Pvt. Richard W. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Withdrawal from Fairfax and the Fight at Blackburn’s Ford

3 09 2013

Bulls Run, Virginia

Saturday July 20th 1861

I have but one more piece of paper, so I will tell you what I have to say in as few words as possible.

At Fairfax, where we were stationed, early in the morning of Wednesday the 18th of July, firing was heard in the direction of the pickets, also the booming of a few cannon shots in the same direction. About 7 o’clock A.M. the army of the enemy came in sight. The glistening of bayonets as they approached appeared like a sea of silver. Fairfax was slightly fortified only; the enemy numbered 50,000 or 60,000, while we had only some 8,000 or 10,000. It was their intention to cut us off from the main body at Manassas, some 14 miles distant. At nine o’clock A.M. we marched up to the breastworks, the enemy only a short distance from us on our flank at next Manassas. Our baggage in the meanwhile had been sent on to Bull’s Run. By shifting the regts from position to position we kept them at bay until about 10 o’clock when the retreat began.

Such a retreat was never known before. Our men had been double-quicked for two hours before the enemy appeared, and having all their baggage to carry, were nearly broken down before we started. The day was excessively hot and the road hilly and rocky. Men began to throw away their knapsacks before we had gone a mile. It was a mournful sight to see the soldiers on the way. Some fainted in their tracks, while others fell from their horses. Some dropped on the roadside with scarcely breath enough to keep them alive, but only one man died, he from the effects of a sun stroke.

In an incredibly short time we came to Centreville, 7 miles from Fairfax. There we were again drawn up in order for battle. Our company was detache as a picket guard, and on that account we laid upon our guns from the time we got there until 12 o’clock at night when we were again roused and continued the retreat. By that time the enemy had nearly cut us off from the main body again. (Let me here tell you that we had been sent to Fairfax and ordered to retreat as soon as the enemy appeared to induce them to follow us to Bulls Run where it was intended to give them a warm welcome. This plan succeeded admirably.) We got to the Run four miles further about daylight and took position for the fight.

Bull Run is the best natural fortified place in Virginia, and the fortifications extend for six miles along the banks of the creek. Our regt was stationed at an unfortified position. Thursday about 12 o’clock the enemy had come within about a half a mile of us, and planting their batteries, they began to pelt us with balls and shells shot from rifle cannon. It was amusing to see the men dodge them. At first they flew high over our heads, but they soon began to lower, then they whistled about us in earnest. Shells bursted in every direction. Our artillery could do nothing except fire a few scattering shots at them, which killed only a small number of them. After they had been shooting at us for an hour or so with their cannons (not having killed or wounded a single man), they sent about 10,000 men to flank our right. But Beauregard was a little too quick for them and sent a force of 4,000 to foil their plan. They met in a wheatfield and began work with the musketry. Volley after volley burst forth until all became mingled into one long continuous roar which seemed to shake the very heavens. They began to retreat, covering their retreat with their artillery, while our artillery commenced to fire upon them. We had about fifteen pieces. We do not know the number of theirs engaged. The cannonade lasted a long time, and in all the fight was 5 1/2 hours long. The enemy then fell back about two miles, where they are now.

The loss on both sides is variously estimated, but I believe all have now agreed that the number of Yankee killed was about 8 or 900, the number of wounded unknown. Our loss was 8 killed & 50 wounded. We took two common & one rifle cannon & eight hundred stand of arms, besides quantities of oilcloths, blankets, knapsacks, overcoats, and all kinds of army equipments. Yesterday (Friday) the enemy sent in a white flag to bury their dead, but they only half did the work & left about seventy unburied. Our men went over to the field yesterday to finish the work, but the stench was so great that they were compelled to leave it undone & so they were left. I forgot to mention that we took about 30 prisoners.

Synopsis – Wednesday & Wednesday night we were on the march & watch – Thursday all day we were drawn up in battle array & part of the time dodging balls and shells. Thursday night we were busy throwing up works for our company – Friday part worked & part lay on watch waiting for the general battle – Friday night (last night) was the hardest of all, for having had no sleep the two nights previous, we were wearied awfully – yet we had to sit in our entrenchments all night-kept awake by the firing of the pickets.

This morning we are still on the watch expecting the general attack. We were sure it would commence last night, but now we have no idea when it will commence. For two days & nights I ate nothing but seven year old sea biscuits.

