Pvt. Richard W. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Withdrawal from Fairfax and the Fight at Blackburn’s Ford

3 09 2013

Bulls Run, Virginia

Saturday July 20th 1861

I have but one more piece of paper, so I will tell you what I have to say in as few words as possible.

At Fairfax, where we were stationed, early in the morning of Wednesday the 18th of July, firing was heard in the direction of the pickets, also the booming of a few cannon shots in the same direction. About 7 o’clock A.M. the army of the enemy came in sight. The glistening of bayonets as they approached appeared like a sea of silver. Fairfax was slightly fortified only; the enemy numbered 50,000 or 60,000, while we had only some 8,000 or 10,000. It was their intention to cut us off from the main body at Manassas, some 14 miles distant. At nine o’clock A.M. we marched up to the breastworks, the enemy only a short distance from us on our flank at next Manassas. Our baggage in the meanwhile had been sent on to Bull’s Run. By shifting the regts from position to position we kept them at bay until about 10 o’clock when the retreat began.

Such a retreat was never known before. Our men had been double-quicked for two hours before the enemy appeared, and having all their baggage to carry, were nearly broken down before we started. The day was excessively hot and the road hilly and rocky. Men began to throw away their knapsacks before we had gone a mile. It was a mournful sight to see the soldiers on the way. Some fainted in their tracks, while others fell from their horses. Some dropped on the roadside with scarcely breath enough to keep them alive, but only one man died, he from the effects of a sun stroke.

In an incredibly short time we came to Centreville, 7 miles from Fairfax. There we were again drawn up in order for battle. Our company was detache as a picket guard, and on that account we laid upon our guns from the time we got there until 12 o’clock at night when we were again roused and continued the retreat. By that time the enemy had nearly cut us off from the main body again. (Let me here tell you that we had been sent to Fairfax and ordered to retreat as soon as the enemy appeared to induce them to follow us to Bulls Run where it was intended to give them a warm welcome. This plan succeeded admirably.) We got to the Run four miles further about daylight and took position for the fight.

Bull Run is the best natural fortified place in Virginia, and the fortifications extend for six miles along the banks of the creek. Our regt was stationed at an unfortified position. Thursday about 12 o’clock the enemy had come within about a half a mile of us, and planting their batteries, they began to pelt us with balls and shells shot from rifle cannon. It was amusing to see the men dodge them. At first they flew high over our heads, but they soon began to lower, then they whistled about us in earnest. Shells bursted in every direction. Our artillery could do nothing except fire a few scattering shots at them, which killed only a small number of them. After they had been shooting at us for an hour or so with their cannons (not having killed or wounded a single man), they sent about 10,000 men to flank our right. But Beauregard was a little too quick for them and sent a force of 4,000 to foil their plan. They met in a wheatfield and began work with the musketry. Volley after volley burst forth until all became mingled into one long continuous roar which seemed to shake the very heavens. They began to retreat, covering their retreat with their artillery, while our artillery commenced to fire upon them. We had about fifteen pieces. We do not know the number of theirs engaged. The cannonade lasted a long time, and in all the fight was 5 1/2 hours long. The enemy then fell back about two miles, where they are now.

The loss on both sides is variously estimated, but I believe all have now agreed that the number of Yankee killed was about 8 or 900, the number of wounded unknown. Our loss was 8 killed & 50 wounded. We took two common & one rifle cannon & eight hundred stand of arms, besides quantities of oilcloths, blankets, knapsacks, overcoats, and all kinds of army equipments. Yesterday (Friday) the enemy sent in a white flag to bury their dead, but they only half did the work & left about seventy unburied. Our men went over to the field yesterday to finish the work, but the stench was so great that they were compelled to leave it undone & so they were left. I forgot to mention that we took about 30 prisoners.

