Fun stuff. Listen along – can you figure out who everyone is?
Fun stuff. Listen along – can you figure out who everyone is?
The following letter was received from Alexander Carolin, a private in the Sixty-ninth Regiment, and is addressed to his father, Mr. Dennis Carolin, ex-Alderman of the Fourth Ward. Private Carolin took part in the entire combat, and was an eye-witness of the death of Captain Haggerty:
Fort Corcoran, July 23, 1861.
Dear Father – We had orders to move on Saturday evening at six o’clock for our encampment near Centreville. We did not start until two o’clock in the morning. At about five o’clock we reached a place between Bull’s Run and Manassas Gap, where we came to a halt. Two Ohio regiments and the Seventy ninth of New York were with our column. Our regiment moved about, trying to get the enemy to attack us. We had Sherman’s Battery with us, besides a battery of rifled cannon. Our column kept up a fire on the woods, on the opposite side of the ravine, a distance of about a quarter of a mile, trying to find out the masked batteries, but the enemy would not return the fire. About ten o’clock we discovered two batteries, and drove the enemy out. The Sixty ninth advanced. We went off at a run, but could not overtake the enemy, as they scattered in every direction through the woods., kept up the run, turned to the right, waded through streams, climbed steep hills, left our battery behind us and outflanked the enemy, and came on them when we were not expected. The Louisiana Zouaves were doing big damage when we came on them. We gave a yell that could be heard far above the roar of the cannon. We fired into them and charged them with the bayonet. They were panic stricken and fled. We covered the field with their dead. Haggerty rushed forward to take a prisoner, and lost his life. The man turned and shot him through the heart. We drove the enemy before us for some distance, then got into line and had them surrounded. General McDowell came up just then, took off his hat and said, “You have gained the victory.” Our next fly was at a South Carolina regiment. We killed about three hundred of them. After fighting hard for some time we cleared the field of all the enemy. The enemy again rallying, the real fight then commenced. We were drawn up in line, and saw the other regiments trying to take the masked batteries. They were cut to pieces and scattered. We were then ordered forward to attack the batteries. We fought desperately, but we were cut down. We lost our flag, but took it back again with the assistance of a few of the Fire Zouaves, who fought like devils. We charged a second time, but were mowed down by the grape and rifles of the enemy. We came together again to make another charge, but we could not get together over two hundred men. We formed into a hollow square, when we saw the enemy turn out their cavalry, about a mile in length, and the hills all about covered with them, trying to surround us. All the regiments on our side were scattered and in disorder, except what were left of the 69th. The Fire Zouaves had to retreat, leaving a number of wounded on the field. Haggerty’s body was laid in a house when we were returning back. Col. Corcoran asked me to assist in carrying back the body, and I accordingly went back. We carried the body for some miles on a door, the shot falling thick around us. We had to leave the body on the road. Col. Corcoran, I hear, was afterwards wounded and taken prisoner. What we could gather together of our regiment marched back to Fort Corcoran during the night. I am trying to cross the river to send you a telegraphic dispatch, but the government will not allow any soldiers to cross. I escaped unhurt; although the men on each side and in front and rear were either killed or wounded.
I remain yours, affectionately,
New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863
Contributed by Damian Shiels
A big thanks go out to FOBR (Friend of Bull Runnings) Damian Shiels, a professional archaeologist who specializes in military archaeology and who runs Irish in the American Civil War from, of all places, Ireland. He’s been feeding me clippings from the New York Irish-American, featuring letters primarily from the 69th New York State Militia on the battle. I hope you’re enjoying them. I think they’re great, especially in illustrating the limited perspective of most private soldiers during battle.
Just a word – you should keep in mind that the 69th NYSM is NOT the 69th New York Volunteers that would be a part of the famous Irish Brigade. That was a completely different organization, although some (and it’s hard to say how many) members of the 69th NYSM did join the 69th NYV. I’ve been informed that there was some division among the men of the militia units in their loyalty to its colonel, Michael Corcoran, and the captain of Co. K, Thomas Francis Meagher. The schism was perhaps rooted in the Fenian movement. While Meagher was recruiting up the new 69th NYV, some members of the militia unit, which had mustered out of US service when its 90 days were up shortly after Bull Run, joined him, some decided to stay with the militia, and some joined other units, including the 88th and 63rd NYV which also became part of the Irish Brigade, and the various regiments of Corcoran’s Irish Legion which was formed after Corcoran’s release from captivity and his promotion to brigadier-general. The 69th NYSM would operate through the war, being called back into emergency service once or twice more during the conflict, and in fact it survives to this very day and has an illustrious history including Father Duffy (as portrayed by Pat O’Brien, above with James Cagney, in The Fighting 69th; below is my 2004 snapshot of Duffy’s statue in Duffy Square in NYC). So, no, the Irish Brigade was not at Bull Run, and neither was the regiment that would be a part of that brigade and known as the 69th NYV.
Hope that makes sense!
