Correspondent Peter Wellington Alexander On the Battle

5 10 2013

The Battle of Manassas

Army of the Potomac,

Manassas, July 22, 1861

Yesterday, the 21st day of July, 1861, a great battle was fought and a great victory won by the Confederate troops. Heaven smiled upon our arms, and the God of battles crowned our banners with the laurels of glory. Let every patriotic heart give thanks to the Lord of Hosts for the victory He has given His people on His holy day, the blessed Sabbath.

Gen. Johnston had arrived the preceding day with about half the force he had, detailed from Winchester, and was the senior officer in command. He magnanimously insisted, however, that Gen. Beauregard’s previous plan should be carried out, and he was guided entirely by the judgement and superior local knowledge of the latter. While, therefore, Gen. Johnston was nominally in command, Beauregard was really the officer and hero of the day. You will be glad to learn that he was this day advanced from a Brigadier to the rank of full General. But to the battle.

At half-past six in the morning, the enemy opened fire from a battery planted on a hill beyond Bull’s Run, and nearly opposite the center of our lines. The battery was intended merely to “beat the bush.” and to occupy our attention, while he moved a heavy column towards the Stone Bridge, over the same creek, upon our left. At 10 o’clock, another battery was pushed forward, and opened fire a short distance to the left of the other, and near the road leading North to Centreville. This was a battery of rifled guns, and the object of its fire was the same as that of the other. They fired promiscuously into the woods and gorges in this, the Southern side of Bull’s Run, seeking to create the impression thereby that our center would be attacked, and thus prevent us from sending reinforcements to our left, where the real attack was to be made. Beauregard was not deceived by the maneuver.

It might not be amiss to say, that Bull’s Run, or creek, is North of this place, and runs nearly due east, slightly curving around the Junction, the nearest part of which is about 3 1/2 miles. The Stone Bridge is some 7 miles distant, in a northwesterly direction, upon which our left wing rested. Mitchel’s ford is directly North, distant four miles, by the road leading to Centreville, which is seven miles from the Junction. Our right is Union Mills, on the same stream, where the Alexandria and Manassas railroad crosses the Run, and distant four miles. Proceeding from Fairfax Court House, by Centreville, to Stone Bridge, the enemy passed in front of our entire line, but at a distance ranging from five to two miles.

At 9 o’clock, I reached an eminence nearly opposite the two batteries mentioned above, and which commanded a full view of the country for miles around, except on the right. From this point I could trace the movements of the approaching hosts by the clouds of dust that rose high above the surrounding hills. Our left, under Brigadier-General Evans, Jackson and Cocke, and Col. Bartow, with the Georgia Brigade, composed of the 7th and 8th regiments, had been put in motion, and was advancing upon the enemy with a force of about 15,000 while the enemy himself was advancing upon our left with a compact column of at least 50,000. His entire force on this side of the Potomac is estimated at 75,000. These approaching columns encountered each other at 11 o’clock.

Meanwhile, the two batteries in front kept up their fire upon the wooded hill where they supposed our center lay. They sent occasional balls, from their rifled cannon, to the eminence where your correspondent stood. Gens. Beauregard, Johnston and Bonham reached this point at 12, and one of these balls passed directly over and very near them, and plunged into the ground  a few paces from where I stood. I have the ball now, and hope to be able to show it to you at some future day. It is an 18-pound ball, and about 6 inches long. By the way, this thing of taking notes amidst a shower of shells and balls is more exciting than pleasant. At a quarter past 12, Johnston and Beauregard galloped rapidly forward in the direction of Stone Bridge, where the ball had now fully opened. You correspondent followed their example, and soon reached a position in front of the battlefield.

