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

29 08 2014

The Affair of the Twenty-First.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The New York Herald’s dispatch says:

The whole of Sherman’s battery is saved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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

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





Pvt. John W. Day, Co. H, 1st Massachusetts, On the March, Blackburn’s Ford, and the Battle

26 02 2012

The First Conflict at Bull Run.

The following letter was received by Capt. Wm. Day, in this city, from his nephew, who was connected with the 1st Massachusetts Regiment: -

Fort Albany, Arlington Heights, Va.,

July 27, 1861.

This is the first opportunity which has presented itself for some time, and I improve it in writing to you. We have had a hard battle since last I wrote.

On Tuesday afternoon, July 16th, we received orders to march into Virginia, and crossed chain bridge about four o’clock, en route for Vienna where we arrived after a long night’s march. – Here we snatched a few hours’ repose, and at about, 8 A. M. we started for Fairfax Court House. – Our brigade was thrown on the left to outflank the enemy in the town, but they fled at the approach of the entire column, headed by Sherman’s Battery. They ran all that day till at night we were glad to desist from the pursuit and rest in Centreville. As we passed through Germantown the rebels set fire to the houses. It was a terrible sight; the houses flaming everywhere, amid the dense woods, on the plains, and upon the distant hills. The rebels knocked in the heads of the flour barrels and stirred it in the mud rather than we should have it, and kegs of crackers and barrels of salt beef were mingled on every side, with cartridges, broken wheels, wagon bodies, etc. &c. They kept only half an hour ahead of us the whole way. When our brigade halted for the night, our company was appointed to do picket duty, and we marched off in the direction of the enemy for about a mile, then separated into squads of four, and hid ourselves in the bushes, where we awaited their coming, but were not attacked, although the pickets of the Ohio regiment were. On Thursday morning the Massachusetts First led the van, and we pushed forward for Bull Run, five or six miles distant. Halting about two miles off, our Company and Company G, were detailed to support two companies of Cavalry on a reconnoisance. We hurried rapidly forward under a blazing sun, and suddenly found ourselves in the face of the enemy’s batteries. A precipitate retreat was ordered, and we fell back on the main body. Sherman’s battery advanced at a quick trot, and fired the first gun at about 2 o’clock. The enemy commenced his reply and then retreated. We followed after in full feather, but as our skirmishers on the left were rushing on through the under brush they were saluted by a raking fire from a masked battery in the ravine below. They were scattered and nearly annihilated. The Boston Fusileers were ordered up to support them, and finding the place too hot for them, our Company and the National Guards were sent to their support. Our company crossed the ravine and ascended the hill, densely covered with wood, and passing the crest, found themselves on a comparatively open plateau sloping down to a pond of water, surrounded by a dense wood. From the wood the rifles and cannon belched forth their fires, and bullets screamed over our heads like a hornet’s nest. As we rushed down the hill at the battery, two men, Sergeant Thomas Harding, and George Bacon, were killed at my side one on my right, and the other on my left. We were broken by the fire, and obliged to retire to the crest of the hill under cover of the trees, leaving four men, two dead and two wounded on the field, beside those whom we were able to carry off – some six or eight. Twice we charged down the hill, and twice we returned, and then the word “retreat!” was passed along the line. Our Lieut. Col. Wells, fought like a common soldier – he rushed from man to man, grasping their muskets, and firing them, and shouting for another loaded one. So did our Captain, and the men, encouraged by their example, fought like devils, as was said by an officer in the regiment of artillery, who had been in the Mexican army. But what could three companies do against four thousand men who were in the battery and woods? Nothing, and we were obliged to retreat. Just as we leaped the fence, the Lieut. Col. called for volunteers to go down the hill and try to bring up our two wounded men. I said I would go, and handing my musket to the captain, ran down the hill as fast as I could amid a perfect storm of bullets, which made me bend over almost double in order that they might go over my head, as the enemy aimed most astonishingly high. Whole platoons fired at once, but the bullets passed over the heads of our men. I reached the nearest man, both threw up their hands and begged me for Christ’s sake not to leave them to the enemy who were bayonetting the wounded. I looked behind me, and judge of horror and peril to find myself alone; not a man had followed me down hill. I was not one hundred feet from the enemy, and without arms. I threw myself down on my face and grasped his hand, bidding him good bye. I told him I was so weak I could scarce get off myself, and that I was alone and must leave him. I then sprang up and ran as fast as I could up the hill, waving my cap and shouting friend! as loud as possible in order to keep the skirmishers of the New York 12th from firing on me – for amid the confusion of the hour it was almost impossible to distinguish friend from foe. the enemy shot my canteen off my neck as I ran up the hill, but I reached the N. Y. regiment in safety, and sank on the ground inside their line utterly exhausted. The other regiments now moved to the line of battle, but none entered the wood again. The men were much exhausted by their hard marching and the poor food they had had for the past three days; and we had been living on raw salt pork and hard bread. Finding retreat inevitable, Gen. Tyler ordered us to  retire to Centreville, where we arrived about 8 o’clock, and dropped down to sleep under a pouring rain. We lost 15, viz: killed, 5; wounded, 9; missing 1; – from whom we have heard nothing; no doubt he is dead. It is also believed that one of our company, who was dying of a cannon shot in his leg, was burned to death at Fairfax when the enemy burnt the hospital after the retreat of the second battle. This ended the first battle of Bull Run. We lay at Centreville all night, and at earliest dawn were marched to within two miles of the enemy, where we rested the next two days, till on Saturday night we were thrown out to sustain our pickets; our regiment laid down on a fresh ploughed field, and being much exhausted, went to sleep, waked every now and then by the sound of the enemy marching in with reinforcements to Bull Run. – They came with rolling drums and bugles playing martial airs, so close to us that we felt the jarring of the ground. But we lay still without noise, and they apparently knew not that on the other side of the wall in the corn-field lay a regiment of their sworn and deadly foes. I fell asleep and dreamed of faces left behind, till called up in the grey of the morn, when we rushed forward to take a position on the right bivouac in order to support the Artillery of the left battery of the central division.

