Lt. Charles Minor Blackford, Wise Troop, On the Battle

13 09 2012

July 20th*

This day I spent lying down and taking remedies. By night I was so much better I determined to go back to my company reaching them about nine o’clock much worn down by my ride. The men welcomed me gladly. They had seen no yankees and very little expected the storm that was to break over our heads so soon. A bed of leaves was made for me and I laid down to rest. My own opinion was that a great battle was going to be fought the next day. The thoughts of a thinking man the day before a battle are necessarily solemn, he may be buoyant and hopeful, yet there is a dread uncertainty that comes over his thoughts both as to himself and those dependent on him which makes him grave and almost sad. I was tired and despite the thoughts of the next day’s work I soon dropped off to sleep and never moved until roused by my servant, John Scott, early Sunday morning. He told me to get up, something was going on, he did not know what but I’d better get up and make ready. I soon discovered what was about to happen. All the troops around me were up and cooking their breakfast, though it was scarcely light, and every one seemed to think an attack was about to be made upon our lines, but no one knew where. We supposed it would be made down towards the center where it was made on the 18th.

The bivouac of our squadron was on the extreme left near the Henry house as it was called. Mrs. Henry, who lived in it, and was so very old and infirm she refused to be moved out of it. She was said to have been a Miss Carter, and to have been one of the family who once owned the Sudley farm nearby. Mrs. Henry’s house during the day became a strategic point of great importance and was much torn up by shot and shell, by one of which she was killed. In her yard General Bee was killed and near it Colonel Bartow. Near it also it was that General Jackson formed his heroic brigade and received the baptism of fire during which he received the immortal name of “Stonewall”. A few days after the battle I got a piece of cedar post from the ruins of the house, and cut some crosses and other things which I sent home as mementos, and which I still have.

We were thrown into line about sunrise on the brow of a hill which overlooked Bull Run, with quite a wide valley (two hundred yards at least), below us. On the other side the bluff rose quite steeply, but on the top of it there was an open field. We were placed in that position to support a battery of artillery, whose I did not find out for it was moved very soon after the battle began to rage on our extreme left above the stone bridge.

I was still weak and John Scott brought me out to the one of battle another cup of coffee. He also brought some oats for my horse, which had not finished eating when I mounted him. He got an ammunition box to put the oats in and the horse was eating while I drank the coffee. We could distinctly hear the rumble of the yankee artillery on the pike beyond run, and there was no doubt they were moving in force toward the stone bridge and the Sudley farm and proposed to turn our left wing and sweep down on our side the run and our line. While we stood thus listening to the rumbling artillery and watching the dust as it arose from many hostile feet, we noticed a Federal battery of four guns suddenly dash out of the woods and throw itself into battery in the open space on the other side of the run above the bluff. We were much interested in the beauty of the movement, all of which we could see plainly, as it was not more than five hundred yards distant, but in a moment they opened upon our lines. The first shells went high above us, but the second were better aimed, and one of them struck the box out of which my horse was eating and shattered it to fragments, and then went on amongst the infantry behind us. John Scott did not move, or show any signs of fear. Having fired those two rounds they limbered up and left us as quickly as they came, and before our battery had done them any injury. When I noticed the first fire in some way I never dreamed the creatures were firing at us, so I went on drinking my coffee, but I was very rudely awakened from the dream by the second round when my indifference was changed to indignation, that they should actually have the impudence to fire at us on our own ground, and when we were doing them no harm.

After this there was a lull for a half hour while we remained in line of battle, but with no enemy in sight, then we heard the sound of cannon and musketry on our left, towards the stone bridge. We were moved up nearer the fighting, two other companies having joined us, and the whole thing being under the command of Lieut.-Col. Thomas T. Munford, of our regiment. The sounds indicated that the battle was growing fast and furious on our left, and that our lines were slowly being driven back, at which we were not surprised, as we knew we had but a small force on our left, and it was then obvious that the enemy was hurling upon it their whole force. We waited orders with great impatience and anxiety, for we saw our people were giving way and we could not see why we could not be of use. The battery we were supporting had been moved and there were no other troops very near us. I think Colonel Cocke forgot us, at all events we remained in the same position until near three o’clock in the evening.

About nine o’clock Generals Beauregard and Johnston, with their respective staffs, dashed by us, about fifty persons, handsomely dressed and mounted, and making a very grand show, and one which appealed to our enthusiasm very much, though all of us thought that one of the two generals should have been up with Colonel Cocke much earlier. Doubtless, however, they had good cause for the delay. Immediately behind them, at a sweeping gallop, came the “Washington Artillery,” a battalion of sixteen guns. This was the most inspiring sight I ever saw, and fills me with emotion whenever I think of it now. One not familiar with artillery can little imagine how grand a sight it was. Each gun had four horses, with outriders and officers on horseback and several men mounted on the gun; then the caisson of each gun with its four horses and the like equipment of men, making thirty-two in all. their ammunition wagons, forges and ambulances, all at full speed, making a processions, which under the circumstances, was very inspiring. Following the battalion next camp “Hampton’s Legion” of infantry under Col. Wade Hampton. Then a long and continuous line of infantry came pouring by as our troops were moved from the center and right wing to meet the attack on the left.

It is very easy, of course to criticise the conduct of the battle, and it is very unfair, as the critic does not know the inside causes, but while we stood there in nervous anxiety we all concluded our generals had been out-generaled, and the enemy had gained a great point upon them in transferring so many troops without their knowledge to the left, and forcing that wing back as they did. Our troops were put to a great disadvantage when run directly into a fight after moving at almost double-quick from six to ten miles on a hot July day, yet many of them were put to the test. We wondered also why, after it was discovered how the attack was made and that the enemy had stretched out his column from Centreville parallel to our front in the march towards Sudley, an attack was not made on his column, or upon the rear of his column, cutting him off from his base. Instead large forces, even after sending troops to the left, were idle all day at Mitchell’s and Blackburn’s Fords. No use was made of the cavalry until late in the day and then it was scattered about in small detachments, each acting under different orders, its attack was of little avail except to increase the panic of the enemy inducing a greater loss to them of the material of war. If when the enemy commenced to break, a column of cavalry had crossed Bull Run half way between Manassas and the stone bridge, and opened fire upon them as they moved back on the Warrenton Pike the victory would have been far more disastrous to the enemy and our gain in material so much the greater.

As these troops were passing towards the enemy another dismal line was moving back in the opposite direction. I shall never forget them. They were the wounded, some walking, some on stretchers, some in ambulances, all seeking the field hospital, which was near us in the woods, and all giving proof of their persons as well as their tongues of the terrible carnage on the left, and many giving discouraging tidings that our line was slowly giving way. Troops, certainly none but veterans, should never, if possible, be taken into action so as to see a field hospital or to meet the wounded or demoralized men. It has a bad effect and renders them unsteady.

