Unknown, 79th New York Infantry, On the Battle, Retreat, and Aftermath

8 04 2013

New York, August 3, 1861.

To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury:

You have, no doubt, given me up as one of those numbered with the dead or missing in the late advance, and engagements, and retreat, all of which I have been in, and, no doubt, think I tried to do my duty; however, I will let others judge of that, and endeavor to give you as good a sketch as I can from memory, as I lost my bag and books (but not my implements of war, which many did), and, of course, I will make some mistakes, which I think my friends of the Seventy-ninth will excuse, when they know that it is a severely-wounded soldier that writes it.

Since I wrote you last, we have been advancing from place to place in Virginia, and as nothing of importance happened until we reached Centreville, except that the road was barricaded in several places with trees, which was soon cleared by our pioneers, and the sight of several camps deserted, in some which the fires were still burning – all of which, to us, was the cause of much prospecting on what a set of cowards we had to encounter, but which was set at rest by our arriving, on Thursday, July 18th, at about two miles west of Centreville, where, at midday, we were run (not marched) in at double-quick time, which was the order, for the last three miles; and when we drew up in line of battle, we were more ready to fall down than fight, although the spirit was there; but we had no fighting to do, as the enemy’s cannonading soon ceased. The troops that were engaged in close quarters with the enemy were ordered to retreat, and our brigade (i. e., Sherman’s) to cover the rear, which we did, having in the Seventy-ninth only one man wounded, in the Sixty-ninth, three men wounded, Wisconsin Second, 1 killed; at the battery, two of the gunners were killed. The New York Second Volunteers suffered most; but the whole of it only amounted to a good skirmish.

We retired to Centreville about 4 P.M., as near as I can guess, having no time-piece; then we were marched through the village, taking a road leading westward for about a mile, and there encamped in an open field, until Sunday morning at 2 A.M., at which time we started for the big Bull Run, which we understood very little about, and of which our higher officers, be they generals or gomerals, seemed to know far less. We marched about five miles. When passing through and to the outer or westerly side of a large wood, we got the first sight of the enemy on the rising ground beyond the river. We halted there for about an hour, Col. Sherman, at the same time, trying to discover their batteries by firing shot and shell, which all fell short. We then got the order to march, which we did, crossing Bull Run in double-quick time, and up the hill through a very thick pine wood of small trees, the Sixty-ninth on the right, the Wisconsin Second next, the Rochester Thirteenth next, and the Seventy-ninth (our own) next; another brigade followed, whose I know not. Suffice it to say, on emerging from the wood, the Sixty-ninth attacked the right flank of the enemy (then engaged with our troops, who attacked them from the north), and before the whole brigade got out of the wood and formed, had them completely routed and flying in all directions; but it proved to be only a feint, so as to get us to following them to hotter quarters. The line of battle then was formed on the hill from which the enemy was driven (and where we ought to have intrenched ourselves until we found out their strength), and from which I must say that the grandest scene of my life appeared to me, although awful in the extreme. For a time all was still as death in the ranks.

Our artillery opened upon them with a fury, doing great execution – the shot and shell falling in their midst, their batteries at the same time playing upon us, but generally falling short – their whole army being now (as it appeared to us) only a few scattered regiments in full retreat, when our generals or gomerals, like the fish with the fly, snapped the bait, and gave the order to advance, which was duly obeyed. An attack on their batteries was ordered, the Fire Zouaves taking the lead, covered by a troop of United States cavalry, who, when the first volley was fired upon the Zouaves, wheeled and galloped off, striking terror to the hearts of many brave men. The Zouaves poured volley after volley among the enemy. but having as yet no support, withdrew, although quickly, yet in good order, and formed on the brow of the adjacent hill, and nearer the enemy than the cavalry even dared to go. The panic, at the same time, took hold on another New York regiment, then lying in the road over which the horse and Zouaves passed, who fled in consternation out of the strongest position on that field, and not even waiting to get a chance to fire off their guns at the enemy, who took the precaution not to follow at this time. our position was then changed from the back of a hill about two hundred yards from the same road, but to the left and rear of where that last regiment run from, our right resting near that ill-fated hospital, which was said to be burned on account of no flag being flown on it, and where we could not see what happened at the next attack on the batteries; but it soon came to our turn – the whole Sherman Brigade being marched in along with the Zouaves on the right; and as it would be hard to say to what I saw happen ourselves. Our portion was to attack the right of the enemy, which we did. When at twenty paces from their batteries, they having taken correct aim, the enemy poured into us the most deadly volley that has ever been showered on an army since killing with powder was invented, and in which volley many of our best and bravest fell. Col. Cameron had but uttered the words, “Give it to them, my brave Scotch ladies!” which I distinctly heard, when the word rang along the line, “The colonel’s dead!”

