Franklin, consisting of the First Minnesota, Eleventh and Fifth Massachusetts and a Pennsylvania regiment, to advance down the hill and take a position in the valley on a slight elevation directly in front of the rebel batteries. I followed on some distance, but the shot rattled about me, and I halted near General McDowell and staff, while the brigade swept past me and down the hill. I watched for some time the colors of the fifth with intense interest. The regiment reached the valley and deployed to the right on to a slight knoll, fell flat on their faces, while the shot from the rebel batteries passed mostly over their heads. A battery swept past me to take a position. I followed it along some distance, when the Major galloped back to me and called out: “Friend, tell Captain F. to hurry up my supports.” I did not know Captain F., but hastened back and met an orderly, of whom I enquired who he was. He pointed him out to me near a regiment of infantry. I rushed up to him and gave my message. He replied, “They are coming right along.” And on double quick the regiment followed after the battery. The rifle cannon shot, shells and bullets struck all around me, and men were falling in every direction. Seeing a high persimmon tree standing alone, a short distance down the hill, I determined to climb it. The top of it was dead, and about thirty feet off the ground. From this elevation I had an unobstructed view of the whole line, and I could see into the enemy’s entrenchments, where the men looked like so many bees in a hive, and I could plainly see their officers riding about, and their different columns moving hither and thither. Their batteries on the right and left were masked with trees so completely, that I could not distinguish them except by the flash from their guns,; and a battery in a cornfield on our extreme left was so completely concealed by the cornstalks placed so naturally about it, that our men came suddenly upon it, never dreaming of one so near. The cannon ball struck the ground continually close to the tree and bounded along for a quarter of a mile to the rear. I felt that I was above the range of these, but the rifle balls whistled about my head, striking the tree in a way anything but pleasant. Just after I had reached the top of the tree a New Hampshire regiment, close at my left had succeeded in driving them from the woods in front, and, with three cheers, they fell back into line.

When the line was formed, three cheers were given for Colonel Marston, who had fought gallantly and received two severe wounds. Sherman’s battery then commenced firing on my right, within thirty rods of me, and at the first discharge the men cheered and watched the effect of the shell, which exploded inside the enemy’s entrenchments. The men cheered again, to see that they got the range so quickly, and continued to fire with great rapidity, while the enemy returned the fire with equal vigor and precision, the cannonading being kept up incessantly for an hour.

The shot and shell from this battery must have done the rebels great damage, as every shot took effect within their intrenchments. – Still men and horses kept falling near our guns, and the infantry lines were parted in many places by their cannon balls. The valley for nearly one-half mile in front of the enemy’s works was filled with our infantry, extending to some patches of woods on our right. Our batteries were placed on various eminences on the flank and rear, shifting their positions from time to time. The fire from our lines in this valley was terrific, and as they kept slowly advancing, firing, retreating to load, and then advancing again, it was a sight which no words could describe. For three long hours we poured into their intrenchments this terrible fire, and whenever the enemy showed themselves on the flanks they were driven back with great slaughter. During all this time our men were subjected to a cross fire from the enemy’s infantry stationed in the woods on our left. At one time the “Stars and stripes” were waved in these woods, and men dressed much like our own called out not to fire that way. Our men gradually drew up towards the flag, when immediately the secession flag was thrown out and the rebels poured a volley into our men so unexpectedly that they were for the time driven back, but we soon regained the ground.