The news given by the wounded men made us very impatient. We felt there was certainly something for us to do but no orders came. About eleven o’clock we were moved again further to the left, but though within range of artillery we had no actual fighting. The enemy continued to advance and at last, about mid-morning we saw signs of demoralization on the part of some of our troops; but about that time we saw a long column of troops in the same direction moving towards us, which, at first, we thought was the enemy, but to our infinite relief we found was General Jackson’s brigade which had just been put off a train of cars on the Manassas road. They doubled quick into action and met the enemy’s line and were soon heavily engaged. I was not near enough to mark the fighting, or rather my view was too much obstructed to get a view, but we could tell by the constant roar of cannon and musketry that the contest was severe. It was soon after this that Jackson won his “Stonewall,” as I have stated before. I got permission to ride a little distance from our command to get a closer view, and while out in an open field viewing the contest the best I could a bright-eyed boy of some sixteen years of age came up to me with a wounded hand and arm and spoke to me by name. I did not remember ever having seen him before, but he said he remembered me when I was a student at the University of Virginia and that his name was Everett B. Early of Charlottesville. He had run away from home and gone into the fight and been wounded. He had dressed his wound and was on his way back to take a hand again. He gave me a very intelligent account of the battle.

I was kept in a state of great excitement all day and found it hard to set on my horse from weakness induced by my recent sickness. We had nothing to eat. About four it became obvious that the advance of the enemy had been stopped. Then there was a sudden pause in the firing on their side, and when we could hear cheers and shouts on our lines. We were told by a wounded man that Sherman’s and Ricketts’ battery had been captured and that the enemy were slowly retiring. Still we were kept waiting though the sound of firing showed us the enemy was now in full retreat and the time for the cavalry had come. About five o’clock an officer came up and told Col. Munford the enemy were in full retreat across Bull Run, and ordered him to cross the stream and make for the pike to cut them off if possible and that Col. Radford with the rest of the regiment had already gone. Both parts of the regiment crossed about the same time, and we dashed up the hill, but the order had come too late for much good to be done. We were received by a scattering fire from the routed column, but they had generally thrown away their arms, and those who had not done so did so as soon as they saw us. It was a terrible rout and the face of the earth was covered with blankets, haversacks, overcoats, and every species of arms. We joined Col. Radford and the other six companies of the regiment as we reached the pike and followed the fleeing yankees, capturing many prisoners, until we came to a block in the road made by a great number of abandoned wagons, cannon and caissons, ambulances and other material at a bridge over a creek about two miles of Centreville. Further advance was checked, or at all events we went no further. From the other side of the creek and on top of the hill the enemy had been able to halt a battery long enough to fire one or two shots at our column, one of which killed Captain Winston Radford, of Bedford, a most excellent man and citizen and the brother of our Colonel. Beyond this our loss was very small and my company had only one or two wounded slightly.

Just as we crossed Bull Run I saw Edmund Fontaine, of Hanover, resting on a log by the roadside. I asked him what was the matter, and he said he was wounded and dying. He said it very cheerfully and did not look as if anything was the matter. As we came back we found him dead and some of his comrades about to remove the body. It was a great shock to me, as I had known him from boyhood, and though he was younger than I was we had met during many visits to Hanover when I was younger. We went into bivouac a little after dark, for it had become cloudy and was very dark.

It was a day long to be remembered, and such a Sunday as men seldom spend. To all but a scattered few it was our first battle, and its sights and wonders were things of which we had read but scarcely believed or understood until seen and experienced. The rout of the enemy was complete but our generals showed much want of skill in not making the material advantages greater. The Federal army was equipped with every species of munition and property, while ours was wanting in everything.  They were stricken with a panic; wherever the panic was increased by the sight of an armed rebel it discovered itself by the natural impulse to throw away arms and accoutrements and to abandon everything in the shape of cannon, caissons, wagons, ambulances and provisions that might impede their flight, yet they managed, despite their flight, to carry off much. They only lost some thirty-odd cannon, for example, while with proper management on our part they would not have reached the Potomac with two whole batteries and so with other properties.

Had there been even a slight demonstration on Centreville that evening the panic would have been so increased that we would have made more captures in cannon, small arms and wagons.

During the evening, as I was riding over part of the field where there were many dead yankees lying who had been killed, I thought by some of Stuart’s regiment, I noticed an old doll-baby with only one leg lying by the side of a Federal soldier just as it dropped from his pocket when he fell writhing in the agony of death. It was obviously a memento of some little loved one at home which he had brought so far with him and had worn close to his heart on this day of danger and death. It was strange to see that emblem of childhood, that token of a father’s love lying there amidst the dead and dying where the storm of war had so fiercely raged and where death had stalked in the might of its terrible majesty. I dismounted, picked it up and stuffed it back into the poor fellow’s cold bosom that it might rest with him in the bloody grave which was to be forever unknown to those who loved and mourned him in his distant home.

The actual loss of the enemy I do not know but their dead extended for miles and their wounded filled every house and shed in the neighborhood. The wounded doubtless suffered much. Their own surgeons abandoned their field hospitals and joined the fleeing cohorts of the living, and our surgeons had all they could do to look after their own wounded, who of course were the first served. They received kind treatment however, and as soon as our surgeons were free they rendered all the aid in their power.

The enemy had permitted no doubt of the result to cross their minds, and had not kept it a secret in Washington that the final attack was to be made on Sunday. The day was therefore made a gala day by all the classes, and they came in great numbers in every possible conveyance to enjoy the rebel rout and possible share in the rebel spoils. Members of Congress and cabinet ministers, department clerks and idle citizens followed the advancing column in all the confidence of exhorting confidence, and there were not wanting many of the hack-load of the demi-monde  with their admirers to compete the motley drew. Along the road and amidst abandoned cannon and wagons we found many a forsaken carriage and hack with half-eaten lunches and half-used baskets of champagne, and we received most laughable accounts from the citizens on the roadside of the scenes they saw and the sharp contrast between the proud and confident advance and the wild panic of the flight. The men of our company got many a spoil not known to the ordnance department or used by those who filled the ranks.

We bivouacked in the field and without tent or any shelter but the oilcloths, a vast supply of which we had laid in from those upon which our foes had slept the night before. They were of the very best material and we gladly abandoned ours or kept them to throw over our saddle in the rain. A battle is not a sanitarium for the sick or the cold ground a good bed for a feverish and chilly man. I was so worn and weary that I had no doubt whatever that when I awoke in the morning I would be very ill. Before I laid down I fortunately found an opportunity to send a telegram to my wife and owing to a fortunate accident it got off the next morning and relieved the minds of my people at home and the friends of all my men.

Despite my gloomy anticipations as to the effect of my health I slept like a top and awoke the next morning after daylight feeling very much better. I was aroused by a hard rain falling on my face. I got up at once and crawled into my wagon, which fortunately had come up during the night, and then I had my breakfast owing to John Scott’s thoughtfulness. I had heard nothing about my brothers, Capt. Eugene Blackford of the Fourth Alabama and Lieut. W. W. Blackford, of Stuart’s regiment of Cavalry. Both, I knew, had been engaged but I could not hear anything of them.

About eight o’clock, a staff officer from somewhere rode up and delivered an order calling for details to gather up arms and spoils from the field and to carry prisoners to the rear. I was sent with twenty men to report to Colonel Evans on the latter duty. When I reported I found also a small detail of infantry and the colonel put me in charge of the whole detachment and turned over to me several hundred prisoners, who looked very uncomfortable in the rain, with orders to take them to Manassas, six miles to the rear. Before we started Colonel Evans took me into a house in the yard of which he had his headquarters and introduced me to Colonel O. B. Willcox and Captain Ricketts of the Federal army, both of whom were wounded and prisoners. Willcox and Evans seemed very good friends and called each other Orlando and Shanks respectively – “Shanks” being Evans’ nickname at West Point. Willcox was courteous but Ricketts was surly and bitter and complained about his accommodations, which were very much better than those of his captor in the yard or than those of the vast proportion of our wounded men and officers. He had a comfortable room and bed and two surgeons to attend his wounds. One would suppose he expected the rebels to have a first-class hotel on the battlefield ready to receive him and that they had violated all the rules of civilized warfare in failing to do so.

