Benjamin Brown French, On the Campaign and Aftermath

13 03 2013

Friday, July 19. … The Federal army, more than 50,000 strong, is pushing on as fast as possible toward Manassas Junction where it is expected that the Traitor rebels will make a stand. Thus far they have run on the approach of the Federal troops. This day must, I think tell the story of a decisive battle, or an ignominious rout of the rebels. The Federal troops either reached Manassas last night, or must this morning…

… I went to the Navy Department on business for a friend, but did not succeed in seeing the Secretary. Hon. Truman Smith was with me. We waited two or three hours, but the place was besieged by Members of Congress, who have the preference in seeing the Secretaries….

Friday, July 20. Soon after eating breakfast yesterday I walked to the War Department – found it would not be possible to see the Secretary – heard all sorts of rumors about battles, etc., but could not ascertain the truth of any of them. One was that Gen. Tyler’s brigade had marched up to a masked battery at Bull Run, and that 500 were killed and an immense number wounded! which all turned out to be gammon. I staid about the War Department perhaps an hour, saw President Lincoln pass through the lower passage, which was crowded with people. He was dressed in a common linen coat, had on a straw hat, & pushed along through the crowd without looking to the right or left, and no one seemed to know who he was. He entered the East door, passed entirely through & out the West door, & across the street to Gen. Scott’s quarters. I was somewhat amused to see with what earnestness he pushed his way along & to observe his exceedingly ordinary appearance….

Sunday, July 21. … At 3 Misses Emeline Barrett & Lizzie Barrett came with their heads full of exciting news of the battle now in progress at Bull Run. Emeline, whose nephew is with the Mass. 5th Regt. as a spectator, was very much troubled. She came with tears in her eyes. I told her not to believe anything she heard until it was officially confirmed. We soothed her as well as we could, & she left at 1/4 before 4 in much better spirits than she came….

Monday, July 22. I am sick in body & mind. The battle yesterday was disastrous to our troops. Forty-thousand men in the open field undertook to fight 70 thousand well entrenched, and of course were whipped. At 12 o’clock, midnight, Col. John S. Keyes, who had been at Bull Run, came to my door, called up his mother, & said “Mother pack your trunk and be ready to leave in the 1/4 past 4 o’clock train.” I asked why such haste? He said, holding up both hands, We are whipped all to pieces.” He then went on to describe the battle and the retreat, & said when he left the whole army was in full flight. Mary Ellen was down at my brother’s & I went immediately after her. She came up & aided Mrs. Keyes to pack, got her some breakfast, etc., and at 1/4 past 4 accompanied her to the depot, & she, with Doct. Bartlett, Miss Emeline, Mrs. Jo. Keyes, & Lizzie Bartlett, went….

At 1/2 past 8 I walked down in the City and soon found, to my sorrow, that our “grand army” had made a grand run, and has been terribly cut up. As I passed along the North side of the Avenue I saw a baggage wagon marked “2d Reg. N.H.V.” which stopped opposite the door of a house on the other side. I walked across, & behold Surgeon Hubbard of Manchester was the driver and he had inside Col. Gilman Marston, badly wounded, with a bullet through his shoulder. So great a crowd collected at once around the wagon that I could see nothing, so I walked on, and on my return called at the house and was told Col. M. seemed inclined to sleep, & it was thought best not to disturb him as there was no hemorrhage, so the wound had not been examined & no one could tell how bad it was. I then came to the Capitol. Soldiers were straggling into the city in all sorts of shapes. Some without guns – some with two. Some barefooted, some bareheaded, & all with a doleful story of defeat.

Ambulances & wagons also came. At the Capito everybody’s face was gloomy. A gentleman sat in one of the member’s seats in the Hall, who was present from the firing of the first gun at 10 A.M. till 1/2 past 9 P.M. and seemed to have had all his wits about him. He gave a very full description of the fight & the retreat. On being asked if the retreat was in good order, he said, it was in the worst order that could be imagined, that it was actually led by the officers. That he saw two officers throw away their swords, cut a horse loose from a wagon & both get on and ride away. He said the ground was strewed with all sorts of provisions from Bull Run to Centreville, where a rally was made the troops again formed.

