Pvt. William Callis Kean, Co. H, 28th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (3)

29 05 2013

Camp Near Cub Run

August 9th, 1861

My Dear Niece,

Several days ago I recd your last long & interesting letter, this is the first opportunity I have had to reply & am now consuming time I ought to give to some camp duties but will run the risk to write to you.  Since the battle our duties are as severe as before except the five or six days preceding.  One would think that during this intensely hot weather drilling would be dispensed with as few as possible but within the last two days in this Brigade it has been increased.  I must correct a wrong impression my letter made on you.  I did not burn a single grain of powder at the Yankees.  Our regiment was there under fire of musketry from them but strange to say was not permitted to return it. This Susan, may have been the part of wisdom, for they fired from cover on us, each time and so mixed was the fight our officers fear in we might engage some Southern Regiment in the woods.  Some of our men could distinguish the red pants of the firey Zoaves in the woods & our two flanking companies fired each one volley with what effect.  I never knew. The enemy at one time fired on us from an oak works not in regular vollies but scattering shots as if each one had selected his object. Our line was kneeling or lying flat on the ground & although they were firing in this scattering way for some fifteen minutes, not a man was hurt & many of the Yankees shot from not more than 75 yards distance.  The bullets could be distinctly heard whistling over us.  But during the whole time I only saw one rifle ball strike the ground in front.  Southern women in their position would have killed some of us.  To give you some idea of how men were scattered from how many directions they were firing, I’ll mention one fact which happened not fifty feet from me.  While lying exposed to the fire above mentioned, an officer from S. Carolina of splendid appearance & well mounted came up & said he would guide the regiment to where the enemy was and we immediately followed him but had proceeded but a short distance when a Zoave rose from behind a bush with his musket leveled & remarking with an oath that he would kill our guide, shot him dead. Tis said that Beauregard  got hold of that new maneuver having our regiment under the artillery & sent the Brigade Lieut, word that the next time he ordered the 28th  Regiment – Va Volunteers taken through the battalion the field of battle under a heavy artillery fire, he would send word to that effect.  If this be true, it was deserved. You ask can you do anything for me?  Yes, I wish you would make a flannel shirt for me, I sent Sister Kitty word to make one for me and if you make another I’ll have four.  Sister K. will give you the flannel & tell you how I want it made.  I would also like two pr. socks fine dark yarn white toe and heel and long in the leg.  You can find some opportunity to send them perhaps when Sister K. sends the shirt I wrote to her for.  Don’t send, Susan, to Manassas unless you can by some one you know will deliver the bundle and tell Sister K. the same.  They have become so careless at the junction they let packages for Soldiers layout exposed to the weather and any one who may choose to take it.  I do think this is so wrong Susan & then we can never know that our letters will reach their destination.  So many men are at around this point that nothing is well done, (except the fighting) & I suppose some ten or fifteen thousand letters are mailed there daily & a good many are not mailed at all.  Susan dear a most singular desire to see you has come over me.  Since I joined the army I say singular because so earnest I think of you & so often & so long where on sentry duty at night & in my little canvas house in the day time.  Did I tell you in my last that I thot of you on the battle field?  While under the fire of artillery & musketry, your sweet face was frequently before my mental vision.  I wonder if I’ll see again, see that face I so much love and have you affectionate arms around my neck.  I hope so Sukey.  I should not be surprised if we have another battle on this line before long.  Tis said troops are concentrating at Manassas & I know of no other construction to place on it.  Mr. David  Harris is attached to this command in some capacity I don’t know what. He ranks as Capt.  I like what I have seen of him very much. About a week ago  I saw & conversed with a wounded prisoner, a Lieut. in the 2nd Regt. New York militia. He was an intelligent man, answered very readily all questions I asked. Said New York had ten thousand men in the battle & that The Brooklyn 14th Regt. (itself fired dreadfully) was composed of the elite  of that city, he also said that the average intelligence & education of  McDowells army was unsurpassed.  If you hear of another battle on this line & don’t hear from me directly soon after don’t be uneasy dear, I’ll certainly write to you if possible, but all the communication may be cut off between where I am & Manassas. Always examine the papers for the 28th. They will inform you how each regiment suffers. This is a slow way , but sometime the best that can be done. But after every battle I’ll write to you if I am not hurt soon as possible but My Sukey, must not be uneasy if she does not hear from me immediately after such an event.  In your last you mentioned two letters I never received one by Bro. Julian and one by mail.  I do lose often many letters sent through the mail now but hope no one else opens them. I did not hear of the Cavalry charge you mentioned & think it very probably a false rumor, our Cavalry did very little until the retreat commenced.  There they did splendid Service in pursuit. It may be so but I don’t believe a word of it. What battery was it? Do you know?  Write soon, kiss Aunt M & Chestnut for me. Let me know if you will make the shirt & socks for me. Want them soon as possible. Goodbye my darling

Yours affectionately,

W. C. Kean

Is the style fine in writing to my affection for you?