Captain Brown fell at the same time. All of which happened quicker than time it takes me to tell it. But suffice it to say, that the Seventy-ninth never faltered; but gave and took as coolly as ever did the regiment from which they take their name. Twice did they rally on the field, and drove back three times the fresh regiments of the enemy, at the same time they received the musketry of the masked batteries from right and left by oblique firing (the deadliest of all firing); nor did they leave the ground until several minutes after the retreat was sounded – the Sixty-ninth and the Zouaves acting in the same cool and decisive manner. During the last charge I was taken from the field, having given way from loss of blood from a wound I received in the beginning of the action; and feeling a little refreshed, after getting a drink of water at a small brook in the valley below (and at which place I saw resting themselves several prominent members of the Seventy-ninth, a number of whom are now in New York; showing holes made in their clothes by themselves, telling of the narrow escape they had, and how many they killed; but whom, I am led to believe, were never in the engagement, and when told to go back refused to go – they may rest assured that they will be exposed as soon as the regiment returns). I proceeded toward the  second hospital (the first being crowded). The second was also crowded; but I got a place under a tree, and got the wound dressed and the bleeding stopped; but the doctor could not take the time to extract the ball. I ate a cracker, drank some water, and, after resting a little, joined in the general stampede which followed, coming back by the northern road toward Centreville, and which proved, afterward, to be the safest, as on the other, or direct, road the rear was attacked by cavalry, and several taken prisoners, amongst them Captain W. Manson, First Company – which place we passed about one hour after, and arrived in Centreville, about eight or nine o’clock, where I entered the hospital for the night, sending the man who conveyed me – by resting my weight on his arm – on after the regiment, as I felt perfectly secure, there being two regiments covering our retreat half a mile below Centreville. I there got the ball dug out, and lay down and slept sound until morning.

At daylight rose; looked for the two regiments that covered us the night before; they were gone; had left at 2 A.M. on Monday; was told that the rebel cavalry had visited us at 3 A.M., and had gone to Fairfax, which I reached about 1 P.M., seeing nothing to disturb me, the road being literally covered with wagons, provisions, and the implements of war, such as swords, muskets, cartridge-boxes, knives, etc. Passed a captain and lieutenant of another regiment; asked them where was their company or regiment; said they did not know, which I believed, as they looked like men who knew nothing. Traveled until within three miles of Arlington, when an Eighth-Regiment ambulance wagon picked me up, and took me into the hospital of the Brooklyn Twenty-eighth Regiment, where I found several of our wounded, and where I, as well as all the others, received the kindest treatment and care from Dr. P. B. Rice and assistant, as well as from the Hospital Steward, Geo. G. Holman, whose attentions for two days and nights were unceasing. The services of such men are invaluable to a regiment; and, I must say, are rarely to be found.