Cousin Jim was among the number to break down in the retreat from Fairfax, but he was taken up on the wagons. I & Buddie [Taliaferro Simpson - BR] stood it finely excepting the blistering of our feet & shoulders where the straps of the knapsacks worked. Cousin Jim was sick before we left & has been ever since, but is much better now. Since Wednesday all the snatches of sleep were on the bare ground with nothing but the blue sky for our covering – but it was far sweeter than all the feather beds in creation.

The 4th Regt is now two miles above us. All our troops are ready or the fight. Patterson is coming or has come to join the Federal commander McDowell. Their army numbers about 80,000 string. I can’t say how many men we will have engaged – but I can say I know we will whip them easily. One of the prisoners taken at Fairfax says when their army came up & found the place deserted, they were completely thunder-struck & said “if we can run the gamecocks of the South that easily, we will go on, have a slight brush at Manassas, take Richmond, & there end the war.” We would have got them completely in a trap at Bull Run if a woman there had not told them we had stopped there & disclosed the position & strength of our breastworks. It was there they planned to flank us on either side, drive us back, & decoy our men from the center – then make a desperate rush with their reserve through our middle & thrash us outright. But lo and behold! our right wing defeated them & drove them back from their position & completely frustrated their grand ball at Richmond.

We are now much better prepared than before and are anxiously waiting for an attack. One of our Alabama regts killed about 20 Yankees before they left Fairfax.

Letter likely written to Simpson’s father.

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 28-32

Richard W. Simpson at Ancestry.com





Pvt. William Callis Kean, Co. H, 28th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (3)

29 05 2013

Camp Near Cub Run

August 9th, 1861

My Dear Niece,

Several days ago I recd your last long & interesting letter, this is the first opportunity I have had to reply & am now consuming time I ought to give to some camp duties but will run the risk to write to you.  Since the battle our duties are as severe as before except the five or six days preceding.  One would think that during this intensely hot weather drilling would be dispensed with as few as possible but within the last two days in this Brigade it has been increased.  I must correct a wrong impression my letter made on you.  I did not burn a single grain of powder at the Yankees.  Our regiment was there under fire of musketry from them but strange to say was not permitted to return it. This Susan, may have been the part of wisdom, for they fired from cover on us, each time and so mixed was the fight our officers fear in we might engage some Southern Regiment in the woods.  Some of our men could distinguish the red pants of the firey Zoaves in the woods & our two flanking companies fired each one volley with what effect.  I never knew. The enemy at one time fired on us from an oak works not in regular vollies but scattering shots as if each one had selected his object. Our line was kneeling or lying flat on the ground & although they were firing in this scattering way for some fifteen minutes, not a man was hurt & many of the Yankees shot from not more than 75 yards distance.  The bullets could be distinctly heard whistling over us.  But during the whole time I only saw one rifle ball strike the ground in front.  Southern women in their position would have killed some of us.  To give you some idea of how men were scattered from how many directions they were firing, I’ll mention one fact which happened not fifty feet from me.  While lying exposed to the fire above mentioned, an officer from S. Carolina of splendid appearance & well mounted came up & said he would guide the regiment to where the enemy was and we immediately followed him but had proceeded but a short distance when a Zoave rose from behind a bush with his musket leveled & remarking with an oath that he would kill our guide, shot him dead. Tis said that Beauregard  got hold of that new maneuver having our regiment under the artillery & sent the Brigade Lieut, word that the next time he ordered the 28th  Regiment – Va Volunteers taken through the battalion the field of battle under a heavy artillery fire, he would send word to that effect.  If this be true, it was deserved. You ask can you do anything for me?  Yes, I wish you would make a flannel shirt for me, I sent Sister Kitty word to make one for me and if you make another I’ll have four.  Sister K. will give you the flannel & tell you how I want it made.  I would also like two pr. socks fine dark yarn white toe and heel and long in the leg.  You can find some opportunity to send them perhaps when Sister K. sends the shirt I wrote to her for.  Don’t send, Susan, to Manassas unless you can by some one you know will deliver the bundle and tell Sister K. the same.  They have become so careless at the junction they let packages for Soldiers layout exposed to the weather and any one who may choose to take it.  I do think this is so wrong Susan & then we can never know that our letters will reach their destination.  So many men are at around this point that nothing is well done, (except the fighting) & I suppose some ten or fifteen thousand letters are mailed there daily & a good many are not mailed at all.  Susan dear a most singular desire to see you has come over me.  Since I joined the army I say singular because so earnest I think of you & so often & so long where on sentry duty at night & in my little canvas house in the day time.  Did I tell you in my last that I thot of you on the battle field?  While under the fire of artillery & musketry, your sweet face was frequently before my mental vision.  I wonder if I’ll see again, see that face I so much love and have you affectionate arms around my neck.  I hope so Sukey.  I should not be surprised if we have another battle on this line before long.  Tis said troops are concentrating at Manassas & I know of no other construction to place on it.  Mr. David  Harris is attached to this command in some capacity I don’t know what. He ranks as Capt.  I like what I have seen of him very much. About a week ago  I saw & conversed with a wounded prisoner, a Lieut. in the 2nd Regt. New York militia. He was an intelligent man, answered very readily all questions I asked. Said New York had ten thousand men in the battle & that The Brooklyn 14th Regt. (itself fired dreadfully) was composed of the elite  of that city, he also said that the average intelligence & education of  McDowells army was unsurpassed.  If you hear of another battle on this line & don’t hear from me directly soon after don’t be uneasy dear, I’ll certainly write to you if possible, but all the communication may be cut off between where I am & Manassas. Always examine the papers for the 28th. They will inform you how each regiment suffers. This is a slow way , but sometime the best that can be done. But after every battle I’ll write to you if I am not hurt soon as possible but My Sukey, must not be uneasy if she does not hear from me immediately after such an event.  In your last you mentioned two letters I never received one by Bro. Julian and one by mail.  I do lose often many letters sent through the mail now but hope no one else opens them. I did not hear of the Cavalry charge you mentioned & think it very probably a false rumor, our Cavalry did very little until the retreat commenced.  There they did splendid Service in pursuit. It may be so but I don’t believe a word of it. What battery was it? Do you know?  Write soon, kiss Aunt M & Chestnut for me. Let me know if you will make the shirt & socks for me. Want them soon as possible. Goodbye my darling