General McDowell now ordered a battery forward to take a position near a house on our right; the Fire Zouaves were ordered to support it. The position appeared to me, from my lookout, like a strong one, as it was on a hill on a level with the rebel batteries. – Our battery started, the horses running at the top of their speed, and shortly began to ascend the eminence, the Zouaves following closely; but scarcely had the battery halted and fired, before the enemy opened upon them from new masked batteries, and a terrific fire of musketry from the woods, and our artillery was driven back, many of their men and horses being killed. The Zouaves stood their ground manfully, firing in lines and then falling on their faces to load. The ranks we becoming dreadfully thinned, yet they would not yield an inch; when suddenly our dashed the Black Horse Cavalry, and charged furiously, with uplifted sabres, upon them. – The Zouaves gallantly resisted this furious onset without flinching, and after firing their muskets – too sorely pressed to load – would fight furiously with the bayonets or any weapon they could seize, and in some instances drag the riders from their saddles, stabbing them with their knives, and mounting their splendid black horses gallop over the field. Never, since the famous charge of the Light Brigade, was a cavalry corps more cut to pieces. There is a bitter animosity existing between the Black Horse Cavalry and Ellsworth’s Zouaves. A great many of the cavalry are citizens of Alexandria and Fairfax county and they resolved to kill every Zouave they could lay their hands upon to avenge the death of Jackson, and the Zouaves were equally determined to avenge the murder of Ellsworth; so no quarter was expected by them.

I had now been in the tree some two hours, and all this time a continuous stream of wounded were being carried to the rear. The soldiers would cross their muskets, placing their wounded companion across; slowly carry them past; and another soldier would have a wounded man with his arm around his neck, slowly walking back, and then two men would be bearing a mortally wounded comrade in their arms, who was in convulsions and writhing in his last agonies.

Leaving the tree, I went along over the field to the left, the bullets whistling about me and the cannon balls ploughing up the ground in every direction, when I came across two of our men with a prisoner, who said he belonged to a South Carolina regiment. I asked him some questions, but he was dogged and silent, and did not appear to be disposed to reply to my inquiries. The shot fell so thick, and shells bursting around me, I hardly knew which way to turn. A musket ball whizzed past my ear so near that I felt the heat, and for a moment thought I was hit. – The ground was strewn with broken guns, swords, cartridge boxes, gun carriages, haversacks together, with all the paraphernalia of warfare, mingled with the dead and wounded men. I saw here a horse and his rider under him, both killed by the same cannon ball. Seeing a small white house still towards the left, with a well near it, I started for some water, and getting over a wall I discovered lying beside it a number of our dead with their haversacks drawn over their faces. I lifted the cover from their faces, thinking, perhaps, I might come across some of my friends, but they were all strangers, or so disfigured that I could not recognize them. I went to the well for a drink, and as I drew near the house I heard loud groans, and such a scene as was there presented, in that little house of two rooms, and on the grass around it, was enough to appal the stoutest heart.

The rooms were crowded, and I could not get in; but all round on the grass were men mortally wounded. I should think there were at least forty on that green sward, within 20 rods of the house, and such wounds – some with both legs shot off; some with both legs broken; others with horrid flesh wounds made with shells. I saw one man with a sound in his back large enough to put in my fist; he was fast bleeding to death. As I walked among them some beseeched me to kill them and put an end to their agony; some were calling for the surgeon, but the hospital was more than a mile off, and there were but two surgeons there; some were just gasping, and some had died.

I left the house and bore off towards the right towards some low pine woods, about a hundred yards distant, and scattered along were the dear bodies of our men. On reaching the wood I found ground literally covered with the dead bodies of the enemy, and I counted in the space of ten rods square forty-seven dead rebels and ten mortally wounded; and scattered all through the woods still farther back were any number more. I talked with several of the wounded, and they told me they belonged to the 8th Georgia regiment, Col. Bartow, and had arrived at Manasas from Winchester the day before, where they had been with Gen. Johnston. They told me their whole regiment was posted in this pine woods. One young man told me he was from Macon, and that his father was a merchant. I asked another where he was from; he replied defiantly, “I am for disunion – opposed to you.” This man had both thighs broken.

I heard one of our soldiers ask a wounded Georgian if their orders were to kill our wounded. He answered No. Our soldiers carried water to these wounded men, and as they lay writing in agony a cup of water was put within their reach. The convulsions of one of these men was awful to look upon; he appeared to have been shot in the lungs, as he vomited blood in large quantities, and in his struggles for breath would throw himself clear from the ground. I noticed among the heaps of bodies an officer dressed in light blue uniform, with green stripes on his pants, a fine looking man, whom I took to be a captain. I also saw one of our soldiers take sixty dollars from the body of a dead Georgian; and their knives, revolvers, &c., were appropriated the same way. This I looked upon as legitimate plunder for the soldiers, but as a citizen I forebore to take anything from the field.

