Unknown, Co. K, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Battle

5 02 2014

Letter from the 2d Regiment


The Late Battle.


[A friend allows us to pint the following private letter, which was written by one who was in the battle at Manassas. Although have already given a good deal of space to this battle, this letter from one who participated will be read with interest by all.]

“At this late day, amid the thousand and one exciting things I have had to think of, I am wholly unable to tell whether I have written you since the great battle or not. Since we returned to Alexandria we have not had much to do, and indeed we are so tired and lame that we could not do much at the best. Such tired, hungry, worn out boys never were seen before as the troops were when they returned. You have probably had all the accounts of the battle ere this, ‘by our special correspondent,’ or by an eye-witness, and have got more real information undoubtedly than an actor in the strife could boast of.

I was on guard Saturday last (20th July) at our camp near Bull Run. At 2 A. M. of Sunday we started on our march. There were the same long lines of soldiers that I have spoken of, but this morning we took different roads. It was pleasant in the morning’s uncertain darkness, to watch the wide spread array of camp fires where hot coffee had been made for thousands of men in the various encampments. The joyous shouts of the men rang out upon the air, the hoarse commands of the officers would ring in, and the pattering of the horse’s feet, rear and front, right and left, made a scene of bustle and confusion that was calculated to excite and arouse one if anything would do it. Those long lines with gleaming arms, banners bright soon returned, tarnished, tattered and torn. We did not make much advance for some time, and the light began to grow more and more certain. At last dawn broke in the east. Officers and men were loud in the denunciations of a delay, but the cause soon became known: the battery in front could get no good position to open fire upon the first rebel battery at Bull Run, whose vicinity and effect had been tested the Thursday before. This stopped the whole line of infantry this side of Centreville, but at last the loud opening peals of cannon told that the scene of death and havoc had commenced, – the gauntlet had been thrown down and the fortunes of the world in one sense were staked upon the issue of the hour, – upon the burning of gun-powder and the clash of steel. We were not in the main divisions by which the fighting was to be done, but were to go around and attack them in the rear. Our brigade numbered five regiments: three from Maine, one from Vt., and Ellsworth’s Zouaves. We did not mix in the heat of the battle but took a round about road and all day the heavy roar of cannon sounded in our ears and we could see our brother soldiers in deadly strife. You may imagine the anxiety with which we listened to the roar of the guns. We could see that the enemy was falling back by the onward movement of the roar of battle, and occasional couriers would bring us good news from the field. The reports were favorable to our side, but the march was very hard; we ran five or six miles going out on the double quick and in the afternoon when we finally got into the field we were so exhausted that we were far from being what we otherwise should have been. About the middle of the afternoon we were rushed into the field. We passed directly by one of the batteries of the rebels that had been captured by our troops, and from there to the field, about a mile and a half, it was an indescribable scene. I never saw such a site before and if such a thing could be, I wish never to see anything of the kind again. We met many returning from the battle wounded and dripping with blood, asking pitifully for aid and for water. Ambulances were passing filled with those unable to walk and the dead, some mangled in a most shocking manner, but we turned neither to the right or the left, but on we marched; soon the balls began to whiz; we could not only hear the guns but see them, and see the effects also; we were in a dangerous place; we charged up to a battery and stood the whole fire of the artillery for a long time, but bravery was no charm against shot and shell; the tide had turned, and the most desperate sacrifices now could not stay the current. – The enemy had retreated all day, three of four large batteries were deserted by them, until we got down upon their strong-hold close upon Manassas and they brought out their whole force, fresh and fierce, to meet us few exhausted infantry. For a long time we were upon a side hill in plain view of the enemy and in good rifle shot. I cannot commend their sharp shooters, they might have picked off every man of us seemingly, but their cannon shot and shells mostly went over and the rifle balls did but poor execution compared with what they might have done; ’tis a miracle that so many of us came off safe. I was hit by a spent ball upon the arm but it did no serious injury; my arm was senseless for a while and was blackened and burned, that was all.

By this time the ammunition for our artillery had given out, and their horses were disabled, the cavalry were fearful of meeting the Black Horse regiment, their hosts appeared countless and the folly of sending a few exhausted infantry had about played out, it was also known that one other division had withdrawn, and we slowly left the field and obtained shelter from the iron hail behind a hill. The enemy then made a flank movement with cavalry and light artillery which we successfully evaded, and we withdrew to the road. I was standing near Col. Howard, commander of the brigade, when McDowell’s order came to retreat to Centreville. I shall never forget the painful expression that passed over his face. He is a fine officer, but has had no experience, yet no one could have done more than he did in his place; the battle was lost before we were in the field. They showered down the cannon shot and shell like hail; we stood it until further exposing ourselves seemed folly and were among the last to retreat.

The rout that some papers have told do much about, I do not know of; the retreat was precipitate, but many regiments marched back in pretty good order. Stragglers ran wild everywhere like sheep; out of our regiment I think on-half were so tired that they could not go on to the field, but they were the fastest to retreat. If it had not been so serious it would have been quite amusing.

Just imagine how it must look to see thousands of men who have never met before, and who have no particular animosity against each other as individuals, rushing into the death field and mangling and hacking each other until you could hardly tell whether the object before you was made in God’s image or not; but it is the principle of the thing we are fighting for. A battle is a hard thing by which to decide the abstract question of right and wrong. I’m not growing cowardly, but the more I reason the more I see the folly of war. But there are men enough, and if the rebels can afford to stand it, surely when we have such a heritage to fight for we should not shrink from the meeting, be it amid the roar and clash of battle or in diplomatic halls where equal justice is dispensed.

I had felt confident all day of the victory, because I supposed our head men knew that Manassas was the enemy’s strong-hold and that once taken the victory was almost done, and yet they rushed and hurried us on with nothing to eat, no cavalry, no artillery, and not one-tenth part enough to compete with their batteries. We had few men and nothing to support them when they gave out. – There has been some cool swearing among the troops since last Sunday. I hear McDowell has been placed in arrest for his gross mismanagement; there are dark whisperings about his loyalty; some say he has two sons in the southern army, but I doubt its truthfulness; one thing I know, with the unbounded resources of the North, it is a shame to suffer the reverse we have, we might just as well have had 10,000 men as 30,000; 10,000 cavalry instead of 300 or 400, and 200 cannon as well as the few guns we had. We had better been a month in battering down batteries and in making gradual approaches than to have lost the day. For my part, if my life would have turned the current of the battle, I would willingly have made the sacrifice. I trust you know me well enough to know that I never forsake my country in the hour of her adversity. I have no fears of the final result of this contest, but this has retarded the onward movement vastly. – Beauregard said himself that if Manassas had been taken, he could have done no more, ,the war would have been decided. I scarcely expect to live through; certain it is that my proud spirit can never stand another defeat – ’tis ‘victory or death.’ I had rather die than run again, and will do it.

McClellan takes command of this division soon and he is a man we can trust, and when we get organized again we will wipe out this stain. Our next battle will be a hard one and I shall not flinch from my post for friend or foe. I never came here to run.

I am disgusted with Virginia; the soil is nearly all red, the land level and covered for miles with low dwarf pines; there are some fine forests, but you may travel all day and not see a house, and the houses and villages are just the reverse of neat Vermont homes. Our defeat the other day was near the place where General Braddock suffered so severely in the early wars. If my memory serves me right, his attack was made on Sunday also; certainly he fell into the traps of the enemy much like McDowell. We are always in danger on Sunday – in truth those are the days they take for war purposes. Waterloo was fought that day and a hundred others I might mentions.

We know something of the little scenes exacted just around us in battle – the truth is no one sees a battle – we hear the roar and see the smoke and know when the death struggle is going on. The Generals get a little wider view, but they depend mostly on the reports of their aids and couriers. ‘Tis true no one sees except Him who sees all things. It must have been the direct agency of Providence to save so many of us from that fiery tempest that rained over us. As we came up among the whistling balls I took one long look at the sky and the smoking hills, then fixed my eyes on the enemy’s lines, looked at my gun and rushed in. I have no further recollection of any care for the world or personal safety. I never was cooler when firing at a target than I was aiming my old musket at the rebels. I may not have killed a man of them, but I pitched the some cold lead, I know that much. I lost all my baggage, except what I had in my pockets. Our wagon broke down and our baggage was abandoned by the teamster. In thinking of our defeat I have grated my teeth to the quick through very madness. Be the war one month or ten years, ‘I am in for it;’ have no fears for me, for I am well and in a fighting condition.