The annexed letter, from a member of Co. A, 69th Regiment, gives some interesting details of the fight:-
Fort Corcoran, July 22, 1861.
My ever dear and beloved Wife.
I suppose you feel unhappy at present on account of passing accounts from the seat of war. I should not wonder, ,if you knew the half of our poor fellows that are lost or left behind. It would be no use for me to try to give you anything like a description of the battle field. – Enough to say, that besides bomb shells and rifle cannon shot, we had musket balls about our ears as thick as hail almost all the time from six in the morning until six in the evening, and a noise to be compared to nothing earthly. – Through the mercy of God, and the watchful eye and protecting shield and interceding care of our glorious and blessed Mother, I was saved from even a scratch. Now you see how thankful we have a right to be to God for his excessive kindness to us at all times, and particularly now.
I tell you, my loving wife, it was an awful day. We left our camp about three o’clock yesterday morning, and marched about three miles through wood, &c, crossing streams knee deep, until we came or went to the scene of action, which was about three-quarters wood, and the remainder in little naked spots scattered amongst the trees. We opened fire on the enemy at ten minutes to six in the morning, and got no reply. We repeated and repeated, and got no reply still; so we drew nearer and changed our position and gave them another salute, but with the same effect. We could not see a man nor hear a shot unless our own, until they, (the enemy) had everything as they pleased, and then, O my dearest, did we not have music! In a short time after the fight commenced, we saw a grand battle about a mile away between 8 Secessionists and some of our Union troops. The 69th were ordered to the relief of our party. Off we went in double quick time, crossing a river up to our knees, and soon we were before the enemy. We let them have it quick and hot; and in less than three minutes we put them to the route. But our noble and brave Haggerty, who was acting as Lieutenant Colonel, rushed so bravely in before us, and was about taking a prisoner, when he fell a victim to a ball that passed through his heart. Our Artillery gave in very early in the day; our cavalry rendered us very little or no assistance, while the enemy’s batteries played on us hot and heavy all the time. Our infantry had to do the best they could. The enemy were entrenched on the left of a battery that was playing directly on the Sixty ninth. This entrenchment was filled up with Southern riflemen, who could receive reinforcements from a wood that covered their left in spite of our troops. My dear wife, here is where they committed a slaughter on our troops, who went up, one regiment after another. The 14th, of Brooklyn, were cut up pretty much, as well as I can think; so were our Eight Regiment, of New York. The Fire Zouaves, ,who fought like tigers, were cut up badly. Our time was now come; so we advanced towards the aforementioned battery, into a hollow, and, stooping down, and letting their rifled cannon balls whiz closely over our heads, we passed immediately under their battery to their left and took our position in front of the entrenchments. Then the firing commenced, when a great many of our poor fellows fell. The firing continued from ten to fifteen minutes; and, our fellows getting confused, from a retreating Ohio regiment, who ran through our ranks, had also to retire from a hidden foe, for we could only see their heads and shoulders), a force far greater in numbers than ours, and who were to be aided by about three hundred cavalry who were bearing down on us. We took our flag of Erin, with the Stars and Stripes, away, all right, although some of our boys were obliged to work hard for it. Colonel Sherman, fearing the cavalry still, told the bravest of colonels (Colonel Corcoran), to from square. The gallant colonel said, “I have not as many as I like to do so; but we’ll do the best we can.” So the brave and determined colonel formed us into square, and so we retreated, receiving a fresh flanking fire from our adversaries as we went along, and a great many of our men were wounded in this way, amongst the rest our adored Col. Corcoran and Captain Clarke were both wounded in the legs. I believe the colonel was not much hurt. Their cavalry followed is all the way; and this, with a flank fire from the woods on both sides as we retreated, caused the artillerists to loosen their horses and ride them off, leaving their guns all in the hands of the enemy. This was about six o’clock in the evening; and we marched to our camp, about 30 miles, and reached there about daybreak. There was a reinforcement sent to meet the enemy, and if there are licked we’ll expect the enemy every day to attack Alexandria and Fort Corcoran. They won’t have masked batteries then, and you may be sure that we’ll let them have what they want, and what they will have. Oh! how surprised you would be to see T. F. Meagher, riding his poor steed, with one of its hind legs blown almost away – the fleshy part of it was all gone. Oh! my dear wife, he is a brave soul, and was with us all the time, under shot and shell, encouraging and cheering us up, and giving us a hurrah, for old Erin, now and again, that warmed is to the heart. With him and our own beloved Colonel, we could not help feeling ourselves blessed. About the other officers I won’t say anything, as it would be hard to pick a choice of them; they are all regular trumps – although I prefer Lieuts. Kelly and Strain, they being our own Company’s officers. I need not tell you that all the regiment are in great gloom at the loss of Lieut. Col. Haggerty – moreover Company A, whose Captain he was. I forgot to tell you that Acting Brigadier general Sherman publicly thanked the 69th for their desperate fighting; and when they were formed into line, after the first battle, he and his staff rode in front, with his hat in his hand, cheering for them. Give my love to all, and do you continue to pray for your own loving husband.