On Wednesday, we moved into Washington, into several houses in Massachusetts avenue, Sixth street. Our tents were brought over on Friday, and we moved into camp on Saturday, on which day I left for New York. Arrived in Philadelphia at 9 P.M.; put up at the Continental Hotel, J. E. Stevens & Co. proprietors; went to the office for my bill at 4 P.M. on Sunday; found some friend had paid it; but on asking Dr. Gross, who visited me twice while there, for my bill, it was only five dollars – paid it. He is a strong Union man, lives corner of Eleventh and Walnut streets, and has a son in the army. Left with the 5 1/2 train for New York; arrived home – where I now am – at 11 P.M., and where I expect to be confined for a month to come. I now find, on arriving in New York, that a statement is going the rounds that we, while in Columbia College, destroyed furniture, pictures, etc. – in fact, everything that appeared not in accordance with our views of religion. I pronounce the whole an unmitigated falsehood, and I refer the authors of the same to the president of said college, who, when we left there, stated to the officers of this regiment that he was sorry that we were going to leave, as we had conducted ourselves with more propriety than even the Sixty-ninth had done. I may also state, that in our regiment there was, and is, many good Catholics, whom, I am certain, would have let the writer of this know had anything of the kind occurred.

And now as to a Colonel of our regiment. I find that Secretary Cameron has appointed Governor Stevens, who on Tuesday last, was presented to the regiment – they being drawn up in line – and who, when he gave the first command, was answered with silence – not a man took notice of him. The fact is, they want a colonel of their own choice, and will have him.

And I would caution all interested in this regiment to beware of imposters here in New York, as plenty are going around representing that they belong to the regiment, and were at the battle, and work on the finer feelings of the afflicted for their own nefarious purposes. One has already been arrested by the activity of Capt. Wm. Bruce, 280 Eighth avenue, and is now receiving his deserts. Captain Bruce is always ready and willing to do anything for the regiment, and is one of those men in whom both officers and privates of the regiment has entire confidence.

Excuse the length of this letter, and believe me to be your sincere friend,

One of the Seventy-ninth Regiment, N. Y. S. M.

{This correspondent received a musket-ball through the collar bone, and was extracted at the bottom of the shoulder blade. We shall be happy to give his name and address to any one desirous of seeing the gentleman. – Ed.}

New York Sunday Mercury, 8/4/1861

William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 36-38





Sgt. Charles McFadden, Co. K, 79th New York Infantry, On the Battle

20 12 2012

Letter From The Battleground Of Bull’s Run.

A “NOVASCOTIAN” IN THE FIGHT.

The Picton Chronicle publishes a letter, addressed to a gentleman in Picton, by a young Nova Scotian, formerly a member of the Halifax Scottish Volunteer Rifle Company, who some months ago joined the New York 69th Highland Regiment, in which he was appointed a Sergeant and with his Regiment was present and took part in the recent fight at Bull’s Run. The letter was not intended for publication, says the Chronicle, but as the unpretending narrative of an eye witness and Novascotian too, a non-commissioned officer in a regiment which bore the brunt of the engagement, it contains so much that is interesting that we have obtained permission to give our readers the benefit of it. It is dated

Washington, 26th July, 1861.

I seize this opportunity of letting you know how I have been getting along since I last wrote you. Of course the newspapers will have posted you in reference to the part our regiment took in the late battle of Sunday, so I will only write of what I myself saw and as I am in the midst of noise and confusion, you must make every allowance for all short comings.

Our men were already worn out with long marching under a burning sun by day, and the discomfort caused by exposure and the sudden changes of temperature, for the nights have been cold and chilly, when we received the order to march. Two day’s provisions were served out consisting of fifteen hard biscuit and a piece of raw salt pork for each man. This was after our first battle. We commenced to march about 3 a. m. Sunday, July 21st, and were not long in coming up with the enemy. They retired after a few shell had been fired; and after we had pursued them for about two miles, made a stand at Bull’s Run. Our brigade consisting of the 2d Wisconsin, 13th New York and the 69th and 79th regiments with Sherman’s Battery, quickly drew up in line of battle, on the edge of a deep wood, and sat down to wait our turn to charge. Here we all made our wills, a good many for the last time. Fortunately, I am spared to add a codicil to mine if necessary, but I bequeathed to you all my old boots and hats, to most of the S. V. R. something to remember me by, including J– W–, to whom in the event of my sudden demise, I left all my “bad debts.”