Yours affectionately,

W. C. Kean

Is the style fine in writing to my affection for you?

Some do not like that way if so you must let me know

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. 31-34

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





Pvt. William Callis Kean, Co. H, 28th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (2)

22 05 2013

Camp Near Chub Run July 31, 1861

My Dear Niece, I’ve received your note two days ago, inquiring if I was safe, I am safe. Escaped unhurt. I wrote to you soon as I could after the battle informing you that I was well.  That was the first regular letter that I wrote. My regiment was in the battle, entered the field I think about two o’clock.  We had only eight men wounded from 428 carried into the action & none killed out right. Tho I have supposed until a day or two ago that no were mortally hurt. I directed my other letter to Union Mills. I suppose you have received it by now or will before this reaches you, I gave you a description of that part of the field when I was on action.  I was on the right of the left wing & therefore under for the day, Gene(ral) Johnston. Two Prestons are in the field commanding regiments & I think some of my letters have gone wrong. In future write in the direction the No 28th of the regiment- 5th Brigade. with this exception as before.  Please inform anyone you may see of this who writes to me.  I have Sukey nothing in the world to write having given you a description of the battle in the other. You must continue to write to me without waiting for a reply. Two new difficulties have of late come in the way of writing, one is, the difficulty of getting change to pay postage. I have money enough for that but  can’t get it changed & the other, is it’s so hard to get a letter mailed at Manassas.  Please bear this in mind dear Sukey & write to me often. Your letters are a source of exquisite pleasure to me.  You will know I need all the pleasure I can get now.  Susan if I do live throughout this war I come to see you soon as I get home.  The life I lead is hateful to me.  Exposed to all kinds of weather bad food frequently not enough of that & etc.  Do you think we will have another fight soon? You can see the papers & form some idea of the U. S. Policy. Some think we will have no other fight. I think we will have a desperate struggle but hope I am mistaken.  It’s rumored here today this Brigade will be ordered thru Leesburg into Maryland. I do not believe that will be done soon but it may be true. If so the path will be dangerous one but Sue I for one do not fear to go.  I can only be killed. If that should happen to me then there’s an end as far as I am concerned.  I saw Billy today, he is well. I will try to get a transfer to the Howitzer battalion & if I succeed will join the battery to which he is attached. You must excuse this short letter. Kiss Aunt May and Chestnut for me. remember me to Mrs Julian.  Hope to hear from you soon & will then write more but can not promise you anything interesting. Write soon.