It was now 3 o’clock P.M. and all sorts of rumors came along. Col. Keyes was here about the time I commenced writing, on his way along to Alexandria to look after his brother-in-law, Capt. George Prescott, of the Mass. 5th. He said the report was that the U.S. troops were retreating in good order, with some 3,000 cavalry in pursuit, and that they intended to make a stand somewhere, perhaps at Fairfax, & give battle again.

As for me, I am almost too sick to be up, but, eager as I am for news, I cannot go to bed….

Tuesday, July 23. Another day has passed and Washington is fast settling down into its usual calm. The rain fell steadily all of yesterday – the city was filled with excitement & demoralized soldiers most of whom, I suspect, ingloriously fled on Sunday. This morning opened bright and beautiful. I had occasion to ride down in the City immediately after breakfast, and found that the Companies were resuming their old quarters, & reorganizing fast. The soldiers seemed to be individually engaged in drying their wet clothing, cleaning their guns, cooking, etc. The smoke and dust of battle having cleared away, we all begin to see the field as it was actually left, and the loss on our side, currently reported yesterday as 5 or 6,000, has dwindled down to 5 or 600! It is believed that the rebel loss far exceeded ours, but nothing certain is known. They did not follow our retreating army – so much is certain – & no reason is given but that they were too much cut up to do so.

I met Gen. Wilson – Senator – this morning, and speaking about the battle, he said, “Don’t call it a battle, it was nothing but a tuppenny skirmish, with about 500 killed on each side – that was all it was, and all it ought to be called.”

I have succeeded in keeping myself pretty busy all day. Arose early, read the papers till breakfast was ready. As soon as I had eaten breakfast went to market. Thence to the P.O. & to Jo. Keyes’s boardinghouse. Found that Capt. Prescott & Edwin Barrett had both returned to the city unhurt. Called on Barrett, who showed me the trophies he had brought from the field of battle, consisting of a very nice pair of secession saddlebags, a handsome revolver, belonging to one of the Black-horse Cavalry, pretty much all of whom are said to have been killed by the Zouaves, an India-rubber blanket, & a woolen ditto, picked up on the road & both belonging to our troops, a button cut from a secession coat. He also brought in a horse with his equipments, taken from the rebels.

After having a very minute and interesting account from Edwin of what he saw (& being with Gen. McDowell, he had the opportunity to see a great deal) I went to see Capt. Prescott. Found him with most of his company quartered at Jimmy Maher’s old tavern house. He was looking finely….

Edwin told me he saw a lively fight between the 2d N. H. Regt. and a Georgia Regiment in a small piece of woods, in which the Georgians were badly beaten. After the troops had left he said he went into the woods and saw the dead bodies of 42 rebels & 10 wounded on a space of ground not larger than the parlor in which we were sitting when he told me the story….

Friday July 26. … [On Wednesday July 24] I rode down to Col Marston’s room & saw him. He looked quite well and his physicians told me was doing well, & they had strong hopes of saving his arm.  The bullet was a common musket bullet & struck his right arm just below the shoulder, passed through it, & lodged in his breast, from which it was extracted. At Marston’s room I found Senator Clark, and we rode out to the encampment of the 2d N.H. Regt. in my buggy. We saw Col. Fisk and Major Stevens, and many others. Ned was out there & introduced me to Dearborn Morse, a son of Josiah Morse, whom I knew from my childhood till his death. He lived at my grandfather Brown’s when I was a boy, and I was glad to see his son, who is the very image of his father.

Major Stevens gave us a very interesting history of the battle, explaining it by diagrams which he drew as he proceeded. He was in it from first to last. He said he saw one of the “Black horse cavalry” undertake to sabre a Zouave. He parried the sabre with his musket, seized the trooper by the breast of his coat, dragged him from his horse and cut his throat, all within a single minute….

D. B. Cole & J. J. McDonough, eds., Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee’s Journal, 1828-1870, pp. 365-369

Benjamin Brown French bio.








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