Pvt. Mortimer Stimpson*, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

24 11 2012

Letters from soldiers.

We are under obligations to very many persons who have furnished us with letters from their friends in the army, obtaining early and interesting intelligence after the battle at Bull Run. We are still in the receipt of several, but the contents of most of them have been anticipated, and the publication at length is therefore unnecessary. From others we make extracts which will be read with interest by the friends of the writers. From a letter written by Mortimer Stimpson of the 1st Minnesota regiment, (son of Rev. H. K. Stimpson, of Lagrange, Wyoming County), we take the following:

“Our regiment with the Fire Zouaves were ordered to right flank at double-quick, right down upon the enemy who were concealed in a piece of thick everglades and woods. As we came up they displayed the American Flag just as our boys were going to fire at left oblique, and the Colonel gave orders not to fire, as they were our friends. Just then down went the flag, and up went the secession flag, and with the most destructive fire of musketry, grape and canister from a masked battery inside the wood. Our poor boys were cut up awfully, and after rallying three times were obliged to retreat. The carnage was most horrid on both sides. The dead, dying and wounded of both sides literally covered the ground. The secession cavalry charged our boys and the Fire Zouaves, when the Zouaves formed and almost annihilated them and their horses; that was the only fair show our boys had. At this juncture the enemy were reinforced by Johnson with twenty-five thousand men, and our forces made a precipitate retreat. *  *  *  *  *

There were more than 8.000 soldiers straying through the woods, and who refused to rally, as their commanders were either killed or wounded, but for the most part, our men were as brave as men could be, and it is acknowledged by all hands that if proper precaution had been used in surveying the ground, and plenty of siege pieces had been with us, we shouldn’t have had to mourn the loss of so many brave fellows, and a disastrous defeat. Our flying artillery did some fine work. We had [?] batteries with our division. Only five of these engaged the enemy, and one, after getting position on the left of the Minnesotas and Fire Zouaves, and unlimbering, every man fled without firing a gun. All their horses were killed, and consequently we had no help from the artillery.

I suppose you would like to know what part I took in the battle; my position as one of the Band did not require me to do anything and we were ordered to remain in camp, but we all disobeyed the command and went on the field. I saw the whole of the hard fighting. I found a Tennessee rifle with all the accoutrements on a wounded secessionist. I helped him up beside of a stump, and giving him some water from my canteen, I went into the engagement and fired fourteen times, and am positively certain that five of them took effect, because I laid in the bushes, 30 rods from their column. I took a secession prisoner, horse and all, and delivered him to the Brooklyn boys, and have his revolver and sash, which I hope to be able to show you sometime.

Rochester Democrat and American, 8/4/1861

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*Likely Montcalm J. Stimson, musician, Co. G.

Montcalm J. Stimson at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Chaplain Rev. Edward D. Neill, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

23 11 2012

Chaplain Neill’s Letter.

Washington, July 24, 1861,

Wednesday Night.

  *  *  The conductors of the advance towards Richmond forgot the better part of valor, discretion. Our regiment, as you have learned, was in the advance of Heintzelman’s column, and I never saw men behave with so much dignity and cheerfulness, with the entire absence of all shouting, as they descended into the battle field. Occupying the extreme right on the battle field, and in proximity to the Fire Zouaves, I have no doubt that their red shirts led the rebels to suppose that they were all of the came corps, and direct their fire upon our men with greater energy.

It was painful, I assure you, to be on the battle field and have nothing to do but dodge cannon balls. It was impossible for me to lag behind, as I felt that the soldiers ought to see me by them and as they entered the engagement; and yet, when they skirmished around and left me near the artillery, I felt a singular loneliness, and would have felt much better if I had had some distinct military duty to perform.

As the battle ceased, however, I found my hands full in dragging our wounded men to the hospital, near by. Afterwards I succeeded in bringing Capt. Acker, Lieut. Harley, (of Capt. Pell’s company,) and five other wounded men in an ambulance to Centreville, near where we had camped before the battle. Harley and I reached this place before we were ordered to retire to Washington. We reached Georgetown at 11 A. M. Monday, having been on our feet, with the exception of a few halts, thirty hours. During this time I saw the battle; was in the ambulance and surrounded by thousands of panic stricken men; forced to make a wounded man tear off his flannel shirt, which I hung out the ambulance on a sabre, as a hospital sign, so that the rebels, who were alleged to be near, would not fire on the suffering; witnessed the wreck of artillery wagons, baggage wagons, &c., on the road, which has been so fully told in all the papers. From Saturday night at six o’clock until Monday at dinner time, I had the privilege of eating two pilot crackers, a piece of cake and a cup of coffee.

All my baggage was thrown into the road to make way for the wounded, and I fear that the trunk may be captured. In that case I am left with only the clothes on my back.

We were quite anxious for Drs. Boutillier and Steward, fearing that they may have been captured, but to night the former arrived, and we learn that the latter is out by the Hospital, not far from the battle filed.

The field officers behaved very well on the field, and ll of them escaped without the slightest scratch.

St. Paul Press, 8/1/1861

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Rev. Edward Neill on Ancestry.com

Edward Neill bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. William Nixon, Co. A, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

23 11 2012

Letter From A Private In Capt. Wilkin’s Company.

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Interesting Account of our Soldiers in the Battle.

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[Mr. William Nixon permits us to publish the following letter from his son.]

Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father: — I now write you in answer to yours. We arrived here yesterday afternoon from Manassas. I suppose you have heard of the battle there. It was a hard one. We fought steady for about six hours. Col. Gorman led us right into the mouths of the cannon, and into the midst of a large body of infantry. We were terribly cut up, losing half our company, but it is lucky we got out as we did.

I have not seen Edward since we left the field , but I guess he is all right, for some of our boys say they saw him on the road. Half our company only are here, [?] [?] expect some of them are yet on the road.

In the fight, I saw several of our boys shot down, two on my right were shot dead with the same ball, which went through the body of the first man on my right and struck the man in his rear in the shoulder. They fell like a stone, and did not utter a word. Mr. Halstead had all of his finger on one hand shot off. Robert Stines was shot in the elbow; he fell, and the blood ran out in streams. He asked me for some water but I had none to give him.

Mr. Neill was in the battle with us, but I do not know how he came out. One of the doctors was wounded, but not severely. Both Surgeons staid to take care of the wounded. It is reported that the rebels have slaughtered all the wounded.

In our retreat we were followed by several thousand dragoons for ten or fifteen miles. I thought I was at one time a prisoner. A companion and myself stopped to get a drink, and got left behind, and just as we were through drinking, a lot of cavalry came up and commenced firing upon us. I thought then that we were surely gone, so I told him to hurry up. He dropped his gun and came along with me a little ways, but could not keep up, but fell in with some other boys, and that was the last I saw of him. I have since heard that he was taken prisoner.

I got off better than I expected. When I went to the field, I did not expect to come off alive, but I put my trust in the Lord and he spared my life. As we were forming into line to go on to the field, I raised my eyes and asked Him to preserve me through the contest, and it so happened.

I never saw hail flying thicker than the balls did around me, some of them brushing my hair. We went in with the expectation of not seeing more than one or two hundred of the enemy, but when we got along by the side of a little grove a shower of balls came through the woods, and after a little there were about two thousand of the rebels ran out of the woods, and made believe they were our friends, and Capt. Wilkin ordered our men to cease firing, and then they poured a volley upon us, and just then we saw the Secession flag. I hauled up my gun, took deliberate aim at one of them, and shot him in the breast; he wheeled to run, took two steps and fell. I walked over him afterwards, and he was nearly dead. One of the Zouaves wanted to run his bayonet into him but he was stopped.