We carried the two officers, placed under my care, in an ambulance, and we made them as comfortable as possible. We made rapid progress and I soon delivered my charge to some officer at General Beauregard’s headquarters. I had some pleasant chats with Colonel Willcox.

The sights of this day were terrible and more heartrending than those of the day before. Our preparations for the battle, so far as the care of the wounded was concerned, were very imperfect and we were called on to provide for those of both sides. The result was that many of both sides suffered much, but no difference was shown them save in the matter of priority of service. The surgeons were busy all day but still many wounds remained undressed for fully twenty-four hours. Luckily it was not very hot and the rain was a comfort.

Blackford, S. L., Blackford, C. M.,  Blackford, C. M.  III, Letters from Lee’s Army or Memoirs of Life In and Out of The Army in Virginia During the War Between the States, pp. 26-36.

*While this “letter” discusses incidents that occurred on July 21, Blackford may have started writing it on the 20th. Keep in mind that this collection had been edited twice – the last time by Blackford’s grandson – by the time it appeared in this publication. It is apparent that this account is not wholly a contemporary letter, and so has been classified here as a memoir.





Col. Arthur C. Cummings, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the Battle (1)

11 08 2012

Capt. P.L. Burwell

Abingdon Virginia

March 30th 1888

My dear Captain,

Your very kind letter of the 28th received today was both a surprise and a gratification to me – after the lapse of twenty six years it is very gratifying to be kindly remembered by those of my old command with whom I was associated with in the trying times of war, and for whom I have always cherished the kindred recollections – I have a very distinct and pleasant recollection of you and your valuable services when as you well remember I had to take my Regiment in the first battle of Manassas as undrilled and as undisciplined almost as raw material and I have always thought that the charge made by it upon the enemies [sic] battery to left of the Henry house was as gallant if not in as regular a line as could have been made by well drilled regulars – I remember you well, and the fact that you had lost an eye but I do not know that I could have recalled your name if I had not seen it signed to your letter which at once recalled it to my recollection – but the man I remember distinctly as on the memorable 21st of July 1861. I have not a very retentive recollection of names but the men with whom I was associated in earlier life and especially in the army I rarely forget – I think I have a very distinct recollection of all or nearly all the officers who were in the 33rd Regt whilst under my command, but some of their names I cannot now recall though the men themselves are plainly visible to my minds eye but if the name was mentioned I would remember it at once – There were about 400 men of the 33 Regt fit for duty and in the first battle of Manassas – and of that number there were almost 40 killed and wounded and if I am not mistaken and think I give you the figures correct, there were 39 killed and 100 or 101 wounded – I give you as I remember the figures of my report – but I think 36 or 37 would be the accurate number killed, as some two or three who were at first supposed and reported killed were in fact only missing and afterwards turned up – There is no doubt however that the 33rd suffered more heavily than any Regt in the fight – There were only eight companies of the Regt in the fight – one company from Rockingham commanded by Capt J. R. Jones afterwards Col Jones and a company commanded by Capt Holliday afterwards Col & Gen Holliday had been left at and in the neighborhood of Winchester and did not join the Regiment until a few days after the fight – in fact the company commanded by Gen Holliday was not assigned to the Regiment until some days after the battle. I have by few papers relative to the service of the Regt – My home & office in Abingdon together with a good many of my papers having been burned by the Federal army the latter part of the war – but I have a very distinct recollection of most every thing concerning the Regt whilst under my command except names and if there is any special information you desire and will let me know, I shall take pleasure in furnishing it. As you are now near Hampshire County West Virginia you can probably tell me what has become of Capt Grace who commanded a company raised near Frankfort in that County. The 33rd Regiment was from the counties of Rockingham 1 company Shenandoah 5 – Frederick 1 – Page 1 – Hardy 1 – and Hampshire 1 – so far from me in the extreme south west that I rarely meet any of the surviving officers or men though it would afford me great pleasure and gratification to do so – though advancing in years have & have not been exempted from the troubles of time I am in tolerable health and in reasonably comfortable circumstances I feel that I should be thankful in the blessings bestowed by a kind Providence & not ? at the trials from which few are exempt —  I shall be pleased and gratified to hear from you at any time.

Yours very truly,

Arthur C. Cummings

Transcription provided by reader James Myslik

Private collection of Sarah Beverly, Cookeville, TN

Notes





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, Sets the Record Straight

15 04 2012

The recent battle and the fate of our missing comrades, which we did not then definitely know, was the one subject of conversation. I recall an expression of one of my tentmates as we sat on the ground in the tent eating our dinners. “Well,” he said, “anyhow, it does seem good to have a roof over our heads and a visible means of support.” There was another thing connected with that, the second day after the battle, that has since caused me to feel sincere pride in the company. Every man not killed, wounded, or captured was ‘present and accounted for’ at the evening roll call, with his gun and equipments.

The poet Walt Whitman, and others, have written profusely and, I think, unfairly and ignorantly, of the return of the army to Washington. A specimen of his statements is sufficient to indicate their absurdity. He says: “Where are the vaunts and proud boasts with which you went forth? Where are your banners and your bands of music, and your ropes to bring back your prisoners? Well, there is not a band playing, and there isn’t a flag but clings ashamed and lank to its standard.”

A grown man of very ordinary capabilities ought to have known better. We did go out with confidence, but I heard no boasting by the soldiers themselves – but I do not claim to know what noncombatants may have done or said. There were no ropes, and I do not suppose that any soldier ever had a thought of providing one. Our flag was not in any sense ashamed of us, nor we of it. The colors had been bravely borne. All of the color guard but one had been wounded, and the flag itself riddled with bullets, but it was dearer to us than ever, and its display brought neither censure nor discredit to us or it. Every man of the company – and, I believe, of the regiment – had clung to his musket as a man overboard would cling to a life preserver.

It is not my purpose to comment on the strategy or tactics at Bull Run or elsewhere, or the criticism that followed, but we know now that while the plan may have been good, it was most bunglingly executed, and later experience has shown the unwisdom of sending in a regiment at a time to be beaten in detail. It was really an absurd thing to do. I have often thought, too, what a glorious opportunity there was to have sent a brigade around our right flank at the time we were first engaged and taken their line and batteries in reverse. It seems now that it would have been entirely feasible and must have wrecked Beauregard’s army. But it is useless to ‘cry for spilled milk’ and – as ours was badly spilled – I leave this part of the subject without further comment.

The official loss of the regiment as I find it is: killed 42, wounded 108, and missing 30. Many of the wounded and the missing were prisoners. I do not know the exact number of the regiment in the Bull Run Campaign. If we set it at 900, then the total loss of 180 men was twenty percent of the whole number. The strength of Company F when it left the state was 3 officers and 96 enlisted men. When we started on the campaign, Lieut. Hoyt and ten enlisted men were left at the camp. There were 2 officers and 86 enlisted men went out with the company. The loss of the company was: 8 killed or died of their wounds; wounded, 12; and missing, 3 – for a total of 23. The total casualties were 23 – more than twenty-five percent.

Sergeant Charles N. Harris was one of the wounded. A rebel bullet shattered his shoulder, and he was captured and taken to Richmond. He recovered, was paroled, sent home, and finally exchanged. It was supposed at the time that he was dead, and, under that belief, his obituary was printed and funeral services were held. It was thus that he had an opportunity to read of his own funeral.

