Pvt. William J. Crossley, Co. C, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle and Captivity

31 12 2013

Extracts from my Diary, and from my Experiences while Boarding with Jefferson Davis, in Three of His Notorious Hotels, in Richmond, Va., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Salisbury, N. C, from July, 1861, to June, 1862.

By WILLIAM J. CROSSLEY.

[Late Sergeant Company C, Second Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers.]

July 17th, we arrived at Fairfax, where some of the smart ones made themselves conspicuous in a few of the houses evacuated by the Confederates, by smashing portraits, pianos, mirrors and other furniture, without cause or provocation.

Thursday, 18th, bought a hoecake and went a mile to milk a cow, with and from which I had a rare supper. The boys are shooting pigs and hens to kill. At 7 p. m. we marched away three or four miles to a place we named “Brush Camp,” where four men came to us from the fight we had heard two of three miles beyond, at a place called Centreville. They were gunless and hatless, and two of them were wounded. On the 19th, with rails and brush, we made a shelter from the fierce sun. Fresh meat was issued to-day; I made a soup, first in the campaign; rather but not awful salt, — for a fresh-made soup. Dress parade tonight. Sent a letter Home. Have to begin Home now with a capital “H” since we have seen rebel-made blood.

Sunday, July 21st. This is the day we celebrate the occasion of this melodrama. Left camp about 2 a. m., arrived at Bull Run about 9 a. m. Here the Confederacy received us with open arms and refreshments galore. We had barely time to exchange the compliments of the season with them, when one of the Johnnies with much previousness passed me a pepperment drop in the shape of a bullet that seemed to be stuffed with cayenne. Out of courtesy, of course, I returned a similar favor, with but little satisfaction however, for he was so completely hidden down in the grainfield that his colors and the smoke from his guns were all we had for a target. Well, the cayenne was getting warmer, and the blood was getting out of my eyes into my trousers’ leg, so I was taken to the rear, and down to where Surgeons Wheaton and Harris were dressing wounds, and had mine dressed; and, as the rebs began just then dropping shot and shell so near to us as to be taking limbs from the trees over our heads the doctors ordered that the wounded be moved away. I was put in a blanket and taken to another part of the woods and left. Soon after, an old friend of mine, Tom Clark, a member of the band, came along, and, after a chat, gave me some whiskey, from the effects of which, with fatigue, loss of blood and sleep, I was soon dozing, notwithstanding the roar of fierce and murderous battle going on just over the hill. When I awoke a tentmate of mine was standing over and telling me we were beaten and on the run. I wanted to tell him what Pat told the Queen of Ireland, Mrs. Keller, but after looking into his ghostly, though dirty face, I said nothing, but with his help and a small tree tried to get up. That was a failure, so I gave him my watch, said good-bye to him, and he left. Up to date it was also good-bye to the watch. Well, after this little episode, I turned over, and, on my hands and one knee, crawled down to the road, four or five hundred yards away, and tried to get taken in, or on an ambulance, but they were all full (though not the kind of full you are thinking about). Then I crawled up to a rail fence close by a log cabin, and soon the rebs came along, took account of stock, i. e., our name, regiment and company, and placed a guard over us. Being naturally of a slender disposition (I weighed one hundred and eleven pounds just before leaving Washington) and from the fracas of the last twelve hours, was, perhaps, looking a little more peaked than usual, so when one of the rebel officers asked me how old I was, and I told him twenty-one, maybe he was not so much to blame for smiling and swearing, “He reckoned I had got my lesson nearly perfect.” I didn’t know then what he meant, but it seems they had heard we were enlisting boys, and I suppose he thought, in my case at least, the facts were before him.

Monday, July 22d. Well, here I am, a prisoner of war, a lamb surrounded by wolves, just because I obeyed orders, went into a fight, and, by Queensbury rules, was punctured below the belt. So much for trying to be good. And just here I would like to add a few lines pertaining to that (to us, then) strange expression, “Prisoner of war.” From the day of my enlistment to the morning of this notorious battle I had never heard the word mentioned, nor had I even thought of it. I had been told before leaving Providence that I would be shot, starved or drilled to death, that with a fourteen-pound musket, forty rounds of cartridge, a knapsack of indispensables, a canteen of, — of fluid, a haversack of hard-tack, a blanket and half a tent I would be marched to death under the fierce rays of a broiling sun, with a mule’s burden of earth — in the shape of dust — in my hair, eyes, and ears, up my nose and down the back of my neck, or, wading through miles of mud so thick that I must go barefoot or leave my shoes. That I would return home — if at all — with but one leg, one arm, one eye, or one nose, and with but very little of the previous large head; but with all this gabble about war and its alluring entertainments not a solitary word about “Prisoner of war.” So you see, it was not merely a surprise to us, a little something just out of the ordinary, but it was a shock, and not an every day feeble and sickly shock either, but a vigorous paralyzing and spine-chilling shock, that we couldn’t shake off for days or weeks after we were captured. But to continue.