Our little Captain Wilkin fought like a man. He picked up a musket of one of the killed and shot four of the rebels, and took one prisoner.

Our boys fought like men – we were with the Zouaves all the time. They say they want the Minnesota boys to fight with them hereafter. No one can say but that all of our boys have done their duty. They went at it as cooly as thought they were shooting at a mark. We had a terrible hard time since we left Manassas; we camped one night at a place where we stayed one day, on the afternoon of which our company went out scouting, and discovered a battery of six cannon and several hundred men ready to fire upon us. We went back to camp to get more men, and when we got there the whole division was ready to march to Centreville, six miles distant! We had not had anything to eat since morning and all of our rations were gone, but we had to start right off, and march at double quick two or three miles to get up with our Regiment. We got to Centreville about nine o’clock at night and had to lay out all night in the rain without tents, and with nothing to eat until morning. We stayed here two days, and had nothing to eat but crackers, with dirty creek water to drink. We started at three o’clock in the morning for the battle field, and when we got within a mile of it stopped and got a drink. We were then ordered to at double quick into the field, and were about dead when we got there. As we went into the fight, we threw down our blankets and knapsacks, and when the retreat commenced we had no time to pick them up. We marched the rest of the day and all night and part of the next day before we reached Alexandria, where we stopped about an hour and got breakfast, and then proceeded to Washington where we arrived yesterday, and went into quarters. It rained all the time we were marching.

St. Paul Press, 7/30/1861

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William Nixon on Ancestry.com

William Nixon bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, Sets the Record Straight

15 04 2012

The recent battle and the fate of our missing comrades, which we did not then definitely know, was the one subject of conversation. I recall an expression of one of my tentmates as we sat on the ground in the tent eating our dinners. “Well,” he said, “anyhow, it does seem good to have a roof over our heads and a visible means of support.” There was another thing connected with that, the second day after the battle, that has since caused me to feel sincere pride in the company. Every man not killed, wounded, or captured was ‘present and accounted for’ at the evening roll call, with his gun and equipments.

The poet Walt Whitman, and others, have written profusely and, I think, unfairly and ignorantly, of the return of the army to Washington. A specimen of his statements is sufficient to indicate their absurdity. He says: “Where are the vaunts and proud boasts with which you went forth? Where are your banners and your bands of music, and your ropes to bring back your prisoners? Well, there is not a band playing, and there isn’t a flag but clings ashamed and lank to its standard.”

A grown man of very ordinary capabilities ought to have known better. We did go out with confidence, but I heard no boasting by the soldiers themselves – but I do not claim to know what noncombatants may have done or said. There were no ropes, and I do not suppose that any soldier ever had a thought of providing one. Our flag was not in any sense ashamed of us, nor we of it. The colors had been bravely borne. All of the color guard but one had been wounded, and the flag itself riddled with bullets, but it was dearer to us than ever, and its display brought neither censure nor discredit to us or it. Every man of the company – and, I believe, of the regiment – had clung to his musket as a man overboard would cling to a life preserver.

It is not my purpose to comment on the strategy or tactics at Bull Run or elsewhere, or the criticism that followed, but we know now that while the plan may have been good, it was most bunglingly executed, and later experience has shown the unwisdom of sending in a regiment at a time to be beaten in detail. It was really an absurd thing to do. I have often thought, too, what a glorious opportunity there was to have sent a brigade around our right flank at the time we were first engaged and taken their line and batteries in reverse. It seems now that it would have been entirely feasible and must have wrecked Beauregard’s army. But it is useless to ‘cry for spilled milk’ and – as ours was badly spilled – I leave this part of the subject without further comment.

The official loss of the regiment as I find it is: killed 42, wounded 108, and missing 30. Many of the wounded and the missing were prisoners. I do not know the exact number of the regiment in the Bull Run Campaign. If we set it at 900, then the total loss of 180 men was twenty percent of the whole number. The strength of Company F when it left the state was 3 officers and 96 enlisted men. When we started on the campaign, Lieut. Hoyt and ten enlisted men were left at the camp. There were 2 officers and 86 enlisted men went out with the company. The loss of the company was: 8 killed or died of their wounds; wounded, 12; and missing, 3 – for a total of 23. The total casualties were 23 – more than twenty-five percent.

Sergeant Charles N. Harris was one of the wounded. A rebel bullet shattered his shoulder, and he was captured and taken to Richmond. He recovered, was paroled, sent home, and finally exchanged. It was supposed at the time that he was dead, and, under that belief, his obituary was printed and funeral services were held. It was thus that he had an opportunity to read of his own funeral.

Company F was not ‘spoiling for a fight’ when it started for Bull Run or on any other occasion, but it meant business, as it always did when confronting an enemy, and did its level best to make things interesting for its ‘friends, the enemy.’ It did not ‘move as steadily as if on parade’ or ‘march undismayed in the face of batteries’ or ‘smile at bursting shells'; but it did try to march wherever it was ordered; we were all more or less scared – and in my case it was more; we ‘dodgedi the shell on the hillside both going and returning; and all through the fight we fully realized that it was a serious business, and I have no doubt we ‘looked it.’ In a word, we fully understood that life and limb were in danger, and the fact impressed itself upon us – much as it would on anyone under like circumstances.

I desire only to add a few words from the official reports that have a bearing on the matter. Colonel W. B. Franklin of the regular army, who commanded the brigade, said:

The First Minnesota Regiment moved from its position on the left of the field to the support of Ricketts’ battery and gallantly engaged the enemy at that point. It was so near the enemy’s lines that friend and foe were for a time confused. The regiment behaved exceedingly well and finally retired from the field in good order.

I may add, without injustice to any other command, that no other regiment in the brigade or division received such high commendation, and some were directly censured.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 64 – 65 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Retreat

12 04 2012

In leaving the position in the road, we observed that everybody seemed to be going, and, in crossing a little rise of ground, we were fired on by some of the advanced skirmishers of this new force, but I do not think that there was a shot from those with whom we had been contending.

This new enemy – we then supposed – was the advance of Johnston’s forces from the Shenandoah Valley, but we have since learned that it was the last of them, under command of Kirby Smith, and that we had been fighting Johnston’s forces all day.  And that this force had got off of the cars at Gainesville and marched towards the firing at an opportune time. Without them, the story of Bull Run might have been a very different one.

After passing the rise, we were sheltered from this musketry fire, but the battery off at the right was throwing shells almost directly down the little valley.

After crossing the stream, which was neither deep nor wide, we started to go up the hill to the point where we had come in, and were again exposed to the batteries which fired on us going down. There was much haste and confusion going up the hill. It was a ‘go as you please’ until we reached the top, where we were out of the range. A hospital had been located at the Sudley Church; an effort had been made to get the wounded there; and both of the surgeons – Stewart and Le Boutillier – were there. Some of the wounded were being assisted up the hill at the time, and I helped carry Joe Garrison on a blanket a part of the way. At the same time, Corporal Schofield was being helped by some of the others of the company.

After we reached the top of the hill, I think there was but very little more firing. There were portions of a number of regiments and some batteries there, with guns in position for firing, but there did not seem to be anyone that knew just what to do. As many as possible of the regiment were assembled here, and an attempt made to find the other companies. After a little delay, we were directed to the ford across Bull Run, where we found what remained of the left wing of the regiment.