Company F was not ‘spoiling for a fight’ when it started for Bull Run or on any other occasion, but it meant business, as it always did when confronting an enemy, and did its level best to make things interesting for its ‘friends, the enemy.’ It did not ‘move as steadily as if on parade’ or ‘march undismayed in the face of batteries’ or ‘smile at bursting shells'; but it did try to march wherever it was ordered; we were all more or less scared – and in my case it was more; we ‘dodgedi the shell on the hillside both going and returning; and all through the fight we fully realized that it was a serious business, and I have no doubt we ‘looked it.’ In a word, we fully understood that life and limb were in danger, and the fact impressed itself upon us – much as it would on anyone under like circumstances.

I desire only to add a few words from the official reports that have a bearing on the matter. Colonel W. B. Franklin of the regular army, who commanded the brigade, said:

The First Minnesota Regiment moved from its position on the left of the field to the support of Ricketts’ battery and gallantly engaged the enemy at that point. It was so near the enemy’s lines that friend and foe were for a time confused. The regiment behaved exceedingly well and finally retired from the field in good order.

I may add, without injustice to any other command, that no other regiment in the brigade or division received such high commendation, and some were directly censured.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 64 – 65 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Retreat

12 04 2012

In leaving the position in the road, we observed that everybody seemed to be going, and, in crossing a little rise of ground, we were fired on by some of the advanced skirmishers of this new force, but I do not think that there was a shot from those with whom we had been contending.

This new enemy – we then supposed – was the advance of Johnston’s forces from the Shenandoah Valley, but we have since learned that it was the last of them, under command of Kirby Smith, and that we had been fighting Johnston’s forces all day.  And that this force had got off of the cars at Gainesville and marched towards the firing at an opportune time. Without them, the story of Bull Run might have been a very different one.

After passing the rise, we were sheltered from this musketry fire, but the battery off at the right was throwing shells almost directly down the little valley.

After crossing the stream, which was neither deep nor wide, we started to go up the hill to the point where we had come in, and were again exposed to the batteries which fired on us going down. There was much haste and confusion going up the hill. It was a ‘go as you please’ until we reached the top, where we were out of the range. A hospital had been located at the Sudley Church; an effort had been made to get the wounded there; and both of the surgeons – Stewart and Le Boutillier – were there. Some of the wounded were being assisted up the hill at the time, and I helped carry Joe Garrison on a blanket a part of the way. At the same time, Corporal Schofield was being helped by some of the others of the company.

After we reached the top of the hill, I think there was but very little more firing. There were portions of a number of regiments and some batteries there, with guns in position for firing, but there did not seem to be anyone that knew just what to do. As many as possible of the regiment were assembled here, and an attempt made to find the other companies. After a little delay, we were directed to the ford across Bull Run, where we found what remained of the left wing of the regiment.

It was the first time we had seen or been in close connection with them since forming in line at the beginning of our fighting, and we now learned something of their part in the fight. It had been a terrible experience. Following Ricketts’s Battery – with the left very near the guns – they had come into line and faced the woods. At almost the same time, they saw a force coming out of the woods, and there was uncertainty as to their identity, which caused them to hold their fire – until fired upon. Almost the same time, they received fire from the batteries, which Colonel Franklin says were only about 1,000 feet away.

This was a very destructive fire – killed and wounded many men of the regiment and practically disabled the battery, as it was able to fire but a few round. The regiment returned this fire with such effect as to drive back this force, but their position was untenable on account of the enemy’s artillery. They were obliged to retire to the shelter of the hill, which position they maintained until ordered to withdraw, but – in the meantime – they took part in one or two other attempts to recover the guns. These attempts were failures – but all attempts of the enemy were also failures. If we could not remove the guns, neither could they so long as our forces remained in the shelter of the hill to protect them.

It was after we had reached the top of the hill and were nearly ready to march away, when a large force came out of the woods and charged on the deserted guns, swinging their hats and cheering. Whether these were some of the troops that had been there during the fighting – or some of those who had just come up – of course, I do not know. This was just at the time that the battery near us – Arnold’s, I think it was – limbered up to leave. I saw no other display of their infantry, except those that were coming across the fields on our right.

When we left the position on the hill, both of the surgeons remained with the wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy. This was voluntary on their part.

When we joined the regiment on the other side of the stream, we found several other regiments – or parts of regiments – there, but all were without orders. About this time, Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island joined his regiment and brought the news that our forces were retreating. It was decided by him – or someone else – to return to the bivouac at Centreville.

I do not know the time, but I judge it to have been between four and five o’clock in the afternoon. It was not far from 12 o’clock when we first came under fire. If it was four o’clock when we recrossed Bull Run, then it was probably three or later when we left the cut in the road where we did the last fighting. This is the best estimate we can make of the time, and, if correct, we were confronting the enemy – within musket range – three hours or more. If that was all, then we lived an awful long time in three hours.

When getting ready to march, Colonel Gorman offered the regiment for service as rear guard, but Governor Sprague claimed this for his regiment. This brought on a little discussion as to which was senior in rank – which involved command of the troops present. They were unable to agree, but Sprague settled it – at least to his own satisfaction – by claiming his rank as governor.

With this matter settled, we started for Centreville with the Rhode Island regiment in the rear and ours next in order. In this manner we marched until overtaken by a body of our cavalry – when we were considerably broken up by their hurriedly passing through us, obliging us to take to the sides of the road.

When we reached the main road, we found carriages, hacks, wagons, and artillery on the road, and all the moving – or trying to move – in the same direction we were, Some were stalled and some were broken down. There were frequent collisions and several wrecks, and we saw one runaway – a pair of horses attached to a hack. Of course, it was not possible to march in regular formation under such conditions, and we were too tired to attempt more than was necessary and make our way the best we could and as fast as we could. At one point, the road passed over a hill that was in range of the enemy’s artillery across Bull Run, and they were throwing shells in that direction. This added to the confusion and hurried matters, also, along that stretch of road.

It was getting dark when we reached Centreville and went to the place where we had spent Friday and Saturday nights and where some wagons had been left – with regimental and company property and some Negro cooks. I think that about one-half of those who had gone out of there that morning had returned. Not more. Where were the rest? At that time, we had no definite knowledge of the others and were anxious to learn the fate of absent ones. We sat or laid down on the ground, and for a little time there were inquiries about this and that one – when and where they had been seen last – but nature asserted herself, and it was but a few minutes before the majority were sleeping soundly.

It seemed but a moment – though it might have been an hour – when we were awakened and found a supply of coffee and crackers awaiting us. I do not know as I had realized that I was hungry, but the smell of that coffee made it evident at once. We drank an unknown quantity of the coffee, but it was not a small quantity, and we felt greatly refreshed and strengthened. We also filled our canteens. It was now quite dark and threatening rain, but we again laid down to sleep.

It was not long after this that we were again called up and told that we were to march soon. This was a surprise to us, as we expected to spend the night there. No one knew where we were to go. It was now raining a little and very dark. We had had no opportunity to recover the blankets we had piled up in the woods, and the rain and night air were chilling. I do not know what became of the blankets we left, but I have been told by a Massachusetts comrade who was in the field hospital at Sudley Church that our surgeons sent and had many of them brought in to lay the wounded on.