The artillery were the first to open fire, precisely at 11 o’clock. By half-past 11, the infantry had engaged, and there it was that the battle began to rage. The dusky columns which had thus far marked the approach of the two armies, now mingled with great clouds of smoke, as it rose from the flashing guns below, and the two shot up together like a huge pyramid of red and blue. The shock was tremendous, as were the odds between the two forces. With what anxious hearts did we watch the pyramid of smoke and dust! When it moved to the right, we knew the enemy were giving way; and when it moved to the left, we knew that our friends were receding. Twice the pyramid moved to the right, and as often returned. At last, about two o’clock, it began to move slowly to the left, and this it continued to move for two mortal hours. The enemy was seeking to turn our left flank, and to reach the railroad leading hence in the direction of Winchester. To do this, he extended his lines, which he was able to do by reason of his great numbers. This was unfortunate for us, as it required a corresponding extension of our own lines to prevent his extreme right from outflanking us – a movement on our part which weakened the force of our resistance along the whole line of battle, which finally extended over a space of two miles. It also rendered it more difficult to bring up reinforcements, as the further the enemy extended his right, the greater the distance reserve forces had to travel to counteract the movement.

This effort to turn our flank was pressed with great determination for five long, weary hours, during which the tide of battle ebbed and flowed along the entire line with alternate fortunes. The enemy’s column continued to stretch away to the left, like a huge anaconda, seeking to envelope us within its mighty folds and crush us to death; and at one time it really looked as if he would succeed. But here let me pause to  explain why it was our reinforcements were so late in arriving, and why a certain other important movement was miscarried.

The moment he discovered the enemy’s order of battle, Gen. Beauregard, it is said, dispatched orders to Gen. Ewell, on our extreme right, to move forward and turn his left and rear. At the same time he ordered Generals Jones, Longstreet, and Bonham, occupying the center of our lines, to cooperate in this movement, but not to move until Gen. Ewell had made the attack. The order to Gen. Ewell unfortunately miscarried. The others were delivered, but as the movements of the center were to be regulated entirely by those on the right, nothing was done at all. Had the orders to Gen. Ewell been received and carried out, and our entire force brought upon the field, we should have destroyed the enemy’s army almost literally. Attacked in front, on the flank and in the rear, he could not possibly have escaped, except at the loss of thousands of prisoners and all his batteries, while the field would have been strewed with his dead.

Finding that his orders had in some way failed to be executed, Gen. Beauregard at last ordered up a portion of the forces which were intended to co operate with General Ewell. It was late, however, before these reinforcements came up. Only one brigade reached the field before the battle was won. This was led by Gen. E. K. Smith, of Florida, formerly of the United States Army, and was a part of General Johnston’s column from Winchester. They should have reached here the day before, but were prevented by an accident on the railroad. They dashed on the charge with loud shouts and in the most gallant style. About the same time, Maj. Elzey coming down the railroad from Winchester with the last of Johnston’s brigades, and hearing the firing, immediately quit the train and struck across the country, and as a gracious fortune would have it, he encountered the extreme right of the enemy as he was feeling his way around our flank, and with his brigade struck him like a thunderbolt, full in the face. Finding he was about to be outflanked himself, the enemy gave way after the second fire. Meanwhile, Beauregard rallied the center and dashed into the very thickest of the fight, and after him rushed our own brave boys, with a shout that seemed to shake the very earth. The result of this movement from three distinct points, was to force back the enemy, who began to retreat, first in good order, and finally in much confusion. At this point the cavalry were ordered upon the pursuit. The retreat now became a perfect rout, and it is reported that the flying legions rushed past Centreville in the direction of Fairfax, as if the earth had been opening behind them. It was when Gen. Beauregard led the final charge, that his horse was killed by a shell.

We captured thirty-four guns, including Sherman’s famous battery, a large number of small arms, thirty wagons loaded with provisions, &c., and about 700 prisoners. Among the latter, were Col. Corcoran, of the New York Irish Zouaves, Hon. Mr. Ely, member of Congress, from New York, Mr. Carrington, of this State, a nephew of the late Wm. C. Preston, who had gone over to the enemy, and thirty-two Captains, Lieutenants, &c. We cam near bagging the Hon. Mr. Foster, Senator from Connecticut.

The official reports of the casualties of the day have not yet come in, and consequently it is impossible to say what our loss is. I can only venture an opinion, and that is, that we lost in killed, wounded and missing, about 1,500 – of which about 400 were killed. The enemy’s loss was terrible, being at the lowest calculation, 3,000.