Goodbye My own Sukey

W.C. Kean

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. 29-30

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





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





Capt. Frederick Frye, Infantry Co. D, 3rd Connecticut Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

26 04 2013

Washington, D. C., July 30, 1861.

On Sunday morning at two o’clock, the long roll (the battle signal) beat, and up we started, with gun and blanket, and three days’ provisions, and fell into line. We were then about four miles from the battle-ground. We took up the march ahead, as were in the advance; and after going, under a most beautifully-bright moon, for about three miles half the time up hill, stony, rough, and at double-quick, we were halted, and let the “Grand Army” file past us. It was such a splendid sight! – artillery parks, a few cavalry, and then regiment after regiment of infantry, until some thirty thousand had passed, when we again fell in.

About ten o’clock the cannonading commenced, and we could see regiment after regiment fall back, but, at the same time, we steadily advanced and drove back the enemy; and about half-past eleven we were called upon to advance, still under a load of blankets and provisions. We were the reserve of the brigade and know it meant something. They took us a mile at least, through fields, over fences, through the broiling sun, heavily loaded, at the double-quick. Our men now and then fell down exhausted. If there were any cowards, they had a good excuse. Suddenly we faced the enemy – then, laid aside only our blankets, formed in line of battle, and then the Second Maine (with whose officers I was well acquainted) and Third Connecticut went in together. The First and Second formed further off to our right. We advanced, again up hill, firing at the retreating army. Some of our regiment dropped back; not many – two or three of our company. Presently we were staggered just on the brow of the hill, by a thundering discharge of musketry from two houses. We rushed on, up the lane, my company directly in front of it, but all circling around it. The enemy left it and fell back. We gained the houses and were rushing in, when we saw the American flag hoisted by what we supposed the enemy. The cry ran along: “Cease firing; you’re killing our men!” There was a slack on our part; we hoisted our American flag and Connecticut Third Regiment colors on the house; and, “honor to whom honor is due,” Major Warner and Capt. Jack Nelson did it (so let it be recorded), when instantly there was the most terrific fire of grape, canister, shell, and rifled cannon, from what we afterward found to be a masked battery of sixteen guns (ten in front and six on the flank.) We charged at the point of the bayonet; a shell burst within six feet of me; cannon-balls, musketry, fire, flame, smoke, and noise; something struck me on the side; I fell heels over head forward, and lay bewildered for a minute, then up again. There lay some ten or twelve men all cut up to pieces, John H. Sellick shot through both legs; Thomas Winton, through one leg; the others (not of my company) mangled here and there. Another rifled shot came through the house, tearing everything, and it passed within four feet of where I stood in the opening, cutting down eight or ten men. Another shell struck the roof of the house, tearing it all to pieces; and then the order was given to fall back. We did so, under the brow of the hill, under a terrific discharge of shot, which cut us fearfully, so that when I mustered my company in again, thirty were missing. As I left the field, I picked up a very pretty sword, which I gave to one of my men to carry, but which he finally threw away. We brought off Sellick and Winton, badly shot. Just as we were lying down flat to avoid the shot, which were flying around (and I lay flat on my face, panting like a dog – no water, and wet through with perspiration), I saw an officer gallop across the field, I started up (at first supposing, from the gray uniform, that it was one of my Maine friends). He said: “Where’s the rest of ‘em?” Says I: “What regiment do you belong to?” Said he: Oh, yours. Hallo! where did you get that sword?” Says I: “Why that’s mine.” That made me smell a mice; and, at the same time, I saw S. C. with  a palmetto tree on his buttons. I seized him by the collar and jerked him off his horse, and said: “You’re my prisoner!” and brought him, horse and all, in. He was the aide-de-camp of Gen. Johnston, coming to give us orders, supposing, from the position which we held, that we were rebels. I delivered him up to head-quarters. His sword I still carry. Presently up dashed another horseman from our rear, who also mistook us for a Georgia regiment. We took him prisoner. We saw then that we (the Third Connecticut Regiment alone) were surrounded and unsupported. We fell back, as we all supposed, to recruit our energies, and go in again; but suddenly a panic seemed to take hold of the troops (not ours); they scattered, an d started in all directions. The fight became general; the enemy followed up; our reserves were not there to cover our retreat; every opening or road we crossed we were fired at with shell and grape, and men fell back exhausted, and were cut off by cavalry. I came along and found poor Winton abandoned; he called on me to save him. Curtis and I took him in our arms and bore him along; we each handed our sword to one of our men to carry; we have not seen them since, and never will. The men ran away and abandoned us, and lost our swords; but we got Winton along to a horse, and he is safe. Poor Sellick! I have not seen since; we carried him under a tree and left him. We got, of course, behind, and separated. I got separated from Curtis, and lost in the woods.