When we fell in, we marched down to the Warrenton Turnpike and formed on the left-hand side of the road, and we began to consider the probability of our going back. Up to that time, I do not think there was any expectation of a general retreat. I do not know who organized the order of march, but it was a pretty complicated arrangement for a dark night. In the main roadway there was a line of wagons and a line of artillery, side by side, and a line of infantry marching in fours on either side. Our regiment with others was on the left, and on the right was the Jersey Brigade, a body of troops which had not been actively engaged. I knew that the New Jersey men were on the opposite side of the road, and that there were wagons between, but it was too dark to see.

Everyone who made that terrible march knows that ‘confusion worse confounded’  was produced in large quantities that were painfully evident to all of the senses but seeing. When we started on the march, it was raining hard and so dark that you could not recognize the comrade with whom you touched elbows. It was, I judge, ten o’clock or later.

Since leaving the bivouac 20 to 22 hours before, we had marched 25 to 30 miles, under the scorching heat of the mid-summer sun, much of the way through smothering clouds of pulverized clay, which covered our clothing and filled the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and was breathed into the lungs. Added to these were the excitement and mental strain of the battle and the bitter, humiliating results: defeat and disaster. To all of these was now to be added another march of 25 miles or more. None of us – of the ranks – really knew where we were going or what distance it was intended to march. All we actually knew was that we were headed back over the road we had come, and that it was dark as Egypt and raining diligently.

When this ‘mixed multitude’ of men, mules, horses, and wheels was set in motion, the situation was intensified. Wagons collided or got off the pike into the ditch; teams balked, and drivers swore and called for assistance; we of the infantry  blundered along the sides of the road as best we could – bumping into each other and everything else bump-able – tired beyond all previous experience and in anything but an amiable frame of mind. After vain attempts to keep some kind of a formation by touch and calling each other’s names or the company letter, all efforts in that direction were given up, and we just plodded along in the pouring rain as best we could.

When the rain began to fall, it was cooling and refreshing, but – as it saturated our scant clothing and poured over us in a continuous shower-bath fresh from the clouds – it became the reverse of agreeable and added much to our discomfort. The accumulations of dust on the road became sloppy mud very quickly, and the gathering water ran in little streams across the road or along the sides and collected in the depressions. Unable to see where we should go, we waded through these – often over our shoes in water and mud. The day’s operations had left a liberal deposit of dust, sand, and gravel in our shoes, and the addition of water increase the discomfort and added to the abrasions of our tired, blistered feet.

To start on such a march, under such conditions, after the efforts of the day, was a great undertaking. While the darkness lasted, it was each man for himself. When men felt that they had gone as far as they could, they turned aside in the woods and, finding a place where they could rest against a tree or stump, went to sleep. When awakened by the pitiless, drenching rain – as soon or later they were – they roused up by sheer will power and forced their stiffened, benumbed limbs to carry them onward.

Personally, that is the way I covered the distance between Centreville and Fairfax. I did not know where I was or what the hour of the night when – after a little debate with myself – I decided to rest awhile and think the situation over. With a comrade, I went a little ways into the bushes, curled up, and went to sleep without doing any thinking.

Daylight was coming, and the rain had almost ceased, when I awoke. We heard voices and knew that men were passing. Satisfying ourselves that they were not enemies, we went back into the road – though so stiff and sore that it was with difficulty we could walk. Groups of men, here and there, had made fires and were boiling coffee, and others were moving along. Going a little ways, we found two members of the company and several more of the regiment at a fire, making coffee in their tincups and little pails. Of course, we joined them at the same occupation, realizing that we were hungry.

After drinking a pint or so of strong, hot coffee and eating crackers and salt pork, we felt refreshed and continued our march. Many groups were marching, and others were halted – cooking – and we soon found others of the company and regiment and, naturally, we kept together. We soon came to Fairfax, where we found some of the wagons and artillery. From Fairfax, we took the road to Alexandria where our tents and the detail had remained. It was nearly twelve miles, but we made the distance before noon.

Here there was found food and drink and a warm welcome from those who had kept the camp. Some had come in before us, and others arrived later. Some water to wash our begrimed faces and something to eat, and, meantime, there was a general inquiry for the missing ones. In my tent, I was so fortunate as to have left a blanket, and I had a shirt and some underclothes, but I did not stop to change then. In a very few minutes, I was sleeping. I had slept, seemingly, but a little time when I was ‘stirred up’ and told that an order had come to move.

It was now well along in the afternoon, and more of the company and regiment had come in. Tents were struck and – with all the other company material – were loaded into the wagons, and we fell in for the march – we knew not where. The rain had ceased during the day, but as night came on it was threatening again. As we passed through Alexandria, it seemed impossible that it had been but a fortnight since we first marched through the city. It seemed like months.

When we reached Fort Runyon, near the Virginia end of the Long Bridge, it was getting dark and raining hard. Here we found more of the company and regiment, and there were glad greetings for some that it was feared were dead or in the hands of the rebels. I do not mean by that that there was anything like rejoicing in the general sense of the word. We had marched out in confidence, expecting a victory, but we had suffered a defeat which had wilted our pride – very much as the great physical efforts had exhausted our strength. We were sincerely glad the price in blood was no greater.

After a short halt, we crossed the Long Bridge and marched to Pennsylvania Avenue. Here and there was another halt. It rained furiously, and the only shelter we had was an iron picket fence. We got a splendid shower-bath, but we had all we wanted of that kind.

After what seemed a long time, we were admitted to some churches for the night. Food and coffee – plenty of it – was soon brought in. It was now getting quite late, and we could take our choice of sleeping on a seat or on the floor between two seats; only, there were not seats enough for all, and some must take the floor anyway. I was too tired to be particular, and gratefully glad to find shelter from the storm anywhere, and turned in on the pulpit floor. Before retiring that night, I found an opportunity to write a few words to my mother, and I think that evening or the next morning most of the boys managed to let their people know that they were still alive.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 23, the storm had ceased, and we again occupied the camp on Seventh Street out of which we had marched on the morning of July 3. It did not seem possible that but twenty  days had elapsed since we had left it. Neither did it seem possible that the 800 depressed, ragged, mud-stained, and foot-sore men who limped into camp and began the work of pitching their tents could be the same ones who had gone out from there less than three weeks before. We were a pretty hard-looking crowd. the blow had fallen with a heavy hand, and we felt its stunning effects. Mechanically, we went to work, but the interest grew as our work progressed.

Before noon, the tents were up, most of the boys had found another shirt in their knapsacks (or washed the one they wore), taken a bath, and presented a better appearance. Tents were stretched, rations were drawn, and the sun was shining and matters began to assume brighter hue. Our clothing had been a subject of complaint before we marched, and it was much more so now, but it was the result of the battle that lay nearest our hearts.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 58 – 64 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

3 04 2012

I am not sure what time it was when we were called, but it could not have been very long after midnight. My recollection is that the moon was shining when we formed for the march. Soon after forming, it was evident that there was some hindrance to the program of arrangements – whatever it was – and, after several attempts to move on, it was learned that some other troops (Hunter’s division) were crossing our line of march – apparently from our right to our left. We – being the flanking column with nearly three times the distance to march – should have had the right of way, but we did not get it, and I have never learned why.

While waiting here, we ‘rested at will’ and there was a mingling of the boys of other companies, who were getting acquainted, and I think also some from other regiments in the brigade. I recall that there was a feeling of dissatisfaction that we had been called so much earlier than was really necessary, but there was a general feeling of determination and hopefulness. I think none of us knew at that time that we were to make a long march to turn the enemy’s right flank. If we had, ordinary common sense would have suggested that we should not have been wasting precious hours on that hillside. We were all so new to the war – and absolutely inexperienced in battle – that we had no basis for a judgment, and our opinions were only reflections of our wishes.