About 9 A. M. the battle began in earnest and we received the order to charge the main body of their batteries, supported by Sherman’s Battery which opened the Ball. Our ranks were then suffering considerably, but almost immediately we drove the enemy out of their entrenchments, and took their guns. New and unlooked for batteries now opened upon us – 3 to one taken – but we kept on, and our Brigade went down the hill at the double quick, crossing Bull’s Run up to our waists in water, up the hill again on the other side, where the enemy was entrenched on top, with heavy artillery. The carnage among our men now became dreadful, but up the hill we went until within three hundred yards of their infernal batteries, that were cutting our boys at a fearful rate, when our brave Col. Cameron was killed, also Cap. Brown. When the firing commenced on our side, we mowed them down by hundreds, but not being properly supported we were compelled to retire, which we did in good order and without confusion, leaving scores of brave Highlanders dead upon the field; our wounded we carried with us. Soon after, we made the second charge supported by Carlisle’s Battery, but they never unlimbered; every man and horse belonging to it being killed in ten minutes. The roaring of cannon and the shrieks of the wounded men and horses – many of the latter running about the field riderless, made up a scene I will never forget. The ground became slippery with blood, and covered with the dear and wounded. But the reality of this picture, I will not attempt to pourtray. At last after nine hours hard fighting, we hear the bugle sound a welcome retreat. You will have already heard the story of the scene of confusion that ensued. It was a disgraceful panic, originating with the teamsters and camp-followers, but the excitement soon spread and became pretty general, but not until the greater part of the army was comparatively out of immediate danger of any description. The charge of the Rebel Black horse cavalry, was a sight to be seen and remembered. It was grand and impressive, but it was terrific. They swept down on our flank with fearful velocity, and cut us up terribly in flank and rear.

During this charge I had a narrow escape. A private of the Wisconsin 2d, shot one of them through the head as his sword was raised to split my skull. I shall never forget that man. We laid down and they passed over us. During the day we had nothing to eat, nor the next day either. That night we slept on the field, not having strength left to walk a dozen yards, and on the following morning we commenced our weary way back to Alexandria, thirty miles distant. On our way we were joined by two lieutenants, who like myself and my comrade had passed the night in the vicinity of the scene of action. Our little party of four was well armed. I took a long knife from the Cavalry fellow after the Wisconsin man shot him, which I still keep.

The scene along the road, beggars description. For miles beyond Centreville, it was filled with dead bodies, overturned army waggons, and accoutrements, and may a poor wounded fellow did we pass who had managed to crawl five or six miles only to die from exhaustion and loss of blood. We arrived at Alexandria that night, having walked 30 miles through scenes of horror and a drenching rain having eaten nothing for fifty-six hours, only to find every hole and corner filled with soldier, who had been in the panic on the day before. Wet as I was, I laid down in the streets of Alexandria and slept as sweetly as if I had been in the Acadian. Next morning the Provost Marshall gave us some bread, the first for many a weary hour. I think it was the sweetest morsel I ever eat in my life.

I received a copy of the Reporter which you were kind enough to send me. Only think of the Reporter being read in the back woods of Virginia. There is one little incident I had nearly forgotten. A large number of white coated gentry, mostly congressmen and reporters, were at the left of our regiment, at what they thought a safe distance, when suddenly, whether by accident or design, I know not, a shell burst directly over our heads. You ought to have seen them run. You might have played marbles on their coat tails for two miles at least, to the great amusement of our boys who were lying down at the time.

I had a narrow escape in the morning. One of our buglers had been wounded in the leg by a bullet, and I was binding a handkerchief round it, when a cannon ball came and smashed him into a thousand pieces, covering me with blood. – The only injury I received was from a splinter from a gun carriage which struck me in the back; it still gives me a good deal of trouble, but it is nothing serious.

I am heartily sick of the way in which Uncle Sam treats his soldiers. Nothing but crackers and water will weaken any man in a warm country, with plenty of hard marching to do. So ends the chapter of sufferings I have endured for the last two months, until I am so weak from bad living and other causes, that as soon as I can get my discharge I intend returning to Halifax, and try and get some rest for a while. Give my regards to all the boys, and tell them that I hope to be among them in a few weeks. I will send this letter by Capt. Bigelet to Boston, as it would never reach you if mailed here. The story of the Southerners bayoneting our wounded is quite true. I saw it with my own eyes.