Some do not like that way if so you must let me know

Dr. Bruce Venter, ed, “The path will be a dangerous one…but I for one do not fear to go”: The Civil War Letters of William  C. Kean, Goochland County Historical Society Magazine, Volume 43/2011, pp. 31-34

Used with permission. For purchase of this volume, contact the Goochland County Historical Society at 804-556-3966 or goochlandhistory@comcast.net.

Transcription courtesy of Goochland Historical Society.

William Callis Kean on Ancestry.com





Pvt. William Callis Kean, Co. H, 28th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (2)

22 05 2013

Camp Near Chub Run July 31, 1861

My Dear Niece, I’ve received your note two days ago, inquiring if I was safe, I am safe. Escaped unhurt. I wrote to you soon as I could after the battle informing you that I was well.  That was the first regular letter that I wrote. My regiment was in the battle, entered the field I think about two o’clock.  We had only eight men wounded from 428 carried into the action & none killed out right. Tho I have supposed until a day or two ago that no were mortally hurt. I directed my other letter to Union Mills. I suppose you have received it by now or will before this reaches you, I gave you a description of that part of the field when I was on action.  I was on the right of the left wing & therefore under for the day, Gene(ral) Johnston. Two Prestons are in the field commanding regiments & I think some of my letters have gone wrong. In future write in the direction the No 28th of the regiment- 5th Brigade. with this exception as before.  Please inform anyone you may see of this who writes to me.  I have Sukey nothing in the world to write having given you a description of the battle in the other. You must continue to write to me without waiting for a reply. Two new difficulties have of late come in the way of writing, one is, the difficulty of getting change to pay postage. I have money enough for that but  can’t get it changed & the other, is it’s so hard to get a letter mailed at Manassas.  Please bear this in mind dear Sukey & write to me often. Your letters are a source of exquisite pleasure to me.  You will know I need all the pleasure I can get now.  Susan if I do live throughout this war I come to see you soon as I get home.  The life I lead is hateful to me.  Exposed to all kinds of weather bad food frequently not enough of that & etc.  Do you think we will have another fight soon? You can see the papers & form some idea of the U. S. Policy. Some think we will have no other fight. I think we will have a desperate struggle but hope I am mistaken.  It’s rumored here today this Brigade will be ordered thru Leesburg into Maryland. I do not believe that will be done soon but it may be true. If so the path will be dangerous one but Sue I for one do not fear to go.  I can only be killed. If that should happen to me then there’s an end as far as I am concerned.  I saw Billy today, he is well. I will try to get a transfer to the Howitzer battalion & if I succeed will join the battery to which he is attached. You must excuse this short letter. Kiss Aunt May and Chestnut for me. remember me to Mrs Julian.  Hope to hear from you soon & will then write more but can not promise you anything interesting. Write soon.

Goodbye My own Sukey

W.C. Kean

Dr. Bruce Venter, ed, “The path will be a dangerous one…but I for one do not fear to go”: The Civil War Letters of William  C. Kean, Goochland County Historical Society Magazine, Volume 43/2011, pp. 29-30

Used with permission. For purchase of this volume, contact the Goochland County Historical Society at 804-556-3966 or goochlandhistory@comcast.net.

Transcription courtesy of Goochland Historical Society.

William Callis Kean on Ancestry.com





Pvt. William Callis Kean, Co. H, 28th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (1)

17 05 2013

Near Stone Bridge Prince WM July 24

My Dear Sukey In accordance with my promise I now take the 1st opportunity of writing to assure you of my safety.  I was in the action on Sunday which I will now designate as the Battle of Stone Bridge as it was fought near or around that point; In the first place let me assure you my dear that I escaped without a scratch & I don’t think either Billy or Garlick was in the action.  Charles  was not.  Now Sukey all I can do is to give you a description of the fight so far as I saw it.  No doubt you will read in the papers splendid descriptions of it but then I know Sukey will read with interest what I write, Well I begin.  Last Wednesday we were ordered to retreat from Camp Manassas back in good order, in Centerville we remained there only about half an hour, then took our line of march to Stone Bridge or near it.  Camped in the open field without a protecting tent until Friday night then crossed Bulls Run & camped in the woods.  Sunday morning hear the firing of cannons about 8 o clock & the answering fire of our pickets on our right at the enemy as he brought his batteries into position.  About 9 we fell back over the creek. The fire of Cannon was then heavy on our right left.  We took a position near a ford to defend it in case the enemy should try to pass. The attempt was made about a half mile above us Between 10 & 11 o o clk the fire of musketry  commenced furiously & the cannonade was terrific. Our regiment held its position by the ford until about 2 in the evening.  the battle raging up the creek all the time. At that hour we were ordered into action.  The fight was evidently at the time going against us, we were gradually falling back & the Yankees advancing.  That was the crisis.  After moving about a half a mile, we passed under the fire of the battery on the enemies extreme right, I saw a heavy shot fly over our column as we passed the line of this battery & fall about 75 yds from us.  We were marching out double quick then.  I then felt uneasy Sue; but saw at a glance they had not the range accurately & that they could not get it before we passed under a hill.  We formed under that hill in line of battle & marched up [through] an orchard. When we breached the top of this hill the scene burst in all its wild and awful horror on my sight. Ill try & give you a faint idea of it.  Imagine a knoll on the hill about 300 yds wide about 3/4 of mile to the front & right another open field framed in by thick pines, this field [was] shaped like a horseshoe with the concave side toward us.  The outside lined with four heavy batteries having the range accurately an[d] praying incessantly on the line we are about to pass. Our brave  Cav. volunteers started on the dangerous passage advance[ing] about 100 yds without the protection of a friendly line & then comes the insane command “halt”.    Our boys did so.  At this time I heard the hissing in quick succession of two projectiles from rifled pieces.  I felt I think afraid & moved my head first to the right & then to the left, At this moment a shell burst on my right about 20 yds in advance & as many feet in the air.  I never felt fear afterwards.  At length the order came for us to advance & we did so in common time betwn & descended the opposite side of the hill.  All this time Sukey the air was filled with missiles thrown from rifle cannon front flank & rear they came but the hand of God was evidently there. not a man was hurt. One battery I noticed in particular the center one I saw a column of white smoke gush from the muzzle of the pieces curl in graceful circles above it & then heard the hissing of the balls. Rising beautifully, beautifully in the air it reached the highest point & then descending completed its graceful circle by plunging in the earth about 30 yds in our rear. It was an ugly customer shaped like a sugar loaf. O Susan it was a horrid field. The rout of the enemy was utter. Our Calvary pursued them took m[an]y prisoners a vast amount of baggage, wagons, & etc. Many guns & cannon while the wood & field was in some places covered with dead bodies. The first dead man I passed made me shudder but that feeling was soon lost & on the field I soon looked on every species of wound indifferently. But I did not lose my humanity as one thing will prove to you. I passed one of the  Zouaves wounded badly. I approached him and asked if he wanted water. Yes he said faintly. I leaned over my fainting bleeding enemy; put my musket down passed my left arm tenderly as a brother around his neck, raised his head, poured the last drop of water from my canteen down his parched throat.   He then said “will you be so kind as to move me to that tree” I called a friend to help me but was ordered on and had to leave him. The Zouave died. Sukey I was driven by thirst after that to drink water said to be mixed with human blood. I felt better after that act of kindness. “The mercy I to others show that mercy show to me” I now say confidently to you some men hath sneered at expressions of sympathy from an enemy. I know of them. I cried steady to while under fire. I will never strike or taunt a disarmed fallen enemy. The field was dreadful & the smell hard to bear every kind of wound met the eye. Here a body almost cut in two by a cannon shot, there an arm again a leg. I answered two things I had often heard before. One was that a man killed by a gun shot wound always had an expression of pain on his face. This is true Sue, I did not see one but had an expression of agony stamped indelibly on his face by the very hand of death. The other a man cannot tell where a shell will fall by the hissing sound it makes in the air. I passed over a different part of the field after the enemy was in full retreat. The sight sickened me to the heart. Alas! For poor humanity & to select Gods own holy day for the devils own work but they our enemies must have it so. I now have a musket taken on the field & hope I may be permitted to keep it if I live. Don’t you think I ought to have it, Suky? Now Sue Ill tell you what I think of the numbers engaged killed i.e on each side? But let me tell you it is only my own personal opinion, tho I have seen no estimate, and of course entitled to no respect. I think the Yankees have about 60 thousand men. We have about 30 thousand when I entered the field & 40 thousand when the enemy retreated for we were constantly reinforced from Manassas which was only 5 miles distant. Jef Davis got to the field before the battle closed. Johnston & Beauregard were back then I think during the day. I estimate our loss at 500 killed 1500 wounded, which the enemy must have lost killed, wounded & taken between 7 & 10 thousand probably as much as the latter. Had the Cavalry been aided by a regiment of foot in the pursuit, we would have killed or taken more. Sukey if I live to see you again will give you a better description of the scene. God grant that I may live to see your sweet face once more. The Yankees were well clothed well armed well fed. better prepared. All of them wore splendid canteens & haversacks. Believe no more what you hear about them as starving raggeds. I know it to be false now. Please write to me at once. Same Direction

Your own affect W.C.K.

Dr. Bruce Venter, ed, “The path will be a dangerous one…but I for one do not fear to go”: The Civil War Letters of William  C. Kean, Goochland County Historical Society Magazine, Volume 43/2011, pp. 25-28

Used with permission. For purchase of this volume, contact the Goochland County Historical Society at 804-556-3966 or goochlandhistory@comcast.net.

Transcription courtesy of Goochland Historical Society.

William Callis Kean on Ancestry.com








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