Just when the coming light of day began to make things distinctly visible, while talking with Charley Harris, he was accosted by William A. Croffut, who was – or recently had been – connected with a Minneapolis paper, but who was there as a representative of some paper for the occasion. After an introduction, there was a short talk with Croffut, who questioned us as to the “state of our minds” at the near-approaching hour of battle. Neither of us could truthfully affirm that we were not somewhat disturbed as to our individual safety for the day – though we both tried to consider the matter hopefully and referred lightly to what might happen. We each left a message for our friends and, in case of “an accident,” requested a complimentary obituary notice. After that we shook hands and parted.

Charley got his obituary and – as it was a little premature – lived to read it. A privilege granted to but few. The long, anxious delay had tried us. It was sometime after sunrise, possibly six o’clock, when the road was clear, and we were fairly moving, following after some other division.

We marched for some distance in the rear of other troops over a good road, the Warrenton Turnpike. Soon after crossing a small stream, Cub Run, we turned to the right on a woods road. We – the regiment – were now at the head of the column and were followed by Ricketts’s Battery. Behind the battery were the 11th Massachusetts and 5th Massachusetts, completing the brigade. The 4th Pennsylvania, being a three months’ regiment and its time being out that day, had remained at Centreville or returned to Washington. It was said of them that they “marched to the rear to the tune of the enemy’s guns,” but their colonel, Hartranft, remained – acting as an aide on the staff of Colonel Franklin.

Soon after getting on this by-road, arrangements were made to deploy the first two companies – A and F – if desirable, but it was not found necessary. Our march was now much more rapid than it had been. The day was very hot and, in the woods, on the narrow roads, exceedingly close. From these conditions and out rapid marching, we were sweating profusely, and the march was taxing the men severely. About this time, we began to hear the report of a cannon occasionally, which continued for some time and increased in frequency. This firing seemed to be to our left and rear, and we appeared to be marching away from it.

When still some distance from the ford, near Sudley Springs Church, the artillery firing was heard again and increased to quite a rapid discharge. Musketry firing was also heard. About this time, our regiment was hurried forward at the double quick, and, when we reached the crossing, we were badly winded. As soon as we reached the ford, there was a rush to get water – wading in to fill our canteens and pouring it onto our heads. Meantime there was a pretty lively artillery fire going on and intermittent musketry firing.

There was but a short halt at the ford, when we reformed and waded the stream, following the road up a little rise, and then leaving it by turning to the left into a small, open wood. The other regiments of the brigade remained – for a time – on the other side of the stream, but the battery followed us over. During this time, there was rapid firing going on, and we laid down for a few minutes in this wood.

Here we could smell the smoke and hear firing out in the field in front. Near us in this wood was the Second Rhode Island, which had been in the fight and for some reason retired into this wood. They had some of their wounded with them. While here, Frank Bachelor told some of us that he had always had a great curiosity to know how one would feel in battle, but that had all passed now. He expressed himself as “satisfied, now, that his curiosity had carried him too far.” I do not recall any other attempt at ‘jesting in the face of death’ on that occasion – though it was not uncommon as we became more familiar with war. While here, Lieutenant Minor T. Thomas climbed a tree to make and observation, and when he came down reported the enemy retreating. We stopped in this wood but a few minutes, and while here the battery – Ricketts’s – had passed to the right of wood and began firing. When we left this wood we – Company F at least – left our blankets in a pile in the woods, but I do not know by whose order. They were hot and in the way.

Coming out of this wood, the regiment was formed in ‘column of division’ and marched almost directly to the front. The first division was composed of Companies A and F, and, being small, I was the corporal on the left of the first division. As we advanced to the front – far enough to see over the brow of the hill – I got a glimpse of what was in front of us. There was a valley, half a mile or more in width, through which ran a road and a crooked stream. There were some houses, fields, orchards or groves, clumps of bushes along the stream, and wooded hills beyond the valley. There were some troops down in the valley along the road, and I think some were across the stream. I did not observe that they were firing, and I presume that they were sheltered by the hill from the rebel batteries. there were some guns of the enemy on the hill across the valley – in the edge of the wood – which were throwing shell our way, but I think they were intended for the battery to our right, which was firing in that direction.

The ridge we were on, I presume, was Buck Hill. there were several regiments along the ridge to our left which had been engaged and, I believe, had driven some of the enemy from that position.

We remained here but a very short time, and, when we moved, marched by the right flank – in fours – obliquely to the right – across the fields down the hill to a road, which we followed across the stream (Young’s Branch) for a little distance, then turned to the left into a pasture or field, marching toward the hill on which the rebel battery was situated. Coming up a little rise, we crossed the road and were ordered to form line of battle ‘on right by file into line.’ While coming across the fields and down the hill, we were subject to the fire of their artillery. But when we reached the low ground we were sheltered from it, and – at the point where we were forming – were not exposed, except to the shells bursting in the air above us.

The distance marched must have been a mile or more. A part of the time we moved at double quick, and there was considerable dodging as the shells screeched over our heads. It was a new and trying ordeal that strained the nerves and hurt our feelings, but I am not aware that any other hurt was done. The formation of the line of battle was at right angles to the direction we were marching and brought the first two companies in front of a wood and but a short distance from it. The advance was led by Company A – Captain Alexander Wilkin – and was followed immediately by Company F – Captain William Colvill – and was made without any deployment of skirmishers or advance guard.

A good many things happened in the ‘thin space of time’ we were getting into line, and I do not think that I can give them consecutively.

Just as we were beginning the movement, I heard a shouting, the thunder of hoofs, and ‘chucking’ of wheels behind us. Looking backwards, I saw the artillery coming towards us – apparently over nearly the same route we had come. The horses had their noses and tails extended, and the drivers were lying low over their necks, yelling and plying their whips. It was a splendid, thrilling sight. It was Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries racing into position – and to destruction. Judged by results, they had much better remained on the other side and fired from a safer distance, but ‘all the same’ the movement was splendidly made. Crossing the stream, they broke through the regiment before it was half formed and separated the first division from the rest of the regiment. I had only time for a glance as we hurried into line, when other things absorbed my attention, and I thought no more of the batteries until we were later taken to the left to try to recover them – then a wreck on the plateau and covered by the enemy’s guns.

Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount – at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side – as if to shield himself – but came around his head and gave himself up. There was a young man with Company A, Javan B. Irvine, who had not then enlisted, but had come along out of interest, curiosity, or some other motive, and had kept with the company up to this time. He was not armed, except a revolver, but to him Captain Wilkin gave the prisoner, instructing him to keep him safe. Irvine proved a resolute, trusty fellow, and the next day delivered his prisoner to the authorities in Washington. He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of the Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in.

The most of the regiment – except the two companies, A and F – now followed in support of the batteries. At the same time (possibly a minute earlier or later) there was a commotion in front of the two companies – in the edge of the woods and scarce a stone’s throw distant. Orders were given by Gen. Heintzelman, who had just ridden up, to “feel in the woods,” and – at almost the same instant – shots began to come from the brush,  now and then a head was seen. As quickly as possible, we turned our old smooth-bores toward the woods and fired. Then ‘things broke loose,’ and we were immediately enveloped in a dense smoke that for a little time did not permit us to see anything clearly, but bullets were hissing above our heads, and we could see red flashes through the smoke in front of us – at which we directed our fire. Our fire seemed the most effective, and, after a few volleys, the enemy retired into the woods; our firing ceased; and by someone’s order we were advanced into the woods.