I think the fight in this wood must have been fiercer than in any part of the field, except it may be on our right, where the Zouaves were. The wood was near the enemy’s right, and where the fight commenced in the morning with Hunter’s division, and as Heintzelman’s division came into action the rebels were giving way at this point, under the galling fire of Co. Marston’s regiment, while the Rhode Island troops and some New York regiments had driven back their extreme right. – Passing through these pine woods I still bore to the right towards our centre, and crossed a cleared space and came to some heavy wood, on the edge of which I perceived a number of dead scattered about; and seeing several wounded men, I went up to one of them, and found he was a rebel belonging to an Alabama regiment. He told me he joined the regiment on the 13th of April. He pointed to a dead horse close to us, and said, “There is my Colonel’s horse, and I suppose you have taken him prisoner.”

[Concluded to-morrow.]

New London (CT) Chronicle, 8/6/1861

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Edward S. Barrett* bio

Edward S. Barrett* at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Likely the letter writer





George Palmer Putnam, Publisher, On the Retreat, With Incidents of the Battle

29 08 2014

The Affair of the Twenty-First.

George P. Putnam, the publisher, was an eye witness of the retreat of Sunday and Monday, and says:

The reports of a disorderly retreat of our main army are grossly untrue. A brief statement of a small part of what I witnessed will show this.

Mr. Tilley of Rhode Island and myself accompanied the De Kalb Regiment[*] from Alexandria in the cars to the Fairfax station on the Manassas Gap Railroad; we reached there at 10 A.M. Heavy cannonading was steadily going on. While the regiment waited for orders we walked forward on the track till within five miles of Manassas Junction. A scout was there sending hourly reports to General Scott of the firing. Returning, as the regiment still halted, a party of four of us, with a soldier, walked on the Fairfax Court House three miles, and thence on the road to Centreville.

About f o’clock we began to meet buggies and wagons with visitors returning to Washington. All reported that the day was ours, and rode on jubilant, until, at half past 4, an officer on horseback, riding fiercely, said, with emphasis, “No, no, it’s going against us.” The firing had ceased.

Near Centreville, between two long hills, we suddenly saw army wagons and private vehicles coming down before us in hot haste – a few soldiers on horseback mixed in with the crowd. Looking back we w found a regiment coming fresh from Fairfax in “double quick.”

Mr. Russel, of the London Times, was on horseback among the first from the battle.

The New Jersey Colonel instantly formed his men across the road, and resolutely turned back every soldier in the road, and in twenty minutes perfect order was restored, and the whole flight of the vehicles was shown to be absurd, so much so that we waited two hours at that spot, drawing water for the poor wounded men, who began to limp along from the field; only two or three ambulances to be seen.

At half past six, two hours after the battle was over, we started [?] [?] back to Fairfax Court House, [?] [?] [?] four wounded soldiers into the wagon.

Those who were [?] [?] [?] [?] got by the Jersey boys, were stopped by a company of the Michigan Fourth, from Fairfax, and compelled to turn back.

At Fairfax Court House we quietly took supper at the tavern, and never [dreaming] of any disorderly retreat, we were supplied with good beds; we undressed and went to sleep at 11 P.M. At three o’clock Monday morning, finding the wagons were moving on the Alexandria, we started again and walked quietly along with them to Alexandria, doing what little we could to aid the men more or less slightly wounded, or worn out, including some from the hospital – for still there was scarcely an ambulance to be seen.

But on the whole road from Centerville to Alexandria, I am confident that there were not five hundred soldiers in all, between 6 P.M. and day-light; so that it is grossly untrue that the whole army made a hasty retreat. On the contrary, all seemed to be certain that a stand was made at Centerville, of the whole of our main body, excepting only the stragglers from this first panic. The panic was explained by several who agreed it was purely accidental.