It rained all of last night; I got thoroughly soaked. This morning the rebs made our able ones go out on the battlefield and get rubber blankets, put them over rails and make a shelter for us in the yard of the cabin. The cabin is full of wounded and dying, and I don’t know how many are in the yard. When the surgeon was dressing my wound to-day, we found the bullet inside the drawers where they were tied around my ankle. Oh, but wasn’t I lucky; there was but one puncture and that one below wind and vitals. That’s where the infantry lap over the navy, you see, Mr. Shell-back.

July 23d. Colonel Slocum died at one o’clock this morning. Penno, of the First, had his leg cut off. The major had both of his taken off.

We had some porridge made from meal the men brought in from the woods.

July 24th. Colonel Slocum was buried this morning at the lower end of the garden. Major Ballou’s and Penno’s legs in same place. The Major is getting better; so am I. As the men were going past me here with the Colonel’s body, I was allowed to cut a button from his blouse (I have it yet), at the same time they found another bullet wound in one of his ankles.

July 26th. Had ham and bread for dinner right from the field, and gruel for supper. T. O. H. Carpenter, another of my friends, and of my company, died to-day, up at the church.

July 27th. No bread to-day, only gruel. McCann, of Newport, died.

July 28th. Major Ballou died this p. m.

Gruel for supper, with a fierce tempest.

July 29th. The major was buried beside the colonel at dark.

July 31st. Have had an elegant headache the past two days; to-day it’s singing. Started for Manassas Junction about noon, in ammunition wagons, and with those infernal drivers hunting around for rocks and stumps to drive over; it did seem as if the proprietors of the bullet holes and stumps in the wagons were getting “on to Richmond” with a vengeance. At the Junction we were put into freight cars and started at dark for Richmond.

August 1st. When we arrived at Gordonville this morning, the most of us hoped to be delivered from another such night, for the way that engineer twitched and thumped those cars all night long would have made Jeff Davis & Co. smile, if they could have heard the cursing and groans of the tortured and dying in those cars. This afternoon some are scraping the maggots from their rotten limbs and wounds, for the heat has been sweltering all day, and the stench almost unbearable, as you know, there is no ventilation in the ends of a box freight car; but the most of us lived through it, and finally arrived at Richmond, one hundred and fifty miles from Manassas, at the speed of nearly seven miles an hour. Did you ever hear of Uncle Sam treating a train load of gasping and dying strangers quite so beastly and leisurely as that? As we were being unloaded from the cars to wagons a nice looking old gentleman with a white necktie, standing nearby, said to me, “How old are you, my little man?” I told him twenty-one, but from his insinuating that I must be a near relative of Ananias, I did not pretend to be over seventeen after that while in the Confederacy. From the cars we were taken to a tobacco factory, near the lower end of the city, and on the left bank of the James River, afterwards known as the famous “Libby.” We were dumped on the first floor, among the tobacco presses for the night, and next morning taken upstairs, and, “bless my stars,” put on cots, and given bread and coffee for breakfast. What was the coffee made of do you ask? I don’t know, and, as you didn’t have it to drink it need not concern you; and we had soup for dinner, and it’s none of your affairs what that was made of either. And now we are allowed to send letters home, but have to be very careful as to quality and quantity, for Mr. Reb has the first perusal and will throw them in the waste basket if a sentence or even a word is not to his liking. I tell you if we needed a capital “H” for home, when at Brush Camp, the entire word should be written in capitals here, for there we were surrounded by friends, not an enemy in sight, while here we are surrounded by thousands of enemies and bayonets and not a solitary friend within miles.