It was the first time we had seen or been in close connection with them since forming in line at the beginning of our fighting, and we now learned something of their part in the fight. It had been a terrible experience. Following Ricketts’s Battery – with the left very near the guns – they had come into line and faced the woods. At almost the same time, they saw a force coming out of the woods, and there was uncertainty as to their identity, which caused them to hold their fire – until fired upon. Almost the same time, they received fire from the batteries, which Colonel Franklin says were only about 1,000 feet away.

This was a very destructive fire – killed and wounded many men of the regiment and practically disabled the battery, as it was able to fire but a few round. The regiment returned this fire with such effect as to drive back this force, but their position was untenable on account of the enemy’s artillery. They were obliged to retire to the shelter of the hill, which position they maintained until ordered to withdraw, but – in the meantime – they took part in one or two other attempts to recover the guns. These attempts were failures – but all attempts of the enemy were also failures. If we could not remove the guns, neither could they so long as our forces remained in the shelter of the hill to protect them.

It was after we had reached the top of the hill and were nearly ready to march away, when a large force came out of the woods and charged on the deserted guns, swinging their hats and cheering. Whether these were some of the troops that had been there during the fighting – or some of those who had just come up – of course, I do not know. This was just at the time that the battery near us – Arnold’s, I think it was – limbered up to leave. I saw no other display of their infantry, except those that were coming across the fields on our right.

When we left the position on the hill, both of the surgeons remained with the wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy. This was voluntary on their part.

When we joined the regiment on the other side of the stream, we found several other regiments – or parts of regiments – there, but all were without orders. About this time, Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island joined his regiment and brought the news that our forces were retreating. It was decided by him – or someone else – to return to the bivouac at Centreville.

I do not know the time, but I judge it to have been between four and five o’clock in the afternoon. It was not far from 12 o’clock when we first came under fire. If it was four o’clock when we recrossed Bull Run, then it was probably three or later when we left the cut in the road where we did the last fighting. This is the best estimate we can make of the time, and, if correct, we were confronting the enemy – within musket range – three hours or more. If that was all, then we lived an awful long time in three hours.

When getting ready to march, Colonel Gorman offered the regiment for service as rear guard, but Governor Sprague claimed this for his regiment. This brought on a little discussion as to which was senior in rank – which involved command of the troops present. They were unable to agree, but Sprague settled it – at least to his own satisfaction – by claiming his rank as governor.

With this matter settled, we started for Centreville with the Rhode Island regiment in the rear and ours next in order. In this manner we marched until overtaken by a body of our cavalry – when we were considerably broken up by their hurriedly passing through us, obliging us to take to the sides of the road.

When we reached the main road, we found carriages, hacks, wagons, and artillery on the road, and all the moving – or trying to move – in the same direction we were, Some were stalled and some were broken down. There were frequent collisions and several wrecks, and we saw one runaway – a pair of horses attached to a hack. Of course, it was not possible to march in regular formation under such conditions, and we were too tired to attempt more than was necessary and make our way the best we could and as fast as we could. At one point, the road passed over a hill that was in range of the enemy’s artillery across Bull Run, and they were throwing shells in that direction. This added to the confusion and hurried matters, also, along that stretch of road.

It was getting dark when we reached Centreville and went to the place where we had spent Friday and Saturday nights and where some wagons had been left – with regimental and company property and some Negro cooks. I think that about one-half of those who had gone out of there that morning had returned. Not more. Where were the rest? At that time, we had no definite knowledge of the others and were anxious to learn the fate of absent ones. We sat or laid down on the ground, and for a little time there were inquiries about this and that one – when and where they had been seen last – but nature asserted herself, and it was but a few minutes before the majority were sleeping soundly.

It seemed but a moment – though it might have been an hour – when we were awakened and found a supply of coffee and crackers awaiting us. I do not know as I had realized that I was hungry, but the smell of that coffee made it evident at once. We drank an unknown quantity of the coffee, but it was not a small quantity, and we felt greatly refreshed and strengthened. We also filled our canteens. It was now quite dark and threatening rain, but we again laid down to sleep.

It was not long after this that we were again called up and told that we were to march soon. This was a surprise to us, as we expected to spend the night there. No one knew where we were to go. It was now raining a little and very dark. We had had no opportunity to recover the blankets we had piled up in the woods, and the rain and night air were chilling. I do not know what became of the blankets we left, but I have been told by a Massachusetts comrade who was in the field hospital at Sudley Church that our surgeons sent and had many of them brought in to lay the wounded on.

When we fell in, we marched down to the Warrenton Turnpike and formed on the left-hand side of the road, and we began to consider the probability of our going back. Up to that time, I do not think there was any expectation of a general retreat. I do not know who organized the order of march, but it was a pretty complicated arrangement for a dark night. In the main roadway there was a line of wagons and a line of artillery, side by side, and a line of infantry marching in fours on either side. Our regiment with others was on the left, and on the right was the Jersey Brigade, a body of troops which had not been actively engaged. I knew that the New Jersey men were on the opposite side of the road, and that there were wagons between, but it was too dark to see.

Everyone who made that terrible march knows that ‘confusion worse confounded’  was produced in large quantities that were painfully evident to all of the senses but seeing. When we started on the march, it was raining hard and so dark that you could not recognize the comrade with whom you touched elbows. It was, I judge, ten o’clock or later.

Since leaving the bivouac 20 to 22 hours before, we had marched 25 to 30 miles, under the scorching heat of the mid-summer sun, much of the way through smothering clouds of pulverized clay, which covered our clothing and filled the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and was breathed into the lungs. Added to these were the excitement and mental strain of the battle and the bitter, humiliating results: defeat and disaster. To all of these was now to be added another march of 25 miles or more. None of us – of the ranks – really knew where we were going or what distance it was intended to march. All we actually knew was that we were headed back over the road we had come, and that it was dark as Egypt and raining diligently.

When this ‘mixed multitude’ of men, mules, horses, and wheels was set in motion, the situation was intensified. Wagons collided or got off the pike into the ditch; teams balked, and drivers swore and called for assistance; we of the infantry  blundered along the sides of the road as best we could – bumping into each other and everything else bump-able – tired beyond all previous experience and in anything but an amiable frame of mind. After vain attempts to keep some kind of a formation by touch and calling each other’s names or the company letter, all efforts in that direction were given up, and we just plodded along in the pouring rain as best we could.

When the rain began to fall, it was cooling and refreshing, but – as it saturated our scant clothing and poured over us in a continuous shower-bath fresh from the clouds – it became the reverse of agreeable and added much to our discomfort. The accumulations of dust on the road became sloppy mud very quickly, and the gathering water ran in little streams across the road or along the sides and collected in the depressions. Unable to see where we should go, we waded through these – often over our shoes in water and mud. The day’s operations had left a liberal deposit of dust, sand, and gravel in our shoes, and the addition of water increase the discomfort and added to the abrasions of our tired, blistered feet.

To start on such a march, under such conditions, after the efforts of the day, was a great undertaking. While the darkness lasted, it was each man for himself. When men felt that they had gone as far as they could, they turned aside in the woods and, finding a place where they could rest against a tree or stump, went to sleep. When awakened by the pitiless, drenching rain – as soon or later they were – they roused up by sheer will power and forced their stiffened, benumbed limbs to carry them onward.

Personally, that is the way I covered the distance between Centreville and Fairfax. I did not know where I was or what the hour of the night when – after a little debate with myself – I decided to rest awhile and think the situation over. With a comrade, I went a little ways into the bushes, curled up, and went to sleep without doing any thinking.

