Pvt. John O. Casler, Co. A, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the March From Winchester and the Battle

25 02 2013

July 18th we marched through Winchester and took the road leading to Berry’s Ferry, on the Shenandoah river, about eighteen miles distant. The citizens were very much grieved to see us leave, for fear the enemy would be in town, as there were no troops left but a few militia and Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry.

After marching a few miles we were halted, and the Adjutant read us orders that the enemy were about to overpower General Beauregard at Manassas Junction, and we would have to make a forced march. It was General Johnston’s wish that all the men would keep in ranks and not straggle, if possible. Then we started on a quick march, marched all day and nearly all night, wading the Shenandoah river about 12 o’clock at night halted at a small village called Paris about two hours, then resumed the march about daylight, and arrived at Piedmont Station, on the Manassas Railroad.

Our brigade was in the advance on the march, and when we arrived at the station the citizens for miles around came flocking to see us, bringing us eatables of all kinds, and we fared sumptuously. There were not trains enough to transport al at once, and our regiment had to remain there until trains returned, which was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We had a regular picnic; plenty to eat, lemonade to drink, and beautiful young ladies to chat with. We finally got aboard, bade the ladies a long farewell, and went flying down the road, arriving at the junction in the night.

The next day, the 20th of July, we marched about four miles down Bull Run, to where General Beauregard had engaged the enemy on the 18th, and repulsed their advance. There we joined our brigade. We lay on our arms all night. We tore all the feathers out of our hats, because we heard the Yanks had feathers in theirs, and we might be fired on by mistake, as our company was the only one that had black plumes in their hats. We could hear pickets firing at intervals, and did not know what minute we would be rushed into action.

My particular friend and messmate, William I. Blue, and myself lay down together, throwing a blanket over us, and talked concerning our probable fate the next day. We had been in line of battle several times, and had heard many false alarms, but we all knew there was no false alarm this time; that the two armies lay facing each other, and that a big battle would be fought the next day; that we were on the eve of experiencing the realities of war in its most horrible form – brother against brother, father against son, kindred against kindred, and our own country torn to pieces by civil war.

While lying thus, being nearly asleep, he roused me up and said that he wanted to make a bargain with me, which was, if either of us got killed the next day the one who survived should see the other buried, if we kept possession of the battle-field.

I told him I would certainly do that, and we pledged ourselves accordingly. I then remarked that perhaps we would escape unhurt or wounded. He said: “No, I don’t want to be wounded. If I am shot at all I want to be shot right through the heart.”

During the night we heard a gun fired on the left of the regiment and I got up and walked down the line to see what had happened. I found one of the men had shot himself through the foot, supposed to have been done intentionally, to keep out of the fight, but the poor fellow made a miscalculation as to  where his toes were, and held the muzzle of the gun too far up and blew off about half of his foot, so it had to be amputated.

July 21st dawned clear and bright (and for the last time on many a poor soldier), and with it the sharpshooters in front commenced skirmishing. We were ordered to “fall in,” and were marched up the run about four miles, and then ordered back to “Blackburn’s Ford.” Our company and the “Hardy Greys” were thrown out as skirmishers, opposite the ford, in a skirt of woods commanding a full view of the ford, and ordered to fire on the enemy if they attempted to cross the run. While we were lying in that position heavy firing was heard on our left, both infantry and artillery. In a few moments we were ordered from there to join the regiment, and went “double quick” up the run to where the fighting was going on. The balance of the brigade was in line of battle behind the brow of a small ridge. We were halted at the foot of this ridge and Colonel Cummings told us that it was General Jackson’s command that our regiment should depend principally on the bayonet that day, as it was a musket regiment.

Some of the boys were very keen for a fight, and while we were down in the run they were afraid it would be over before we got into it. One in particular, Thomas McGraw, was very anxious to get a shot at the “bluecoats,” and when the Colonel read us the order about the bayonet I asked Tom how he liked that part of the programme. He said that was closer quarters than he anticipated.

Our regiment marched up the hill and formed “left in front,” on the left of the brigade, and on the entire left of our army. As we passed by the other regiments the shells were bursting and cutting down the pines all around us, and we were shaking hands and bidding farewell to those we were acquainted with, knowing that in a few moments many of us would be stretched lifeless on the field.

At this time our troops were falling back, but in good order, fighting every inch of the way, but were being overpowered and flanked by superior numbers. They were the 2d Mississippi and Colonel Evans’ 4th Alabama Regiments, General Bee’s South Carolina Brigade, Colonel Bartow’s 7th and 8th Georgia Regiments, Major Wheat’s Battalion (called the Louisiana Tigers), and Imboden’s Battery. They had resisted the main portion of the “Federal Army” and had done all that men could do, and had lost severely, but were still holding the enemy in check while we were forming.

It was there at this moment that General Jackson received the name of “Stonewall,” and the brigade the ever memorable name of “Stonewall Brigade.” General Barnard E. Bee, riding up to General Jackson, who sat on his horse calm and unmoved, though severely wounded in the hand, exclaimed in a voice of anguish: “General, they are beating us back!”