Thus far I have said but little of the part taken by particular officers and regiments; for the reason that I desire first to obtain all the facts. Nor have I said anything of the gallant seventh and eighth regiments from Georgia. This part of my duty is most melancholy. It may be enough to say, that they were the only Georgia regiments here at the time, that they were among the earliest on the field, and in the thickest of the fight, and that their praise is upon the lips of the whole army, from Gen. Beauregard on down. Col. Gartrell led the seventh regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner the eighth, the whole under the command of Col. Bartow, who led them with a gallantry that was never excelled. It was when the brigade was ordered to take one of the enemy’s strongest batteries, that it suffered most. It was a most desperate undertaking, and followed by the bloodiest results. The battery occupied the top of a hill, on the opposite side of Bull’s Run, with a small piece of woods on the left. Descending the valley along the Run, he proceeded under cover of the hill to gain the woods alluded to, and from which he proposed to make a dash at the battery and capture it. On reaching the woods, he discovered that the battery was supported by a heavy infantry force, estimated at 4,000 men. The whole force, together with the battery, was turned upon the eighth regiment, which was in the van, with terrible effect. Indeed, he was exposed on the flank and in front to a fire that the oldest veterans could not have stood. The balls and shells from the battery, and the bullets from the small arms, literally riddled the woods. Trees six inches in diameter, and great limbs were cut off, and the ground strewn with the wreck. It became necessary to retire the eighth regiment, in order to re-form it. Meanwhile, Col. Bartow’s horse had been shot from under him. It was observed that the forces with which his movement was to be supported had not come up. But it was enough that he had been ordered to storm the battery; so, placing himself at the head of the seventh regiment, he again led the charge, this time on foot, and gallantly encouraging his men as they rushed on. The first discharge from the enemy’s guns killed the regimental color-bearer. Bartow immediately seized the flag, and gain putting himself in front, dashed on, flag in hand, his voice ringing clear over the battlefield, and saying, “On, my boys, we will die rather than yield or retreat.” And on the brave boys did go, and faster flew the enemy’s bullets. The fire was awful. Not less than 4,000 muskets were pouring their fatal contents upon them, while the battery itself was dealing death on every side.

The gallant Eighth Regiment, which had already passed through the distressing ordeal, again rallied, determined to stand by their chivalric Colonel to the last. The more furious the fire, the quicker became the advancing step of the two regiments. At last, and just when they were nearing the goal of their hopes, and almost in the arms of victory, the brave and noble Bartow was shot down, the ball striking him in the left breast, just above the heart. His men rallied behind him, and finding him mortally wounded and that the forces that had been ordered to support their charge had not yet come up, they gradually fell back, bearing him in their arms and disputing every inch of ground. I learn that they would never have retired but for the orders which were given in consequence of the non-arrival of the supporting force. It appears that the order to support our charge, like that to gen. Ewell, miscarried – a failure which had nearly cost us two of the best regiments in the army. Col. Bartow died soon after he was borne from the field. His last words, as repeated to me, were: “they have killed me, my brave boys, but never give up the ship – we’ll whip them yet.” And so we did!

The field officers of the Seventh Regiment escaped except Col. Gartrell who received a slight wound. All the superior officers in the Eighth Regiment, except Maj. Cooper, were killed or wounded. Lieut. Col. Gardner had his leg broken by a musket ball, and Adjutant Branch was killed. Capt. Howard of the Mountain Rangers from Merriwether county was also killed. But I shall not go into a statement of the killed and wounded preferring in delicate and painful a matter to await the official report, which I hope to get tomorrow, when I shall have more to say about our heroic regiments. I will add just here, that our loss in officers was very great. Among others may be mentioned Gen. Bee, Lieut. Col. Johnson of Hampton’s Legion, and Col. Thomas of Gen. Johnston’s Staff, and others. Gen. Jackson was wounded in the hand, and Col. Wheat of the New Orleans Tigers was shot through the body. Col Jones of the 4th Alabama Regiment it is feared was mortally wounded. The regiments that suffered most and were in the thickest of the fight, were the 7th and 8th Georgia, the 4th Alabama, 4th South Carolina, Hampton’s Legion, and 4th Virginia. The New Orleans Washington Artillery did great execution.