I found two of my men, and some eight or ten of other regiments. We went along together; and just as we emerged into a road, alongside of a stream (Bull Run), some twenty feet wide, and about three feet deep, down dashed a large body of rebel cavalry. Of course, there was nothing to be done but to leap into the stream, which we did, from the bank, some eight or ten feet high. They fired a few shots as they went by, and one of our party fell dead in the water. Poor fellow! I thought for a few moments, “Have we been spared thus far to fall in such a miserable hole as this?” I went up to my waist, and waded through, dragging my canteen as I went along to get a little water in it, as I was almost gone with exhaustion. We got on to the opposite bank, and along about five hundred yards, and there we found Lieutenant Gray (honor to him for it) had made a stand, with what he could find of my company and some others. We stood the charge of cavalry, and drove them back; they charged again with three cannon. Gray led the boys, and took one of the cannon and brought it into camp; and the cavalry fled, with considerable loss of life. We finally came along, leaving the baggage-wagons, etc., and got into our fields at Centreville, where we lay down to rest without anything to eat; nothing under us, nothing over us, having lost all our blankets. We lay down at about 8 P. M. At 10 P. M. we were ordered up, fell in, and were marched to Falls Church, twenty miles, the way we took – via Vienna – without a halt of one hour, all told, during the entire route, and most of it double-quick.

Twenty-eight hours steady fighting; double-quick marching; nothing to eat; mud to drink – for I was glad to get a little moisture from where the horses drank – and the men tramped through, and we arrived at Falls Church a little after 6 A. M., put up our tents, which we had left there, in a heavy rain, and I lay down to sleep.

In two hours we were ordered to strike our tents and be ready to march. We did so. The cars to take our baggage to Alexandria got off the track, and we waited, in a pelting rain, until dark. We then marched, leaving a guard to look after the baggage, etc., and went along about three miles, through mud up to our knees – without exaggeration – when we turned into the Ohio camp, which they had abandoned. I lay down wet through, as I went into a stream up to my knees to wash off the mud, this being the eighth night I had lain on the ground in the open air without taking off my clothes or boots.

About 6 A. M. the colonel called the captains, and said it would be necessary to send back to Falls Church to bring our baggage; the guard left there had been frightened away by the enemy, and all would be lost. I jumped out and told him I would go back; Gray also. We got thirty-five privates (volunteers), all told, out of the Third Regiment. And we went back, through mud and mire, got to the camp, loaded up our (Third) baggage, then the Second Maine’s, and then the First and Second Connecticut’s, and brought back everything off all right. Of these thirty-five men, twenty were from my own company; twelve from Capt. Brook’s; two from Capt. Moore’s; one from Capt. Cook’s. So let it be recorded.

Our few Union friends treated us very kindly; but, at the same time, packed up and abandoned everything they couldn’t carry. It was melancholy.

When we came into Washington yesterday, amid here and there a cheer – though I held my head up, and my company came along proudly in good order, for they did their duty – I felt sad at the result.

Well, we got back to our regiment safely; immediately took up the line of march (though we had been six miles without a halt) and again at double-quick. I kept my company in order and steadily in rank.

We got to Arlington, through mud, soaked through, and again had to lie out on the wet ground with no covering, or walk all night; and the dew which came down was like a rain.

Yesterday, about five P.M., we again started, and marching (still double-quick) about eight miles, arrived at Washington, where we turned in, weary and hungry, into tents vacated by the New York Twenty-sixth. At about 11 P.M., our colonel (Chatfield) took the responsibility of giving each company crackers and cheese and a gallon of whisky – the first that had been dealt to us since we left Hartford – and if ever men needed it, it was after that battle. We stayed here last night, and now to-day we are pitching our own tents close by, and are moving in; but how long to stay, or what to do, we cannot tell.

I do not ask to take more credit to my company than they deserve; but they certainly had the thickest of that fight, as they went up a lane where they were most exposed. But I do say that the Third, together with the Second Maine, stood the brunt.

Speidel performed feats of valor; he was attacked by three horsemen, and had his sword knocked out of his hand, but he jumped from his horse. At the same time a foot soldier shot one of the horsemen. Speidel seized the dead horseman’s sword, killed the second man, and the third ran away.