Daylight was coming, and the rain had almost ceased, when I awoke. We heard voices and knew that men were passing. Satisfying ourselves that they were not enemies, we went back into the road – though so stiff and sore that it was with difficulty we could walk. Groups of men, here and there, had made fires and were boiling coffee, and others were moving along. Going a little ways, we found two members of the company and several more of the regiment at a fire, making coffee in their tincups and little pails. Of course, we joined them at the same occupation, realizing that we were hungry.

After drinking a pint or so of strong, hot coffee and eating crackers and salt pork, we felt refreshed and continued our march. Many groups were marching, and others were halted – cooking – and we soon found others of the company and regiment and, naturally, we kept together. We soon came to Fairfax, where we found some of the wagons and artillery. From Fairfax, we took the road to Alexandria where our tents and the detail had remained. It was nearly twelve miles, but we made the distance before noon.

Here there was found food and drink and a warm welcome from those who had kept the camp. Some had come in before us, and others arrived later. Some water to wash our begrimed faces and something to eat, and, meantime, there was a general inquiry for the missing ones. In my tent, I was so fortunate as to have left a blanket, and I had a shirt and some underclothes, but I did not stop to change then. In a very few minutes, I was sleeping. I had slept, seemingly, but a little time when I was ‘stirred up’ and told that an order had come to move.

It was now well along in the afternoon, and more of the company and regiment had come in. Tents were struck and – with all the other company material – were loaded into the wagons, and we fell in for the march – we knew not where. The rain had ceased during the day, but as night came on it was threatening again. As we passed through Alexandria, it seemed impossible that it had been but a fortnight since we first marched through the city. It seemed like months.

When we reached Fort Runyon, near the Virginia end of the Long Bridge, it was getting dark and raining hard. Here we found more of the company and regiment, and there were glad greetings for some that it was feared were dead or in the hands of the rebels. I do not mean by that that there was anything like rejoicing in the general sense of the word. We had marched out in confidence, expecting a victory, but we had suffered a defeat which had wilted our pride – very much as the great physical efforts had exhausted our strength. We were sincerely glad the price in blood was no greater.

After a short halt, we crossed the Long Bridge and marched to Pennsylvania Avenue. Here and there was another halt. It rained furiously, and the only shelter we had was an iron picket fence. We got a splendid shower-bath, but we had all we wanted of that kind.

After what seemed a long time, we were admitted to some churches for the night. Food and coffee – plenty of it – was soon brought in. It was now getting quite late, and we could take our choice of sleeping on a seat or on the floor between two seats; only, there were not seats enough for all, and some must take the floor anyway. I was too tired to be particular, and gratefully glad to find shelter from the storm anywhere, and turned in on the pulpit floor. Before retiring that night, I found an opportunity to write a few words to my mother, and I think that evening or the next morning most of the boys managed to let their people know that they were still alive.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 23, the storm had ceased, and we again occupied the camp on Seventh Street out of which we had marched on the morning of July 3. It did not seem possible that but twenty  days had elapsed since we had left it. Neither did it seem possible that the 800 depressed, ragged, mud-stained, and foot-sore men who limped into camp and began the work of pitching their tents could be the same ones who had gone out from there less than three weeks before. We were a pretty hard-looking crowd. the blow had fallen with a heavy hand, and we felt its stunning effects. Mechanically, we went to work, but the interest grew as our work progressed.

Before noon, the tents were up, most of the boys had found another shirt in their knapsacks (or washed the one they wore), taken a bath, and presented a better appearance. Tents were stretched, rations were drawn, and the sun was shining and matters began to assume brighter hue. Our clothing had been a subject of complaint before we marched, and it was much more so now, but it was the result of the battle that lay nearest our hearts.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 58 – 64 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

3 04 2012

I am not sure what time it was when we were called, but it could not have been very long after midnight. My recollection is that the moon was shining when we formed for the march. Soon after forming, it was evident that there was some hindrance to the program of arrangements – whatever it was – and, after several attempts to move on, it was learned that some other troops (Hunter’s division) were crossing our line of march – apparently from our right to our left. We – being the flanking column with nearly three times the distance to march – should have had the right of way, but we did not get it, and I have never learned why.

While waiting here, we ‘rested at will’ and there was a mingling of the boys of other companies, who were getting acquainted, and I think also some from other regiments in the brigade. I recall that there was a feeling of dissatisfaction that we had been called so much earlier than was really necessary, but there was a general feeling of determination and hopefulness. I think none of us knew at that time that we were to make a long march to turn the enemy’s right flank. If we had, ordinary common sense would have suggested that we should not have been wasting precious hours on that hillside. We were all so new to the war – and absolutely inexperienced in battle – that we had no basis for a judgment, and our opinions were only reflections of our wishes.

Just when the coming light of day began to make things distinctly visible, while talking with Charley Harris, he was accosted by William A. Croffut, who was – or recently had been – connected with a Minneapolis paper, but who was there as a representative of some paper for the occasion. After an introduction, there was a short talk with Croffut, who questioned us as to the “state of our minds” at the near-approaching hour of battle. Neither of us could truthfully affirm that we were not somewhat disturbed as to our individual safety for the day – though we both tried to consider the matter hopefully and referred lightly to what might happen. We each left a message for our friends and, in case of “an accident,” requested a complimentary obituary notice. After that we shook hands and parted.

Charley got his obituary and – as it was a little premature – lived to read it. A privilege granted to but few. The long, anxious delay had tried us. It was sometime after sunrise, possibly six o’clock, when the road was clear, and we were fairly moving, following after some other division.

We marched for some distance in the rear of other troops over a good road, the Warrenton Turnpike. Soon after crossing a small stream, Cub Run, we turned to the right on a woods road. We – the regiment – were now at the head of the column and were followed by Ricketts’s Battery. Behind the battery were the 11th Massachusetts and 5th Massachusetts, completing the brigade. The 4th Pennsylvania, being a three months’ regiment and its time being out that day, had remained at Centreville or returned to Washington. It was said of them that they “marched to the rear to the tune of the enemy’s guns,” but their colonel, Hartranft, remained – acting as an aide on the staff of Colonel Franklin.

Soon after getting on this by-road, arrangements were made to deploy the first two companies – A and F – if desirable, but it was not found necessary. Our march was now much more rapid than it had been. The day was very hot and, in the woods, on the narrow roads, exceedingly close. From these conditions and out rapid marching, we were sweating profusely, and the march was taxing the men severely. About this time, we began to hear the report of a cannon occasionally, which continued for some time and increased in frequency. This firing seemed to be to our left and rear, and we appeared to be marching away from it.

When still some distance from the ford, near Sudley Springs Church, the artillery firing was heard again and increased to quite a rapid discharge. Musketry firing was also heard. About this time, our regiment was hurried forward at the double quick, and, when we reached the crossing, we were badly winded. As soon as we reached the ford, there was a rush to get water – wading in to fill our canteens and pouring it onto our heads. Meantime there was a pretty lively artillery fire going on and intermittent musketry firing.

There was but a short halt at the ford, when we reformed and waded the stream, following the road up a little rise, and then leaving it by turning to the left into a small, open wood. The other regiments of the brigade remained – for a time – on the other side of the stream, but the battery followed us over. During this time, there was rapid firing going on, and we laid down for a few minutes in this wood.