If we consider the numbers engaged and the character of the contest, we may congratulate ourselves upon having won, one of the most brilliant victories that any race of people ever achieved. It was the greatest battle ever fought on this continent, and will take its place in history by the side of the most memorable engagements. It is believed that General Scott himself was nearby, at Centreville, and that he directed as he had planned the whole movement. Gen. McDowell was the active commander upon the field.

President Davis arrived upon the field at 5 o’clock, just as the enemy had got into full retreat. His appearance was greeted with shout after shout, and was the equivalent to a reinforcement of 5,000 men. He left Richmond at 7 in the morning.

But “little Beaury” against the world.

P. W. A.

Savannah Republican, 7/27/1861

William B. Styple, Ed., Writing and Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander Confederate War Correspondent, pp 19-23





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





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





Off the Record, On the QT, and Very Hush-Hush

1 08 2013

I’ve been waiting for a chance to use another James Elroy quote, and here it is! I just heard through the grapevine that a manuscript has been submitted to a university press – a First Bull Run campaign study that the editor indicates is “long, deeply researched, and extremely well written.” Can this be the type of study I called for in the roundtable article in Civil War History a while back?

It’s starting to sound like I’m advocating a big campaign study featuring coordinated coverage of the social, political, and military aspects of the campaign in context and detail, with an emphasis on how they all impacted what was to follow, and I guess I am.  I think it would make for a fascinating read.

Let’s hope this is it. Having some idea how the process works, I’m guessing it will be a couple of years before we see anything (as late as 2016, the 155th anniversary, perhaps.) But I could be way off on that. And no, I don’t know the writer’s identity. Refer again to the title of this post.

In other news, the program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable (and talked about here) continues to evolve and I’ve decided to actually write this one up. I’ll share some bullet-points with you all later, but won’t make the big reveal until that evening, of course. Again, the program will focus on McDowell’s plans: what he expected, what he intended, and how and why we seem to miss the mark today when it comes to evaluating them and him.





Making Progress

12 07 2013

I am making progress on a program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable next spring. Yes, you heard that right, next spring. One of the luxuries of not doing a lot of these presentations is I have plenty of time to prepare. I’m taking a different tack with this one. For the most part my narratives have been mostly extemporaneous based on fairly rough outlines and PowerPoint slides. In fact, the last one I gave had no slides at all, just some notes but also a few pretty long passages from books and some articles I wrote previously (that one was interesting and I had really very little idea where the road would lead, though I was pleasantly surprised.) I decided quite a few months ago, when I got the invite from COCWRT, to open a Word document on my desktop and put down thoughts on the presentation as they entered my head, and so far I’m pretty pleased with what’s taking shape. Now the question is: do I want to write this up in the form of a “paper” and build a slide presentation around it? This is a different approach in a couple of ways. First, when I’ve done PowerPoint presentations in the past, they’ve typically driven the narrative. In this case, the slides will serve more as support. Second, I’ve never before had a “script” for my programs. I’ve never really read a “paper”, though I think my program on Patrick O’Rorke for the Gettysburg Foundation back in 2011 came pretty close, but the bulk of that program consisted of his letter home on the Battle of Bull Run. “Paper Reading” is something I find not so appealing as a consumer, and as a presenter I really prefer give and take during the program as opposed to a structured talk with questions afterwards. For this program, which contrasts a well established, familiar story line of First Bull Run with what really happened (or, at least, what I think really happened and why I think it), I think I’ll write the “paper” and look at my options afterwards. One thing for sure is I won’t be using the future tense when speaking of past events – I promise. Irvin McDowell intended to do some things, he did other things, but he will not BE doing anything ever again.