Synopsis – Wednesday & Wednesday night we were on the march & watch – Thursday all day we were drawn up in battle array & part of the time dodging balls and shells. Thursday night we were busy throwing up works for our company – Friday part worked & part lay on watch waiting for the general battle – Friday night (last night) was the hardest of all, for having had no sleep the two nights previous, we were wearied awfully – yet we had to sit in our entrenchments all night-kept awake by the firing of the pickets.

This morning we are still on the watch expecting the general attack. We were sure it would commence last night, but now we have no idea when it will commence. For two days & nights I ate nothing but seven year old sea biscuits.

Cousin Jim was among the number to break down in the retreat from Fairfax, but he was taken up on the wagons. I & Buddie [Taliaferro Simpson - BR] stood it finely excepting the blistering of our feet & shoulders where the straps of the knapsacks worked. Cousin Jim was sick before we left & has been ever since, but is much better now. Since Wednesday all the snatches of sleep were on the bare ground with nothing but the blue sky for our covering – but it was far sweeter than all the feather beds in creation.

The 4th Regt is now two miles above us. All our troops are ready or the fight. Patterson is coming or has come to join the Federal commander McDowell. Their army numbers about 80,000 string. I can’t say how many men we will have engaged – but I can say I know we will whip them easily. One of the prisoners taken at Fairfax says when their army came up & found the place deserted, they were completely thunder-struck & said “if we can run the gamecocks of the South that easily, we will go on, have a slight brush at Manassas, take Richmond, & there end the war.” We would have got them completely in a trap at Bull Run if a woman there had not told them we had stopped there & disclosed the position & strength of our breastworks. It was there they planned to flank us on either side, drive us back, & decoy our men from the center – then make a desperate rush with their reserve through our middle & thrash us outright. But lo and behold! our right wing defeated them & drove them back from their position & completely frustrated their grand ball at Richmond.

We are now much better prepared than before and are anxiously waiting for an attack. One of our Alabama regts killed about 20 Yankees before they left Fairfax.

Letter likely written to Simpson’s father.

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 28-32

Richard W. Simpson at Ancestry.com





George Templeton Strong, On the Campaign and Aftermath

15 02 2013

July 17. McClellan seems to have crushed treason in Western Virginia. And McDowell’s column is in advance on Fairfax and Manassas Junction. I fear this move is premature, forced on General Scott by the newspapers. A serious check on this line would be a great disaster.

July 19. Dined with Charley Strong and George Allen at the “Maison Doree,” a new and very nice restaurant established in Penniman’s house on Union Square. Called on Dr. Peters, as a private sanitary agent on my own account, also at Mr. Ruggles’s. We are all waiting breathlessly for news from the Army of Virginia. Batteries were encountered by the advance yesterday at Bull’s Run, three miles this side of Manassas Junction, and there was a sharp skirmish, our advance falling back on its supports at last with a loss of some sixty men. Today, there have been diverse stories of additional fight, stories both good and bad; bu the last report is that all are fictions and that things are in status quo. This lack of authentic official reports is no sign of success. We seem on the eve of a general action, but perhaps the enemy is holding Bull’s Run to secure a comfortable retreat toward Richmond. He certainly ran away from Fairfax with great precipitation, but I suppose the chivalry will fight pretty well behind entrenchments.

July 22, Monday. Good news – certainly good, though it may not prove sufficient to justify the crowding and capitals in the Tribune. It’s rather sketchy and vague, and no doubt exaggerated, but there has been fighting on a large scale at Bull’s Run. Our men have been steady under fire and the enemy has fallen back on Manassas. This last important fact seems beyond question.

General Johnston seems to have joined Beauregard, given him numerical preponderance. Patterson does not seem to have followed Johnston up. We attacked yesterday morning, and there was hard fighting till about half past five. Our right, under Hunter, turned the rebel entrenchments and seems to have repulsed the enemy, where they came out of their cover, and tried to use the bayonet. Hunter is killed or severely wounded. Ellsworth’s Fire Zouaves and Corcoran’s Irishmen are said to have fought specially well, and to have suffered much. It is rumored that an advance was shelling the batteries at Manassas last night. Not likely.