Our friend Singer (and a better soldier never lived) is gone. He was wounded, and put into a wagon; but they fired into the wagon and killed him.

Our surgeon and the Second Maine surgeon were taken prisoners while attending the wounded.

Frederick Frye, Captain, Third Connecticut Regiment

New York Sunday Mercury, 8/11/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 39-41

Bio of Frederick Frye

New York Times article on the presentation of a sword to Frye prior to the battle





J. H. G., Co. H, 71st NYSM, On the Battle (2)

24 04 2013

New York, August 3, 1861.

Permit me to contradict, through the medium of your extensively circulated journal, the assertion made by the Washington correspondence of the Daily Times, that Col. Martin, of the Seventy-first Regiment, did not fully attend to his duties on the field of battle at Bull Run, on Sunday, the 21st ult. Until he lost his horse, he never left the immediate presence of his regiment; and even after, when his duties were performed on foot, he encouraged and ordered his regiment wherever their duty called them. Few regiments maintained their position so well as ours – although others have been more highly praised. We were in the hottest of the fight, and among the first in the field, and certainly the last to leave it, and know not of the full retreat until we reached the road, having left the field in regular military order. The First and Second Rhode Island regiments fought by our side, and did bravely, having lost many killed and wounded. Among the latter was Lieutenant Prescott. I saw him struck with a ball on the upper part of his head. He probably died in ten minutes from the time the ball struck him. Morrissey, of our company, I learn has had his leg taken off – he, too, having been struck by a ball from a rifled cannon. Cobb, poor fellow, has lost his upper jaw, and a portion of his nose. Others in the regiment that were wounded are doing well. It was an awful sight to see the dead and dying, and to hear the wounded cry for water and assistance – enough to chill the heart’s-blood. One poor fellow, of an Alabama regiment, crawled to our lines wounded in the left thigh. He asked me for water. I gave him a drink from my canteen, rebel though he was.

I asked how many were in his regiment; he said some nine hundred. I told him all we asked was, a fair shot at them. He said he was compelled to take up arms against us, but I thought of the same old story; so I let that pass, for what it was worth. He was uniformed in a pair of blue overalls, no coat, a straw hat, and had a double-barreled shot gun. A poor specimen of a soldier, I thought, although he was some thirty-five years of age. He said we would have had fighting at those batteries, and so it proved. In my opinion, the torch to those woods would have smoked them out, and given us a fair chance to try Northern steel and Southern chivalry; but the cowards fought in the woods and behind entrenchments. Some one or two regiments came forward, and were soon cut to pieces by us. There was no general order given to retreat; and the supposition is, that the civilians, in a great measure, started the panic. It is certain, that it was no place for them, unless they did some fighting and not take the lead in running.

Our position was very much exposed; and for an hour and a half we were ordered to lie down, and load and fire! pretty close work, I assure you – with bullets whistling around you in endless number and variety, together with the dull roar of a cannon ball, and the shrill whistle of a shell, bursting within a few feet of where you were. I will now close: but before doing so, I would state that any and all statements made by papers, in detriment to the Seventy-first, are wholly false and unwarranted; and, as far as I am aware of, we each and all did our duty as upholders of the Stars and Stripes; and many of us are willing to return again, to teach a rebel foe a loyal lesson.

J. H. G., Seventy-first Regiment, N.Y.S.M.

New York Sunday Mercury, 8/4/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 38-39





Unknown, 79th New York Infantry, On the Battle, Retreat, and Aftermath

8 04 2013

New York, August 3, 1861.

To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury:

You have, no doubt, given me up as one of those numbered with the dead or missing in the late advance, and engagements, and retreat, all of which I have been in, and, no doubt, think I tried to do my duty; however, I will let others judge of that, and endeavor to give you as good a sketch as I can from memory, as I lost my bag and books (but not my implements of war, which many did), and, of course, I will make some mistakes, which I think my friends of the Seventy-ninth will excuse, when they know that it is a severely-wounded soldier that writes it.

