Unknown, 2nd NYSM, On the Battle

2 04 2013

{Extract from a private letter}

Virginia, July 22, 1861.

Dear –: – I write to inform you that I am alive, unhurt and well. We have just got out of a severe battle, in which many of our brave boys were slaughtered.; but I have not time now to five you many particulars. We were marched up a road made expressly for us by the rebels. They opened their battery at the head of this road, and drove us back to the woods. We rallied, and, by the mismanagement of our incompetent general – Schenck – we were brought back on the same masked battery. We could not see any obstruction, or an enemy to fire at. The ground seemed to vomit out grape and canister in torrents. It is the general opinion among the men, that we were betrayed by our commanding general of division. Indeed, Col. Tompkins was under that impression, although he did not express it; for, when he received orders to attack the hole where these infernal machines were, he told the general he would not, and commanded his men to obey no orders that they did not receive from him – he would lead them to victory, and not to needless slaughter. When the order to lie down was given, a battery opened on the edge of a wood, tearing everything before it. Had our colonel followed the order of the general, we ould have been all cut to pieces. The Eight suffered severely, as also did the gallant Sixty-ninth, and brave boys of the Zouave regiment. They deserve immortal honor for their many gallant deeds.

This was no battle – it was a wholesale slaughter. The very ground opened, and blew us to atoms. Col. Tompkins deserves great praise. He saved two-thirds of our regiment by flanking us into the woods. The enemy seemed to understand our move; for, in less time than I can write, the Black Horse Cavalry dashed out on us; but O God! what a bloody reception they got from us. Nearly, if not quite, one hundred of them were left dead upon the field of their exploit.

I was attacked on the way from Vienna by a few straggling dragoons. We had provisions for our men, and I was in command. We made two horses by the operation, and I lost the little pistol which you presented to me. I missed it when two miles from the place where we were attacked; but I went back with ten men and a dark lantern and recovered it. This was very risky; but it was your gift.

We cut the Eight Regiment of Georgia all to smash. We have several prisoners. We were badly beaten, but not defeated or discouraged in the least. We will give it to them again. We are ordered to Washington, for the reason that this temporary success may encourage the enemy to attack the city. Our battle-flag is pretty well used up. I will send it home as a memento of what we have gone through. An infernal scoundrel on horseback tried to capture it from our sergeant; but he fell to the earth like lead. The pole and spear is broken, and the flag is all in ribbons.

As I said before, it is the opinion of the men that some of our generals were in league with the secessionists; if they were not, they are inexcusable on the ground of utter incompetency for their positions. Give us better officers in command, and we will face the devil and all his hosts in secessiondom.

Yours, etc.,

*****

New York Sunday Mercury, 7/28/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 35-36





Pvt. Harry Lazarus, Co. G, 11th New York Infantry, On the Battle

29 03 2013

{We are permitted to copy the following private letter from Harry Lazarus, well-known as a prize-fighter and champion of the light-weight of America, who, as a member of Company G Fire Zouaves, bore himself gallantly in the contest at Bull’s Run:}

Fort Runyon, Virginia

July 22, 1861.

As you will see by the heading of this letter, I am at Fort Runyon, the quarters of the Twenty-first, of Buffalo. I arrived here this morning, and will remain for a short time, to get a little rest. I suppose you are already acquainted with the particulars of the great fight which took place on Sunday. We were at first victorious and had driven the enemy three miles before us, when the received a very strong re-enforcement of fresh troops, and our wearied and worn out troops were in turn forced to retreat. Some of our regiments were badly cut up. Our regiment suffered as severely as any. At the present writing we can find only thirty men out of the one hundred and nine who were in our company, when we went into battle. I was accidentally caught between two pieces of cannon and somewhat hurt, although not seriously.

I would like to give you a full description of the battle, but time and space will not permit. It is impossible, as yet, to tell who is killed and wounded – our troops are so scattered.

I find that fighting is rather warm work, especially when you hear the bullets whistling around you like hail-stones. I had the stock of my musket shot off in my hand; my cartridge-box was fairly riddled with bullets; although, strange to say, I escaped without a wound.

I send enclosed a handkerchief, which I “captured” on our road from Fairfax Court-House. We saw a company of ladies in a house waving their handkerchiefs to the secessionists. We surrounded the house, and got some prisoners among the crinoline. I took the handkerchief from a lady who was said to be a daughter of General Lee. I send it to you, not for its intrinsic worth, but as a slight memento of the incidents of battle.