I talked with at least forty from Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin regiments who gave me some thrilling incidents of different parts of the field – which I have no time to tell now – many grumbled at [?] [?], but all seemed plucky, and said that our troops could beat the rebels easily in an open fight, and would do it yet – but the masked batteries on one side and the blunders on ours had “done for us this time.” I reached Alexandria at seven – having walked forty miles.

– The following incidents of the battle form the first chapter of the volume of history and legend that will grow out of it:

– A spectator of the [?] tells me that the Zouaves literally decimated the Black Horse Cavalry, the celebrated rebel troop. About the middle of the battle the Zouaves fired by platoon upon the rebel infantry stationed in the woods. After they had fired they discovered a troop of horse coming down on their rear. — They carried the American flag, which deceived Col. Heintzelman, and made him believe they were United States Cavalry, and  he so told the Zouaves. As they came nearer, their true character was discovered, but too late for all the Zouaves to reload. The regiment faced and received the cavalry as they came down, with leveled bayonets which threw them into confusion. Then away went muskets, and the Zouaves went in withe their knives and pistols. They seized horses and stabbed their riders. In this hand-to-hand conflict the Black Horse Troop were handled in their own preferred way of fighting. — The [?] showed the Zouaves to be the most expert handlers of the knife. When the fight was over, there were not twenty of the four hundred cavalry left alive. Men and horses had been cut to pieces by the infuriated red-shirts. This troop of cavalry had boasted they would picket their horses in the grounds of the White House.

– Mr. Russel of The London Times, who witnessed at Inkerman and elsewhere in the Crimea the fiercest infantry charges on record, says they were surpassed by those of our Firemen Zouaves, Sixty-ninth, and other regiments. The best fighting ever done on the globe was that by a large portion of the defenders of the [?] at Bull’s Run.

– Our greatest deficiency was in cool and [???]. The men fought [?] and were ready for anything which experienced commanders would order them to do. Gen. McDowell behaved admirably. He was active, [?] and attended to everything in person as far as possible; but he had not a sufficient staff, and was not properly supported by his subordinates. — Major Wadsworth of New York, one of his aids, showed the utmost gallantry and devotion. He exerted himself to rally the forces when they first fell back, and towards the close, after having his horse shot under him, seized the colors of the wavering New York Fourteenth, and called on the boys to rally once more for another charge, but without success. Major Wadsworth, as the Army retreated, remained at Fairfax Court House, and devoted himself to purchasing everything needful for the wounded. of whom about a hundred and fifty were at that place.

– A number of the Second New York saw the rebel sharp-shooters fire upon and kill two vivandieres who were giving [?] and [?] to the wounded. The rebels also shout at ambulances bringing off the wounded. They also fired point blank at the buildings used as hospitals, and it is said by some that they fired the buildings.

– Lieut. Col. Haggerty of the Sixty-ninth, was killed in a charge. When his body was found, his throat was cut from ear to ear, and his ears and nose were cut off. Many of the sounded were found thus disfigured.

– A member of the New York Sixty-ninth says:

Thos. Francis  Meagher was the most conspicuous man on the field, riding on a white horse, with his hat off, and going into the battle most enthusiastically. At one time our regimental color was taken, and Meagher seized the green flag of Ireland, and went to the front, leading the men to the charge. The color was recaptured, the enemy was driven back, and the we formed in hollow square, by orders, and retreated steadily off the ground.

– A Union man living near Fairfax assured our informants he had seen the intrenchments at Manassas, and that there were nine miles of batteries there.

– The number of killed and wounded is got by Gen. Mansfield at less than 1,000, and by Gen. McDowell at from 500 to 700.

– Senator Lane, of Indiana, gives it as his opinion that the reason of the panic was an order given to the batteries to return to a certain point for ammunition, and this apparently retreating movement of batteries produced consternation and panic. By other the order to retreat, which assisted to change the fortunes of Sunday, is ascribed to Gen. Miles, of the Army, who commanded the fifth division.