Here we could smell the smoke and hear firing out in the field in front. Near us in this wood was the Second Rhode Island, which had been in the fight and for some reason retired into this wood. They had some of their wounded with them. While here, Frank Bachelor told some of us that he had always had a great curiosity to know how one would feel in battle, but that had all passed now. He expressed himself as “satisfied, now, that his curiosity had carried him too far.” I do not recall any other attempt at ‘jesting in the face of death’ on that occasion – though it was not uncommon as we became more familiar with war. While here, Lieutenant Minor T. Thomas climbed a tree to make and observation, and when he came down reported the enemy retreating. We stopped in this wood but a few minutes, and while here the battery – Ricketts’s – had passed to the right of wood and began firing. When we left this wood we – Company F at least – left our blankets in a pile in the woods, but I do not know by whose order. They were hot and in the way.

Coming out of this wood, the regiment was formed in ‘column of division’ and marched almost directly to the front. The first division was composed of Companies A and F, and, being small, I was the corporal on the left of the first division. As we advanced to the front – far enough to see over the brow of the hill – I got a glimpse of what was in front of us. There was a valley, half a mile or more in width, through which ran a road and a crooked stream. There were some houses, fields, orchards or groves, clumps of bushes along the stream, and wooded hills beyond the valley. There were some troops down in the valley along the road, and I think some were across the stream. I did not observe that they were firing, and I presume that they were sheltered by the hill from the rebel batteries. there were some guns of the enemy on the hill across the valley – in the edge of the wood – which were throwing shell our way, but I think they were intended for the battery to our right, which was firing in that direction.

The ridge we were on, I presume, was Buck Hill. there were several regiments along the ridge to our left which had been engaged and, I believe, had driven some of the enemy from that position.

We remained here but a very short time, and, when we moved, marched by the right flank – in fours – obliquely to the right – across the fields down the hill to a road, which we followed across the stream (Young’s Branch) for a little distance, then turned to the left into a pasture or field, marching toward the hill on which the rebel battery was situated. Coming up a little rise, we crossed the road and were ordered to form line of battle ‘on right by file into line.’ While coming across the fields and down the hill, we were subject to the fire of their artillery. But when we reached the low ground we were sheltered from it, and – at the point where we were forming – were not exposed, except to the shells bursting in the air above us.

The distance marched must have been a mile or more. A part of the time we moved at double quick, and there was considerable dodging as the shells screeched over our heads. It was a new and trying ordeal that strained the nerves and hurt our feelings, but I am not aware that any other hurt was done. The formation of the line of battle was at right angles to the direction we were marching and brought the first two companies in front of a wood and but a short distance from it. The advance was led by Company A – Captain Alexander Wilkin – and was followed immediately by Company F – Captain William Colvill – and was made without any deployment of skirmishers or advance guard.

A good many things happened in the ‘thin space of time’ we were getting into line, and I do not think that I can give them consecutively.

Just as we were beginning the movement, I heard a shouting, the thunder of hoofs, and ‘chucking’ of wheels behind us. Looking backwards, I saw the artillery coming towards us – apparently over nearly the same route we had come. The horses had their noses and tails extended, and the drivers were lying low over their necks, yelling and plying their whips. It was a splendid, thrilling sight. It was Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries racing into position – and to destruction. Judged by results, they had much better remained on the other side and fired from a safer distance, but ‘all the same’ the movement was splendidly made. Crossing the stream, they broke through the regiment before it was half formed and separated the first division from the rest of the regiment. I had only time for a glance as we hurried into line, when other things absorbed my attention, and I thought no more of the batteries until we were later taken to the left to try to recover them – then a wreck on the plateau and covered by the enemy’s guns.

Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount – at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side – as if to shield himself – but came around his head and gave himself up. There was a young man with Company A, Javan B. Irvine, who had not then enlisted, but had come along out of interest, curiosity, or some other motive, and had kept with the company up to this time. He was not armed, except a revolver, but to him Captain Wilkin gave the prisoner, instructing him to keep him safe. Irvine proved a resolute, trusty fellow, and the next day delivered his prisoner to the authorities in Washington. He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of the Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in.

The most of the regiment – except the two companies, A and F – now followed in support of the batteries. At the same time (possibly a minute earlier or later) there was a commotion in front of the two companies – in the edge of the woods and scarce a stone’s throw distant. Orders were given by Gen. Heintzelman, who had just ridden up, to “feel in the woods,” and – at almost the same instant – shots began to come from the brush,  now and then a head was seen. As quickly as possible, we turned our old smooth-bores toward the woods and fired. Then ‘things broke loose,’ and we were immediately enveloped in a dense smoke that for a little time did not permit us to see anything clearly, but bullets were hissing above our heads, and we could see red flashes through the smoke in front of us – at which we directed our fire. Our fire seemed the most effective, and, after a few volleys, the enemy retired into the woods; our firing ceased; and by someone’s order we were advanced into the woods.

It was not long after the firing began that I had a very narrow escape from serious wounds or possible death. I will first explain that our waist belts were made of ordinary harness leather and were a little less than two inches in width. They had a single hole in one end and multiple holes in the other, and were fastened with  a brass plate with hooks on the under side – and could be adjusted to the size of the person.

A bullet – coming almost directly from the front – struck my belt plate with such force as to knock the breath out of me and tumble me over. At first I am not sure that I thought of anything, but, when I did think, imagined that I was ‘done for’ and thought of everything – all mixed up. Then I heard someone – I think it was Oscar Williams – call my name. About that time, returning breath made me feel better and take a more hopeful view of the case, and I rolled over and got on to my feet. When I found that I was not killed, I was so glad that I felt first rate for a time and thought no more about it until the fighting was over.

The force if the blow was sufficient to bend and dent the plate, and left a discolored spot on the flesh as large as the palm of the hand. I have always considered this one of my narrowest escapes. It was a heavy bullet, and had lost some of its initial force, but if it had struck anywhere except on that plate (with the leather underneath it), it would have mangled and bruised and might have gone half through me. An inch or so – to the right or left – up or down – would have missed the plate, and then I would have ‘got it’ in the ‘bread basket,’ and it might have proved entirely too much for my digestion.

Lively skirmishing followed, and we were for a time separated from the other companies of the regiment. Our advance was opposed by the enemy, firing from behind trees and other protection, but we advanced in the same manner, drove them back into the woods, and captured a few prisoners – Alabamians. In advancing, we had crossed a fence and went for some distance into the woods. Meantime, though we were making a pretty lively racket ourselves, we heard very heavy firing to our left where the batteries and the rest of the regiment had gone.

We were now brought out of the woods – I suppose for the purpose of connecting with the regiment, as that would have been the natural thing to do.

Several of the boys had been hit while in the woods or at the first firing, but I do not believe that our loss was severe. Henry R. Childs, of the company, while advancing into the woods, was wounded in the head and shoulder, and was left insensible in the bushes. He afterwards ‘came to himself’ and, finding the company gone, started to follow it. Coming out of the woods to the open ground, he saw an advancing line of the enemy’s skirmishers, who ordered him to halt and fired on him, but he ran for it and managed to escape, believing – as he said – in the old adage that ‘he that fights and runs away may live to fight another day.’

Coming out of the woods at a point near where we entered, we formed in a close skirmish line and – advancing among the young pines and bushes, which were scarcely as high as our heads – we moved towards the higher ground that was on our left when we first began firing. There was cannonading going on at this time, but only a weak and irregular fire of small arms.