Thos. D. Norris.
New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863
Contributed by Damian Shiels
Mr. John Stacom, of the “Ivy Green,” Elm-street, now a member of the New-York 69th Regiment, arrived home on Tuesday, having received a wound in the left hand. He says:-
I was in the fight on Sunday all day, until we got completely off the field, and were on the road toward Vienna. On Sunday morning we were within two or three miles of this place. We encamped by the side of a road close by a wood, and then formed in line of battle, and proceeded steadily down through a thick wood into a ravine (Bull’s Run), and kept firing continually, in order to draw out the enemy, and unmask his batteries. After a good deal of firing, they opened upon us. We then fought our way down into the plain. The Wisconsin Regiment and the 69th tacked a large party, estimated at a number of thousands, total about 17,000, partially hidden in some brushwood, and succeeded in driving them completely away at the point of the baynet. They were in great disorder all over the field. Gen. McDowell came in at the other end and headed them off, while Col. Hunter approached on the right with his division, and the action then became general. It continued until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when all stood still and we thought the battle won. The Generals collected on the hill, and were cheering and shaking hands. General McDowell took his hat off, complimented Col. Corcoran, and said the victory had been won. All at once the reinforcements on the other side, under Johnston, as was supposed, came down upon us, and the men being completely exhausted, gave way, until they reached the road. Col. Corcoran had only Capt. Meagher with him after Lieut. Col. Haggery was killed, which hapened in the first engagement. I saw him fall by a musket ball. Thomas Francis Meagher was the most conspicuous man on the field, riding on a white horse, with his hat off, and going into the battle most enthusiastically. At one time our regimental color was taken, and Meagher seized the green flag of Ireland, went to the front, leading the men to the charge. The color was recaptured, the enemy was driven back, and we then formed in hollow square, by orders, and retreated steadily off the ground.
We got on the road all well, and in good order. Having got my hand hurt, I took a Secessionists horse, and rode among the civilians, of which a lot, including artists and reporters, were gathered in carriages and on horseback. They were viewing the battle from the hill. Soon after I left my regiment, the civilians got panic stricken, and from them panic seized the teamsters, who imagined they were going to be cut off. From the teamsters it spread into several Ohio regiments and then became general.
I rode back alone. If there was any more fighting, it must have been in the road after the retreat commenced. I think there was no more fighting. The reinforcements opened four or five batteries on us immediately. There was only one party (in the woods) that we fought at all. We did not see any more, except a complete cavalry regiment, that charged on the Zouaves. Among the cavalry about three companies were colored, and officered by white men.
Gen McDowell three times charged us on batteries. It appeared that the 69th and the Zouaves were all over the battle field, as there were Aids running all the time saying the General wanted us over here or over there, to take this or that battery.
There were many killed and wounded lying around on the field, like sheaves in a wheat-field. There was a house on the hill where wounded men were almost piled, and the rebels shelled it, as much as anywhere else, while they must have known, by seeing our ambulances, that they were only wounded. The Ohio, 71st, 8th, and others took part. The 71st made only one charge, and lost very few men. The 69th did all the charging.
New York Irish-American 8/3/1863
Contributed by Damian Shiels
Fort Corcoran, Arlington Heights,
July 25th, 1861.
We have returned to the fort after a pretty severe time of it. I am glad to inform you that the regiment has not suffered as severely as at first supposed. If I was competent even to do it I wouldn’t attempt to describe the battle. I feel very deeply Haggerty’s death; he was the first man of the 69th that fell, pierced through the heart; he never spoke after; but, believe me, his assassin met with a fitting fate – as many as fifty bullets pierced him; he fired from behind a tree. I have lost some friends both in this and other regiments. There is not on this continent a braver man than Thomas Francis Meagher. When his horse was actually torn from under him by a rifled cannon ball, he sprang on one of their outside parapets, and, waving his sword above his head, pointed to the green flag following, shouting “Boys! look at that flag – think of Ireland and Fontenoy,” – all the while the bullets raining around him. It was nothing but rally, charge and repulse. We could see no enemy; they fought from the woods and from masked batteries. When we’d charge to the borders of the woods not one of them was to be seen – all the while their secreted riflemen and artillery, with every advantage of position, pouring their hail over and around us. When Corcoran ordered the flag to be lowered, as it made too prominent a mark, the man that bore it said, “No, colonel, I’ll never lower it,” and was almost instantly killed; another sprang to it, and met the same fate. One thing was evident, not a man in the regiment would lower that flag an inch. I thank heaven we have it safe. You must bear in mind we had to fight fresh men on their own ground, while we were after a weary march of fully 30 miles on a cracker per day, with horrible ditch water for subsistence, laying in the wet grass whenever halted; still the boys went to their work like bricks. Corcoran made a regular target of himself; I have not seen him since; I understand he’s wounded; he is a brave officer, but Meagher is the adoration of the regiment. I hunted everywhere and made all the enquiries possible to find where Haggerty’s body lay, but could not find it; his wife, I know, will be in a dreadful state; I did intend to write her, but am not at present fit; if ’tis any consolation to her, he died a hero.