Since I wrote you last, we have been advancing from place to place in Virginia, and as nothing of importance happened until we reached Centreville, except that the road was barricaded in several places with trees, which was soon cleared by our pioneers, and the sight of several camps deserted, in some which the fires were still burning – all of which, to us, was the cause of much prospecting on what a set of cowards we had to encounter, but which was set at rest by our arriving, on Thursday, July 18th, at about two miles west of Centreville, where, at midday, we were run (not marched) in at double-quick time, which was the order, for the last three miles; and when we drew up in line of battle, we were more ready to fall down than fight, although the spirit was there; but we had no fighting to do, as the enemy’s cannonading soon ceased. The troops that were engaged in close quarters with the enemy were ordered to retreat, and our brigade (i. e., Sherman’s) to cover the rear, which we did, having in the Seventy-ninth only one man wounded, in the Sixty-ninth, three men wounded, Wisconsin Second, 1 killed; at the battery, two of the gunners were killed. The New York Second Volunteers suffered most; but the whole of it only amounted to a good skirmish.

We retired to Centreville about 4 P.M., as near as I can guess, having no time-piece; then we were marched through the village, taking a road leading westward for about a mile, and there encamped in an open field, until Sunday morning at 2 A.M., at which time we started for the big Bull Run, which we understood very little about, and of which our higher officers, be they generals or gomerals, seemed to know far less. We marched about five miles. When passing through and to the outer or westerly side of a large wood, we got the first sight of the enemy on the rising ground beyond the river. We halted there for about an hour, Col. Sherman, at the same time, trying to discover their batteries by firing shot and shell, which all fell short. We then got the order to march, which we did, crossing Bull Run in double-quick time, and up the hill through a very thick pine wood of small trees, the Sixty-ninth on the right, the Wisconsin Second next, the Rochester Thirteenth next, and the Seventy-ninth (our own) next; another brigade followed, whose I know not. Suffice it to say, on emerging from the wood, the Sixty-ninth attacked the right flank of the enemy (then engaged with our troops, who attacked them from the north), and before the whole brigade got out of the wood and formed, had them completely routed and flying in all directions; but it proved to be only a feint, so as to get us to following them to hotter quarters. The line of battle then was formed on the hill from which the enemy was driven (and where we ought to have intrenched ourselves until we found out their strength), and from which I must say that the grandest scene of my life appeared to me, although awful in the extreme. For a time all was still as death in the ranks.

Our artillery opened upon them with a fury, doing great execution – the shot and shell falling in their midst, their batteries at the same time playing upon us, but generally falling short – their whole army being now (as it appeared to us) only a few scattered regiments in full retreat, when our generals or gomerals, like the fish with the fly, snapped the bait, and gave the order to advance, which was duly obeyed. An attack on their batteries was ordered, the Fire Zouaves taking the lead, covered by a troop of United States cavalry, who, when the first volley was fired upon the Zouaves, wheeled and galloped off, striking terror to the hearts of many brave men. The Zouaves poured volley after volley among the enemy. but having as yet no support, withdrew, although quickly, yet in good order, and formed on the brow of the adjacent hill, and nearer the enemy than the cavalry even dared to go. The panic, at the same time, took hold on another New York regiment, then lying in the road over which the horse and Zouaves passed, who fled in consternation out of the strongest position on that field, and not even waiting to get a chance to fire off their guns at the enemy, who took the precaution not to follow at this time. our position was then changed from the back of a hill about two hundred yards from the same road, but to the left and rear of where that last regiment run from, our right resting near that ill-fated hospital, which was said to be burned on account of no flag being flown on it, and where we could not see what happened at the next attack on the batteries; but it soon came to our turn – the whole Sherman Brigade being marched in along with the Zouaves on the right; and as it would be hard to say to what I saw happen ourselves. Our portion was to attack the right of the enemy, which we did. When at twenty paces from their batteries, they having taken correct aim, the enemy poured into us the most deadly volley that has ever been showered on an army since killing with powder was invented, and in which volley many of our best and bravest fell. Col. Cameron had but uttered the words, “Give it to them, my brave Scotch ladies!” which I distinctly heard, when the word rang along the line, “The colonel’s dead!”