While writing this paper I have tried to think of some parallel or similar case to that of ours, that I might give you an idea in a more condensed and comprehensive form what that life was, but I can think of none. Possibly some of you may think that board and lodgings at “Viall’s Inn” for a few months might be comparable. I don’t think so; but as we are cramped for time I will not argue the matter with you, but drop it after a single comparison. If you were to be sent to General Viall’s you would be told before leaving the Court House how long you were to stay. There is where much of the agony, the wear and tear came to us, that everlasting longing, yearning and suspense.

When settled down to our daily routine, I find on the cot beside mine a little Belgian Dutchman, about thirty-five years old, with a head round as a pumpkin, eyes that would snap like stars in January, and a moustache that puts his nose and mouth nearly out of sight. He was seldom murmuring, but flush with sarcasm. His name was Anthony Welder, and he belonged to the Thirty-Eighth New York. He was wounded the same as I, just above the knee, so he could not walk, but he did not lack for friends and fellow countrymen to call on him and help use up many weary hours with their national and lively game of “Sixty-Six.” I wish you could have seen them play it. I was a real nice boy at that time and didn’t know even the name of a card, but seeing them getting so much fun out of it I asked Anthony one day to show me how to play, but with a very decided No, he said, “I tell you; I show you how to play, and you play awhile for fun, then you play for a little money, you win, then you play for a pile, and you win, then you play for a big pile, and you lose him all, then you say, ‘Tarn that Tutchman, I wish the tevil had him before he show me how to play cards.’ ” But there wasn’t much peace for Dutchie until I knew how to play Sixty-Six.” And just here is another illustration of the havoc my evaporated memory has made with some of the tidbits of those days, that I would occasionally like to recall ; for to-day I know no more about that game of “Sixty-Six” than the Chaplain of the Dexter Asylum.

August 4th. A First regiment man died, and on the 6th Esek Smith, also three other Rhode Island men died. And her[e] I should say I make no mention of the dozens and scores belonging to other states and regiments that are carried out daily. One day as a body was being taken out past us I said to Welder, “There goes another poor fellow that’s had to give up the ghost,” and Welder says, “Well, that is the last thing what he could do.”

August 7th. Had services this p. m. by an Episcopal clergyman.

August 10th. Grub very scarce. Cobb of the Second died, and H. L. Jacques, of Company E, from Wakefield, bled to death this evening.

August 13th. Johnnie is whitewashing the walls. It makes the dirty red bricks look a little more cheerful.

August 21st. To-day we are a month away from Bull Run, and a month nearer home.

Hat-tip to reader Bill Kleppel

William J. Crossley at Ancestry.com

While presented in diary format, it is apparent that the above was subsequently edited by the author.





Capt. Calvin S. DeWitt, Co. I, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

18 12 2012

Letter from Capt. DeWitt

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Full Description of the Action of the Horseheads Company in the Great Battle at Bull’s Run.

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We are permitted to publish the following interesting letter from Capt. C. S. DeWitt, describing particularly the part taken by the Horseheads Company in the great battle at Bull’s Run.

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Head Quarters 38th Regiment N. Y. V.

Camp Scott, Shuters Hill, Fairfax Road,

Near Alexandria, Va., July 27, 1861.

Dear Sister:

This has been a very short week indeed to me. Here it is Saturday, six days since the battle of Bull Run, of which I suppose you have heard long before this, although I think, you have not heard much from our regiment as our Col. has not sent in his report yet and then our regiment is not a newspaper regiment, as you may have seen by the papers before this.

I looked for the New York papers the next day and was glad to hear that our regiment was not mentioned in the report, for I expected to see it in the papers that I was killed, for it was reported on the field that I was killed or badly wounded, but I am not. I escaped with the exception of a few light scratches. I was struck on the hand by a piece of a bomb and was pricked in the back of the head accidentally by one of my own men, but these are nothing.

But I will now attempt to give you an account of the battle, which is said to have been the most desperate one ever fought in the United States.

Imagine if you can our army on last Saturday night encamped in a pleasant valley near Centreville, Va., with orders to march in the morning at 2 o’clock, with 3 days provisions in our haversacks, no one knew where except the General in command. You might have seen me at 7 o’clock going through inspection of arms, seeing that all my men were fully equipped and had the requisite amount of ammunition. Finding every thing right I broke ranks for the night, telling the men I had orders to march at 2 in the morning, and they must get all the rest they could before that time. Then after arranging all my affairs about camp, at 10:30 I took my blanket and laid down to sleep. I slept until 12 when Col. Ward, wh was going round the camp tapped me on the should and said, “Capt. fall in your men right away as silently as possible. We move from here at one o’clock.” So I got up, spoke to the men, and they were all up and in the ranks in ten minutes.

The whole division of the army was in rank and commenced moving out of camp, but we had to stand there until f o’clock which was more tiresome than marching. Then we took up our march for the field of action which was 16 miles from our camp, which me marched in quick time, and reached the field about 12 M. You may judge what condition the men were in for fighting by this time. They were nearly exhausted by the heat of the day and the long march, and then were hurried into the fight without a moment’s rest.

The battle had been going on two hours when we arrived. We came on the field in double quick and then we were in for it. We were to take a masked battery and fight an unseen enemy. When we first came on the field we saw the rebels, but we gave them one volley, and they run for the woods which were on two sides of the field, and there were their batteries were concealed in the thick woods pouring out upon us their deadly shower of shell and canister, and volley after volley of rifle and musket balls, and as they were concealed in the wood and in entrenchments we could not see a man, and had to march up to their batteries through one of the most steady and the sharpest fire ever known to soldiers. We only had to judge where to fire from where the fire came from, which we did with considerable effect.

We soon however had a chance to see the rebels for we charged on them and run right into their battery. The 38th and the Zouaves charged together, side by side, which made a bad hole in them I can tell you. We laid them in piles, but we were driven back by far greater numbers and greater advantages of ground. There was surely never a more brave lot of men in any filed. My Company has received great praise for the bravery of both officers and men, and for the dangerous position we took.

I kept perfectly cool and composed, and went right in I tell you. My men stuck like good fellows, and if I do say it, was in the thickest and done some of the best fighting. I thought once it was all up with me. I was far in advance in the open field with a few men around men. From our position every shot told upon the rebels. But at this moment came a shower of bullets. The balls whistled past my ears like hail, and a corporal of my company was shot. He was not two feet from me. A ball struck him in the throat and went straight through his neck, low at the breast. He fell on his side and said, “O dear, I am shot!: This did not stop me much. I laid him in an easy position and urged the men on, but it was hard to keep them in that place. They were falling like rain. I looked round at McBride and he was not dead. I thought to carry him back a little from the field. I spoke to my Orderly Sergeant, who was near me, to take hold and we would carry him back a little. So we both took hold of him, but no sooner had we started with him than a ball struck the Orderly in the breast and went right through his body. He fell with a groan on my feet. This made my heart sick. Here lay two of the very nicest boys in the regiment. The Orderly Sergeant was Wm. F. Straight of Elmira, and the Corporal was John McBride of N. York. But no time to waste here. I looked around me and scarcely a man could be seen standing, and the ground was strewn with the dead and dying. Oh, it was an awful sight. I cannot describe it.

Imagine, if you can, a field strewn with  dead and wounded, and in many instances the black hearted rebels were known to cut the throats and mangle with their bayonets the wounded men left on the field.

Our loss is not so much by far as it was reported. I awfully hate to own we were whipped, but it was no victory, for the rebel loss was much greater than ours. There was two darkies run out of the enemy’s lines when we were retreating. They say that the enemy’s loss is far greater than ours. They say they had 500 darkies at work carrying away the dead and wounded. These niggars came out after some dead on the field and run over to our lines.

There was no use of losing the battle if we had the right management of the thing. The attack was not made right, nor in the right place. It was nothing but suicide to march those men before an unseen enemy and masked batteries. We were compelled to retreat after a desperate battle of six hours and a quarter, by far superior numbers, masked batteries and great advantage of ground – But we are here yet. Let them come out of their trenches and attack us, or stand up in sight or any way only so that we can see them, and we will show you how soon we can clean them out. We can whip two to one, and had them whipped, only for a panic amongst the teamsters, that was taken for a retreat by some of our troops, and this routed the men so that they could not be rallied in time to save themselves.

The great sacrifice in this battle is blamed on the commanding officer Gen. McDowel. – There was no use to have had so many killed. Men’s lives are too precious to be thrown away in that way. There was no necessity to hurry the thing along so fast, when we knew that the enemy had been in this place for months, and that they would stay there as long as possible. It is one of their strongest posts. They had three batteries, one on the right, left and centre. The Southern account of their numbers say that they had twelve thousand in the fight and sixty thousand in the reserve at Manassas Junction. Well now, McDowel’s command is only forty thousand, and we had only seven thousand men in the fight that attacked Bull Run, (now the papers may say what they please). The force was divided to attack another place but did not do it. At tow o’clock the victory seemed to be ours, and would have been could we have had a reserve of a few fresh troops to have come in to help. But no, there was two regiments in reserve in the woods a mile off waiting, but were never ordered to the field.

The 38th and the Fire Zouaves were fighting side by side, when a whole company of the rebel Black Horse Cavalry made a furious charge on us at the time when they tho’t us nearly whipped. But we gave them a warm reception, for only one horseman of the whole troop went back to tell the tale. We dropped them from their saddles like rain.

But I have written enough – you will be sick of reading more, although the half is not told you. But talk of being tired. I thought I had been tired before, but I did not know what it was to be so. We marched from five o’clock on Sunday morning until 8 o’clock on Monday morning, a distance of sixty two miles without rest, and had six hours hard fighting in the time. I had nothing to eat in this time except a couple of hard crackers or sea biscuits.

We arrived at our old camp at 8 o’clock next morning, and got breakfast at a farm house near by, which it is needless to say I relished very well. I have boarded at this house ever since.

I had two men killed, five wounded and eleven missing out of my company. Our whole loss was six to eight hundred.

Cr. Murdoch’s son is our Chaplain.

Yours, &c.,

Capt. C. S. DeWitt,

38th Regiment

Elmira Weekly Advertiser, 8/10/1861

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Calvin S. DeWitt at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. John H. Morrison, Co. H, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

17 12 2012

[The following letter was received from private John H. Morrison, of Co. H, (Captain Baird,) by his father. It is replete with interesting incidents of the part taken by the Geneva boys in the great battle at Bull's Run:

Alexandria, Va., July 23d.

Dear Father:

I sit down to write you a few lines, and it is a great task to do it, for I am so fatigued that I can hardly sit up. We have just returned from a march of about 32 hours in the rain. Sunday morning – (o, what a Sunday that was! it was one that I shall never forget) – we were called from our rest. We were about two miles from a place called Centreville: we had marched to Fairfax Court House the day before that, and routed the enemy. They left their camps and the most of their provisions in a great hurry. We stayed there one day and took 11 prisoners. The next day we marched to Centreville, and as I said, were aroused at 1 o’clock and started for Manassas Junction. We were on a forced march the most of the rime, and just before we got to the field of battle we got to the field of battle we had to move at “double quick.” We were drawn up in line of battle, and marched direct to the front of the enemy. They were in masked batteries, and we could not see them fairly. But we gave them a few vollies, and then our regiment was detailed to cover a battery of artillery. We were a few yards behind the picket battery, which was awfully cut up by the enemy’s artillery. We were then ordered to sustain a charge of the Fire Zouaves, which we did; and our regiment and the Fire Zouaves marched directly up within five rods of the rebel battery, and stood a galling fire for the space of 15 or 20 minutes, but had to retreat. We rallied again, and stood their fire for a long time, and had to retreat again. They may say what they please in the papers, but the Thirty-eighth and the Fire Zouaves were the only regiments that went any where near the enemy’s batteries.

While we stood there, I was wondering all the while that a ball did not hit me; but I got off without a scratch! Why I saw men fall all around me. Some had their head shot off clean from the body; some had both legs and arms taken off; and others fell with balls in their heads. It was one continual whiz around my head. Men would drop next to me; but although I always thought I would feel a little fear on entering a field of battle, yet I was never more cool and steady in my life, notwithstanding the hot weather and fatigue.

A great many of our men were sunstruck, including our Colonel; and if it had not been for Capt. Baird, we would not have a Colonel now. Capt. B. was the only officer of his rank in our regiment that I saw at the head of his men. You may read a great deal in the papers in regard to this battle. I cannot estimate the number of men lost on either side, but the slaughter was great. I have heard men that were in the Crimean war and in a dozen battles say, that they never saw men stand before such galling fire as we did.

You can put down the Brooklyn Phalanx (Henry Ward Beecher’s pets) as cowards! And you may not credit any of the State troops except those of New York for any great display of bravery.

I will not undertake to say how many men our regiment lost; but I will say that most of our Geneva boys are safe – that is, as far as I know. I expect that Johnny Orman is killed, and several wounded. Harry L. Stainton got a ball through his right hand; he may lose it, and he may not.

I will not attempt to give all the particulars until I can do so without causing needless alarm to the friends of the 38th.

I will mention the Fire Zouaves, as I think they stood the brunt of the battle. As for the “seceshers,” we will “polish” them off yet. Charley Dorchester, Clark McMillan of Phelps, and I, are in our tents, all sound. John Baker, Fred Andrus and young Tim Clare are safe.

I have just heard that we are cut off from Washington, and I must quit. I will give more particulars in my next. This in a hurry.

John.

Geneva Gazette, 8/2/1861

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John H. Morrison at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Officers’ Clerk George L. Russell, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

15 12 2012

Letter from Geo. L. Russell, of the 38th Regiment.

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[A friend to whom the following letter was addressed has kindly permitted its publication. The writer was 1st Lieutenant in Capt. Baird's Company, but resigned and was appointed Officers' Clerk in the regiment:]

Alexandria, Va., July 23.

You have probably heard, ere this, of the bloody and terrible battle of the 21st, and our awful defeat. We broke camp on the 16th and marched on Fairfax, the Ellsworth Zouaves and first Michigan Regiment taking the lead. The enemy hearing of our approach, fell back on Bull’s Run, where they were attacked on the 18th by the 12th and 69th N. Y. Reg’ts, who were unable to dislodge them, and were obliged to retreat to Centreville, where we joined them, together with the whole of Gen. McDowell’s column, consisting of about 45,000 men. Here we rested for two days, and on Sunday morning, the 21st, the whole army commenced its march on Manassas, which is distant 14 miles, where we arrived at 12 M., marching the whole distance under a broiling sun. And although completely exhausted, we were immediately ordered into action.

The battle had already commenced, having been opened by the 71st and 69th N. Y. Regiments. The enemy were entrenched behind strong breast-works, mounted with heavy rifled cannon, compared to which our light field pieces were mere pop-guns.

For four hours our men fought desperately, but in vain. Regiment after regiment would rush in, only to be driven back or cut to pieces by their terrible discharges. As soon as one battery was silenced another would open fire from a quarter least expected, slaughtering our men by hundreds.

At last the order for a retreat was given. (Now comes the most heart rending part of the whole.) Instead of retreating in good order, regiment after regiment rushed off the field in the greatest disorder, creating a perfect panic. Soon the route became general, and infantry, cavalry and artillery rushed from the field in the utmost confusion. It was the most terrible sight I ever witnessed. I have often imagined what the route of Napoleon was at Waterloo: but the reality of this far surpasses all my ideas of a great defeat. The army became a perfect rabble – they ran like sheep. If they had made a stand they could have retreated in good order, and saved hundreds of lives, and thousands of property; but there seemed to be no head whatever. On they rushed, every man looking out for “number one.” As fast as the horses attached to the waggons and artillery gave out, they were deserted. For thirty miles the roads were strewn with artillery, baggage waggons and military stores of all descriptions, amounting in value to hundreds of thousands of dollars – most of which will fall into the enemy’s hands. The wounded would struggle on as far as possible, and then fall – left to the mercy of the enemy, who on the field showed no quarter. I saw many a poor fellow bayonetted after being shot down. Terrible will be the revenge when our troops get the advantage of them.

Of Captain Baird’s company, one is known to be killed, (Jno. Orman;) wounded, Wm. Baker, (in leg;) Hugh Dunnigan, taken prisoner; Harry L. Stainton, slight; Ralph Patterson, Byron Stevens, John Robson, all slight; Norton Schemerhon, in breast, slight. These are known. There are a few who have not yet arrived in camp, but probably are all right. We hope for the best.

Carl did bravely – the company all praise him. Capt. Baird’s company all did well. The Zouaves and 38th did the hardest fighting that day, as their loss will show. Enclosed I send you a plan of the battle, so that you can see what we had to contend with. Our regiment lost about 200 men. I was on the field during most of the engagement. On the retreat I captured a horse and secured a minnie rifle. I met the Col. of our reg’t, who had lost his horse, and he being very much exhausted, I gave him my horse, and walked myself 14 miles. He then dismounted, and Carl and myself took turns the rest of the way. We were both completely used up when we arrived here, having had no sleep for two nights, and walked 40 miles.

Troops are arriving fast, and we shall make a stand here to protect Washington.

We are expecting an attack every day. Let them come; we will polish them off next time. Fred Andrus is all right. Let me hear from you soon. My regards to all.

Your Friend,

George L. Russell.

P. S. I visited the Surgeon. It was terrible to see the poor wounded fellows.

G.

Geneva Gazette, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Capt. William H. Baird, Co. H, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

12 12 2012

The 38th in Battle.

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Heroic Conduct Of The Geneva Volunteers.

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Interesting Letter from Capt. Baird.

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Camp Scott, near Alexandria,

Head Quarters 38th Reg’t,

2d Brigade – July 23d, 1861.

Dear Brother:

We have had a battle, of which you will probably be informed before this reaches you. I saw by the last N. Y. Tribune that there was no mention of the fact our regiment belonged to the Second Brigade. We do, however, belong to it, and have proved ourselves worthy of a share of the distinction which that brigade acquired in the battle.

Never did men fight longer or with more determined courage than the 38th and the Fire Zouaves did in this battle, against overwhelming odds that we had to encounter. We were ordered to be ready to march on the morning of the 21st, at 1 o’clock. We stood ready to march from that time until half past 5 o’clock. We then started and marched about 9 miles, stopped only about 10 minutes, when we were ordered to support our battery. We followed the battery in line, dressing on our colors. We went on double quick time for about one mile. When we got within half a mile of the position to be occupied by the battery on an eminence, cannon shot and bombs went whizzing by and over our heads at the rate of 12 a minute. I took out my watch and counted them. Before we came to a halt we had to cross three fences. After we cot in range of their batteries, I never saw a rifle pointed with more accuracy than they pointed their rifled cannon. Our battery was soon unable to sustain the awful fire to which it was exposed. We were then ordered to follow and support another battery on a hill, three-fourths of a mile on our right. We went at a quick step to the position assigned us. The Massachusetts 4th, as soon as we had taken our first position – before we left to support the second battery – shamefully left us to contend alone. We had scarcely reached our second position, going the entire distance through a shower of musketry, heavy shot and shell, when our battery was knocked all to pieces by a shot from a rifled cannon, which struck a wheel of a gun carriage, killed one gunner, took off a leg from another, and killed two horses, leaving it a perfect wreck. We were lying behind a rail fence some ten rods in rear of the battery, ready to support it from a charge of the enemy’s cavalry. By this time, however, the rebels made a charge on another gun at our right. – They come out of the woods in front of us. – We were there unsupported, the Fire Zouaves were the nearest regiment to us, they being half a mile in our rear. We met the rebels in between and in front of the gun they were trying to capture, and pen cannot describe the awful scene that followed. Musket balls went through and through our ranks by hundreds. As we were then unsupported, and the enemy had about 1,000 to our 688, we were compelled fall back, which we did in tolerable order. – They followed us to our battery, by which time we had got loaded and formed pretty well. Our Col. was weak with the heat and fatigue of the march, being so sick when we left our camp the he could not keep his seat in the saddle; our Lieut. Colonel was covered with boils, but he kept the field on foot, being unable to ride; our Major was struck by a ball near the ankle, which disabled him, and he was taken prisoner. The command fell on the Captains, and some of the sustained themselves well; particularly Capt. McQuade who had a leg shot off and was taken prisoner; and Capt. McGrath. Lieut. Funk of Co. C, proved himself a hero throughout the fight. There were others who fought well; but some of the officers in all the regiments should be reduced to the ranks, and some of the privates put in their places. There are privates in my company that would fill the places with honor to themselves and credit to the State.

I mention particularly Harry Stainton, who had his right hand shattered by a musket ball, kept on loading and firing with his left hand, and did not appear excited or alarmed in the least; also Byron Stevens, D. W. Farrington, Theron Stevens, Peter D. Roe, Charles Dorchester, Wm. Barker, (shot through the knee, kept on loading and firing,) John H. Morrison, Hugh Dunigan (shot through the thigh, breaking the bone, had two fingers shot off, and was taken prisoner,) Isaac Ritche, (wounded by a musket ball in the calf of leg, but walked with difficulty, ) John Hallam, (hurt with splinter in head, still kept with his company loading and firing,) John M. Robson, (shot in neck by a spent ball, not serious – after he was wounded he shot one fellow;) Charles Stone, Charles Halsey, Henry Bogart, and Menzo W. Hoard. All of the above men proved themselves capable of going into anything however desperate.