– The Zouaves, after taking one battery, were rushing upon another , when those behind it cried out, “For God’s sake, don’t shoot your brothers.” Upon this, the Zouaves reserved their fire, until artillery was poured in upon them by the battery from which the supplications had come.

– It is well authenticated that in several instances our men fired upon each other. Company [?] of the Thirty-eighth Regiment New York Volunteers, suffered severely form such a mischance.

– When the colors of the Sixty-ninth were captured by the Virginians, two of them seized the flags and were going off with them, when Lieut. Matthews, of Company K, Fire Zouaves, fired and killed both the Virginians, and recovered the flags.

– Capt. Wildey, of Company I, Zouaves, killed two out of four Mississippians who were dragging a gun. All our men agree in representing that the rebel infantry will not stand a fair fight, even with three to our one. They gave way whenever attacked, when not supported by artillery.

– There is every reason now to believe, from concurrent reports, that a retreating panic seized the confederate army at the same time some of our regiments began their hasty and wild exodus from the scene of carnage.

– Capt. T. F. Meagher had a horse shot under him, but is untouched. All out losses were in advancing – none in falling back. There was no panic in front. This was confined mainly to the wagon drivers, straggling soldiers and fugitive officers, and the rear of the column.

– Our loss in field pieces is not so great as heretofore estimated. Every gun of Capt. Ayres’ battery, formerly Sherman’s, was brought off safe – only some caissons being lost. The loss of baggage wagons will not exceed fifty. In small arms, our loss is at least three thousand.

– The Colonels of our regiments appear to have been in the thickest of the fight, if we may judge by the casualties. The returns show four killed and seven wounded. There were thirty-six in the engagement, which gives a ratio of one in three killed or wounded.

– Gen. Cameron, who went to Manassas intending to witness the battle, was so impressed with  the doubtful character of the attempt to force the enemy’s position, that he returned in haste to Washington to [?], if possible, the orders which had been issued for an attack, but arrived too late. He immediately pressed forward, however, all the available troops to strengthen the Reserve Corps. Our officers had little hope of winning the battle, on Saturday night. A prominent Member of Congress who was there, after an interview with General McDowell and his aids, wrote down his conviction that we should lose it, and that the commanding General was hopeless at the commencement of the battle. We learn from another source that this was the general feeling among the officers. One captain remonstrated against the madness of the assault. Gen. McDowell said that a victory at this juncture was so important, that a great risk must be run to win it.

– It is believed the loss of the Fire Zouaves will not exceed 100, and that of the N.Y. 71st 60. Stragglers are continually coming in, but they are scattered through the different camps, so that the muster roles of different regiments can not yet be arranged, and the exact losses ascertained.

– A prisoner who was brought in, in the course of the battle, declared that Gen. Johnston was shot, and fell from his horse at his feet. When Col. Burnside fell from his killed horse, he conversed for a moment with a rebel officer, who asked him whether he was wounded, when he replied, “Only slightly.” “I am mortally wounded,” said the rebel, “and can have no object in deceiving you. I assure you that we have 90,000 men in and within forty minutes of Manassas Junction.”

– The New York Herald’s dispatch says:

The whole of Sherman’s battery is saved.

Col. Blenker, commanding a brigade in the division of Col. Miles, which brought up the rear of the retreating column, picked up on the way the guns of Burnside’s R.I. regiment that had been left behind, and brought them in. The horses had been detached for the purpose of bringing in the wounded.

Hon. Alfred Ely, of the Rochester district, and his companion on the field, Mr. Bing, have not been heard of since the battle. They were last seen near one of the batteries, and are supposed to have been taken prisoners.

Capt. Griffin lost 60 of the horses attached to his battery, but brought away one gun and the forge.

If a stand had been made at Centerville, the enemy would probably never have discovered the advantage accidentally gained.

Col. McCunn, of the 37th N.Y. regiment, is in command at Fort Ellsworth. His brigade consists of the 37th New York, Lieut Col. Burke commanding, the 14th, 16th, 26th, 15th and [?] New York [???].