Co. E, 69th, Fort Corcoran.
New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863
Contributed by Damian Shiels
The annexed letter was commenced before the engagement, but finished in Fort Corcoran after the unfortunate rout: -
Centreville, Va. , July 20th, 1861.
Our position is unchanged since 7 p. m,. Thursday, and I expect we will begin to fight about 10 this morning. Several very heavy guns were placed in position. The great trouble in all this affair is, that so many were brought up to be shot at without being permitted to approach the batteries of the enemy. One regiment after another were ordered to the front, and there they had to stand and be slaughtered like sheep. Not a shot did we fire, but had to receive all that came from our enemies. The reason we did not fire was because we could see no enemy. They had a trap or masked battery (their old trick). Our men are boiling to retrieve the disasters of yesterday; some of the men and regiments of our brigade disgraced themselves by their incendiaryism on their march hither; burning houses and sacking them, shooting, stealing and killing all the live pigs, turkeys, and ducks; and supplying themselves with all the edibles in their reach. Three of us found a barrel of flour, and we started for the woods, and baked four good cakes, which were of service to us from Wednesday night till yesterday. It was darkies who cooked for us and whom I paid. There are no white people left here, all have gone with the rebel army and left their slaves behind. Col. Sherman, who commanded our brigade, has the names of forty-five men who disgraced themselves as mentioned, but not one of them belongs to the 69th. Thank God there are so few Vandals among us. The homes were completely sacked, and every article of value stolen; what could not be taken away was torn up and destroyed. This is deserving of reprobation, and it will, besides, hurt our character with our friends and enemies. Gen. McDowell has issued general orders censuring such conduct and announcing penalties for any like offence.
It was awful to see men in the heat and perspiration of a long and tedious march, under a scorching meridian sun of July, rushing by the hundreds and fighting for as much water as would wet their lips, but to nineteen twentieths of them their efforts were in vain; water was only obtainable by a very few, and they were the ones who could fight for it the best. I tried in vain from earliest dawn to 3 p.m., to get a tin-full to quench my thirst, but failed; once, when I had a cup full in my hand and was already anticipating the reward of half an hour’s patience and perseverance, my cup was wrenched from me by an unseen hand, and both cup and water “faded from my view.” Thank God, I bore it well, but went sorrowfully after my regiment; this was the first and only time I left my regiment and staid behind.
We were ordered up the narrow road leading to the masked battery, the order was given to throw away blankets and knapsacks, but the later contained all my food, and a few little valuables which I prized next to my life, and therefore I retained it, but the blanket I left beside a tree and found it fortunately on my return. The India rubber blanket is my chief protection, as it has rained every night since we came here. I place my musket on the ground and cover myself and it with the rubber blanket. Last night and the previous I was awakened by the firing of musketry, in each case bullets falling right into the ranks of our company. In the day time I was much more cool and collected than I ever thought to be, even when expecting to die by the bullets of the enemy, but this night-work is not at all to my taste. I am pleased to tell you that not one of our boys have shown the white feather. Tyler, McDowell and every officer of rank in the regular army, said that our coolness and courage was beyond all praise. Let naught be said, though, in dispraise of others, for as far as I have seen, all behaved bravely and stood to their colors.
Lieut. Dalton, of ours, was grazed in the forehead by a ball – it even turned the hat on his head and struck the man next him and sounded him severely. The flag of Sherman’s Battery was torn to ribbons, leaving nothing but the staff: but one man was killed and another wounded of the entire battery. Many poor fellows who were found wounded begged to be killed outright; still I heard but few of these cry, save when jolted over the stoney road. Col. Corcoran says our remarkable preservation was owing to “the protection of Almighty God, vouchsafed to the prayers of our good women at home;” and I endorse his opinion, and hope they will continue to pray until we are all safe and our country free from rebellion and civil war. The time of many of the regiments expired this week and last week, but as yet none have returned home, and we all feel, since we marched, that our country really needs us, and, therefore, do not complain; action is all we want if we are to stay any longer.
Capt. Meagher is winning laurels and is appointed Provost Marshal of the brigade: his bravery since Thursday, is proved.
Some of the First Massachusetts, I hear, marched clear upon the masked battery before they knew it, and had to fight with knives and revolvers; they could not use their muskets and were terribly cut up.
My feet blistered the first night’s marsh. Men drank freely of the brooks and streams where dozens were washing their bodies and clothes; the mud too was as thick as in your roads after a rain, yet all drank as if it was milk or good soup; I trust I shall never again see men so eager for drink, even officers and educated men were as greedy for it as others. I fortunately got a little vinegar from the Captain before the fight, and mixed it with water, this I kept and gave to some poor artillerymen, who needed it, when retreating from the scene of our disaster; I swallowed a little myself, dust and all, and felt greatly relieved.