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





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





Benjamin Brown French, On the Campaign and Aftermath

13 03 2013

Friday, July 19. … The Federal army, more than 50,000 strong, is pushing on as fast as possible toward Manassas Junction where it is expected that the Traitor rebels will make a stand. Thus far they have run on the approach of the Federal troops. This day must, I think tell the story of a decisive battle, or an ignominious rout of the rebels. The Federal troops either reached Manassas last night, or must this morning…

… I went to the Navy Department on business for a friend, but did not succeed in seeing the Secretary. Hon. Truman Smith was with me. We waited two or three hours, but the place was besieged by Members of Congress, who have the preference in seeing the Secretaries….

Friday, July 20. Soon after eating breakfast yesterday I walked to the War Department – found it would not be possible to see the Secretary – heard all sorts of rumors about battles, etc., but could not ascertain the truth of any of them. One was that Gen. Tyler’s brigade had marched up to a masked battery at Bull Run, and that 500 were killed and an immense number wounded! which all turned out to be gammon. I staid about the War Department perhaps an hour, saw President Lincoln pass through the lower passage, which was crowded with people. He was dressed in a common linen coat, had on a straw hat, & pushed along through the crowd without looking to the right or left, and no one seemed to know who he was. He entered the East door, passed entirely through & out the West door, & across the street to Gen. Scott’s quarters. I was somewhat amused to see with what earnestness he pushed his way along & to observe his exceedingly ordinary appearance….

Sunday, July 21. … At 3 Misses Emeline Barrett & Lizzie Barrett came with their heads full of exciting news of the battle now in progress at Bull Run. Emeline, whose nephew is with the Mass. 5th Regt. as a spectator, was very much troubled. She came with tears in her eyes. I told her not to believe anything she heard until it was officially confirmed. We soothed her as well as we could, & she left at 1/4 before 4 in much better spirits than she came….

Monday, July 22. I am sick in body & mind. The battle yesterday was disastrous to our troops. Forty-thousand men in the open field undertook to fight 70 thousand well entrenched, and of course were whipped. At 12 o’clock, midnight, Col. John S. Keyes, who had been at Bull Run, came to my door, called up his mother, & said “Mother pack your trunk and be ready to leave in the 1/4 past 4 o’clock train.” I asked why such haste? He said, holding up both hands, We are whipped all to pieces.” He then went on to describe the battle and the retreat, & said when he left the whole army was in full flight. Mary Ellen was down at my brother’s & I went immediately after her. She came up & aided Mrs. Keyes to pack, got her some breakfast, etc., and at 1/4 past 4 accompanied her to the depot, & she, with Doct. Bartlett, Miss Emeline, Mrs. Jo. Keyes, & Lizzie Bartlett, went….

At 1/2 past 8 I walked down in the City and soon found, to my sorrow, that our “grand army” had made a grand run, and has been terribly cut up. As I passed along the North side of the Avenue I saw a baggage wagon marked “2d Reg. N.H.V.” which stopped opposite the door of a house on the other side. I walked across, & behold Surgeon Hubbard of Manchester was the driver and he had inside Col. Gilman Marston, badly wounded, with a bullet through his shoulder. So great a crowd collected at once around the wagon that I could see nothing, so I walked on, and on my return called at the house and was told Col. M. seemed inclined to sleep, & it was thought best not to disturb him as there was no hemorrhage, so the wound had not been examined & no one could tell how bad it was. I then came to the Capitol. Soldiers were straggling into the city in all sorts of shapes. Some without guns – some with two. Some barefooted, some bareheaded, & all with a doleful story of defeat.

Ambulances & wagons also came. At the Capito everybody’s face was gloomy. A gentleman sat in one of the member’s seats in the Hall, who was present from the firing of the first gun at 10 A.M. till 1/2 past 9 P.M. and seemed to have had all his wits about him. He gave a very full description of the fight & the retreat. On being asked if the retreat was in good order, he said, it was in the worst order that could be imagined, that it was actually led by the officers. That he saw two officers throw away their swords, cut a horse loose from a wagon & both get on and ride away. He said the ground was strewed with all sorts of provisions from Bull Run to Centreville, where a rally was made the troops again formed.