It was a fair and lovely Sabbath morning when we filed into the woods, in the rear of our cannon, and sat down to await the commencement of the battle! Bang – went our cannon – echoing through the startled wood, and a rifle shell went crashing off like and express train in the direction of the enemy! Far away like distant thunder came the answer of our other batteries along the line. Then on the right large bodies of our troops charged on the foe; whole regiments fired at once, and whole squadrons of the enemy’s horse tore over the groaning ground. For nine hours the battle continued, and we sat there in those woods waiting the order to advance, but none came. As I reclined half dozing on my blanket I could not realize the awful scene only two miles distant. The cannon seemed to my mind a tolling bell calling to worship, as a thousand Sabbath bells were doing then in my far off Northern home, and spiritually I worshipped at the olden altar, as I read from my little Testament and Psalms:

“Lord make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail I am! Behold Thou hast made my days as an hand’s breadth, and mine age is nothing before thee; verily every man at his best estate is but vanity.

Lord! what I wait for? my hope is in thee; O! spare me that I may recover strength before I go hence and be here no more!”

At 4 P. M. up galloped an aid-de-camp, and a hurried retreat was ordered; while the enemy’s fire came pelting on our rear, we retired hastily to Centreville. Thence by a forced march to Arlington Heights, thirty miles. Here we are now, but know not how long we shall remain.

J. W. D.[*],

Co. H. Mass. 1st Reg.

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics,  8/10/1861

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* Most likely John W. Day, a 23-year-old printer from Chelsea, MA, who enlisted in Co. H on 5/22/1861 and received a disability discharge in Bladensburg, MD on 8/29/1861. Per Ancestry.com.

Contributed by John Hennessy





Bull Run Images for Sale

31 01 2010

Here’s a link to a nice CDV of a veteran of the First Massachusetts wounded at First Bull Run, John Baxter.  Per www.henrydeeks.com, Baxter was wounded in the left thigh on July 21, 1861.  It can be yours for $150.

Also available here on the same site is this image of New York Congressman Alfred Ely, taken prisoner at Bull Run (I wrote a little bit about it here).  Price is $85.

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