Thank God for the good news. We shall probably receive a cold-water douche, however, before night in the shape of less comfortable intelligence.

Seven P.M. My prediction about the douche verified indeed! Today will be known as BLACK MONDAY. We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped by secessionists. Perhaps not disgracefully, for they say Beauregard has 90,000 men in the field, and if so, we were outnumbered two to one. But our men are disorganized and demoralized and have fled to the shelter of their trenches at Arlington and Alexandria as rabbits to their burrows. All our field artillery is lost (twenty-five guns out of forty-nine!), and if the secessionists have any dash in them, they will drive McDowell into the Potomac.

How it happened is still uncertain. It doesn’t appear whether the stampede came of a sudden unaccountable panic, or from the advent of General Johnston on our flank. In this latter case, it was a revival of the legitimate Napoleonic drama: Blucher, General Johnston; Grouchy, General Patterson. But our reports are all a muddle. Only one great fact stands out unmistakably: total defeat and national disaster on the largest scale. Only one thing remains to make the situation worse, and I shall not be surprised if tomorrow’s papers announce it, That is, the surrender of our army across the Potomac and the occupation of Washington by the rebels. We could never retreat across the Long Bridge if successfully assailed, even were our men not cut up and crestfallen and disheartened.

Who will be the popular scapegoat? Probably Patterson, perhaps Secretary Cameron, or even General Scott!

July 23. We feel a little better today. The army is by no means annihilated. Only a small part of it seems to have been stricken with panic. A gallant fight has been made against enormous odds and at every disadvantage. An attack failed and we fell back. Voila tout. Only there is the lamentable loss of guns, some say eighteen, others nearly a hundred. That cannot be explained away. It’s said tonight that Tyler is at Centreville, entrenching himself, so all the ground occupied by our advance is not abandoned. The rebels show no disposition to  follow up their advantage or venture outside their woods and masked batteries. The first reports of our loss in killed and wounded are said to be greatly exaggerated.

Why we delivered battle is a mystery. I suppose the Tribune and other newspapers teased and scolded General Scott into premature action. Thought him too strong and self-sustained to be forced to do anything against his own judgment by outside pressure and popular clamor.

July 25. These Southern scoundrels! How they will brag over the repulse at Bull’s Run, though, to be sure, it’s not nearly so bad as our first reports. And is there not good reason to fear that their omission to follow up their advantage by a march on Washington indicates a movement in overwhelming force on the column of General Banks (lat Patterson’s) or Rosecrans’s (late McClellan’s)? May we not have another disaster to lament within the next forty-eight hours?

How the inherent barbarism of the chivalry crops out whenever it can safely kill or torture a defenseless enemy! Scrape the “Southern Gentleman’s” skin, and you will find a second-rate Comanche underneath it. These felons solaced themselves by murdering our wounded men in cold blood when they found us retiring from the field last Sunday afternoon – and did so with an elaboration of artistic fertility in forms of homicide (setting them up against trees to be fired at, cutting their throats, and so on), that proves them of higher grade in ruffianism and cowardly atrocity than anything our Five points can show. We must soon begin treating the enemy with the hempen penalties of treason.

July 26. The Eighth and Seventy-first Regiments (three-month volunteers) returned today, welcomed by crowds that blocked Broadway. They will be missed at Washington. We fell rather blue today, though without special reason. It seems clear that the loss of the rebels last Sunday was fully as severe as our own. Russell (London Times) writes Sam Ward that the Union army “ran away just as its victory had been secured by the superior cowardice of the South.” Pleasant. But Russell headed the race.