P. J. R.
Fort Corcoran, July 23d, 1861.
I have to record to total defeat of our forces yesterday, we fought twelve hours and were marching six hours previously. A remnant of our brave regiment saved themselves by a march of fifty miles last night among the rest. Thank God, I have not even a scratch, although all my best friends are either dead or wounded or in the hands of the enemy. I am laid up and only reached here at 4 a. m. to day (over forty miles in eight hours). We were taken to the shambles to be slaughtered; we got no chance to fight, but we stood until we were more than half thinned; all we have saved is our honor. We have lost our principal officers, and have made the bravest stand during the day, save the Second Rhode island and the Fire Zouaves.
A more disastrous affair could not well be imagined – eight or ten thousand of our troops flying panic stricken and firing upon each other. My feet are black and swollen, and I feat that I shall be unfit for duty for a long time. About a hundred of us started for this place, over forty miles distant. The road was blocked up by our enemies. Our men are straggling back to camp and all are as badly off as myself. We marched in quick and double quick time over ten miles, then fought twelve hours and then made our hasty retreat when we found every other regiment flying in disorder and confusion. I turned up my pantaloons and marched just so until this morning. I was nearly the last to leave the field, but fear I did not do much good while there, save to rally round our flag, which was completely riddled; and our Colonel could not be persuaded to leave until he saw all the rest leave us. The rebel scoundrels fired upon our ambulances and dragged out the wounded. Since then we have not seen the Colonel. I am at present unable to write a full account of the affair, but shall endeavor to prepare one soon. Only about eighty-seven of our company, which numbered on hundred and twenty-two, are left, Meagher was the bravest of the brave. Pray that God may avert the destruction of our Republic.
P. J. R.
New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863
Contributed by Damian Shiels
The following letter from a member of Captain Meagher’s Company, the “Irish Zouaves,” Co. K, 69th , was received by R. J. Lalor, Esq., by whom we have been kindly allowed its use: -
Fort Corcoran, Arlington Heights.
July 22, 1861
Doubtless you have heard, ere this, of the terrible engagement of last Sunday. The affair is of such importance in out annals that I hasten to give you a succinct account of it.
After the ad affair of Thursday at Bull’s Run Ford, where we lost a good many man of the Union troops, our regiment, with all the others engaged and in the immediate vicinity, were encamped in and around Centreville, on each side of the road lead to that place and towards Manassas Gap. We remained perfectly quiet on our respective camping grounds, save when our pickets and those of the enemy met. That the rebels were receiving reinforcements, was proved by the constant arrival of trains every night, as well as by outside intelligence. We, too, were receiving reinforcements and by Saturday night were ready for making an attack. We were ordered to hold ourselves in readiness by midnight, and, accordingly, by that time we were awake, prepared to march. When we reached the road, we went double quick for nearly two miles. Then, having crossed a bridge safe and gained the hill top, which had been obstructed by the enemy, we turned into the woods and remained there for some time, drawn up in line of battle.
Our good chaplain, Father O’Reilly, blessed us; and many were the prayers sent up to heaven that our arms might be nerved to strike terror into our enemies, and this save our distracted country.
The large gun “Long Tom,” commenced to throwing shell at 6.30 a. m. The rebels did not answer, but reserved their fire for a more favorable opportunity. Failing to bring them out, and our regiment having the right of the line, or advance post, we were ordered to move our quarters and approach the front. In doing so, we were obliged to move at double quick most of the way, and to ford a stream or two, knee high. This was a serious disadvantage to us, but our brave boys seemed not to mind it. Still further on we had to defile along a narrow path way among trees and shrubbery. Even this we did in safety, and soon gained an open plain, where we could perceive the position of the enemy, from the constant discharge of heavy guns.
Again changing our locality, we had to move through some meadow; and, just nearly as we passed the last one, a murderous fire was opened upon us from a ravine to the left by the enemy’s sharp-shooters. Our entire regiment halted, and facing about, fired two volleys into them though, without seeing them. This stopped their fire, and upon examination afterwards, we found that terrible chastisement had been inflicted upon them by us. The pace was strewn with their dead, and one officer had no less than seventeen balls in him. But we paid well for this; for one of the first men to fall was our recently appointed Lieut. Colonel, Captain Haggerty, of Co. A. His loss to us was beyond repair, as he had proved himself a true soldier under every circumstance, and was endeared to us all. He was brimful of courtesy and kindness to the humblest as well as to the highest in rank or station, though seemingly rough at times in his manner.
Poor Costelloe of ours – C. K – a recent arrival from Waterford, Ireland, and beloved by us all for his amiability and tenderness of character, fell also in this first fire, with three balls in his left breast and right cheek. They both died easily, almost instantaneously, for their wounds were too near the seat of life to permit them to suffer long.