It was not long after the firing began that I had a very narrow escape from serious wounds or possible death. I will first explain that our waist belts were made of ordinary harness leather and were a little less than two inches in width. They had a single hole in one end and multiple holes in the other, and were fastened with  a brass plate with hooks on the under side – and could be adjusted to the size of the person.

A bullet – coming almost directly from the front – struck my belt plate with such force as to knock the breath out of me and tumble me over. At first I am not sure that I thought of anything, but, when I did think, imagined that I was ‘done for’ and thought of everything – all mixed up. Then I heard someone – I think it was Oscar Williams – call my name. About that time, returning breath made me feel better and take a more hopeful view of the case, and I rolled over and got on to my feet. When I found that I was not killed, I was so glad that I felt first rate for a time and thought no more about it until the fighting was over.

The force if the blow was sufficient to bend and dent the plate, and left a discolored spot on the flesh as large as the palm of the hand. I have always considered this one of my narrowest escapes. It was a heavy bullet, and had lost some of its initial force, but if it had struck anywhere except on that plate (with the leather underneath it), it would have mangled and bruised and might have gone half through me. An inch or so – to the right or left – up or down – would have missed the plate, and then I would have ‘got it’ in the ‘bread basket,’ and it might have proved entirely too much for my digestion.

Lively skirmishing followed, and we were for a time separated from the other companies of the regiment. Our advance was opposed by the enemy, firing from behind trees and other protection, but we advanced in the same manner, drove them back into the woods, and captured a few prisoners – Alabamians. In advancing, we had crossed a fence and went for some distance into the woods. Meantime, though we were making a pretty lively racket ourselves, we heard very heavy firing to our left where the batteries and the rest of the regiment had gone.

We were now brought out of the woods – I suppose for the purpose of connecting with the regiment, as that would have been the natural thing to do.

Several of the boys had been hit while in the woods or at the first firing, but I do not believe that our loss was severe. Henry R. Childs, of the company, while advancing into the woods, was wounded in the head and shoulder, and was left insensible in the bushes. He afterwards ‘came to himself’ and, finding the company gone, started to follow it. Coming out of the woods to the open ground, he saw an advancing line of the enemy’s skirmishers, who ordered him to halt and fired on him, but he ran for it and managed to escape, believing – as he said – in the old adage that ‘he that fights and runs away may live to fight another day.’

Coming out of the woods at a point near where we entered, we formed in a close skirmish line and – advancing among the young pines and bushes, which were scarcely as high as our heads – we moved towards the higher ground that was on our left when we first began firing. There was cannonading going on at this time, but only a weak and irregular fire of small arms.

When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted with a sharp fire which came from the woods to the right oblique – as we could tell by the smoke, but we could see nothing but an occasional head. We answered this fire and laid down there among the little pines along the crest of the hill – loading while laying down and rising to fire. While lying on my right side – ramming a cartridge, which was lodged part way down the barrel – I had my feet crossed to hold the butt of the musket and my left knee bent – when a bullet cut through my pants and across the inside of my left knee, but did no serious damage. It was a pretty close call for a leg. An increasingly hot fire came from the woods on the right front, and a number were hit. A body of the enemy came along the fence as if to get to our right, and we retired to the shelter of the hill.

About this time, Lieut. Col. Miller came – with some of the other companies of the right wing – to our assistance., and we were formed in the road. We then joined with some other troops in an attempt to recover the guns of the batteries. It was successful on so far as it drove the enemy from the immediate vicinity of the guns, and, after suffering severe loss, we retired again to the cut in the roadway.

The wreck of the batteries was at the crest of the hill to our left, surrounded by dead men and horses. It was a position that ought not to have been taken by a battery, exposed as it was to a close fire of artillery and infantry, and, I presume, it would not have been taken if the true condition of things had been understood. The guns were at a point between the two forces and covered by the guns of both sides from sheltered positions, but neither side could maintain a position, where they were, long enough to remove them.

After our retirement to the road, there was a considerable time when matters were comparatively quiet.  Then we were advanced to meet a force of the enemy coming out of the woods to our right front, and there was more sharp fighting. We retired to the shelter of the road and soon drove them off – after which there was another period of quiet.

In all of these movements there was more or less confusion and disorder. We had not reached a stage of discipline when anything else could be reasonably expected. Especially of men under fire for the first time and subjected to severe losses. We were human, and, therefore, we were all more or less excited, confused, and uncertain as to what had been accomplished and hat more we were expected to attempt. A good many had left to care for the wounded, and others had gone to the stream to get water, for we were all suffering greatly from the heat, thirst, and exhaustion. When it is remembered that we had but little rest the night before; that the morning march of 12 miles had been a severe test to our powers of endurance; that our subsequent movements had been hurried – down hill and up – over fences and through woods;  also, that we were under the severe mental strain of battle, which is more exhausting than physical action – then our condition can be partly comprehended.

We were in a pitiable condition that under more favorable circumstances would have called for immediate relief. There did not seem to be a breath of air stirring; the early afternoon sun was shining directly into the roadway; we were sweating profusely and suffering from the heat – clothing torn and disordered – and our faces smeared with powder and dirt. We cared nothing for looks just then, but the feel of the situation was very unsatisfactory as we waited to see what was next on the program.

Sherman had not then defined war in a single brief sentence, but I heard the one important word in it uttered several times that day – suggested, no doubt, by the day’s experiences. We had read that ‘to make war was to be hungry and thirsty'; that it ‘was to suffer and to dies'; that it was ‘to obey.’ We had been trying to do all those of those things and assumed that we were getting ‘about what was coming to us’ and we naturally wondered if there was any more ‘coming.’ I think that all there realized that we had been hit pretty hard, but I do not think that any of us supposed that we were beaten. At least I recall no suggestion to that effect.

We remained for some time in this position, when we were disturbed by some cannon shots that came from the right and a little to our rear. At first we supposed it was some of our batteries that did not realize that we were so far to the front – but a little observation showed a line of battle advancing on our right flank. There was great anxiety to know if they were friends or enemies. About this time, there was a dash of cavalry coming out of a crossroad to our right, but it was repulsed before it reached us. The conviction now began to assert itself that those fellows coming in on our right were enemies and, if so, entirely too strong for us to contend with.

Lieutenant Colonel Miller was the highest officer present with that portion of the regiment, and he gave the order to retire and indicated the direction – directly to the rear.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 51 – 58 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the March

29 03 2012

On the evening of July 15 – when we had about concluded that it was all talk – we were ordered to be prepared to move at a moment’s notice. It did not take long to make all necessary preparations. The tents were to be left standing, and a detail of ten men from each company – with a complement of officers – was to remain in charge of the camp. The selection was to be made from the sick and those the least able to march. About every company had that number of sick and ailing. Each man going was to carry his canteen, haversack with three days’ rations, and his blanket, besides gun and accouterments. The blanket was rolled lengthwise, and the ends tied together, and it was carried over the left shoulder with the ends tied at the right hip. In the blanket were soap, towel, etc., and also twenty rounds of extra cartridges, which with the forty in the box made a total of sixty rounds to each man. It was all arranges that night who of the company were to remain with ‘the stuff.’ I think we all found an opportunity to write a few lines to the folks at home, informing them of the contemplated movement and saying a word of farewell.