Captain Brown fell at the same time. All of which happened quicker than time it takes me to tell it. But suffice it to say, that the Seventy-ninth never faltered; but gave and took as coolly as ever did the regiment from which they take their name. Twice did they rally on the field, and drove back three times the fresh regiments of the enemy, at the same time they received the musketry of the masked batteries from right and left by oblique firing (the deadliest of all firing); nor did they leave the ground until several minutes after the retreat was sounded – the Sixty-ninth and the Zouaves acting in the same cool and decisive manner. During the last charge I was taken from the field, having given way from loss of blood from a wound I received in the beginning of the action; and feeling a little refreshed, after getting a drink of water at a small brook in the valley below (and at which place I saw resting themselves several prominent members of the Seventy-ninth, a number of whom are now in New York; showing holes made in their clothes by themselves, telling of the narrow escape they had, and how many they killed; but whom, I am led to believe, were never in the engagement, and when told to go back refused to go – they may rest assured that they will be exposed as soon as the regiment returns). I proceeded toward the  second hospital (the first being crowded). The second was also crowded; but I got a place under a tree, and got the wound dressed and the bleeding stopped; but the doctor could not take the time to extract the ball. I ate a cracker, drank some water, and, after resting a little, joined in the general stampede which followed, coming back by the northern road toward Centreville, and which proved, afterward, to be the safest, as on the other, or direct, road the rear was attacked by cavalry, and several taken prisoners, amongst them Captain W. Manson, First Company – which place we passed about one hour after, and arrived in Centreville, about eight or nine o’clock, where I entered the hospital for the night, sending the man who conveyed me – by resting my weight on his arm – on after the regiment, as I felt perfectly secure, there being two regiments covering our retreat half a mile below Centreville. I there got the ball dug out, and lay down and slept sound until morning.

At daylight rose; looked for the two regiments that covered us the night before; they were gone; had left at 2 A.M. on Monday; was told that the rebel cavalry had visited us at 3 A.M., and had gone to Fairfax, which I reached about 1 P.M., seeing nothing to disturb me, the road being literally covered with wagons, provisions, and the implements of war, such as swords, muskets, cartridge-boxes, knives, etc. Passed a captain and lieutenant of another regiment; asked them where was their company or regiment; said they did not know, which I believed, as they looked like men who knew nothing. Traveled until within three miles of Arlington, when an Eighth-Regiment ambulance wagon picked me up, and took me into the hospital of the Brooklyn Twenty-eighth Regiment, where I found several of our wounded, and where I, as well as all the others, received the kindest treatment and care from Dr. P. B. Rice and assistant, as well as from the Hospital Steward, Geo. G. Holman, whose attentions for two days and nights were unceasing. The services of such men are invaluable to a regiment; and, I must say, are rarely to be found.

On Wednesday, we moved into Washington, into several houses in Massachusetts avenue, Sixth street. Our tents were brought over on Friday, and we moved into camp on Saturday, on which day I left for New York. Arrived in Philadelphia at 9 P.M.; put up at the Continental Hotel, J. E. Stevens & Co. proprietors; went to the office for my bill at 4 P.M. on Sunday; found some friend had paid it; but on asking Dr. Gross, who visited me twice while there, for my bill, it was only five dollars – paid it. He is a strong Union man, lives corner of Eleventh and Walnut streets, and has a son in the army. Left with the 5 1/2 train for New York; arrived home – where I now am – at 11 P.M., and where I expect to be confined for a month to come. I now find, on arriving in New York, that a statement is going the rounds that we, while in Columbia College, destroyed furniture, pictures, etc. – in fact, everything that appeared not in accordance with our views of religion. I pronounce the whole an unmitigated falsehood, and I refer the authors of the same to the president of said college, who, when we left there, stated to the officers of this regiment that he was sorry that we were going to leave, as we had conducted ourselves with more propriety than even the Sixty-ninth had done. I may also state, that in our regiment there was, and is, many good Catholics, whom, I am certain, would have let the writer of this know had anything of the kind occurred.

And now as to a Colonel of our regiment. I find that Secretary Cameron has appointed Governor Stevens, who on Tuesday last, was presented to the regiment – they being drawn up in line – and who, when he gave the first command, was answered with silence – not a man took notice of him. The fact is, they want a colonel of their own choice, and will have him.

And I would caution all interested in this regiment to beware of imposters here in New York, as plenty are going around representing that they belong to the regiment, and were at the battle, and work on the finer feelings of the afflicted for their own nefarious purposes. One has already been arrested by the activity of Capt. Wm. Bruce, 280 Eighth avenue, and is now receiving his deserts. Captain Bruce is always ready and willing to do anything for the regiment, and is one of those men in whom both officers and privates of the regiment has entire confidence.

Excuse the length of this letter, and believe me to be your sincere friend,

One of the Seventy-ninth Regiment, N. Y. S. M.

{This correspondent received a musket-ball through the collar bone, and was extracted at the bottom of the shoulder blade. We shall be happy to give his name and address to any one desirous of seeing the gentleman. – Ed.}

New York Sunday Mercury, 8/4/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 36-38








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