When we had rounded the house used by our skirmishers as an hospital, directly in the enemy’s front, we were permitted to halt and rest after our severe march, and to recruit for the coming struggle. We could see one regiment after another of our forces assault the enemy and advance upon his position, but it was evident to us that up to this time no effect had been produced upon his batteries, though death and destruction were dealt out to him by our brave volunteers.
At last the order came for the 69th to try and do what the others had failed in. We advanced with hopeful hearts in close line of battle, exposed to the hot shot and shell which were instantly poured in our ranks, though, fortunately, at first with little effect. One ball, however, came near killing our brave Colonel, who treated the matter quite coolly.
A field over a quarter of a mile had to be crossed, then a fence to be cleared, and then another field of equal length till we reached the foot of the hill and woods occupied by the enemy. Here we halted a few moments, and then flanked along to the right across another field of equal length, and through an entrenchment and high stream, and then up a hill, before we stopped to fire or give the enemy a proof of our storming capacities. Worn out by our long and quick march, still more so by the fatigue of clearing fences, ditches, and streams, we stopped for a moment and fired deliberately into the enemy. Then another volley, then another, and we charged up the heights to their battery with all the impetuosity of our race; but we were “like sheep sent to the slaughter”. The cannon belched forth their shells in our midst, killing our men in groups, and scattering them in all directions. But, even then, they halted, tried to close up, and fired again; and then, just as we seemed to be carrying our point, we found ourselves being fired into on the right flank and rear by the rebel cavalry, who emerged from the woods and struck down and picked off all the men near them. It is even said that we were fired into by our own troops – of course, by mistake. But of this I am certain; our own cavalry, who had partly broken our ranks, when charging up the hill, were not to be found when we needed their protection.
Our flag of the Stars and Stripes was well struck, and the standard-bearer of the dear old Green Flag was shot down; but the flag was instantly raised again. One of our wounded men who carried a flag was shot down, and the flag was torn from his grasp. Raising himself up, he again attacked his rebel antagonist, struck him down, and carried off one of the Secession flags; but this was not long permitted to remain with him, for he was again charged upon, and the trophy taken from him, besides being taken prisoner. However, having a concealed revolver, he shot down the two soldiers in charge of him, and captured a Captain’s sword and a prisoner, both of which he brought in safely to our camp. His name is John D. Keeffe, and he is worthy of being recorded among our truly brave men.
I could recite to you numerous other instances of bravery deserving of record, but it would not be possible to do justice to all.
Captain Thomas Francis Meagher gained the greatest credit of the day. His horse was shot when he first reached the field, the ball going farther and killing one of Company E, and when we reached the gap at the foot of the hill, he brandished his sword and called upon the brave Zouaves of the Sixty-ninth to follow him. His valor and bearing during the entire battle is the theme of every tongue. Lieut E. K. Butler also distinguished himself, and gained much in the favor of his scattered and decimated company. Our Colonel, too, showed the greatest coolness and bravery throughout the fight. He stood to the last, and rallied the remnant of his scattered forces, and took us off the field in a square and with our colors flying high; but he didn’t do this till after all other regiments had retired or were retiring. When we had gained the road, and had halted at the temporary hospital, we were charged by the cavalry again, who made sad havoc among the flying remnants of every regiment which had not gained the road. They broke and fled in all directions, and were pursued and cut down at all points. Such a scene was scarcely ever before witnessed.
This was the last point at which I saw our gallant Colonel, who, I am told, was wounded in the leg. He slipped quietly off his horse, and tried to rally his men; but the crowd and the pressure of the remnants of all the other regiments, rendered it impossible.
What remained of our regiment rallied round the Green Flag in Centreville, and after consultation it was thought best to retire to Fort Corcoran and recruit, as we had not a field officer left to direct our movements. Captain Meagher here joined us and led us home, when we had to come to this decision.
This bold charge up that hill clean into the enemy’s batteries, will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Our company can only muster this morning about 80, with those who were left to guard the fort, out of 123. Lieutenant Conolly, a really brave man, has not been heard of since we rallied round our flag and formed the square. His loss will be deservedly regretted by us all.
Our Company suffered more than any in the regiment, on account of their red jackets, I suppose. Three men went out with me from the Fort to the battle fled [field?]. I alone returned. Many others of ours have the same story to tell. The Fire Zouaves, Fourteenth New York, and the Second Rhode Island, acted nobly and bravely in the grand charges they made upon the enemy when he showed himself before his batteries. So, also, did the Thirteenth New York. But it is safe to say that none made a bolder stand or a grander charge, and retired so slowly and steadily, and in such good order as did the 69th, when the fate of the battle was decided. The Herald and other papers may talk of a “great victory,” but by those engaged in the battle it cannot be considered anything but a great defeat. The generalship displayed was none of the highest, as you will believe when you learn that of the immense force of Union troops in the field, not more than one regiment at a time was ordered forward, and these at different points. We were not even protected by the cavalry and artillery. The former were not near us when we wanted them, though they were permitted to stand directly on our front, where they remained when we were advancing in line of battle, until Col. Corcoran, seeing that his line must inevitably be broken by them, ordered them off. They then moved to our right, and, strangest of all, it was from this point that the most terrible havoc was made upon us by the Rebel cavalry, who rushed out of the woods upon our men when their backs were turned, and they were engaged in charging upon the masked batteries, and cut down and trampled them to death. Most of the men lost by Company K were lost or taken prisoners here.