Yours, truly,

C. McF.

Sergt. 69th Highlanders

The British Colonist, 8/10/1861

Clipping Image

See Charles McFadden in 79th New York roster, and note his “discharge” on 7/21/1861 at Bull Run, Va.

Contributed by John Hennessy





JCCW Barbarities – John Kane

8 05 2012

Report of the Conduct of the War, Volume 3, pp. 478 – 480

WASHINGTON, April 24, 1862.

JOHN KANE sworn and examined.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Were you present at the battle of Bull Run?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What position did you occupy there?

Answer. I was sergeant in the 10th company of the 79th regiment, and acting orderly to Colonel Cameron.

Question. Were you near him when he was killed?

Answer. Yes, sir; not more than 15 or 20 yards from him.

Question. Will you state the circumstances of his death, and what was done with his body afterwards?
Answer. He was standing conversing with a lieutenant of the 10th company in relation to taking off the wounded, when he received a bullet in his left breast and fell while in the act of speaking. He endeavored to say something after he was shot, but the blood gushed out of his mouth and nose, and he fell, dying almost instantly. As soon as it was ascertained that he was dead, some eight men placed his body across their muskets, and carried it back off the field, and placed it in an ambulance of the second Maine regiment. The surgeon at first objected to our placing a dead man in the ambulance, saying it was needed for the wounded. But when we told him it was the body of Colonel Cameron, the brother of the Secretary of War, he said we could put it in there.

At that time General McDowell rode up and told me to order our men, who were scattering, to rally on the hill and try to form a square and prepare to repel some cavalry who were coming. I replied that I was in charge of Colonel Cameron’s body, and wanted to take it back to Washington. He then told me to pass the order to the first officer of the regiment I met, when I could return. I mounted Colonel Cameron’s horse and rode back, until I saw the major of the regiment, to whom I gave the orders of General McDowell. General McDowell coming along there, I informed him that I had given his orders to the major of the regiment, when I got permission to return to where I had left the body of Colonel Cameron.

When I got back I met the surgeon of the regiment, who informed me that the hospital had been taken possession of by the enemy, and several prisoners taken; and that if I went where we had left the ambulance with the body of Colonel Cameron I would also be taken prisoner. I replied that it would not much matter if I were, and that I should try to find the body. When I reached where the ambulance was I found that some ten or fifteen of the rebel cavalry— black horse cavalry, as I understood—had been there, thrown all the bodies out of the ambulance, and driven it off for their own wounded. One of the surgeons then told me that I had better make the best of my way to Washington, for if I remained there I should be taken prisoner. I accordingly returned.

I afterwards went out with a flag of truce from Colonel McCunn’s headquarters to endeavor to get the body. I saw a Lieutenant Barbour, who was the senior officer of the post at Fall’s Church, to whom I gave my papers. We were obliged to wait there until he communicated with Colonel Stewart. Towards evening the messenger returned and said that we could not have permission to go to Centreville, but they would forward the papers to headquarters, and would give me an answer the next day. The next day we returned, and were informed that we could not have the permission we asked, because the papers were addressed “to whom it may concern;” that it did not concern them, and if they were not officially addressed they would not recognize any papers sent to them. I asked Lieutenant Barbour to see that some mark was put upon the grave of Colonel Cameron so that it could be found, and he promised that he would do so.

When Centreville was evacuated in March last, I accompanied a party down there to obtain the body of Colonel Cameron, but we could find nothing to indicate where the grave was. We asked one man living there—Mr. Lewis, I believe—who we understood knew where the grave was, but he denied having any knowledge of it, which I have reason to believe was false. I took the party to where Colonel Cameron fell, and also to where the ambulance was that his body was placed in. We met a slave, who said he knew where the body was, because he had heard his mistress—a widow Donn—say it was his body; and he had seen a locket, with a picture in it, and some papers that had been taken from his body. The. negro said the body had remained on the field from Sunday till Thursday before it was buried, and that he had noted the place where it was buried particularly, as he had understood that a reward would be paid for finding the body.