It is almost surprising – realizing the possibilities  of death or wounds as we did – that we marched out so cheerfully the next morning to take our chances. I am quite sure that we all understood the personal risks – perhaps exaggerated them – but I think none of us thought seriously of being defeated. We seemed to feel assured of success.

There were two officers and – I feel quite sure – eighty-six enlisted men who left the camp at Alexandria for the Bull Run Campaign on the morning of July 16, 1861. There were not more and might have been less. The commissioned officers of Company F were: Captain William Colvill, First Lieutenant A. Edward Welch, and Second Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt. Non commissioned officers were: First Sergeant Martin Maginnis, Second Sergeant Hezekiah Bruce, Third Sergeant Calvin P. Clark, Fourth Sergeant Henry T. Bevans, and Fifth Sergeant Charles N. Harris. The corporals were: John Barrows, William D. Bennett, Fred E. Miller, Amos G. Schofield, Merritt G. Standish, John Williams, E. Oscar Williams, and James A. Wright. I recall that Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt was one of the officers of the guard left behind us, and I feel quite certain that Corporal John Williams was also left, as his wife was then in camp at Alexandria.

For the first time, our brigade – the First of the Third Division – was assembled as a brigade. It was composed of the Fourth Pennsylvania, the Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts, and First Minnesota. The brigade was commanded by Colonel William B. Franklin; and the division, Colonel Samuel P. Heintzelman – both of the regular army. It seems a little surprising that it had not been got together and drilled and maneuvered as a brigade and division before starting on the march, but that is not the only surprising thing about that campaign. If this had been done a few times, perhaps the brigade commanders might have been able to get more than one regiment in action at a time.

We started early, and it took some time to get fairly moving. The roads were dusty, and the day was very hot. The march was not hurried, and camp was made before night on a ridge covered with a second growth of scrub pines near Fairfax Court House.

Each man carried his rations as issued from the commissary, and they consisted of coffee, sugar, crackers, and salt pork. Each one did his own cooking while on the march, Although the cooks and wagons followed as far as Centreville, they were not with us. None of the boys were expert cooks, but all managed to make a shift at it and get something to eat. Many of the boys had provided themselves with coffee post – or small pails – to make coffee in and small frying pans to cook meat in, and found them very convenient. A ‘mess’ with a coffee pot, a frying pan, and a hatchet were pretty well fixed, and with a little experience could always prepare a meal at short notice – provided they had the necessary materials.

There had been no conflict with the enemy during the day, and we rested quietly during the night, sleeping on the ground under the pines, which sheltered us from the dew.

The next morning, Wednesday, July 17, the march was continued. There were frequent halts and delays, considerable skirmishing and some artillery firing, but no real fighting. We took no active part in these affairs, though near enough to hear them and feel a little of the excitement. One of these episodes was an attempt to capture an outpost on the railroad, which failed, as they ran off as soon as our men came in sight, leaving their dinner cooking.

We bivouacked in the bushes again that night near Sangster’s Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During these two days, we had occasionally passed a few houses near each other and, frequently, single houses in little cleared patches in the woods, but for the most of the way the country was rough and densely wooded, with pines and cedars predominating. Our division had apparently gone across the country and principally on the by-roads.

Thursday morning, the 18th, the march was continued near the railroad, and that morning our regiment led the brigade. As on the previous days, there were frequent halts as the advance felt its way. Finally, the regiment was halted in the woods at the edge of a field, while two companies – A and B, led by Lieutenant Colonel Miller – scouted some miles to the front and left. While waiting for the return of Lt. Col. Miller and his party, artillery firing began to our right and front. We were sure a great battle was being fought, while we seemed to be forgotten or lost in the brush. We could hear the distant musketry, also, occasionally.

After an hour or more, the firing gradually ceased, and about the same time the two absent companies returned – they having gone until they had discovered the enemy and retired without attacking, as they were instructed. This was the fight at Blackburn’s Ford, in which the advanced division under General Tyler was engaged. Of course, we were burning to know all about the affair, and there were many conjectures, but very little information obtainable. This was the third day out, and, although we had started with three days’ rations, we were not accustomed to taking three days’ supply at a time, and the most of us were out of food and hungry.

There had been strict orders issued against foraging, before we marched. There were also some cattle and sheep in the edge of the wood across the clearing, and the sight of these was too much for the hungry stomachs of some of the boys, and a small party went after them. They succeeded in getting some of these, which they skinned and cut up in the bushes, but in coming out they accidentally met Colonel Franklin, who at once began an inquiry.

About the same time, Colonel Gorman rode up, and, when he sensed the situation, opened on the culprits with a lively fire of cuss words, asserting that they were a lot of “born thieves” and a “disgrace to their state and to their mothers.” He brought matters to a head by requesting Colonel Franklin to let him make an example of them for the good of the regiment in the future. This was assented to by Col. Franklin, who was probably glad to have the matter taken off of his hands, and rode away. After he was gone, Col. Gorman – who looked very black and uncompromising – said, “Now, —- you, take up that meat and go to your companies, and don’t ever disgrace the regiment by getting caught in any such scrape again.”

It is perhaps needless to say that the boys were extra careful after that not to get caught. I do not think that Company F took a leading part in this affair, but there was a fair representation in the following. I saw ‘Lenghty’ wiping the blood off of his butcher knife with a bunch of leaves, and ‘Barb’ gave us a piece of sheep, which we broiled and ate with relish. I am not asserting that this was the right and proper thing to do – perhaps it was not – but we were in the enemy’s country and hungry. Right or wrong, we were doing just what has been done under like conditions since the days of David.

For the third night we slept under the skies, but instead of twinkling stars there were threatening clouds, and it rained a little that night and in the early morning. Friday the 19th, we marched to Centreville, where all of Heintzelman’s division was brought together; there were also many other troops there. What seemed to us a great army – probably 10,000 or 12,000 men – were gathered there, and more were coming. There was considerable skirmishing going on, but we took no part in it – that day or the next – and remained at the bivouac all day Saturday. It was a time of uncertainty and anxious waiting.

We could form but little opinion of how matters stood, when or where the next move would be made, but we felt assured that affairs had reached an acute stage, and that a crisis would come soon. When it did come we had no doubt that we would be ‘in it’ and share the fortunes of war with the rest, whatever they might be. After the repulse of General Tyler’s command on the 18th, some of us may have begun to feel the possibility of a defeat, but I am sure that the feeling – as to results – was one of assured confidence, no matter what might be the fate of individuals. We went to our blankets that evening knowing that we were to be aroused to march before daylight, and having no doubt but that the morrow would bring a battle. These were not pleasant thoughts to retire with, nor calculated to bring soothing reflections inviting sleep, but we did manage to put aside the wicked war and all of its attendant troubles, and slept until awakened to fall in for the march.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 48 – 51 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with MHS permission.





Reminder – Call for Stuff

9 10 2011

Just a reminder: if you have, or are aware of, any diaries, letters, memoirs, newspaper articles, &c., published or otherwise, with a Bull Run significance, send them in or let me know about them. They’re a big part of what this site is all about. I do require some sort of verification, so if you have letters or diaries of ancestors that you would like added to the record here, I’ll need as much information as you can provide, and preferably images of the original documents.

Help great-great-grandpa’s/grandma’s words live on in cyberspace and contribute to the historical record at the same time!








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