August 2, Friday. Exceeding sultry. Up before three this morning for the early train. But as the ticket office of that wickedly managed Baltimore & Washington Railroad was not opened till long after the hour for starting, our train got off near half an hour behind time, and missed its connection at Baltimore; so we were detained there till ten o’clock, and might just as well have postponed our arising till six. A most sultry ride. There were Dr. Bellows, Van Buren, George Gibbs, Wolcott Gibbs, and myself. Breakfasted at the Gilman House and dined at the Continental (Philadelphia). Saw Horace Binney at his house a moment. We have elected him and Bishop Clark of Rhode Island full members of the Commission, and I think both will serve. Home at half-past nine.

Washington hotter and more detestable than ever. Plague of flies and mosquitoes unabated.

Went on by night train Saturday. Spent the night filed away like a bundle of papers in one of the “sleeping” (!) car pigeonholes, where I perspired freely all night.

Sunday at the hospitals – two at Georgetown (“Seminary” and “Union Hotel”), and one at Alexandria. Much to write about both, were there time. Condition of the wounded thus far most satisfactory. Everything tends to heal kindly. But our professional colleagues say this is deceptive. The time for trouble has not yet come, and hospital disease is inevitable within sixty days. The medical men in charge are doing what they can, but radical changes are needed. The buildings are defective in many points. As at Fort Monroe, the cheerfulness and pluck of the men are most touching. I saw several hideous cases of laceration by Minie balls and fragments of shell, too hideous to describe; but all doing well. One poor fellow (a Glasgow man of the Seventy-ninth named Rutherford) was in articulo mortis with dysentery and consequent peritonitis. Another died while we were there, after undergoing amputation an hour or two before. One or two typhoid cases looked unpromising.

Visited “Fort Ellsworth,” in front of Alexandria. It is finished now and very formidable, easier to defend than to assault. But it seems to me (in my ignorance) insufficiently armed, and commanded, moreover, by the neighboring hills. The chivalry will never try to storm it, but I don’t see why they could not shell the defenders out. This seems true also of the most important works at the head of the Long Bridge.

Our session adjourned late last night, having sat, as before, morning and evening. It engrossed all of my time, except that we took two or three drives in what should have been the “cool” of the evening to visit certain regiments that are specially demoralized by the disaster of the 21st, the Seventy-ninth and others.

We did a deal of work. Among other things we recommended the Secretary of War to remove Dr. Kimball (General Butler’s amateur interloper) from Fort Monroe, a step which at once put us on intimate cordial and endearing relations with all of the Medical Bureau, Dr. Finley included. But we receive no sincere cooperation from our pretended Congressional allies. The President, with whom Professor Bache and Dr. Bellows had a conference Thursday night, is our friend. So is Meigs the Quartermaster-General, with whom I had an interview. He is an exceptional and refreshing specimen of sense and promptitude, unlike most of our high military officials. There’s not a fibre of red tape in his constitution. Miss Dix has plagued us a little. She is energetic, benevolent, unselfish, and a mild case of monomania. Working on her own hook, she does good, but no one can cooperate with her, for she belongs to the class of comets and can be subdued into relations with no system whatever.

Long talk with General McDowell. “He is sadly depressed and mortified, most unlike what he was a fortnight ago. Says he has nothing to reproach himself with, and that he did his best. He took 31,000 men into the field, and of these the reserve of 1,000 was not under fire at all. The enemy were twice his strength. Colonel Cullum tells me we lost twenty-five guns, just one more than half those that went into action. Though at the head of Scott’s staff, he cannot ascertain and does not know what produced this ruinous panic and stampede, or what regiment began it. Nor does he know whether or not the rebel force in Virginia is 70,000 or over 200,000. History is worth little.

From conversations and eye witnesses, I am satisfied that the rebels treated our wounded men with characteristic barbarity. Dr. Barnes found thirty officers and men whom he had collected in a shady place and left for a few moments (while he went for some surgical implement or assistance to the church that was used as a temporary hospital) bayonetted on his return. Two very intelligent privates of a Michigan regiment now in one of the Georgetown hospitals tell me with all minute details of time, place, and circumstance how they saw rebel soldiers deliberately cut the throats of wounded men.

