Burnham’s Report

23 08 2009

You won’t find Colonel George S. Burnham’s name listed as commander of the 1st Connecticut Volunteers on most First Bull Run orders of battle: not R. M. Johnston’s, not John Hennessy’s, not Ed Bearss’, not Joanna McDonald’s, not even online OOBs like the NPS and Wikipedia.  I suspect the reasons behind these works listing Lt. Col. John Speidel at the head of the regiment that day are the result of two factors: the lack of an official report for the regiment; and the failure of Col. E. M. Keyes to name Burnham in his report, which recognizes the other regimental commanders in Keyes’s brigade and mentions Speidel, though not as commanding the 1st CT.  But Burnham wrote this history of the regiment’s brief existence for the Connecticut Adjutant General, and NPS Ranger Jim Burgess pointed me to a couple of contemporary newspaper articles which state that Burnham was on the field with the regiment during the battle:

It is a fact that our Connecticut troops stormed a battery before which the regulars had previously been repulsed.  The Third Regiment suffered most severely.  The enemy fought chiefly from behind masked batteries, and when one was taken they had another concealed which commanded it.  Three, however, were taken by great bravery in succession.  Col. Burnham, of the Connecticut First, distinguished himself for his coolness and courage. – “Return Home of the First Regiment”, Hartford, The Daily Courant, July 27, 1861

We kept on fighting, Gen. Tyler assuring us we had won the day.  He acted Bravely; so did Col. Keyes and Col. Spiedel; Col. Burnham stood by his regiment.- “Capt. Fitzgibbon’s Statement”, Hartford, The Daily Courant, July 29, 1861

This was enough for me to show Burnham as in command of the regiment on my order of battle for McDowell’s army.  A few weeks ago, I happened upon a website maintained by paleontologist William Parker, which I described in this post.  An exchange of emails with Mr. Parker, a descendant of a member of the 1st CT, informed me of the existence of an after action report written within days of the battle by Col. Burnham.  The report, Mr. Parker informed me, resides at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford.  It just so happens that, at the time I learned this, Facebook friend and Bull Runnings reader Dr. Lesley Gordon was in Hartford at the State Library doing research on her upcoming book on the 16th CT.  While I didn’t get in touch with her in time for her to copy the document, Dr. Gordon did put me in contact with Mel Smith, a librarian with the History and Genealogy Unit at the Library.  About two weeks later, at a cost of $5.22, I received a photocopy of the handwritten Official Report of Colonel George S. Burnham of the Battle of Bull Run, dated July 24, 1861, which I transcribed and posted here.  I inserted a few words or interpreted words of questionable legibility in brackets, and made a few paragraph breaks, but otherwise the report was transcribed as written.

I think in the absence of any positive evidence to the contrary, we have to accept that Col. George S. Burnham was indeed in command of the 1st CT Volunteers on July 21, 1861.  Thanks to Jim Burgess, William Parker, Lesley Gordon and Mel Smith for all your help.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook





#18b – Col. George S. Burnham

21 08 2009

Unpublished Report

Report of Colonel George L. Burnham, First Connecticut Volunteers

Photocopy from Connecticut State Library in Site Owner’s Collection (*)

Fort Corcoran near Washington, DC

July 24th, 1861

Sir, I have the honor to report that we started from our Bivouac at Centreville at 2 O’Clock on the morning of the 21st of July, keeping the Warrentown Turnpike for about four miles, my regiment leading the Brigade.  There the Brigade was ordered to file off the road into the fields to allow troops to pass, the Brigade being held in reserve that day. After waiting some three hours, we filed again into the road.  Proceeding some two miles we again halted for a short time.  We then were ordered to advance.  Emerging from the woods through which we passed we were opened upon with a very heavy fire of shells from some two or three of the enemies batteries.  The troops dropping at the flash of the guns, most of the shells went over us, but few doing any serious damage.  Advancing at the double quick obliquely to [the] right of the road, we passed the building afterwards used as a hospital.  I met Gen. McDowell [and] was ordered by him to march by the left flank (we then were marching by the right.)  Passing through a narrow strip of woods we came in full view of the enemy, upon whom we immediately opened fire, and as well as I could judge, with considerable effect.  We then were ordered to march by the Left Flank, following the Connecticut 2d.  Being very hotly attacked by the enemies fire we kept well under the hill which protected our men to a great degree.  We were ordered to charge on one of the batteries but it was countermanded by yourself as [it] was evident that it would be a perfect annihilation of our men.  We then made attacks on the enemy whenever a favorable opportunity presented itself. 

About 4 O’Clock we had orders to change our position marching by the right flank, the Conn. 2d filing past.  Proceeding to the Hospital we learnt of the rout of our Army.  My regiment kept in most excellent good order, although hotly pressed by the enemies fire.  Reaching the woods we soon after met the enemies Cavalry in full charge, but my regiment standing its ground and one of our guns opening fire on them, they soon left us.  Coming up soon after with the N. Y. 2d under command of the Lieut. Colonel (the Colonel being absent) who placed his regiment with my own under my command, but had gone but a short distance when seeing Gen. Schenck the commander of their Brigade I placed myself and regiment under his command for a short time.

Reaching Cub Run I vainly tried to rescue the Parrot gun which was mired [by the] side of the road.  Fording the stream the staff of our color State Color was shot in two, but our colors on that day were not dishonored, but were brought off the field.

We then came up to Col. Miles Brigade which were held as reserve, and most nobly did he do his duty.  His presence with his Brigade held in most admirable order revived the [drooping?] spirits of the tired and retreating soldiers who immediately took fresh courage.  And the enemies Cavalry which up to this time and had pressed most earnestly and severely on our troops concluded it was time for them to retire, which they did much to our satisfaction.  We then marched into our old Bivouac Grounds in Centreville in as good order as when we first reached them the day Thursday before. 

Consoling ourselves that we were the first Regiment in the field, of the Brigade, and the last (as far as I could see) of all out of it our loss being eight wounded and nine missing.  And allow me to say that the Troops could not have behaved better, faithfully obeying every order and were [easily?] handled, my adjutant being my assistant. 

Resting awhile at Centreville we were ordered back to camp at Falls Church which place we reached after daybreak the 22d.  Striking our tents according to orders we remained all day in a most drenching rain, which occasioned very much suffering among the men on account of the very fatiguing duties of the day before and the wanting of rest.  At dark marching down with the two other Conn. Regiments we took possession of the two Ohio camps (1st & 2d) where with the Conn. 3d we rested for the night.  Next morning we struck the tents and with all the Camp Equipage &c we sent to Alexandria, the Conn. 2d doing the same thing for the N.Y. 2d.  The Three Regiments then marched to Fort Corcoran arriving at about sundown, well worn out.

My men, through this severe trial, seemed to vie with each other to find the least complaint of their sufferings, excepting, of course, those who basely deserted their colors or refused to go into the field on that eventful day, those complaining the most that suffered the least.

I hope I may be excused if there is any discrepancy in the report as I have been suffering with a most painful attack of neuraligy and with which I now suffer with redoubled force owing to my recent exposure.

I have the honor to be your most obdt servant

Geo. S. Burnham

Col. 1st Regt Conn. Vol.

To Col. E. D. Keyes

Commanding First Brigade

(*) All but last two paragraph breaks not in original.  [ ] are edited into text.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 894 other followers