Our flag was carried in the centre of the regiment. It dropped, some of the enemy started to get it. Byron Stevens started for it, but it was got by one of our regiment before he reached it. It had two musket balls through it, and it is safe in our hands. There are many others in my company proved brave men; hav’nt time to give all names. Not one but stood his ground and did his duty. We rallied three times and drove the enemy back into the woods. Never were muskets pointed with more deadly effect. They went down before us like grass before the mower; around one gun they were piled in heaps.

One rebel officer had been left on the field wounded in the leg. One of the men of our regiment – not one of my company, thank God – was about to bayonet him. I rushed up and struck up his musket with my sword, seized it, put my sword to his breast, told him to stop or I would run him through. The officer thanked me with a smile I shall never forget. I gave him my name and rank, and threw him a canteen of water of one of his men, who lay torn to pieces by a cannon ball, his head 10 feet from his body.

We drove them into the woods again where they had breastworks that could not be taken. We halted and poured volley after volley in upon them. Their firing ceased for about 3 minutes, when they formed behind their breastworks and opened it again. Had they fired with as much certainty as our men did, they would have swept hour whole regiment completely away. – The balls fell in and around us like hail. By this time the Ellsworth Zouaves had reached the field. They were soon compelled to fall back, the rebels having been re-inforced.

I can give no correct account of the number of killed and wounded, but they lay as thick as leaves around us. Pen cannot describe the scene. We fell back, advanced the second time – were compelled to fall back again; and thus we continued to fight for two-and-a-half hours; when the enemy were re-inforced by some 5,000 men, and brought another battery to bear on our flank. We were then compelled to fall back on the main body. By this time the Brooklyn regiment (Ward Beecher’s “pet lambs” – and lambs they are, indeed) – came up. They had scarcely fired their muskets before they ran like sheep down the hill.

I came across our Colonel. He could hardly stand on his feet, and being so weak he could not mount a horse, and if helped in his saddle, unable to retain his seat. I gave him some water, got him on a horse and kept him on until we arrived at our camp, a distance of 10 miles. He would swoon every few minutes and totter in his saddle. I would arouse him, and give him some water, which would revive him for a while.

Capt. McQuade of our regiment had one leg shot off and was taken prisoner. Lieut. Brady had his arm terribly shattered by a Minnie ball. I came near being shot by own men. – A field officer was knocked from his horse but not much hurt. The horse ran right in front of my company as we were lying behind the fence where we were ordered to protect the second battery – the one that was struck by a shot. The officer was running around the field for a horse, seeing which , I ordered my men not to fire until I got the horse. They had not fired a gun for some time. I had scarcely reached the animal, some five rods distant, when the whole front rank opened fire. The horse was shot in four or five different places while I had him by the bridle. I left him and ran towards my men. When I got to the fence the rear rank commenced firing. The fence was low, and I threw myself flat on top of it and rolled off towards the men. How I escaped being shot, God only know.

Wadsworth of our State, who was prominently talked of for Governor last fall, is a volunteer Aid to Gen. McDowell. There was never a braver man lived. I could not but admire the courage he displayed in the battle. – He rode along and through the lines with the same calm mien he would at a review, giving orders with a clear and steady voice, as if he were directing some ordinary business. He is worthy of a higher position.

Through the mercy of Divine Providence I escaped unhurt – worried out, all but my courage, which is as good as ever. I only feel out of humor at our being obliged to retreat.

I give below a list of the killed and wounded of my company:

John Orman of Geneva, killed.

Luther L. Mills, of Orcott Creek, Pa., both hands shot off.

Hugh F. Dunnigan, of N. Y., shot through the thigh and 2 fingers off – taken prisoner.

Wm. Barker, of New York, shot through the thigh – is in hospital.

Harry L. Stainton, Geneva, musket ball thro’ the right hand.

John M. Robson, Stanley Corners – shot thro’ the neck – slight wound.

Norton Schermerhorn, Flint Creek – hurt in the side by a spent ball – not seriously.

John Hallam, N. York, and Englishman – cut on the head, not serious.

Isaac L. Ritchie, Ferguson’s Corners – wounded in calf of leg, not seriously.

The following are missing, supposed to have been taken prisoners:

John Lamphier and Wm. Ross, both of Geneva.

From your brother,

W. H. Baird,

Commanding Co. H,

38th Reg’t, 2d Brigade

Geneva Gazette, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

William H. Baird at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy








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