Col. Corcoran, of the 69th Irish Regiment, and Capt Edward A. Wild, Massachusetts regiment, are missing. It is feared that Corcoran is dead.

Lieut. Chandler, Co. A., Massachusetts 1st, is not dead as reported.

Ellsworth Zouaves punished the Black Horse Rangers very severely by lying flat on the ground feigning death, until they were almost upon them, when rising and giving one of their fiendish war yells, each Zouave picked his man and fired, decimating the detachment, and stampeding their horses without riders.

Oneida [Utica, New York] Weekly Herald, 7/30/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

George P. Putnam Wikipedia (G. P. was the grandfather of his namesake publisher and husband of aviator Amelia Earhart.)

* 41st New York Infantry, in Runyon’s Division





Congressman Alfred Ely

20 06 2014

For more on Ely, his capture, and his captor, go here.





Laura (Thornberry) Fletcher, On the Battle and Aftermath

3 04 2014

A few memories of the “War Between the States” by an eye witness, for my grandson, Westwood Hugh Fletcher. — Mrs. Laura Fletcher

On July 21st, Sunday, 1861 I sat on the hill side across the road from old Sudley Church and watched the firing of the muskets and the cannons, and the falling men. In a short time the army wagons began coming by piled as high as anyone would pile up wood, with the bodies of dead men that had been killed that day. They were taken to Sudley Church cemetery and dumped in a pit prepared for them. My Father, John F. Thornberry, Grandfather of Westwood Hugh, was in that great battle, was wounded and disabled for service any more. My father and mother with five little children (I was one of them) lived across the road from the church and two and a half miles from Manassas. On Saturday evening about 7 o’clock my uncle, William Wilkins came to my mother and insisted on taking her and us children to his house for the night as fighting would begin during the night. Mother said, “If you think so, I will get the children’s clothes for Sunday School and I will go.” He replied, “They will not need any clothes for Sunday School for there will be no Sunday School tomorrow.”

He was right, for 2 o’clock Sunday morning the Northern Army began pouring in about fifty feet from where my mother had just left. At Manassas they met the Southern Army from Richmond and the fighting began.

About 2 o’clock the Federal army began hauling off their dead and dumping them in the pit they had prepared for them at Sudley Church. As young as I was, I shall never forget the scene. I remember their faces yet.

Sunday night about 8 o’clock, my uncle heard someone whistling a long shrill whistle. He said, “That is someone in distress. I am going to look for him.” He found a young soldier boy about seventeen years old, lying in the woods. He asked him what he wanted. He said, “I want my mother.” He asked him where his mother was and he said at home in Michigan. He wanted to get him something to eat. He said no that he wanted water. Uncle went to the spring and filled his canteen. He drank it all. He went back to the spring and filled again and put it where he could get it, bade him goodbye, told him he would see him early the next morning. His reply was, “No, I will be gone before tomorrow.” When Uncle went back the next morning, he was dead.

When he related it, how my mother and aunt cried. I wondered why they cried, they did not know him. I know now why they cried!

That was Sunday evening. The next morning (Monday) my mother went to our home. It was desolate. She with us children left it Saturday evening as we had lived in it for 15 or 20 years, and there was not an article of anything in it. Ten men had bled to death in mother’s bedroom the night before. Carpets and all furniture were out and gone. We never saw any of it again, or anything else. The old farm well in the back yard was almost full of everything that would go in it. Such as china ware, cooking utensils, flat irons, and every thing you can imagine used in a family was thrown in it. Of course everything was broken. How we all cried over it; and no prospects of replacing any of it.

My father was brought to my Grandfather’s from the battlefield of Manassas, with typhoid fever (from a wound) and remained ill for eight weeks.

It was the Federal army that destroyed everything in its path. I don’t know how the Southern army did, as I am only writing from memory. This was the beginning of the war and terrible it was. They thought it was their duty to destroy everything they came to. My father lost in one day, over two thousand dollars worth of property. You may think I am exaggerating, but I will numerate some of the loss.

