Col. Hiram Berry, 4th ME Infantry, On the March to Manassas and the Battle

17 01 2012

[A series of letters from Col. Hiram G. Berry, 4th Main Infantry]

Headquarters 4th Maine Vols.,

Camp Knox, Fairfax County, Va., July 13, 1861.

Since writing my last we have moved onward apace. We are now encamped on the east side of Alexandria and Manassas Gap railroad, near the town of Fairfax. I am well and never experienced so good a climate as this of Virginia. The country through which we have passed since we left Alexandria is one of the finest imaginable. The plantations are of the medium size, of about 1,000 acres on the average. Houses large, airy, comfortable and well arranged. Most of the people are to my mind secessionists. ‘Tis sad indeed to see so fine a country in so bad a fix; nevertheless, no help for it now but to fight it out. We move forward again in a day or two from five to ten miles. The whole line is some eighteen miles long, and advances at the same time. Our route is down the railroad spoken of above, on its eastern side, or its left flank.  We build bridges as we go along, and also a telegraph. The regiment is in fine health and works hard. I am at work from four in the morning till eleven at night, sleep on the ground and am as well as ever in my life. I dress in blue flannel, have also uniformed my entire regiment in same manner. All feel better since they put on flannel.  ‘Tis the only fit thing to wear in this climate.

———-

Headquarters 4th Regiment, Maine Vols.

Fairfax Station, July 15, 1861.

We are under marching orders and leave at three o’clock this afternoon with three days’ food in haversacks Baggage of all kinds, tents, everything left behind. The whole line, some 18 miles, advances today. We form its left wing. I hope all will be well with us, and trust in God it will be.

———-

Camp Knox, two and one-half miles from Fairfax Court House,

July 18, 1861.

(Written by camp-fire.)

We are now two and one-half miles from Fairfax Court House, on south side, having turned the enemy’s position and taken some twenty prisoners. They report the main column to have left over two hours before us. We have taken their camp, tents, 200 barrels of flour, bacon, sugar, tea, etc. — a pretty good show for hungry men. Captain Walker’s men took possession of these works, called Fairfax Station, in the name of the United States, and the 4th Regiment in particular. The works consist of three earth batteries or breastworks, with no guns. They were constructed to cover infantry, and in good style. My men are in excellent condition. We have fifty axe-men to clear the way, as the enemy have felled trees across the road, torn down bridges, etc. We clear the way, make the roads, scout the country for half a mile ahead, and advance main column. My men work like tigers, and are the admiration of all the army officers. We have one thirty-two and two twenty-eight pound rifle cannon, mounted on carriages, with ammunition, etc.  My men (under command, of course,) have dragged these guns the last twelve miles. The army men who had them in charge got them stuck in a dreadful ravine — hills one-half mile on each side — and gave them up. The Massachusetts 5th tried a hand and gave up also. Colonel Heintzelman said he would try the 4th Maine Regiment and they would bring them if power could do it. I got the request and dispatched Bean and Carver, with their companies, and went also myself. We manned the guns, made our arrangements, and in one-half hour had them at the top of the hill, and turned them over to Colonel Heintzelman in front of the earthworks of the enemy, having dragged them ten miles.

Long roll sounds to fall in. We are now only eight miles from Manassas Gap, and bound thither, enemy in front all the way, trees across the roads, bridges all burned, etc. Hard labor to clear the way. We shall take position in the rear of the enemy to cut off retreat. The left wing, in which we are, has to march in a circuitous road in consequence. I have not yet had an accident of any kind in the regiment since I left Portland. The Fifth lost two men by accident yesterday. Regimental organization stronger every day. New York Fire Zouaves are with us. They are a fine body of men, and the strongest ties of friendship exist between them and this regiment.

Morning — No more now; I am ordered to march.

———-

Alexandria, July 23, 1861.