I blame none, censure none, for these blunders and omissions, nor do I offer any better plan of attack than that which was here adopted, but I must say that I expected better things of those who are appointed, and are supposed to possess the requisite qualifications of good generals. I trust they will be held responsible for the immense sacrifice of life on that terrible day.
Our artillery, too, was easily captured by the rebels. When the Virginia cavalry made their last charge at the hospital near the bridge and Centreville, the men in the foremost ranks of our artillery cut the traces and fled, leaving the guns an easy prize to the enemy. In accounts of battles previously read by hour humble servant it was always thought necessary to well protect, with cavalry or infantry, or both, the artillery companies. Yet Sherman’s Battery and “Long Tom,” a very heavy piece, brought up expressly to counteract the effect of the enemies’ heaviest guns, were permitted to fall into their hands without an effort being made to prevent it.
Of the many missing in our company, and in all the rest of the regiment several are known to be killed, many others only wounded – unless they have subsequently fallen into the hands of the Secessionists. Other are missing, of whom nothing at all is known. I trust that they may yet turn up, and that we shall be gratified by their safe restoration to their many friends in and out of the regiment. We deeply deplore their loss for we can attest to their courage and manly bearing on that day. I saw poor Maguire, for the last time, raise his piece aloft, waving it as if it were a sword, and calling upon the Zouaves to make one more bold charge and rout the Rebels. I fear he is lost.
New York Irish-American, 8/3/1861
Contributed by Damian Shiels
The 69th at Bull Run.
The annexed letter from one of the gallant 69th, who was taken prisoner with Colonel Corcoran at the Battle of Bull Run, gives some interesting details regarding that event, and the subsequent treatment of the prisoners by the Confederates, which have not heretofore been laid before the public: -
New York, Oct. 12, 1861
To the Editor of the Irish-American:
Sir – As anything relating to the late campaign of the 69th, and the present unfortunate position of its brave Colonel and some of its members, must be interesting to your readers. I desire to lay before them through the medium of your wide spread columns, the following sketch as well to correct certain prevalent erroneous impressions as to present some facts on the subject hitherto unpublished, and unknown to the public.
Popular as the corps was, it had many grievances (most of which were owing to the hastiness of the organization, and the shortness of its term of service), but it seems to me that the report of Brigadier General Sherman after the battle of Bull Run, contains a statement which does the greatest injustice to the Regiment, and which has become the heavier grievance from being borne in silence and thereby tacitly admitted. He says, “after the repulse of the 2d Wisconsin regiment, the ground was open for the 69th, who advanced and held it for some time, but finally fell back in confusions.” He omitted saying what many witnessed, and what Col. Corcoran, confirmed in Richmond (when we first saw the report) that he rode up and ordered Col. Corcoran to draw off his men, while we were still obstinately maintaining our ground, not only against the main strength of the Confederates hitherto engaged, but, also, while pressed hard on the right flank by the fresh troops (Johnson’s) which Gen. Smith and Col. Elzey had just brought from Manassas, and which, according to the official report of these officers, numbered 8,000 men. I do not pretend to say that we could have held the position against such overwhelming odds, but as we did so until ordered to abandon it, simple justice and fair play should have prompted Sherman to tell the whole truth. The manner in which he managed, or rather mismanaged his brigade, is more open to comment than the conduct of any regiment during the day. Inferior in numbers as we were to the enemy, he increased the disadvantage by keeping one excellent corps idle (th 18th N. Y. V.), and bringing the others into action separately and successively, allowing one to be broken before another was brought to its support, and thus throwing away the only chance of success that remained. Notwithstanding the heavy reinforcements the Confederates had received, they were so badly beaten and disheartened up to this time that there can scarcely be a doubt but that a vigorous, simultaneous, and combined attack of Sherman’s brigade and Keyes’ would have carried their position. Instead of this, after our regiment (leading the column) had turned their right under Gen. Evans, dispersed and almost destroyed the crack corps of the south – the N. O. Zouaves, instead of following up our advantage and pushing home the flying foe we gave them time to change their position, concentrate their strength, and deploy their fresh troops. We have reason to be thankful that our ill timed delay was not entirely fatal to us, as it would have been had not Beauregard’s order to General Ewell to get [in our rear mis]carried. Again, when our attack failed, and the retreat began, Col. Corcoran endeavored to cover it by forming his men in square, in which order it moved to the point at which we crossed Bull Run, where on account of the woods and the narrowness of the path down the bluffs that formed the west bank, it had to be reduced to a column. Sherman, who was in the square, told the men to get away as fast as they could as the enemy’s cavalry were coming. This prevented Col. Corcoran from reforming the men on the other side of the Run, a movement which would have not only effectually repelled the enemy, but would also have covered the retreat of every