Yours, etc.,

Harry Lazarus

New York Sunday Mercury, 7/28/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, p. 35

Harry Lazarus bio.

New York Times article on the execution of Lazarus’s murderer.





J. H. G., Co. H, 71st NYSM, On the Battle (1)

27 03 2013

Washington Navy Yard, July 23, 1861.

To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury:

Since my last from here, we have had a terrific battle, which, you will learn by the telegraphic accounts, resulted in our being repulsed, although the loss on our side is small in comparison with that of the enemy. The battle commenced at 9 A.M., on Sunday, 21st inst., the first engaged being the Seventy-first and the Rhode Island First and Second Regiments. We opened a heavy fire of musketry on the Alabamians, and slaughtered them badly. We could see them fall one after another very fast. They returned our fire with great activity and killed many of us, and wounded some thirty of our boys; and, the killed is supposed to be about ten, although we were at first reported badly cut up. We stood our ground well, and were the last to leave the field. Our colors were completely riddled, and a shell passed through the centre of the flag, just above the color-bearer’s head. We had almost succeeded in taking the battery on our left, when, by a ruse, the rebels stopped our firing by raising the Stars and Stripes. We thought they were our friends, and stopped firing, whereby a great advantage was gained by them. We were marched some twenty miles, and then entered the fight much worn out, but, nevertheless, we sustained the previous good reputation of the gallant Seventy-first, of Gotham. One of our Company H was struck by a cannon-ball in the face, which carried away his upper jaw and part of the nose – a horrid sight indeed. Another was struck by a ball in the thigh; he fell near me, and exclaimed: “My God, I’m shot!” One other was wounded in the left hand; and our gallant Lieut Embler was also wounded in the fleshy part of the leg, but it will not prove serious, we all hope. He is a brave man and gentleman. Col. Martin lost his horse, and had to foot it during the engagement. He walked up and down, cheering the boys and encouraging us on to victory. We finally all retreated in order, and reached Washington on Monday. Capt. Ellis was wounded slightly. Only four of our boys are missing. The rebels were seen cutting the throats of our wounded and bayoneting them to death. Oh, what a terrible sight! I hope never to see it again. The groans and cries of the wounded were too horrible to be depicted, amid the roaring cannon and the bursting of shell over and around us. Our total loss is about thirty in all. But few balls fell among us, as they were fired too high as a general thing. We expect to be home on Friday. The boys are under orders to leave for home to-morrow (Thursday), and all is bustle and confusion. I can write no more at present, but hoping you will set matters all right with relatives and friends of the regiment, believe me, yours, as ever, in the Union cause.

J. H. G.

Co. H, Seventy-first Regiment N.Y.S.M.

New York Sunday Mercury, 7/28/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 34-35





J. A. S., 11th New York Infantry, On the Campaign

17 03 2013

Washington, Thursday, July 25

To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury:

My communications with you have been interrupted for some time by events connected with the movements of our regiment, advancing from time to time, rendering the means of communication with Washington more difficult and uncertain. But to resume from my last letter, written at Shuter’s Hill, I have to say that the regiment broke camp, and move down the road some four miles, to a spot nearly opposite Cloud’s Mills, where we found ourselves supported on one side by the Scott Life Guard (Thirty-eighth Regiment), First Michigan, two Maine, and one Vermont regiments. We here remain for some days, until orders were received for the column to advance in light marching order. The men were given three days’ provisions in their haversacks, consisting solely of  six pilot biscuits, a piece of salt pork, one small cup of ground coffee, and a cup of sugar.

Leaving our encampment at about 10 o’clock in the morning, we took the road for Fairfax Station. The rest of the troops marched toward Fairfax Court House, while our brigade, consisting of the Michigan First, Scott Life Guard, and our own regiment, took a circuitous route through the woods to outflank the enemy at Fairfax Station. Company B., Captain Edward Burns, was sent forward as skirmishers, and entered Fairfax Station about an hour in advance of the main body. As they came within sight of the railroad station, they found the enemy retreating down the railroad-track, and, taking a side path, captured eleven in the woods, and in their camp, behind a masked battery, also took the flag of the Teusas Rifles, presented to them by the ladies of Teusas, Alabama. This flag was taken possession of by Colonel Willcox. It was a handsome blue-silk standard, with eight stars on a blue field, and a representation of a bale of cotton, wrought in white silk. It was afterward delivered up to Brigadier-General McDowell, who complimented the company on their bravery, and trusted the regiment would continue to do its duty as well in the future as in the past.