We went to the place pointed out by the negro and opened the grave; we found several bodies there; they had to all appearance been thrown in in any way, just as they came to them; in endeavoring to remove the remains of Colonel Cameron without separating them any, which we did by inserting a board under the lower part of the body and pushing it gradually and carefully up towards the head, we had to take off one of his arms and the skull of another body that was lying on it; we recognized the body from the clothing on it; from a shirt that I had myself bought for him in Washington, and from a truss that we found on the body; several officers with us, who knew Colonel Cameron, also recognized the body; we placed the remains in a rough box coffin that we made there and brought them away with us; the other bodies in the same grave or ditch appeared to be bodies of private soldiers.

Question. Had anything been taken from the body?

Answer. Yes, sir; we found his pockets turned inside out, and his watch, ring, purse, locket, boots and spurs had been taken away; he had over $80 in his purse, for on the morning of the battle I had taken out of his valise and given to him four twenty dollar pieces and some smaller gold pieces; at the time he fell I took his revolvers and keys, and brought them back with me.

Question. Did you make any inquiry as to the rifling of the body?

Answer. Yes, sir; and I was told that the body was rifled by some of the black horse cavalry, and that some of the articles had been shown by one of Stewart’s cavalry.

Question. From whom did you learn that fact?

Answer. This negro said his mistress had told him so; and I heard others speak of it; Lieutenant Barbour said he had heard something of it from his own men.

Question. Who buried the body of Colonel Cameron?

Answer. This negro said that he and two other negroes had buried the bodies there; the other two negroes have been carried away, but this one managed to remain some way; an order was given by some one that each resident should see that the bodies near their houses were buried; that is the way these negroes came to bury them; they dug the hole and put in it all the bodies they found anywhere near.

Question. Did you ask this negro who had rifled Colonel Cameron’s body?

Answer. Yes, sir; he said he did not know, except that he had heard his mistress say that it was done by one of the black horse cavalry when they took it out of the ambulance in which we had left it; the negro said the pockets were turned inside out when he came across the body at the time they buried it.





JCCW Barbarities – Simon Cameron

7 05 2012

Report of the Conduct of the War, Volume 3, p. 478

WASHINGTON, April 23, 1862.

Hon. SIMON CAMERON sworn and examined.

By the chairman :

Question. We have been directed by the Senate to inquire into the barbarous manner in which the wounded and dead of our army have been treated by the rebels. Will you state to the committee what you know in regard to their treatment of your brother, who was killed in the battle of Bull Run?

Answer. After my brother fell in that engagement, I am informed that his body was carried off by some of his men from the battle-field and placed, as was supposed, in a secure place, so that it could be recovered by his friends after the battle was over. There were eight men who took charge of the body and carried it back off the field, four of whom were killed. The body was placed in an ambulance and left there. When they returned, as I understand, they found that the body had been thrown out of the ambulance upon the ground, and his pockets rifled of his watch, purse, portraits, &c. The blanket that had been left over the body was taken away, and, as we have learned since, the body was thrown into a hole or ditch with several other bodies, and there covered up with earth.

The morning after I heard of his death, Mr. Magraw, of Pennsylvania, formerly State treasurer, called upon me and told me that he had some acquaintances among the rebels out there, and offered to go out and get the body of my brother. I told him that I thought it would be of no use for him to go out there. He went, however, and instead of being able to obtain the body, by order of Generals Johnston and Beauregard he was made prisoner and sent to Richmond, where he was kept four or five months.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. The rebels knew the body to be that of Colonel Cameron, your brother?

Answer. Yes, sir.

By the chairman :

Question. And they knew these messengers went out there solely for the purpose of obtaining the body?

Answer. Yes, sir. They had no other object in going.

Question. And they took them prisoners of war and sent them to Richmond and kept them there?

Answer. Yes, sir; and part of the time close prisoners. The body of my brother, when lately recovered, was recognized by means of a truss which he wore.








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