battery lost subsequently. It was in his efforts to remedy the disorder and straggling caused by this “license to run,” that Col. Corcoran (who, from the unfortunate and irreparable loss of Haggerty, and the absence of all his staff, was obliged to be somewhat in the rear) was cut off from the main body of the regiment, by the enemy’s horse, and being able to rally only nine men, moved into a small house, to make a better defence, but was induced by some of his officers to surrender as resistance was hopeless. Meantime about half a dozen men had joined him at the house, of whose arrival he was ignorant. Trifling as the reinforcement was, he surrendered so reluctantly that I verily believe had he known of it he would not have surrendered without a desperate fight. As I shared all his subsequent misfortunes, and witnessed the manly fortitude with which he bore them, the consistent dignity with which he repelled all overtures for any parole that would tie up his hands from the Union cause, and repulsed some Southern friends who endeavored to seduce him from it, it may not be improper to sketch his prison life. Owing to the inadequate arrangements for our accommodation in Richmond it was afternoon on the 24th, before some of us got anything to eat, so that we had eaten only once in four days. The colonel was extremely exhausted, but desired all his men to be brought to him “that he might take a look at – and know,” as he said, “those who had done their duty to the last.” Learning that some had no money, and wanted clothing badly, he gave $20 out of his own scanty resources to be laid out for their use. He also purchased and sent a number of shirts to the wounded of his corps, and sent some money to many of them also. He was never allowed to go out, not even to the hospital, to see his wounded men, which latter I heard him complain somewhat of. He was kept quite apart even from us how were in the same building, although some of us managed to see him daily or oftener. I wish to contradict, however, a statement which has obtained universal currency about him which is an unmitigated falsehood. He never was in irons, nor was he threatened with them from his capture until his removal to Charleston on the 10th ult., when we last saw him. Rigidly as he was watched, and great as was the importance attached to his safe keeping – the consistent bearing of which I have already spoken, had won for him the respect of every Southerner, and though it at first drew on him the virulent abuse of the Richmond press, even it ultimately changed its tone and declared “that the consistent obstinacy of that most impudent and inveterate of Yankee prisoners, Col. Corcoran, was preferable by far to the repentant professions and cringing course of some prisoners to obtain parole.” As to our general treatment it was harsh, although as long as any hope of the Government making an exchange remained, our guards were courteous and communicative, and I feel bound to say that the cavalry to whom we surrendered (the Clay Dragoons) acted in every respect like chivalrous and honorable men. Latterly, however, some regiments of raw recruits – mere conscript boys, whom the 10 per cent levy had drawn out, committed great atrocities on the prisoners, firing through the window at us on the slightest pretence of breach of the regulations. Several shots were fired into the room where the 69th were confined, and one man of the 2d N. Y. S. M. was wounded in the arm. Shots fired into the buildings were said to have resulted fatally, but as we could not get to them I cannot vouch for the fact positively. Atrocities like these, coupled with the prospect of being sent further South, induced many to try to escape, but the great majority failed, and were put in irons. As, however, none of the 69th, save two who were unsuccessful, had tried, your correspondent thought it became the honor of the corps to make an attempt, and accompanied by Sergeant O’Donohue, of Co. K, and Peter Kelly, of Co. J, left Richmond on the 18th ult., passing the sentries in disguise. Captain McIvor, who intended to accompany us, was unfortunately suspected by the guard, and put in irons. I regret to see he has since been sent to New Orleans. Our provisions (2 lbs. of crackers) soon ran out, but Virginia is full of corn, and we lived on the enemy. After travelling a week (solely at dead of night) we came on the Confederate lines on the Potomac, above Aquia Creek, and after running into the most advanced cavalry outpost, from which we escaped narrowly, and coming in contact with sentries for miles along the river, we at length found shelter and concealment in a deserted fishing house. Having built a raft to reach the Potomac fleet which was in sight, it turned out to be too small, and O’Donohue embarked alone on it, and reached the Seminole, the captain of which, however, refused to send a boat for us who remained on the Virginia shore, and insisting on sending O’Donohue to Washington, we were left to our own resources, and built another raft on which we reached the Penguin during the following night, and were sent aboard the Yankee. The engineer, Mr. Carpenter, and one of the crew furnished me with a complete suit of clothing which took away my naked, half savage appearance, and the steward, Mr. Fitzpatrick, attended to our famished and ravenous appetites with similar humanity. As this aid was no way official, and came solely from a generous and humane spirit we shall always cherish grateful feelings towards these gentlemen. From Lieutenant Ross(?), of the Navy Yard, Washington, and the captain of the Philadelphia steamer, we received similar kind treatment. Trusting that the length of this communication, will not render it objectionable,
I am, sir, yours truly,
James M. Rorty.
Irish-American Weekly, 10/26/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy