Correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander On His Arrival at Manassas

25 09 2013

Our Correspondent Arrives at Manassas

Army of the Potomac,

Manassas Junction, July 20, 1861

I arrived here late this afternoon, having left Richmond early this morning and been on the road nearly the whole day. The use of the road for the past few days has been surrendered up almost entirely to the military authorities, and so great is the demand for transportation by the War Department, that it is with difficulty that the trains can manage to get through under less than ten to twelve hours.

As the great battle of the campaign will, in all probability, have been fought and decided before this reaches you, it will not be amiss, especially since the fact is already known to the enemy, to say that General Johnston has arrived here from Winchester with the greater part of his forces recently stationed at that place. What is the precise number of the troops brought with him, I am unable to say. Some of them are still on the road, and are expected to get in some time to-night. Among those who reached here to-day, were the 7th, 9th, and 11th Georgia Regiments, under Colonel Bartow, Gartrell, and Goulding, the brigade under the command of Col. Bartow. I have not been able to see any one who is attached to the brigade, owing to the lateness of the hour at which I arrived, but I learn that all three of the regiments were, immediately upon their arrival, ordered forward to an advanced position upon Bull’s Run, near Union Mills, where the Alexandria & Manassas Railroad crosses the creek. That they will give a good account of themselves in the great battle that is impending, you may feel perfectly assured.

Gen. Johnston ranks Gen. Beauregard, and consequently he will succeed to the command, at least nominally, in the approaching conflict. This seems to have occasioned some regret among the troops who have been stationed here, since Gen. Beauregard has had all the labor of arranging the camp, perfecting the works and preparing the ground for what we all believe will be a great victory. It would be impossible, however, for any officer to supersede him in fact, though he may be outranked under the rules of the War Department. Whatever may be the result, therefore, to “little Beaury” will belong the honor, now and hereafter.

In addition to the forces brought down by Gen. Johnston, I learn that 2,300 men arrived here this morning from Aquia Creek under command of Brig. Gen. Holmes. They marched across the country a distance of 30 miles since yesterday morning. This force is composed chiefly of Tennesseeans, with some companies from Arkansas. The men are said to look very much as if they would not ask for more than one bite at a Yankee.

It is generally conceded that Patterson has moved down the Potomac from Martinsburg to the relief of Gen. McDowell, and that he took with him his entire force. The number of the enemy now before us cannot be less than 75,000. That Gen. Scott will risk such an army in the hands of either McDowell or Patterson, or both of them, is not believed for one moment. When the great contest does take place, he will take the command of the Federal forces himself. If he does not, it will be because he expects defeat. Our own forces are believed to be at least a third less than those which are arrayed against us.

The impression prevails here that there will be a grand battle to-morrow, and that we will be the attacking party this time. I have been here too short a time to venture and opinion myself, but I should not be surprised if, in the next few days, we did not witness a series of active operations, culminating by or before the middle of next week in a pitched battle, in which all the forces on both sides will be engaged.

I have said nothing so far of the Battle of Bull’s Run, for the reason that you will find, in the Richmond papers this morning, and especially the Examiner, a better account of it than I could possibly give you. A few facts may be mentioned, however, that will not fail to interest your readers. The first is, that the battle was opened by Sherman’s famous battery, under the protection of whose fire the enemy’s infantry advanced upon our lines. Nearly all the shells passed over our men and exploded beyond them. Not so with the New Orleans Washington Artillery which was opposed to Sherman’s Battery, and whose guns did horrible execution. Indeed, it is believed that but for the precision and destructiveness of their fire, the enemy would have approached nearer and in greater numbers, and that our victory would have been greater than it was. The Federal battery changed its position fifteen times during the engagement, and at last left the field minus one of its guns which we captured, together with 501 small arms.

Soon after getting here, I encountered a little drummer boy of fourteen summers from Lynchburg., who says he went over the field soon after the battle with the hope of getting a little revolver. He examined the pockets of a score or more of the dead without finding a solitary “red,” his only trophy being an odd looking dirk with a buckhorn handle and a due bill for seven dollars from one Dutchman to another.

Another lad, a marker for the Alexandria Rifles, appearing upon the field, was ordered to the hospital by his Captain as a place of safety. The little fellow was not pleased with the order, though he obeyed it, but when the battle began to wax warm, he stole back and seizing the gun of a disabled soldier he succeeded in killing one Hessian and wounding the second.

Some of the officers have furnished their servants with revolvers, and it is asserted to be a fact that these negroes made several captures during the fight on Thursday. One of them, Dick Langhorn, from Lynchburg; a strapping fellow, shot down one man, his ball taking effect through the shoulder; and when all his barrels had been discharged, he rushed upon another whom he knocked down with  his pistol. Seizing the two by the collars, he started to carry them to his master, when one of them showed a disposition to resist; whereupon Dick turned to him and said: “See here, Massa, you’d better come ‘long, or dis here nigger will hurt you, see ef he don’t.” Seeing the d—l in Dick’s eye, he submitted, and the two were carried prisoners to the Colonel of the Regiment, the Eleventh Virginia.

Hampton’s Legion and the 13th Mississippi Regiment have just arrived, and the 11th Mississippi is expected some time to-night. A few days would increase our forces materially. North Carolina is sending up some of the finest regiments I have seen, and about three a week.

P. W. A.

Savannah Republican, 7/26/1861

William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 18-19





Pvt. Richard W. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Battle and Aftermath

5 09 2013

Vienna, Va

July 27, 1861

Dear Sister Anna

For vanity sake I will direct this letter to you, and besides I don’t believe I have written to you in some time.

Buddie [Taliaferro N. Simpson - BR] wrote to you about the great battle of Bull’s Run, and what he told you I can’t tell. Sunday morning early we heard the booming of cannon, but none were fired at us. During the fight we occupied the central position.  This was the mode of attack. Two divisions of 5,000 each were sent against our right and left wings to drive them back and decoy our forces from the central position. As soon as this was done, 30,000 were waiting a mile and half distant to rush right through, divide our forces, and cut us to pieces. But they found our left so hard to handle that they had to send reinforcements to them. We did the same. They had to send more until their whole central force came against our left, and there the great battle was fought. We didn’t get to fire a shot, but they fired at us with  their batteries from morning till night, never hurting a person. Shells and balls flew thick and fast all about us.

About five (5) in the evening one of Bonham’s aides came charging up hollering out, they fly, they fly, onward to the pursuit. Immediately we left at double quick, and coming up to their reserve camp, we formed in battle array. We then went on some distance further until they began to throw shells at our advance guard. Then night coming on we drew up until we could collect the spoils which they had left in their hasty retreat and then returned to camp.

The next morning our regt and Bacon’s were sent out to collect spoils. We went as far as Centreville. Such a sight you never saw or heard of. The road was strewn with blankets, oil cloths, canteens, haversacks, and knapsacks, and at their camp at Centreville was presented a scene of the wildest confusion. Officers left their trunks and mess chests filled with things of silver. Any quantity of wagons and horses were taken. In one lot I saw 50 as fine horses as I ever saw, every one with harness of the finest kind on them. We loaded all our wagons with their provisions such as pork, beans, and crackers. One of their prisoners told me that they had lost all they had. We took every piece of cannon they had but one – I saw this in one of their own papers – 25 of them were rifle cannon and one a 64 pound rifle cannon, also about 25,000 stand of arms, and prisoners there is no end to them. We took a good many of them. I went into the hospital at Centreville and saw 17 wounded Yankees in one place. Such another sight I never want to see again.

I will give you and idea of what we have undergone for the last few days. Sunday evening we double-quicked ourselves completely down. Next morning started in the rain to Centreville; it rained all day. In the night we then had to march back four miles through mud worse than that you have seen about Pendleton. We also waded a creek. With our wet clothes we laid down in the rain and, completely exhausted, slept all night. I had nothing but an oil cloth. Next morning we started without warning and marched again to Centreville. We staid there until about eleven o’clock at night and started with a few pieces of crackers for two days provisions and marched a forced march to Vienna a distance of about 14 miles. We didn’t get there until about an hour by sun next morning. When we got here there wasn’t half our company in ranks, all having dropped out, unable to go any further. Our feet were so badly blistered that we could scarcely put them to the ground.

Where we are to go next we are unable to tell. McDowell has resigned. McClellan will take command. The north is clamorous for a new cabinet. There are no Yankees this side of the Potomac. You must show our letters to Aunt Caroline for I have no paper.

Give my love to all and believe me as ever

Your affectionate br

Dick

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 36-38

Richard W. Simpson at Ancestry.com





Cpl. Taliaferro N. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Battle

4 09 2013

Bull’s Run

July 23, 1861

Dear Pa

I write in great haste to ease your mind with reference to Brother [Richard Simpson - BR] and myself besides all of our friends – none killed. The 3d was not in the engagement. Only cannon shot and shell were thrown at us in our intrenchments, but no one hurt. The battle of Bull’s Run and the victory of the southern troops is the most celebrated that is recorded in the annals of American history. On account of an order from the Col to prepare to march I cannot go into detail, but give an outline of the fight as I heard it.

First we made a glorious retreat from Fairfax, the most glorious made in America, and took our stand at Bull’s Run where we were reinforced to the number of forty or fifty thousand. The enemy came upon us with  45,000 & with a reserve of 50 or 60,000, amounting in all to 110,000. They began the engagement by throwing shell and shot upon our center, the position the 3d with several others held, and with a very large force made an attack upon our right flank, but were beautifully thrashed. This was on Thursday, the 18th. Friday and Saturday they reinforced, and Sunday morning at 25 minutes past 11 o’clock they began throwing shot on our center to keep our strong forces in their position thereby deceiving us, and with a force of 45,000 made a tremendous attack upon our left wing. The fight was terrible, but southern valor never waned, and with only 20 or 25,000 defeated them completely. South Carolina, as ever, has cast around her name a halo of glory never to be diminished. Sloan’s, Kershaw’s, and Cash’s regiments were engaged. Sloan’s for an hour and a half fought against five thousand and at one time was entirely surrounded, but reinforcements came in time to prevent the last one from being cut off. The gallant Col acted with great coolness and courage. The fight on Thursday we lost 12 men, 30 wounded; the enemy 150 killed and many wounded. The battle on Sunday we had 500 killed and wounded, while the enemy lost between 2 and 5,000 killed with over 2,500 prisoners. They fled before us like sheep. Their officers confess it to be a total rout on their part.

Our regiment was called upon to pursue them but didn’t overtake them. They have cleared out for Washington. The citizens in the county say that many of their soldiers and officers have declared that they have fought their last time this side of the Potomac. You will see a complete description of the fight in the papers, and I expect more correct than what I can write since theirs is from headquarters and mine from camp reports. Gus Sitton wounded in the arm. Whit Kilpatrick in the hand. Sam Wilkes was killed. Gen. B. E. Bee shot through the body – not expected to live. Col. Johnson of Hampton’s Legion killed. Hampton slightly wounded. Uncle Davy, Gus Broyles, and Sam Taylor were in the thickest of the fight but came through unhurt. The report is that McClellan was killed, and Patterson taken prisoner. How true I cannot tell.

I since hear that Jim Sloan and Wilton Earl are mortally wounded – and that Sloan lost 20 killed besides the wounded. I heard the names of several, but recognized none but one, Bellotte.

We took Sherman’s battery in full. In all we have taken some 60 or 70 cannon. The plunder left by the enemy and taken by the rebels cannot be described – tremendous, tremendous, tremendous. Wagons, horses in abundance, in addition to mountains of other things. One prisoner said they had left every thing they had. Gen McDowal was seriously injured. The citizens say that Scott with many leading congressmen and a crowd of ladies was at Centreville enjoying themselves finely and ready to follow the army on and have a ball at Richmond tonight. But when they heard of their defeat, they all left pell mell.

We march today to Centreville. What will be in the future policy of our Government I cannot of course say, but it will take them – the enemy – months to equip another army. No more fighting for some time unless we march upon them. The time for 80,000 of the northern troops will soon be out, and a prisoner said he had no idea that one third of them would return.

Give my love to all. If you can find anyone to send me a negro boy do so quickly. I need one badly. I have lost nearly all my clothes. Do send me one. There is no danger – and no expense. I will look for one – Mose or anyone. Farewell. Believe me as ever

Your affectionate son

T. N. Simpson

You see, I write on paper taken from the enemy.

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 32-36

Tally N. Simpson at Ancestry.com





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








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