When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted with a sharp fire which came from the woods to the right oblique – as we could tell by the smoke, but we could see nothing but an occasional head. We answered this fire and laid down there among the little pines along the crest of the hill – loading while laying down and rising to fire. While lying on my right side – ramming a cartridge, which was lodged part way down the barrel – I had my feet crossed to hold the butt of the musket and my left knee bent – when a bullet cut through my pants and across the inside of my left knee, but did no serious damage. It was a pretty close call for a leg. An increasingly hot fire came from the woods on the right front, and a number were hit. A body of the enemy came along the fence as if to get to our right, and we retired to the shelter of the hill.

About this time, Lieut. Col. Miller came – with some of the other companies of the right wing – to our assistance., and we were formed in the road. We then joined with some other troops in an attempt to recover the guns of the batteries. It was successful on so far as it drove the enemy from the immediate vicinity of the guns, and, after suffering severe loss, we retired again to the cut in the roadway.

The wreck of the batteries was at the crest of the hill to our left, surrounded by dead men and horses. It was a position that ought not to have been taken by a battery, exposed as it was to a close fire of artillery and infantry, and, I presume, it would not have been taken if the true condition of things had been understood. The guns were at a point between the two forces and covered by the guns of both sides from sheltered positions, but neither side could maintain a position, where they were, long enough to remove them.

After our retirement to the road, there was a considerable time when matters were comparatively quiet.  Then we were advanced to meet a force of the enemy coming out of the woods to our right front, and there was more sharp fighting. We retired to the shelter of the road and soon drove them off – after which there was another period of quiet.

In all of these movements there was more or less confusion and disorder. We had not reached a stage of discipline when anything else could be reasonably expected. Especially of men under fire for the first time and subjected to severe losses. We were human, and, therefore, we were all more or less excited, confused, and uncertain as to what had been accomplished and hat more we were expected to attempt. A good many had left to care for the wounded, and others had gone to the stream to get water, for we were all suffering greatly from the heat, thirst, and exhaustion. When it is remembered that we had but little rest the night before; that the morning march of 12 miles had been a severe test to our powers of endurance; that our subsequent movements had been hurried – down hill and up – over fences and through woods;  also, that we were under the severe mental strain of battle, which is more exhausting than physical action – then our condition can be partly comprehended.

We were in a pitiable condition that under more favorable circumstances would have called for immediate relief. There did not seem to be a breath of air stirring; the early afternoon sun was shining directly into the roadway; we were sweating profusely and suffering from the heat – clothing torn and disordered – and our faces smeared with powder and dirt. We cared nothing for looks just then, but the feel of the situation was very unsatisfactory as we waited to see what was next on the program.

Sherman had not then defined war in a single brief sentence, but I heard the one important word in it uttered several times that day – suggested, no doubt, by the day’s experiences. We had read that ‘to make war was to be hungry and thirsty'; that it ‘was to suffer and to dies'; that it was ‘to obey.’ We had been trying to do all those of those things and assumed that we were getting ‘about what was coming to us’ and we naturally wondered if there was any more ‘coming.’ I think that all there realized that we had been hit pretty hard, but I do not think that any of us supposed that we were beaten. At least I recall no suggestion to that effect.

We remained for some time in this position, when we were disturbed by some cannon shots that came from the right and a little to our rear. At first we supposed it was some of our batteries that did not realize that we were so far to the front – but a little observation showed a line of battle advancing on our right flank. There was great anxiety to know if they were friends or enemies. About this time, there was a dash of cavalry coming out of a crossroad to our right, but it was repulsed before it reached us. The conviction now began to assert itself that those fellows coming in on our right were enemies and, if so, entirely too strong for us to contend with.

Lieutenant Colonel Miller was the highest officer present with that portion of the regiment, and he gave the order to retire and indicated the direction – directly to the rear.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 51 – 58 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the March

29 03 2012

On the evening of July 15 – when we had about concluded that it was all talk – we were ordered to be prepared to move at a moment’s notice. It did not take long to make all necessary preparations. The tents were to be left standing, and a detail of ten men from each company – with a complement of officers – was to remain in charge of the camp. The selection was to be made from the sick and those the least able to march. About every company had that number of sick and ailing. Each man going was to carry his canteen, haversack with three days’ rations, and his blanket, besides gun and accouterments. The blanket was rolled lengthwise, and the ends tied together, and it was carried over the left shoulder with the ends tied at the right hip. In the blanket were soap, towel, etc., and also twenty rounds of extra cartridges, which with the forty in the box made a total of sixty rounds to each man. It was all arranges that night who of the company were to remain with ‘the stuff.’ I think we all found an opportunity to write a few lines to the folks at home, informing them of the contemplated movement and saying a word of farewell.

It is almost surprising – realizing the possibilities  of death or wounds as we did – that we marched out so cheerfully the next morning to take our chances. I am quite sure that we all understood the personal risks – perhaps exaggerated them – but I think none of us thought seriously of being defeated. We seemed to feel assured of success.

There were two officers and – I feel quite sure – eighty-six enlisted men who left the camp at Alexandria for the Bull Run Campaign on the morning of July 16, 1861. There were not more and might have been less. The commissioned officers of Company F were: Captain William Colvill, First Lieutenant A. Edward Welch, and Second Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt. Non commissioned officers were: First Sergeant Martin Maginnis, Second Sergeant Hezekiah Bruce, Third Sergeant Calvin P. Clark, Fourth Sergeant Henry T. Bevans, and Fifth Sergeant Charles N. Harris. The corporals were: John Barrows, William D. Bennett, Fred E. Miller, Amos G. Schofield, Merritt G. Standish, John Williams, E. Oscar Williams, and James A. Wright. I recall that Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt was one of the officers of the guard left behind us, and I feel quite certain that Corporal John Williams was also left, as his wife was then in camp at Alexandria.

For the first time, our brigade – the First of the Third Division – was assembled as a brigade. It was composed of the Fourth Pennsylvania, the Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts, and First Minnesota. The brigade was commanded by Colonel William B. Franklin; and the division, Colonel Samuel P. Heintzelman – both of the regular army. It seems a little surprising that it had not been got together and drilled and maneuvered as a brigade and division before starting on the march, but that is not the only surprising thing about that campaign. If this had been done a few times, perhaps the brigade commanders might have been able to get more than one regiment in action at a time.

We started early, and it took some time to get fairly moving. The roads were dusty, and the day was very hot. The march was not hurried, and camp was made before night on a ridge covered with a second growth of scrub pines near Fairfax Court House.

Each man carried his rations as issued from the commissary, and they consisted of coffee, sugar, crackers, and salt pork. Each one did his own cooking while on the march, Although the cooks and wagons followed as far as Centreville, they were not with us. None of the boys were expert cooks, but all managed to make a shift at it and get something to eat. Many of the boys had provided themselves with coffee post – or small pails – to make coffee in and small frying pans to cook meat in, and found them very convenient. A ‘mess’ with a coffee pot, a frying pan, and a hatchet were pretty well fixed, and with a little experience could always prepare a meal at short notice – provided they had the necessary materials.

There had been no conflict with the enemy during the day, and we rested quietly during the night, sleeping on the ground under the pines, which sheltered us from the dew.

The next morning, Wednesday, July 17, the march was continued. There were frequent halts and delays, considerable skirmishing and some artillery firing, but no real fighting. We took no active part in these affairs, though near enough to hear them and feel a little of the excitement. One of these episodes was an attempt to capture an outpost on the railroad, which failed, as they ran off as soon as our men came in sight, leaving their dinner cooking.