One of the ‘Tigers'”

The [St. Johnsbury, Vermont] Caledonian, 8/9/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Major C. H. Joyce, 2nd Vermont, On the Battle

24 02 2012

The Second Vermont at Bull Run


From an interesting letter in the Burlington Times, doubtless written by Major Joyce, we make the following extracts relative to the part the Vermont Regiment took in the battle at Bull Run;

On, on we went upon the run, and our poor boys were dropping out by the dozens, yet no halt or slack. Now we have arrived at a road which leads up along the skirt of a piece of woods. We enter and go on upon the run. Now, Oh God! what a sight meets our eyes! Here are the hospitals for friends and foes, all thrown in together; here are the surgeons in the woods sawing off legs and arms from the poor fellows who have been wounded – some on the ground and some on a board; they shriek, they groan, they swear, in their delirium of agony; here comes the carts bringing in the wounded, the blood running from the cart like water from a street sprinkler. It is awful, it is terrible, but yet our brave boys press on. – Now comes a messenger saying to us, Go on, boys; they need your help. Then another saying, Go ahead, boys; the rebels are flying. We heed them not, but with steady step move on.

.       .       .       .

The order was given to “Forward the Second,” and you may depend it was done nobly. Oh, who would not have given a world at that moment to have been a Vermonter. Not a man but what felt they carried the honor of Vermont upon their bayonets. On they went – the orders come, “Captains in the rear of your companies,” “boys, keep cool,” “take good aim and mark your man.” Not a pale face appeared in line; lips were compressed and hearts were as firm as the granite in their native hills. The air was filled even to darkness, with iron and lead, yet I felt a pride in being with the noble Second on that day; and although I was not born upon Vermont’s soil, yet I was proud of her and her gallant sons, and gloried in the state of my adoption. – When we arrived on the brow of the hill we were in plain sight of the enemy’s lines. We marched down the hill about half way, and halted in line of battle.

Between us and the enemy was a deep ravine, and on the other side, on the hill pitching toward us were the rebels, behind a Virginia rail fence. The order now came to open fire on the whole line. Our boys drew up their guns, took deliberate aim at that fence, and then it would have done your soul good to see the devils jump. At the second volley they all cut and run into a piece of woods on their left flank. Soon they made their appearance at the edge of the woods, and at them we went again like bull-dogs.

It would, perhaps, be invidious to call names, but I must be permitted to mention Captains Dillingham, Eaton, Hope and Randall, and Lieutenants Henry, Gregg, Campbell, Johnson, Howe, Tracy, Hugh and Tyler, as men who were under my eye the whole battle. With Capt. Dillingham I have always been acquainted, ,and have felt a sort of pride in his success. I have watched him, and I saw him in the midst of the carnage on that bloody day. He was as cool and as self possessed as when on Company parade. I could hear him give his orders to his men; I noticed his face as he passed back and forth, speaking words of encouragement to his brave boys, and by this example inspiring them with courage and fortitude. In a moment I saw him fall ! Oh, God! I sprang towards him and caught him in my arms, lifted him up, and, to my great joy discovered that a Minnie ball had only just grazed his temple and stunned him for the moment. I set him on his feet and left him in charge of his men, and started for my post on the left of the line, and scarcely had I gone ten paces when, with a voice that could be heard beyond the enemy’s lines, I heard him say: “They have not killed me yet; give it to them, boys!”

Captains Smith, Fullam, Wallbridge, Todd, and others, behaved in a manner worthy of Vermont, while Capt. Randall greatly distinguished himself by his cool courage and self-possession; he was determined not to leave the field, and did not until compelled to do so by the commander. One word about our color-bearer: he is 6 feet 5 1-2 inches high – he carried his banner upon the field and stood by it during the whole battle, like Goliath of old. Not a limb trembled or or muscle moved. While six of the enemy’s bullets pierced the sacred flag, not one touched the noble bearer. He is truly a great man and deserves to be remembered.   .   .   .   .   .

Our Quarter master’s Department is managed on a scale not to be surpassed by any regiment in the service. Mr. Pitkin is untiring in his efforts to make us all comfortable, and he is nobly sustained by the Quarter master Sergeant, Cain, and the Messrs. Stone.

St. Albans Daily Messenger, 8/9/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

“W”, 2nd Vermont Infantry, Sets the Record Straight

15 01 2012

From the 2d Vt. Regiment.

In Camp at Bush Hill, Fairfax Co,, Va.

August 5th, 1861.

Messrs. Editors of the Free Press:

I notice some reports have gone to Burlington concerning the “Vermont Guard” not quite in accordance with the truth. For instance, the Times of July 26th says: – “Lieut. Sharpley carried the company into the battle and brought it off, showing throughout the contest the utmost coolness and self-possession. A cannon shot struck exactly at his feet on one occasion, plowing the earth and knocking him senseless; but on rising he went in again. He was ably seconded by Lieut. Weed.” I do not wish to detract in the least from the merits of Lieut. Sharpley. He has gained the reputation of being a brave and efficient officer, and he has the best wishes of all under his command. But as for his leading the company through the battle, I hardly think that Mr. Shaw (from whom the information purports to come) will admit that any member reported such a fact to him; nor will Lieut. Sharpley desire the reputation of so doing. Lieut. Sharpely did take command of the company when Capt. Drew became too exhausted to proceed farther, and led the company until rendered senseless by the cannon ball, when he was carried from the field by Mariam and J. S. Spaulding, and was not seen again by the company until it reached Centreville. Lieut. Weed took command after the misfortune to Lieut. S., and to him is due the credit of taking the company into battle and bringing it off, showing throughout all the coolness and self-possession ascribed to Lieut. Sharpley. He, certainly, was ably seconded by Orderly Bain. I would be unjust to Lieut. Weed not to give him the honor which he deserves. Lieut. W. is now in command of the company, and not a 1st Lieut. of another company, as another report says.

We are recruiting up now, and are occupied mostly on guard duty. We have now two companies each day for guard – one for a picket guard, and the other as a guard about the camp. Since Gen. McClellan has taken command, we have been kept very close, only two being allowed out of camp at a time, and then only with a written pass. Officer and men are debarred from the pleasure of going to Washington. On this account, intoxicating drinks have almost disappeared from camp. This produces a very beneficial effect upon the health of the men. We have but few in the hospital now.

Yesterday was a very sad day with us, rendered so by the death of Corporal Huntley of the Waterbury company. His disease was diptheria. Appropriate and very solemn exercises were held, and the corpse was started on its homeward journey. Today we are called to mourn another brother soldier – private Dow, from the same company, who died of the same disease. Thus have four of our number been laid low by this terrible disease. There are several others in the hospital suffering from diptheria, but none which are considered dangerous. The bodies of these young men have been sent home to their friends by members of the company.

Company G. has five men in the hospital at present; Sergeant Stuart and E. K. Sibley are in the camp hospital. The former was not wounded as you reported, but was sick with the measles at Centreville upon the day of the battle. By almost superhuman exertions he succeeded in walking to Alexandria, and has since been very weak. Sibley is down with the fever but is not considered dangerously ill. Nelson is wounded in the hospital in Washington, while we hear that Corporal Wilcox and private Bates are very badly off in the hospital at Annapolis; with these exceptions the company are enjoying good health.

Our regiment have not yet commenced work upon the entrenchments but we are employed rather as an advanced guard. Our pickets occasionally get a sight at those of the enemy, but no skirmishing of importance has occurred, nor do we anticipate any forward movement for some time to come. Indeed we are in no condition for such a move as we have half a dozen different kinds of guns and have but one shirt and one pair of socks apiece so that when washing day comes we are in a bad fix. Our fare is not much improved, but the boys stand up under all these difficulties much better than could be expected. How ling they will live with the miserable rations with which we are supplied is more than I can tell; yet we are promised better rations sometime, perhaps when we get back to Vermont. By the way there has been much excitement in camp for a few days past owing to the rumor, that we cannot be held out of the state more than three months, and that we shall then go home for the purpose of recruiting up. I think the boys are not homesick at all, nor are they discouraged, but they wouldn’t object to a short furlough.

All our grumbling about our guns bids fair to cease, as we have intelligence today from Mr. Hatch that he expects to procure rifled muskets for us. Gen. Davis and Lieut. Gov. Underwood, visited our camp to-day, undoubtedly for the purpose of finishing our equipment.

We have heard to-day that we are to move to the neighborhood of the 3d regiment, in a few days. At any rate you must not expect us to move to Vermont until Jeff. Davis and his rebel crew are no where.


Burlington Free Press, 8/16/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

“W”, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the March to Manassas

23 12 2011

Resting Place, two miles from Centreville, July 19, 1861.

Messrs. Editors of the Free Press:

As we are having a few hours rest to-day, I will give you a short description of our march to this place, and whatever I may have of interest to write.