I am here again with my regiment, acting under orders, having arrived last evening amidst a most pitiless rain storm. We broke camp at Fairfax, near a place called Claremont on Thursday morning at two o’clock, marched to a spot near Centerville, some fourteen miles and located. Stayed there Thursday, Friday and through Saturday.  On this last march we drove some 5,000 of the enemy before us. Sunday morning at half-past one o’clock, we broke camp and marched with the main column of some 30,000 men to attack the enemy at a place called Bull Run, some fourteen miles distant. The brigade my regiment was in was halted till two P. M. some six miles from battlefield to act as a reserve, to go when needed. At that time we moved forward to join our own division, which was having a dreadful light. We moved at double-quick time in one of the most melting of days. Men threw away everything except their guns and equipments, and arrived on the field in less than an hour. The ammunition of our artillery gave out, and also of the regiments which had been in action. The ammunition trains for some reason did not get up to us. We were ordered into position at once, and stood our ground until ordered off by General McDowell. We stood the fire about one hour, holding the enemy in check till the retreat of the main body took place, and we were ordered to move. Two full batteries of the enemy played upon us and if the shot had been well aimed, it would have been worse for us. As it is, it is bad enough — sergeant-major shot through the heart, twenty-five privates killed, three company officers wounded, (Bird, Bean and Clark,) two prisoners, sixty-odd wounded, some very slightly, one hundred and nineteen missing; most of these, however, will soon be in.

My regiment fought bravely and stood their ground manfully. T have no cause of complaint in that respect. We marched fifty miles without halting except to tight a battle — without sleep also. I have lost everything. No change of clothing — nothing. Lost one of my horses, the best one — killed. Say to General Titcomb that one of my flags was carried through the fight — the stars and stripes presented in New York. It is riddled with bullets. I have done my best and my whole duty, as I hope. I am sorry indeed to have lost so many, many men in a losing affair. Not less than 3,000 killed and wounded on our side and prisoners — say twice as many more of the enemy. The victory was ours up to one-half hour of our arrival on the ground. At that time the enemy was reinforced by 17,000 men, and that fact together with the failure of ammunition lost the battle. Our part was to fight, and cover as far as possible the retreat.

I am well, but exhausted, and my men are nearly so. I will mention names of men belonging to Rockland killed :

Company B — Asahel Towne, B. W. Fletcher, Chas. O. Fernald.

Company C — Dennis Canning, P. H. Tillson, S. P. Vose, Jarvis B. Grant.

Company D — J. A. Sparlock, Wm. B. Foss, Geo. C. Starbird, James Bailey.

Company H — G. F. Cunningham, James Finn, West W. Cook, E. W. Anderson.

 ———-

Claremont, Va.

Undated

My health is better than for the past two weeks. I feel quite the thing again. I have not been sick, but somewhat exhausted, growing out of the fatigues consequent upon the movements of two weeks ago. The regiment is now getting over in a measure its recent troubles. I hope they will soon be themselves again. Never was a braver set of men than those who went into battle under my command. They were perfectly cool, did exactly as I wanted, obeyed all my orders and behaved nobly. They should have the thanks of those they battled for and I doubt not will have them. As for my poor self, I tried to do my whole duty. Strange as it may seem to you I was no more excited than ordinarily when in earnest. I did not believe I should be hit in any way, and I did not think of it at all. My mind was occupied by my command entirely. Men fell all around me, killed and wounded. The ground was covered with men and horses, some mine and some of other regiments, who had passed over the same ground. Chapman left me only one minute before he was shot. He came for orders to my post by the Regimental colors; asked for orders with a smile. I gave them, he extended his hand, we exchanged blessings, he cautioned me against unnecessary exposure, and we parted for the last time. He was shot through the heart immediately on resuming his post.

I shall come out all right I have no doubt; shall do my whole duty, and I never again, probably, shall be placed in such a position should the war last for years as that at Bull Run.

You ask me if reports are true concerning carrying the flag, etc. I do not care to say much about myself; I leave that to others. My color-sergeant was shot in the battle. I did carry the flag throughout the entire engagement. It was my post in battle beside or near it. I at once raised it after it fell. Poor flag ! ‘Tis indeed a sorry looking concern for one so pretty when presented. Cannon shot and musketry have well-nigh ruined it, but torn as it is, it is the pride of the regiment. My labor has been to get the confidence of my men, their entire confidence on all occasions. I think I have succeeded, and whilst I am severe on them in the discharge of their duties, nevertheless I try to take care of them in all emergencies. I do not believe there will be any more engagements for some time, and then when they do come it will be principally with artillery.

Major-General Hiram G. Berry: His Career as a Contractor, Bank President, Politician and Major-General of Volunteers in the Civil War Together with His War Correspondence Embracing the Period from Bull Run to Chancellorsville, by Edward K. Gould, pp. 57 – 59, 65, 67-68.

Thanks to reader Terry Johnston








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