It was now 3 o’clock P.M. and all sorts of rumors came along. Col. Keyes was here about the time I commenced writing, on his way along to Alexandria to look after his brother-in-law, Capt. George Prescott, of the Mass. 5th. He said the report was that the U.S. troops were retreating in good order, with some 3,000 cavalry in pursuit, and that they intended to make a stand somewhere, perhaps at Fairfax, & give battle again.

As for me, I am almost too sick to be up, but, eager as I am for news, I cannot go to bed….

Tuesday, July 23. Another day has passed and Washington is fast settling down into its usual calm. The rain fell steadily all of yesterday – the city was filled with excitement & demoralized soldiers most of whom, I suspect, ingloriously fled on Sunday. This morning opened bright and beautiful. I had occasion to ride down in the City immediately after breakfast, and found that the Companies were resuming their old quarters, & reorganizing fast. The soldiers seemed to be individually engaged in drying their wet clothing, cleaning their guns, cooking, etc. The smoke and dust of battle having cleared away, we all begin to see the field as it was actually left, and the loss on our side, currently reported yesterday as 5 or 6,000, has dwindled down to 5 or 600! It is believed that the rebel loss far exceeded ours, but nothing certain is known. They did not follow our retreating army – so much is certain – & no reason is given but that they were too much cut up to do so.

I met Gen. Wilson – Senator – this morning, and speaking about the battle, he said, “Don’t call it a battle, it was nothing but a tuppenny skirmish, with about 500 killed on each side – that was all it was, and all it ought to be called.”

I have succeeded in keeping myself pretty busy all day. Arose early, read the papers till breakfast was ready. As soon as I had eaten breakfast went to market. Thence to the P.O. & to Jo. Keyes’s boardinghouse. Found that Capt. Prescott & Edwin Barrett had both returned to the city unhurt. Called on Barrett, who showed me the trophies he had brought from the field of battle, consisting of a very nice pair of secession saddlebags, a handsome revolver, belonging to one of the Black-horse Cavalry, pretty much all of whom are said to have been killed by the Zouaves, an India-rubber blanket, & a woolen ditto, picked up on the road & both belonging to our troops, a button cut from a secession coat. He also brought in a horse with his equipments, taken from the rebels.

After having a very minute and interesting account from Edwin of what he saw (& being with Gen. McDowell, he had the opportunity to see a great deal) I went to see Capt. Prescott. Found him with most of his company quartered at Jimmy Maher’s old tavern house. He was looking finely….

Edwin told me he saw a lively fight between the 2d N. H. Regt. and a Georgia Regiment in a small piece of woods, in which the Georgians were badly beaten. After the troops had left he said he went into the woods and saw the dead bodies of 42 rebels & 10 wounded on a space of ground not larger than the parlor in which we were sitting when he told me the story….

Friday July 26. … [On Wednesday July 24] I rode down to Col Marston’s room & saw him. He looked quite well and his physicians told me was doing well, & they had strong hopes of saving his arm.  The bullet was a common musket bullet & struck his right arm just below the shoulder, passed through it, & lodged in his breast, from which it was extracted. At Marston’s room I found Senator Clark, and we rode out to the encampment of the 2d N.H. Regt. in my buggy. We saw Col. Fisk and Major Stevens, and many others. Ned was out there & introduced me to Dearborn Morse, a son of Josiah Morse, whom I knew from my childhood till his death. He lived at my grandfather Brown’s when I was a boy, and I was glad to see his son, who is the very image of his father.

Major Stevens gave us a very interesting history of the battle, explaining it by diagrams which he drew as he proceeded. He was in it from first to last. He said he saw one of the “Black horse cavalry” undertake to sabre a Zouave. He parried the sabre with his musket, seized the trooper by the breast of his coat, dragged him from his horse and cut his throat, all within a single minute….

D. B. Cole & J. J. McDonough, eds., Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee’s Journal, 1828-1870, pp. 365-369

Benjamin Brown French bio.





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.








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