On Monday last we had orders to have three days’ rations cooked, and to be ready for light marching; that is, with rubber and woolen blankets, haversacks, and canteens – all our other camp equipage to be left in camp. Our boys went to bed Monday night, quite happy at the prospect of an advance. The long roll beat, and the regiment was called out, just before daylight next morning, and the first four companies – being A, I, D, and G – were led off a short distance from camp, where they awaited further orders. We had heard that our pickets were attacked and the telegraph wire cut, but after waiting an hour we went back to camp, rather down in the mouth, the alarm proving a false one. We soon received orders to march at twelve o’clock, but did not get started until nearly two. There were two brigades front in and two in the rear of us; and as we came upon an eminence now and then, and saw the long line of glistening bayonets, we could not but feel a sense of security and imagine ourselves a match for the whole rebel army. We came on in a westerly direction, by steady marching, until about sundown, when we had a hard march until about ten o’clock, moving in that time only about two miles. It seems the rebels, upon our advance, had burned the bridges across a stream some forty feet wide, and our whole division were obliged to cross in single file, upon a log, hardly wide enough to cross in the day time, much less in the night. You may imagine that it took some time for so many thousand men to  cross in this way. We marched along a couple of miles, where we found the brigades encamped.

It was one o’clock before our regiment arrived, and I think I never saw men so completely tired out. Many a poor fellow fell out by the roadside, preferring to be left behind in a hostile country than to go forward without rest. We were allowed only three hours sleep, and started again next morning at eight o’clock. We marched through  a country heavily wooded; indeed, we had to travel in the woods almost all the way, with the exception of the last three or four miles. Our journey was very much impeded all day Wednesday by trees which the rebels had felled across the road, and in some places our pioneers were obliged to build new roads entirely. On account of these obstructions, our march was rather slow.

About noon we reached a point in the road where we found a regiment drawn up in line of battle. The sight cheered us up, as we were told that an Alabama regiment of riflemen had crossed the road only a few moments before, on the retreat. They succeeded in escaping, however, leaving their camp with provisions enough to supply our whole division for two or three days. The rebels did not suffer from hunger, as they had all kinds of vegetables, with the necessary apparatus for cooking. We stopped for the night about a mile South of their camp, and men were immediately sent for provisions, as our three days’ rations had nearly run out. Two or three men from Company B succeeded in taking a prisoner, who had been out as picket guard and had been left. He was armed with a rifle and revolver, but gave himself up willingly. He seems to be quite intelligent, and says he volunteered thinking it was his duty to do so. He appears to be confident that we cannot get possession of Manassas Gap, and reports a great concentration of rebel forces at that place. He says that Gen. Beauregard has visited their camp several times within the past week. – We spent the day, yesterday at rest, within hearing of the cannonading, at Bull’s Run.

Our men were of course enraged when they heard the news of our repulse at that place, and are longing for a chance to blot out the disgrace of the disaster.

We did not start until five o’clock, when we moved on in a westerly direction towards the scene of the day’s conflict. Companies B and G, under Major Joyce, were left behind with the baggage and ammunition wagons as a rear guard. We did not have a very pleasant march, as we were obliged to carry our load of cartridges up a steep hill, the horses being too tired to do so, having come all the distance from Washington without feed. Our pleasure was not at all heightened when we learned that we were two miles in rear of the main body, with 800 rebels hanging upon our rear. We caught up with the main body at ten o’clock, having marched about six miles. We are about four miles from Bull’s Run, and six miles from Manassas Junction. An advance upon these places is expected to-night or to-morrow.

We have several brigades about us, with artillery and cavalry. I have been out a little ways, and come across our old friends the Minnesota and N. Y. Sixteenth regiments. Both regiments are in good spirits and enjoy general good health. Lieut. Pierce of the Sixteenth, Capt. Stetson’s Plattsburgh company, is quite sick in their camp, and is not expected to live. Our own regiment is enjoying first-rate health, with the exception of a few who are sick in our camp. We have come through without a single accident; while one of the Maine regiments has had two killed and two seriously wounded – all the results of carelessness. I hear somebody has sent home word that Capt. Drew is sickly. This is not near as bad as some have made it. He was quite unwell while we were at Camp Fairbanks, but only for a short time, and is now as well as ever. He will be found all right when we come upon the battlefield. As for “Father Sharpley,” (as he is called through the regiment,) he is as young and boyish as any of us, and is the life of the whole camp. Lieut. Weed had gone back to our camp with a strong guard for our wagons. We are awaiting orders to march to Centreville, but I hear we are to have reinforcements before we go on to Manassas Junction. I have no doubt but that we shall have a warm time there; but I imagine the rebels will find out that “the Yankees” will fight. We were visited today by Messrs. Canfield, Shaw, and Page, and a few days ago by L. G. Bigelow, Esq. Of course, we were much pleased to see Vermonters. I hope they will report us all right.

Yours Truly,


Burlington Free Press, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy


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