My father was a carpenter, wheel-wright, undertaker. Everything was made by hand. He also ran a blacksmith shop for his own work. I am writing that you might know how destructive everything was.

After my father got back, living in his own home, a terrible noise was heard one night about 2 o’clock. Ten Federal soldiers came to our home and burst the front door down. A piece of it struck my mother in the face and disfigured her very badly as well as hurting her. They arrested my father and oldest bother, who was 16 years old, for spies. They were not spies and never had been. They took them away to Washington, put them in the “old Capitol” prison, and it was three months before mother heard a word from them.

The next morning before taking them to Washington, the soldiers got a rope to hang my father, placing it around his neck. This did not occur in our house but just outside of our yard. My brother begged and cried like a baby not to hang his father, “He didn’t do anything.” One of the men said “Search his pockets before you draw that rope.” There they found a diary of his whereabouts. That saved him; he always kept one.

The Second battle of Manassas began the 26th of August, three years after. That was worse than the first. We were driven from our home by big cannons planted on the east and on the west of our home, and while we were at breakfast, two men soldiers on horses, came to our front door and said, “Get out of here. There are 12 cannons planted on two sides of your house, and you will be blown to pieces.” We got out as quickly as possible. We took refuge in the yard of “Uncle Tommie Hutchinson” and watched the firing all day.

About 12 o’clock the cannoning stopped, but the musketing kept on, until four o’clock in the afternoon. Such sights were never seen. My father hid in the ice-house all day. It was the 26th of August and the ice was low.

He walked out to the battlefield and tried to count the dead men, but could not. He got as far as one hundred and fifty and had to stop; he got sick and could go no farther. It was on the unfinished railroad between Alexandria and Manassas. The Southern Army ammunition train was cut off from their regiment and they had nothing to fight with and they used the crushed rock from the railroad. So many were killed with it.

Now this is true, every word that I have written.

Mrs. Laura Fletcher
December 12, 1936

NOTES

This account was written by Mrs. Laura (Thornberry) Fletcher (1854-1937), in December 1936 (age 82). She was the granddaughter of Rev. John Trone of Buckland Mills. Her mother was Martha (Trone) Thornberry. An aunt, Mary (Trone) Wilkins, was married to James Wilkins, a tenant farmer living on Stony Ridge, off the Groveton-Sudley Road. Laura had a son, Westwood Hugh Fletcher (grandson?), and three daughters: Boude Thompson, Estelle Blacketer, and Olive Carry.

Source: Norman M. Fletcher, Ft. Myers, FL

The following notes are provided by Museum Specialist, James Burgess:

1. The hillside on which Laura sat on July 21, 1861 was undoubtedly the Wilkins house site on Stony Ridge, which would have afforded a view of Sudley Church and the battlefield.

2. While not disputing the possibility of a wartime mass burial at Sudley Church, there was no established church cemetery at Sudley until 1896.

3. John F. Thornberry served briefly with the “Ewell Guards”, Company A, 49th Virginia Infantry.

4. William Wilkins was actually Laura’s older cousin (not uncle). He was 17 years old at the time of First Manassas. In 1862, he joined the Prince William Cavalry (Company A, 4th Virginia Cavalry). Laura may have him confused with his father, James Wilkins.

5. By most accounts Union forces did not arrive at Sudley Springs until 9:30 a.m. Since Laura’s mother had evacuated her and her siblings to the Wilkins home the night before, Laura’s knowledge of the Union army’s time of arrival is suspect. It is commonly known that the Union army broke camp in Centreville about 2 a.m. and this may have influenced her memory.

6. Laura’s mistaken belief that the Second Battle of Manassas began on August 26, three years after the first battle clearly reflects the effects of age on her memory. (It began on August 28, 1862, 13 months after the first battle.)

Contributed to Bull Runnings by James Burgess, Museum Specialist, Manassas National Battlefield Park

See here for more on the Thornberry children, including a photo of Laura.





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12 03 2014





Portici

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Judith Henry

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