We bivouacked in the bushes again that night near Sangster’s Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During these two days, we had occasionally passed a few houses near each other and, frequently, single houses in little cleared patches in the woods, but for the most of the way the country was rough and densely wooded, with pines and cedars predominating. Our division had apparently gone across the country and principally on the by-roads.

Thursday morning, the 18th, the march was continued near the railroad, and that morning our regiment led the brigade. As on the previous days, there were frequent halts as the advance felt its way. Finally, the regiment was halted in the woods at the edge of a field, while two companies – A and B, led by Lieutenant Colonel Miller – scouted some miles to the front and left. While waiting for the return of Lt. Col. Miller and his party, artillery firing began to our right and front. We were sure a great battle was being fought, while we seemed to be forgotten or lost in the brush. We could hear the distant musketry, also, occasionally.

After an hour or more, the firing gradually ceased, and about the same time the two absent companies returned – they having gone until they had discovered the enemy and retired without attacking, as they were instructed. This was the fight at Blackburn’s Ford, in which the advanced division under General Tyler was engaged. Of course, we were burning to know all about the affair, and there were many conjectures, but very little information obtainable. This was the third day out, and, although we had started with three days’ rations, we were not accustomed to taking three days’ supply at a time, and the most of us were out of food and hungry.

There had been strict orders issued against foraging, before we marched. There were also some cattle and sheep in the edge of the wood across the clearing, and the sight of these was too much for the hungry stomachs of some of the boys, and a small party went after them. They succeeded in getting some of these, which they skinned and cut up in the bushes, but in coming out they accidentally met Colonel Franklin, who at once began an inquiry.

About the same time, Colonel Gorman rode up, and, when he sensed the situation, opened on the culprits with a lively fire of cuss words, asserting that they were a lot of “born thieves” and a “disgrace to their state and to their mothers.” He brought matters to a head by requesting Colonel Franklin to let him make an example of them for the good of the regiment in the future. This was assented to by Col. Franklin, who was probably glad to have the matter taken off of his hands, and rode away. After he was gone, Col. Gorman – who looked very black and uncompromising – said, “Now, —- you, take up that meat and go to your companies, and don’t ever disgrace the regiment by getting caught in any such scrape again.”

It is perhaps needless to say that the boys were extra careful after that not to get caught. I do not think that Company F took a leading part in this affair, but there was a fair representation in the following. I saw ‘Lenghty’ wiping the blood off of his butcher knife with a bunch of leaves, and ‘Barb’ gave us a piece of sheep, which we broiled and ate with relish. I am not asserting that this was the right and proper thing to do – perhaps it was not – but we were in the enemy’s country and hungry. Right or wrong, we were doing just what has been done under like conditions since the days of David.

For the third night we slept under the skies, but instead of twinkling stars there were threatening clouds, and it rained a little that night and in the early morning. Friday the 19th, we marched to Centreville, where all of Heintzelman’s division was brought together; there were also many other troops there. What seemed to us a great army – probably 10,000 or 12,000 men – were gathered there, and more were coming. There was considerable skirmishing going on, but we took no part in it – that day or the next – and remained at the bivouac all day Saturday. It was a time of uncertainty and anxious waiting.

We could form but little opinion of how matters stood, when or where the next move would be made, but we felt assured that affairs had reached an acute stage, and that a crisis would come soon. When it did come we had no doubt that we would be ‘in it’ and share the fortunes of war with the rest, whatever they might be. After the repulse of General Tyler’s command on the 18th, some of us may have begun to feel the possibility of a defeat, but I am sure that the feeling – as to results – was one of assured confidence, no matter what might be the fate of individuals. We went to our blankets that evening knowing that we were to be aroused to march before daylight, and having no doubt but that the morrow would bring a battle. These were not pleasant thoughts to retire with, nor calculated to bring soothing reflections inviting sleep, but we did manage to put aside the wicked war and all of its attendant troubles, and slept until awakened to fall in for the march.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 48 – 51 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with MHS permission.





Pvt. Edward H. Bassett, Co. G., 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle (2)

26 03 2012

Washington City

July 26th, 1861.

Dear Brother,

I would write you a line. I am tolerable well although I have not got over our tramp to Bloody or Bull Run. I feel weak and lazy.

We had a pretty hard time on Sunday last but did not lose as many men as at first thought. There is some seven killed & missing. Among the killed, is our captain. He was killed by about the first shot of the rebels. He fell on his post encouraging his company & doing his best to make them successful. Jonathan Goodrich & several others bore him off the field & placed him beneath a large oak in the shade. His sash & sword were brought with us to Washington & will be sent to his family.

Lieutenant Messick will take his place in the Company. Messick is a brave soldier. He fought well & stuck with his men to the last. He was not hurt. Asa Miller our flag bearer was killed. He was one of the best soldiers we had. He volunteered to carry the flag. Wm. Potter was badly wounded and supposed to be killed at first but has been heard from. Mr. A. G. Strickland was badly wounded, a ball passed through his elbow. It will most likely make his arm stiff. The loss of this regiment in killed is some 46. There may be more but these we are pretty certain of. There are several missing in the Reg. Tey may have been taken prisoners & may be on their way to No. It is very difficult to travel far here without a pass as he country is under martial law. There was not a ball hit me but they came very close. I have forgotten John Rhoer. He was wounded and is at the hospital.

I have not received a letter from home since the 10th. There is not a thing that looks better than a good long letter from home. Write all the particulars.

The troops are continually comeing in from all quarters. Send them as now is the time if there be any more send them on. We will have a quick job of it when we begin. We are resting now & will be ready to give them some of our best. Tell the girls that we are all comeing back to see them before long. It is now nearly sundown & as calm & quiet as you could wish.

Lieutenant Messick is in good health. We like him first rate. Well I must close so Good Bye

From Your Brother

E. H. Bassett

Direct to Washington as before for the country is under Martial law & it would be the safest.

Excuse such a long letter but if you would read it you will do well & if you answer it you will do better.

P.S. There was two balloons sent up in Alexandria today. One was to go over Fairfax & the other I do not know where. My best respects to all the folks.

[Insert]

When we were on the march we run short of provisions & the boys got their guns & went out into the field & shot sheep, hogs, calves & caught every chicken that they could lay their hands upon & when at camp at Centreville they drove up a lot of fat oxen that belonged to the government & got the Colonel out & made him give them permission, then they knocked them down right in the cornfield & dressed them. We took the meat & roasted it by the fire & ate it without salt. I had some pepper along & used it. This was pretty hard fare but our provision train had not come up. When it came we had enough and were treated well when we came into Washington. The citizens brought out hot coffee, bread, meat &c. We are going to draw some clothing today & will receive our money in a few days so they say. We need it if every anybody did for we are entirely out,

There has one more of our boys just came in. His name is Martin Healy from Waseca Co. We supposed that he was killed. He laid in the woods within a few rods of the battle ground. He said that the d—d black scamps burnt the house where our wounded were placed. If this is the case they have most likely killed all the prisoners that they took. our two surgeons are supposed to be killed as they were with the wounded. They were excellent men both of them & understood their business. Write, write, write, write often.

From your brother

E. H. Bassett

Krom, Richard G., The 1st MN: Second to None – A Historical Narrative Including the 218 Unpublished Letters of Edward H. Bassett, Rochester, MN, 2010, pp. 47-49

Used with permission.





Pvt. Edward H. Bassett, Co. G., 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle (1)

21 03 2012

Camp Minnesota

Washington, D. C.