I return from Washington depressed and despondent. Our volunteer system with its elected colonels and its political major-generals is very bad. We are fighting at sore disadvantage. The men have lost faith in their officers, and no wonder, when so many officers set the example of running away. Of the first three hundred fugitives that crossed the Long Bridge, two hundred had commissions. Two colonels were seen fleeing on the same horse. Several regiments were left without field officers and without a company officer that knew anything beyond company drill. The splendid material of the Scotch Seventy-ninth and the Fire Zouaves has been wasted. Both regiments are disheartened and demoralized. Neither would stand fire for five minutes – they are almost in a state of mutiny, their men deserting and the sick list enlarging itself daily. Why the rebels did not walk into Washington July 22 or 23 is a great mystery. They could have done so with trifling loss.

George Templeton Strong, Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865 pp. 168-170, 172-174

George Templeton Strong wiki.

Notes





Brig. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, On the Retreat from Fairfax and the Battle

10 01 2013

July 31, 1861

Miss Lizzie Ewell

Dear Lizzie,

I received your note with the envelope a few days since. I am very sorry that I can not gratify your taste for blood and your ambition by any account of glory that I was to have reaped on the 18th or 21st. When we fell back from Fairfax Court-house Station my post had been assigned, in advance, at Union Mills on the extreme right flank of our position. I was, when directed to do so, at the critical moment, to take the road to Centreville to attack the enemy in flank, and the various other brigades, between this and the point of attack of the enemy, were also to cross the run and do likewise. On the 17th we all remained in position as the enemy did not make a decided attack. On the 21st we were roused before daylight with orders to hold ourselves in readiness at a moments warning, and very soon we could hear the booming of artillery and the faint discharge of musketry far up the run towards the turnpike. About nine A.M. the next General above me sent word he had crossed and was advancing, sending me a copy of his orders which looked to my doing so, although nothing had come to me. I also moved forward, but we were all arrested by an order to fall back to our old positions. The reason I had not received the order was that it had not been sent, but the time lost was so short that it made no difference – less than an hour. The reason of our recall was that our hands were full up the run, and the scales were doubtful.

At three P.M. I again received orders to cross, and went about 1 1/2 miles when I was directed to march my brigade to the stone bridge over Bull Run. My feelings then were terrible, as such an order could only mean that we were defeated and I was to cover the retreat. I reached [there] in time to find we had won, and marched back to Union Mills (Rail-road crossing of Bull Run.) Our line of battle from extreme left to right was nearly five miles. The battle took place on the left – across Bull Run – on open ground, the enemy having turned our flank. We should feel deeply our gratitude for the victory, for the march of the enemy was as a swarm of locusts, burning and destroying. They drove peoples stock into their pens merely to butcher them, leaving farmers without a live animal on their farms. The private memoranda found on the field speak of their depredations on the route.

On the 17th, the day we fell back from Fairfax, owing to the hurry of affairs, the troops at the Court-house fell back without warning me at the station, and the result was that Col. R. E. Rodes of my command (formerly of Lexington) was engaged with the enemy, and my flanks were about being turned before we knew that General Bonham had orders to retire. Either the Yankees lost their way or were over cautious for we extricated ourselves without loss of baggage or life. We were very near being surrounded by 10 or 15000 while we were less than 2000 without artillery. In the hurry of movements they forgot the most important orders sometimes. Col. Rodes is an old acquaintance of Benjamins, and excellent officer, behaved very gallantly, but in the blaze of more recent events his little skirmish will be overlooked. He killed and wounded some 40 of the enemy, including one captain, and drove them back to wait for their artillery. In the meantime we retired. All is doubtful as to future movements.

Remember me to the family. There is talk of an advance.

Yours,

R. S. Ewell.

Pfanz, Donald C., ed., The Letters of General Richard S. Ewell, Stonewall’s Successor, pp. 175-176

From a typescript in Library of Congress (original lost)








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