The next morning Capt. Andrew Purtell, of Co. K, assisted by John Wildey, of Co. I, and your correspondent, raised the American flag on the camp-ground of the rebels, amid the stirring music of the drum and fife and the enthusiastic cheers of the men. The flag which was raised was presented to Comapny K by Messrs. Whitton, Forsyth and other friends from the neighborhood of the Washington Market, in New York City. After taking up the line of march, at 3 o’clock that afternoon, we proceeded along the road past Fairfax Court House onto Centreville, when we were apprised of a battle going on by the report of artillery, which could be distinctly heard. Orders were immediately given to proceed as rapidly as possible, and at the same time we heard the most extravagant rumors that the New York Second and Twelfth Volunteers, and the Sixty-ninth, had engaged some batteries near Bull’s Run, and were badly cut up, so as to need immediate assistance. The men made the most super-human exertions until we arrived at the front of the hill near Centreville, when we were told that our services were not required, as they had beaten the enemy, and taken possession of a battery, at a place near Bull’s Run. We then again took up the line of march, with only a rest of a half an hour. We passed there the main body of our army, and lay for the night in full view of the village of Centreville. Here, by orders of Colonel Willcox, foraging parties were sent out, and some forty or fifty head of cattle brought in, shot, and dressed for the use of the men, and distributed to them. Our brigade – under Colonel Willcox – was thus the only one, or nearly, that was supplied with fresh food that night and the ensuing morning. Resting that day, and up to Saturday evening, we were ordered again to fall in line for a forward movement. Company rolls were called, and the men responded with alacrity, after which, we were told to lie down by our guns until 2 o’clock in the morning of Sunday. At that hour we were called up, and were fairly on the march a little after 4 o’clock.

Again striking a circuitous path through the woods, so as to flank the enemy’s batteries, accompanied by Gen. McDowell (the Scott Life Guard and the Michigan Regiment still with us), we marched steadily on until between 12 and 1 o’clock in the day. During the last four miles on the march we were in sight of the battlefield, from whence we could see clouds of smoke arising, and distinctly hear the report of the guns. Coming nearly within a mile of the actual battle-field, our men halted, threw off their overcoats, and haversacks, and, with only their canteens and equipments, marched immediately on the field.  Arriving at the foot of the hill, our two associate regiments were detached from us, while we marched over the brow of the hill, through a heavy wheat-field. Our red shirts had no sooner glanced in the sunlight than the enemy, noticing our approach, began to throw their six-pound shot at us. Falling back to the foot of the hill, Companies A and H of the regiment were ordered to be held back as reserve, while the remainder pressed eagerly onto the fight. These two companies in less than five minutes, were ordered forward and join the regiment in the battle. Our first point of attack was the nearest position held by the rebels. Some three regiments of riflemen were drawn up in front of a fence, with a masked battery on their left, at the edge of a wood which run down to our right, filled with their sharp-shooters and cavalry. From two to three hundred yards distant from the enemy’s line was another fence, up to which our regiment charged and delivered their fire. From here we could plainly see the rebel soldiers with the Confederate flag in the centre. While the men were loading, a charge was made on our rear, from the wood, by the now celebrated Black Horse Cavalry. Col. Heintzelman, of the Regular service was at this time with us, and he, like ourselves mistook this cavalry for troops of our own. Waving a small American flag at each end of their line, they advance to within almost  pistol shot, when our men discovered their mistake, and, flanking round, poured a volley into them, and then made a charge. It was one indiscriminate fight, hand to hand, and men fell on all sides, the enemy in front firing at us. Bowie-knives and pistols were used with deadly effect, until in this way the cavalry were driven back, their horses scampering riderless and wildly over the hills. At this point Col. Farnham was shot from his horse, wounded on the left side of the head, but was picked up and again placed on his charger, and led us to the charge against the battery. Major Loeser’s horse was also shot from under him, but being again mounted, he rode around our line as coolly as ever, urging the men to the charge. Being again driven back we retired some distance down the hill, attempting to carry our wounded off with us, when the colonel rode around to the rear and again brought the men to the charge.  It was all in vain, however, for our comrades were fast falling by the fire from the woods, while the enemy were too firmly intrenched for us to attempt to get nearer than the fence of which I firs spoke. At this point the Michigan First were brought up and driven back. Then the Rhode Island men charged with Gov. Sprague riding at their head; and, fighting all that the men could do, were still repulsed. While we were thus carrying our wounded slowly with us, we observed the Sixty-ninth Regiment coming along in full line of battle. They asked what the matter was, and being told that we had been driven back, answered that they would take satisfaction for us. Marching up to the particular point from where we had been driven, they delivered in their fire, loaded and fired again, and staid until actually driven back without the least chance of forcing the enemy from his position. It was at this time that their flag was taken (the green banner of their nationality) and carried through the woods.

Capt. Wildey, of Co. I, rallying a few men, charged through the wood after those who had the flag in their possession, and with his own pistol shooting the two rebels who had it, rescued and brought it back in triumph. In this way, with the flag of the Sixty-ninth at the head of our regiment we marched on towards Centreville. We had gone but a short distance, when from the clouds of dust on the roads to the right and left, and, on our rear, we could notice that the enemy were in full pursuit. Before proceeding a half mile, we were warned of their being within range by cannon-ball plowing the ground at our sides. We then took to the woods the colonel still riding at our head, bareheaded, and bleeding and after a march of about a mile, were charged upon by their infantry. Turning and delivering a volley which drove them back, we again marched on, and in a short time, gained the wide open road which brought us to Centreville, and from thence about two miles further down where those who were most fatigued made a halt for the night under charge of Capts. Wildey and Purtell, Lieut. Willsey, Capts. Bill Burns, Leverich, and a few other officers.

At about 10 o’clock that evening we were roused by the wagoneers, who told us that they had orders to retreat, as the enemy were endeavoring to cut us off at Fairfax Court House. There was no recourse but to  again take the road; and weary, footsore, and travel-worn, those that were left in our party reached Alexandria next morning.

There were many incidents connecting with the battle which might be interesting to your readers, did time permit or space suffice. The first one carried from the field was Lieut. Divver, of Vampany G. Shortly afterward, we saw a sergeant, whom we supposed to be Dan Collins, so well known and celebrated a singer in New York, carried off. Then small troops of men were scattered over the field, four or five in each, endeavoring to bear off some wounded comrade. Some were shot through the head, and lived perhaps five minutes; but most of the wounded were shot about the stomach and thigh – the majority of missiles being rifle-balls. On the road down, Capt. Leverich told me that he had left three of his sergeants on the field. Lyons, Connolly, of Engine 51, were left behind, also Babcock, of Engine 38, and many others whose names it would be impossible to give in this brief space. It will perhaps be three or four days yet before the actual loss in killed and wounded can be ascertained; but it has been very heavy – perhaps too heavy for our friends in New York to believe. Still, many are reported as missing who will yet turn up. Quite a number are undoubtedly in the woods between Fairfax and Centreville, and may yet come home safe.

It will take at least a month for our regiment to be fully recruited and ready to enter the field again. The general feeling among the men is, that of wanting satisfaction for the loss they have already suffered. So far as the officers of our regiment are concerned, one and all fought as bravely and manfully as the men could do. The colonel himself, bleeding, and faint, and weary, stood by us, and led us on in our disastrous route, and even took the precaution to have the guns that were thrown away by men in the fight placed under the wheels of the wagons so as to be broken and rendered useless, if picked up by the enemy.

Where the fault rests, it’s impossible for me to say. General McDowell, who was near our regiment, seemed to act cool and collected, and I cannot believe the mistake was his. The one great mistake, in bringing the men up, regiment by regiment, to charge on the batteries, where a full brigade was required.

If our friends in New York will only send on money, if they can, it will be the means of keeping many here, who, otherwise, will be likely to go away, and endeavor to reach home.

Many acts of kindness where exhibited toward our men by citizens in Washington, and also by our friends in New York, who came on, prominent among whom I noticed Hon. John Haskin, Alderman Brady, James Cameron of Horse Comp. 28, and many others, who did not spare their money in providing food and quarters for those who are here suffering. The stories told of the barbarity of the rebels toward our troops are in many cases, perhaps, exaggerated; but that cruelty was practiced toward them, there can be no doubt. Our hospital, with the yellow flag, and the letter H in its centre, flying from the roof of the building was fired on with shells and cannonry, and set on fire. Many poor fellows very likely lost their lives in it. Capt. Downey, it is reported, was butchered by them; but for the truth of this I cannot vouch, although many men assert it as an actual fact within their own knowledge. Certainly we were led to believe, before going into battle, and even on the retreat, that we need expect no mercy, and those who sank from exhaustion, intending to deliver themselves up, lay down with but little hope of ever regaining their regiment or meeting their friends. We ascertain from a sergeant of the Alabama Rifles whom we captured that their orders were to spare no man wearing a red shirt, but whether this inhuman mandate was fully carried into execution or not, it is impossible to say. Possibly those who may come in within the next day or two, will be able to state the truth on this point. I have thus briefly given such particulars as can be hurriedly noted down; and in my subsequent letters, will endeavor to give full information relative to all those who have been reported as missing, who are not with the regiment.

J. A. S.

P.S. – I shall furnish you with an official list of our killed and wounded as soon as our loss can be definitely ascertained. At present, all is rumor; and I would not harrow the feelings of any family by forwarding an unreliable statement.

New York Sunday Mercury, 7/28/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 32-34





Col. Orlando B. Willcox, On the March to Manassas

12 03 2013

Fairfax Road

July 16

My glorious Molly,

Off once more on the march. This day we go no further than about 8 miles & anticipate no opposition. To-morrow we got to Fairfax & expect there may be fighting. Keep as calm & trustful…as possible.

I received Father’s kind letter, but for the last few days have been too busy to write any thing but business, orders, etc. The 4th Mich. has joined my brigade, also a light battery, D, 2d artillery, Capt. Arnold.

It is impossible to say or conjecture what will be the event of the campaign. It seems to be thought the enemy will fall back. If not we must drive them back.

My heart is too full for my eyes, surrounded as I am by my staff, to trust writing the impulses of the moment. I can only say God bless & keep you & bring us & the children all together soon.

Love to Father & Mother, Caro, Frank, [?] Wm. Blodgett, & all. Kiss my children.

Orlando

——————–

In Camp

Centreville, Va.

July 20, 1861.

My dear Marie,

I have received a letter from your beloved pen & it gave me supreme pleasure. It was written in such a calm, cheerful spirit. It has no date (don’t forget to date your letters), but you say i will have left Alexandria before receiving it.

We marched from Alexandria on the 16th with the whole brigade of 12 regiments, Ricketts’ Battery, Arnold’s battery (in my brigade) & C Company, 2d Cavalry, all composing Col. Heintzelman’s Division. The Brigade commanders are 1st, Franklin, 2d, O. B., 3d, Howard. The next day we marched: Franklin for Sangster’s Station & I for Fairfax Station, both points on the Railway. The roads did not diverge for some distance, so that I was kept back by Franklin, who moved very cautiously & slowly, till 12. At 12 I overlapped him by chance & got on to Fairfax Station & took eleven prisoners & a Secession flag & pushed on towards Fairfax Ct. House, but found it already occupied, & turned back & camped at the Station. Had I been able to march straight from the Pohick, alone with my brigade without being delayed by Franklin’s brigade, I might have caught a thousand of the rebels at least.

As it was, the rapidity of a single hour secured for my brigade the only prisoners taken & only flag that I heard of being captured by all the army. Ten of the captives were caught by Capt. Butterworth & one by Sergt. Beardsley of F. Co., son of Beardsley hotel keeper of Detroit. (They were brought up to Gen’l McDowell, who questioned them yesterday and attracted thousands of eyes.)

The next day we all marched to this point. Our division, as well as most of the troops, are camped on the long sloping sides of the hills overlooking Little Rocky Run. Centreville stands on top of the Western Ridge opposite me. We are right on the Blue Ridge & the scenery is magnificent. Just now there are thirty or forty thousand troops bivouacked almost in sight, & Gen’l McDowell is reviewing a Division of 12,000 men on one slope.

All are in good spirits. The affair of Tyler’s was but a premature & mistaken attack & was not a repulse. It showed the enemy’s position in a thick wood about 2 miles from us, & displayed our artillery to great advantage. Nothing could have been handsomer [than] the action of Ayres’ Battery. Ayres is a classmate. There [are] quite a number of my class here, all in conspicuous positions. Ayres, Burnside (not a general as you suppose, but like myself a brigade commander). Tillinghast, chief quartermaster, & Fry, adjt. gen’l. The latter does everything he can for me at Hd. Quarters. He is an old friend. His offices were useful yesterday. I got him to appoint Parker to muster in those of the present regiment who wish to remain & the number is already quite respectable, & hourly increasing.

There is a rumor at Fairfax & Alexandria that I was killed the other day, but Prof. Cooley who is here goes down to-day & will telegraph you.

Love to all, & kisses for babies. The 2d Mich. lost but 5 or 6 killed & wounded.

Orlando

Robert Garth Scott, ed., Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, pp. 283-285.





Charles Francis Adams, Jr., On the Consequences of the Defeat

11 03 2013

Boston, July 23, 1861

I don’t see any good in my saying anything of the disgraceful and disastrous battle of yesterday. The impression here is very general that Scott’s policy was interfered with by the President in obedience to what he calls popular will and at the instigation of Sumner, Greeley, and others, and the advance was ordered by Scott only after a written protest. The result was a tremendous and unaccountable panic, such as raw troops are necessarily liable to on a field of battle in a strange country, and it all closed in the loss of guns, colors, equipage, and even honor. Almost the first idea that occurred to me was the disastrous effect of this affair on you in your position. I do not see how foreign nations can refuse to acknowledge the Confederacy now, for they are a government de facto and this result looks very much as though they could maintain themselves as such. In any case I no longer see my way clear. Scott’s campaign is wholly destroyed and he must now go to work to reconstruct it. While our army is demoralized, theirs is in the same degree consolidated. Their ultimate independence is I think assured, but this defeat tends more and more to throw the war into the hands of the radicals, and if it lasts a year, it will be a war of abolition. Everything is set back for at least six months and just now, though not at all discouraged or disheartened, we feel here much as if we had been knocked over the head and had not yet recovered the use of our senses…

Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861-1865, Vol. I, pp. 22-23

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., bio.





Sgt. Major Randolph Barton, Staff, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the Battle

28 02 2013

Baltimore, Md., January 15, 1897

John O. Casler:

Dear Comrade: Our command reached Manassas Junction on the 20th of July, in the morning, I think. We marched during the day to the right of the line, and the next day we marched and countermarched, halted and rushed, as the changing localities of the conflict, as far as our commanders could anticipate, seemed to require. My dinner was made from blackberries, for being outside of the ranks (as Sergeant Major) I could pick them as we passed over the fields. About 1 o’clock our regiment reached the elevation on which is seated the historic Henry house, and took position on the left flank of our brigade, up to that hour known as the 1st Brigade, or Jackson’s Brigade, ever afterwards as the Stonewall Brigade.

As we approached our position, we heard for the first time the horrid screaming of hostile shells going over our heads high up in the air, but not so high as not to be dangerous. I recall now with some amusement the intense gravity and astonishment written upon the faces of the men as these dangerous missiles from the batteries of Rickett and Griffin went hurtling over us; but I recall no signs of timidity. The men kept in their ranks, obeyed orders and moved into position on the left of the 2d Virginia, of which Brother Strother, my cousin, Willie Barton, and all my Winchester friends were members, with steadiness and resolution. My brother David was in the Rockbridge Battery, which was being supported by our brigade. My uncle, Frank Jones, and my brother-in-law, Thomas Marshall, were on Jackson’s staff. I felt the solemnity of the moment, but I recall no disposition whatever to turn and run. On the other hand, a sense of pride, a desire to emulate the action of the best men on the field possessed me, as it did, I believe, all of our command, except the Adjutant of our regiment. I think I went into that action with less trepidation than into any subsequent one. Inexperience doubtless had much to do with it, but, again, I attribute much of the nerve that sustained me to my year at Lexington. I felt on the field that the orders of our officers were supreme; that come what might, they must be obeyed, and discipline told on me from first to last. I will not give many details of the battle; they have been told by so many writers that it would prolong this narrative unduly for me to repeat them. I will only say that, after taking our position on the left of the brigade, we laid upon the ground listening to the musketry and cannonading going on to our right, or, rather, somewhat in front of our right, from the Confederate forces, which was being vigorously responded to by the Yankees. The “Henry house” was in front of our brigade, over the hill – the upper part of the house visible – and the Robinson house was to the right of that several hundred yards. Occasional shells would explode over our regiment, and the solemn wonderment written on the faces of the men as they would crane their heads around to look our for falling branches was almost amusing. I was near the left flank of the regiment, a few steps in rear, where, upon the formation of the regiment in line of battle, I belonged. Doubtless I wished I was home, but I had to stick. I remember an elderly man riding leisurely by towards the left, in rear of us, apparently giving orders. Some one, possibly myself, asked him who he was. He turned his horse and said: “I am Colonel Smith, otherwise Governor Smith, otherwise Extra Billy Smith.” It was, in fact, Colonel Smith, a game old fellow, who, I suppose, was looking over the ground for a position for his regiment, the 49th Virginia, as it subsequently took position on our left, and finally united in one of the charges on Griffin’s Battery.

Colonel Cummings and Lieutenant Colonel Lee were in front of our regiment, perhaps a hundred yards, stooping down, and occasionally standing to get a view over the crest of the hill that rose gently before us for a little over a hundred yards. The musketry kept up on our right, and then Colonels Cummings and Lee were seen to rise and, bending down, to come back with somewhat quickened steps to the regiment. I remember, as Colonels Cummings drew near, he called out: “Boys, they are coming, now wait until they get close before you fire.”

Almost immediately several pieces of artillery, their horses in front, made their appearance on the hill in front of us, curving as if going into battery, and at the same time I descried the spear-point and upper portion of a United States flag, as it rose in the hands of its bearer over the hill; then I saw the bearer, and the heads of the men composing the line of battle to the right and left of him. At the sight several of our men rose from the ranks, leveled their muskets at the line, and, although I called out, “Do not fire yet,” it was of no use; they fired and then the shrill cry of Colonel Cummings was heard, “Charge!” and away the regiment went, firing as they ran, into the ranks of the enemy, and particularly at the battery towards which our line rapidly approached. Although bearing a non-commissioned officers sword, I had obtained a cartridge box, belted it on, and had in some one secured a flintlock musket, with which one of our companies was armed. This gun, after two futile efforts, I fired at a man on horseback in the battery, one of the drivers, I think. I got near enough the battery to see that it was thoroughly disabled, horses and men falling, and our line driving ahead, when I felt the sting of a bullet tearing a piece from my side, just under my cartridge box, which I had pulled well around on the right and front of my waist. I called out that I was wounded to my uncle, Frank Jones, who helped me up on his horse, and carried me to the rear.

I think it can be demonstrated that the victory of First Manassas is traceable to Colonel Cummings. For fifteen or twenty minutes before our regiment (the 33d Virginia) rose and charged Griffin’s Battery the men of Bee’s and Bartow’s (and, I think, Evans’) commands were coming back over the hill from the Robinson and Henry houses in the greatest disorder, a flying, panic-stricken mob. The Stonewall Brigade maintained the line with the steadiness of veterans. The Rockbridge Battery, with its little guns, was doing its best. Jackson, about that time, rode along the front of his brigade, waiting for the critical moment to order his men into action. It was in his efforts to rally his command that the gallant Bee called to them to rally behind the Virginians. Pointing to Jackson, he used the memorable expression, “Look at Jackson, standing like a stone wall.” The precise expression he used it is impossible to learn. He most probably said, “Look at Jackson and his men, standing like a stone wall.” He had galloped up to Jackson a moment before, and had said: “General, they are driving us back,” and Jackson replied, the words snapping from his lips like grape-shot from a gun, “Then we will give them the bayonet.”

Bee turned to gallop toward his fleeing men, with the inspiration of Jackson possessing him, called out his immortal language, and fell, mortally wounded.

“Jackson had, within the half hour before, passed along his brigade the order not to fire until the enemy was within 30 paces, and then charge. So Colonel Cummings writes to me under the date of September 20, 1896. But, says Colonel Cummings, the shells of the enemy had caused some confusion “with the left company of my regiment,” or, rather, his command of eight companies, and when Griffin’s Battery showed itself on the hill in front of us, and occasional shots began to fall among us from the enemy moving towards our left to flank us, when the tumult of the broken ranks of Bee and Bartow was threatening the steadiness of our right, and the enemy, with exultant shouts, was pressing on, Colonel Cummings, like a flash, thought if those guns get into battery and pour one discharge of grape and canister into the ranks of my raw recruits the day is gone, and then it was, with splendid discretion, he took the responsibility of changing his orders, with the changed conditions, as Grouchy should have done at Waterloo, and charged the enemy.

The suddenness of our attack, the boldness of it, for our men went over and past the battery, the disabling of the guns, all checked the advancing lines. It was immediately followed up by the remainder of the brigade charging, and the troops on our left poured in. The tide of battle turned when it dashed against the farmer boys of the 33d Virginia. It was the first resistance it had met. The enemy came upon the point of a spear, one small regiment of undisciplined boys and me, not a month from the plough-handle and mechanic’s shop. The point broadened, as to the right and left assistance poured in, until it became a sharp blade against which the enemy could not and dared not rush; but the 33d led the van of the movement that first arrested McDowell’s victorious line, and from that moment the scene changed, and from the brink of disaster our army turned to a great victory. Colonel Cummings changed the life of McDowell by his order, “Charge!” He may have changed the history of the war. The battle pivoted upon his nerve. It was the turning point in tremendous events.

I visited the Robinson and Henry houses in September, 1861, and again in September, 1896. My last visit caused me to correspond with Colonel Cummings and read every line I could lay my eyes upon, including the reports of officers on both sides, as published in the compilation called the Rebellion Record, and I believe what I have attributed to Colonel Cummings cannot be successfully gainsaid. He turned the tide of the battle at First Manassas. Instead of the Confederate army flying as a mob to the Rappahannock, the Yankee army fled as a mob to Washington.

Several days have elapsed since I wrote the above. A day or so ago I accidentally saw in the Mercantile Library the “Recollections of a Private,” by Warren Lee Goss, of the Federal army. Turning to his narrative of the battle I find (p.13) a good representation of the Henry house plateau and the confusion in Griffin’s Battery following the attack of the 33d Regiment. I recognize the Sudley mill road, the entrance to the Henry place, on the left of the road, and the fence torn away to allow Griffin’s Battery freely to leave the rad and go upon the plateau. In September, 1896, I stood on this very ground, and , observing that between the bed of the road and the fence on the left hand side there was the usual wash, or gutter, I remarked to my companions that no doubt Griffin tore down the fence and filled the wash with the rails, thus making and easy crossing into the field for his artillery. The picture I am looking at shows the fence torn down, and imagination shows the rails placed as I surmised.

And now I quote from the book what seems to me brings the 33d face to face with the troops Goss writes about. Remember that the Sudley Mills road runs a south-easterly course from the mill to the Henry plateau. Our regiment charged northwesterly. McDowell’s line came over the hill supporting Griffin’s Battery, at right angles to the Sudley Mills road, advancing southeasterly.

Says Gross: “About 1 o’clock the fence skirting the road at the foot of the hill was pulled down to let our batteries (Griffin’s and Rickett’s) pass up to the plateau. The batteries were in the open field near us. We were watching to see what they’d do next, when a terrible volley was poured into them. It was like a pack of Fourth of July fire-crackers under a barrel magnified a thousand times. The Rebels had crept upon them unawares and the batteries were all killed and wounded.

“Here,” says Gross, continuing, “let me interrupt Tinkemann’s narrative to say that one of the artillerymen then engaged has since told me that, though he had been in several battles since, he had seldom seen worse destruction in so short a time. He said they saw a regiment advancing, and the natural inference was that they were Rebels.. But an officer insisted that it was a New York regiment, which was expected for support, and so no order was given to fire on them. Then came a tremendous explosion of musketry,” says the artilleryman, “and all was confusion; wounded men with dripping wounds were clinging to caissons, to which were attached frightened and wounded horses. Horses attached to caissons rushed through the infantry ranks. I saw three horses galloping off, dragging a fourth, which was dead.

“The dead cannoneers lay with the rammers of the guns and the lanyards in their hands. The battery was annihilated by those volleys in a moment. Those who could get away didn’t wait. We had no supports near enough to protect us properly, and the enemy was within seventy yards of us when that volley was fired. Our battery being demolished in that way was the beginning of our defeat at Bull Run,” says the old regular.

This ends the quotation. I have italicized the words which strike me as a direct confirmation of the claim I make that the 33d turned the tide, and Colonel Cummings’ timely order let loose the 33d at the very crisis of the battle. I distinctly only claim that with the order and because of the order came the first check McDowell sustained. That other troops immensely aided in forcing back the Yankee line when thus checked, I freely admit. But our regiment called a halt in the victorious advance of the enemy. I dwell upon the circumstance because of the great interest it adds to the engagement to know that you belonged to the regiment that received and repelled the dangerous thrust of the enemy at the nice turning point of the day. I should think to Colonel Cummings the circumstances would be of extraordinary interest, and that he would time and again reflect how little he thought, when he braced himself to give the order to his regiment, that he was making a long page in history.

Randolph Barton,

“Late Staff Officer 2d Corps, A. N. V.”

James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 40 – 46

Randolph J. Barton at Ancestry.com








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