July 23, 1861

Dear Parents,

I suppose that you will have heard from us by telegraph before you receive this. The day before yesterday was the first time that we have had a chance to try our skill in the field fighting and the boys have done nobly but we lost our captain. He was shot through the heart and fell dead instantly. He stood by is giving commands and had his arms raised up encouraging the boys on. We lament his loss greatly. We all loved him and he was no coward. We lost somewhere between eight and twelve men and about that number wounded. Among the killed was one flag bearer. He was hit by three balls before he fell and after that he loaded and fired some three or four times. His name was Asa Miller from Cannon City I believe. We saved our company flag. Lieutenant Messick pulled it from the staff and wrapped it around him. We were forced to retreat for we found that we had fell in with the principal and in fact the majority of the southern army. They were somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 strong and we were only about 53,000. The battleground was about 10 miles from Manassas Junction. This information about the strength of the enemy and their position was received from a prisoner that was taken by Co. B. I do not know how many men were lost from the Minnesota Regiment but we suffered less than some other. We were decoyed upon one of their masked batteries and they are the most treacherous people that were ever allowed to exist. They hoisted the Union flag as we advanced and would beckon their hands and show every appearance of being friendly until we got in range of them when they opened up on us. As we had special orders not to fire until ordered, we all dropped down. I did not see the boys drop at first and stood up until they had all laid down and I looked around first on one side, then on the other and could not see the enemy and as the bullets were flying about as thick as raindrops I thought that the safest place for me would be flat on the ground. We laid there about ten minutes when the order was given to retreat firing. By this time the enemy had come up in sight and the boys fired into them and killed them off pretty fast. We then retreated behind a hill covered with timber. The enemy then attempted to make a charge upon the N. Y. Zouaves and they come in range of one or two of our brass field pieces and they opened a fire of grape and canister upon them and it was a sight to see how quick they were driven back. It as a very foolish move. When we were marched up we went up behind our cannon. The enemy were throwing bombs and round shot. Our battery was then about as far off from them as Cole Bloomer’s house is from ours. They threw their shot away beyond us about 100 feet high. We were marched up on the enemy’s right flank intending to give them a flank fire but they were ready for us and had the advantage of us for we had been marched at a double quick step for about one mile besides marching about 10 miles that morning stating at 2:30 in the night.

We were very weary but we gave them what they did not get every day, although we lost our Captain. We carried him off the field and took his sword belt, pistol, hat, etc. which will be sent to his family. We did not want the rebels to rob him. We rallied several times and charged them and it is pretty well known that we killed more than we lost for our boys took good aim as we retreated. Their cavalry tried to cut us off but we beat them badly. There was not more than 5 or 6 of them escaped. Although we had to retreat we did not feel like giving up. We were on a continual move from half past two Sunday morning until Monday night, without half enough to eat but we suffered the most for the want of water. We marched from Centerville to Washington by the way of Fairfax and Alexandria, in about 9 hours, a distance of about 35 miles. We are now quartered in Washington in a huge brick building. It rained yesterday while we were on our way from Alexandria and when we arrived here we were cold and wet. The citizens brought in some hot coffee, bread, ham, eggs and whiskey and we had a dry place to sleep. This morning was the first time that I have felt sick. I did feel pretty sick for two or three hours but have got over it now and feel pretty well again. I have had good health and stood it pretty well. We left our camp at Alexandria on the 16th of July in light marching order which consists of a gun, cartridge box with 40 rounds of ammunition, haversack with three days rations, blanket or overcoat which is rolled in a long roll and the ends tied together and put over the shoulders. I took my coat. We marched all day and camped in a thicket of pines on the ground. We heard some firing in the evening and expected an attack. I slept first rate right on the ground. We got up at sunrise, ate our breakfast and started. When we had traveled about 5 miles we came to the place where the firing had been. Some of the enemy’s cavalry had been scouting and saw a man out hunting some colts. They fired on him, killed his horse, wounded him and fled to camp. This is a miserable country, thinly settled, the buildings poor and old without paint, but whitewashed. The water is poor and the people poor and ignorant; not half of them can talk anything but the Virginia tongue. We traveled until we were about on-half mile from Centreville where we camped. We stayed there until Sunday morning at half past two. They have sent out some 100 mortars and 1000 horses and several large pieces since the battle. It is said that General Scott is mad that we were defeated and he will be apt to send on a pretty large force. It would do you good to see the earthworks around Washington. There are some very heavy pieces of cannon and they will be apt to get enough if they attempt to take Washington.

I have just come from the Smithsonian Institute. I went all through the museum and into the Indian portrait gallery and in fact all over the building. It is a grand sight. I also went up to the Patent Office. There I saw the coat that General Washington wore when he resigned his commission and also his traveling secretary. I did not have much time to look around there for they were just closing when I went. I shall go again when I get an opportunity.

John Russell says that crops do not look very well there, that the wheat is short and thin. Corn here is of all sizes, some 2 feet, some 4 and I saw some that was about 8, but it is an extra piece that will average 3 feet. You must write often and direct as before to Washington. Mr. Messick sends his respects to you. He was not hurt. Boultice Soule is also safe. We have not been paid off as yet but expect to in a few days if we stay here.

With love from your son,

Edward H. Bennett

Krom, Richard G., The 1st MN: Second to None – A Historical Narrative Including the 218 Unpublished Letters of Edward H. Bassett, Rochester, MN, 2010, pp. 42-46

Used with permission.





Unknown Officer, 1st Minnesota, On the Battle

24 02 2012

The First Minnesota Regiment.

The following is an extract from a letter from an officer in the first Minnesota regiment, to his wife in this city. Many of the officers and men in the regiment were formerly residents of Massachusetts: -

Washington, July 29, 1861.

For several days, in fact, ever since our shattered regiment came here after the battle of Bull Run, I have been at work day and night. Our boys fought bravely, and if the troops of the north had all done their duty as well, the result of the battle would have been different. A United States officer told me, not knowing who I was, that there were but four regiments that deserved to be mentioned, and among them I was proud to hear “the Minnesota.”

We went into the field with nine hundred men, and have, as near as we can make out, 181 killed, wounded, and missing – nearly one fifth. All of the company officers and men, and a part of the field officers fought well, and did not retreat until they had been twice ordered to do so. A colonel of the secession army, whom our boys took, and who is now here a prisoner of war, says our men for three hours were engaged with eight thousand of the enemy, with a battery raking them from one of the flanks. Notwithstanding the odds of nine to one our men drove them, and the southern papers, I observe, say the battle upon their left, where we were, unsupported, was most sever, and their forces were obliged to give way until 5000 fresh reserve troops came to the rescue.

A captain a prisoner here, says the Minnesota wood choppers fought like devils. One of our surgeons, it is supposed, is killed; the other we heard from last evening – a prisoner. We expected to remain here some time, but to morrow morning we leave for Great Falls, fifteen miles from here, where the enemy is threatening some more fighting for our regiment, I suppose. Col. Gorman has been given command of the brigade. Our regimental flag has seventeen bullet holes through it, one shell, and one grape shot. Every one of our color guard was wounded – none killed.

The mistake of attacking Manassas at the time it was done, and before we were ready, will extend the contest immensely. The barbarities of the enemy are unspeakable, dragging our wounded from the ambulances and bayoneting them, luring our men on by displaying the federal flag, and cheering for the Union, and then shooting them down. This was done in our own regiment. May I live to avenge some fo the good and true men who were left at Manassas.

Yours, &c.,

***

Massachusetts Spy,  8/7/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy








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