Turning to General Bee, he said calmly: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet.”

Hastening back to his men, General Bee cried enthusiastically, as he pointed to Jackson: “Look yonder! There is Jackson and his brigade standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer. Rally behind them!”

They passed  through our brigade and formed in the rear. I knew they were South Carolinians by the “Palmetto tree” on their caps. General Bee and Colonel Bartow fell, mortally wounded. The enemy, flushed with victory, pushed on, never dreaming what was lying just beyond the brow of the hill in the pines. There seemed to be a lull in the firing just at this time, and Sergeant James P. Daily, of my company, walked up to the brow of the hill, but soon returned with the exclamation: “Boys, there is the prettiest sight from the top of the hill you ever saw; they are coming up on the other side in four ranks, and all dressed in red!”

When we heard that, I, with several others, jumped up and started to see, but Colonel Cummings ordered us to “stay in ranks,” and Daily remarked: “We will see them soon enough.” Sure enough, in a few seconds the head of the column made its appearance, with three officers on horseback in front, and marching by the flank, with the intention of flanking one of our batteries – the Rockbridge Artillery, Captain W. N. Pendleton. In a few minutes they spied us lying there, and I heard one of the officers say: “Hello! what men are these?” At that moment some of our men who, evidently, had the “buck fever,” commenced, without orders, firing some scattering shots. The enemy then poured a volley into us, but as we were lying down the balls went over our heads, harmless.

That morning we had been given a signal to use in time of battle, to distinguish friend from foe, which was to throw the right hand to the forward, palm outward, and say, “Sumter.” When this regiment (which was the 14th Brooklyn, N. Y.), appeared in view Colonel Cummings gave the signal, and it was returned by one of the officers, but how they got it was a mystery. So, when the scattering shots were fired by some of our regiment, Colonel Cummings exclaimed: “Cease firing, you are firing on friends!” and the volley came from them at the same time, and I know I remarked, “Friends, hell! That looks like it.”

Colonel Cummings, seeing his mistake, and also seeing a battery of artillery taking position and unlimbering, in close proximity and in a place where it could enfilade our troops, determined to capture it before it could do any damage. I don’t think he had any orders from any superior officer, but took the responsibility on himself. Then came the command: “Attention! Forward march! Charge bayonets! Double quick!” and away we went, sweeping everything before us; but the enemy broke and fled.

We were soon in possession of the guns, killed nearly all the horses, and a great portion of the men were killed and wounded; and we were none too soon, for one minute more and four guns would have belched forth into our ranks, carrying death and destruction, and perhaps have been able to have held their position. As it was, the guns were rendered useless, and were not used any more that day, all though we had to give them up temporarily.

We were halted, and one of my company, Thomas Furlough, who had belonged to the artillery in the Mexican war, threw down his musket and said: “Boys, let’s turn the guns on them.” That was the last sentence that ever passed his lips, for just then he was shot dead.

While this was going on, the enemy were throwing a force on our left flank in the pines, and commenced pouring it into us from the front and an enfilading fire from the flank, and were cutting us to pieces, when we were ordered back, and halted at our first position.

Then we were reinforced by the 49th Virginia and the 6th North Carolina Regiments, commanded by Colonel Chas. F. Fisher (who was killed a few minutes afterwards) and “Extra Billy” Smith. This mad our line longer, and we were ordered to charge again. The charge of Jackson’s men was terrific. The enemy were swept before them like chaff before a whirlwind. Nothing could resist their impetuosity. The men seem to have caught the dauntless spirit and determined will of their heroic commander, and nothing could stay them in their onward course. The 33d Virginia, in its timely charge, saved the day by capturing and disabling Griffin’s battery, altho’ they could not hold it just then. The name won that day by the brigade and its General is immortal.

In this action our regiment (the 33d Virginia), being on the extreme left, was alone, the balance of the brigade not charging until later, and we were terribly cut up and had to fall back. General Jackson said he could afford to sacrifice one regiment to save the day; and it was the first check and first repulse the enemy had received, and during the remainder of the day the battle turned in favor of the Confederates.

We did not follow them far, for fresh troops were coming in all the time, and we had lost severely, and were considerably demoralized. I then took a stroll over the battlefield, to see who of my comrades were dead or wounded, and saw my friend, William I. Blue, lying on his face, dead. I turned him over to see where he was shot. He must have been shot through the heart, the place where he wanted to be shot, if shot at all. He must have been killed instantly, for hs was in the act of loading his gun. One hand was grasped around his gun, in the other he held a cartridge, with one end of it in his mouth, in the act of tearing it off. I sat down by him and took a hearty cry, and then, thinks I, “It does not look well for a soldier to cry,” but I could not help it. I then stuck his gun in the ground by his side, marked his name, company and regiment on a piece of paper, pinned it on his breast, and went off.

I then saw three field officers a short distance from me looking through a field glass. I very deliberately walked up to them and asked them to let me look through it, and one of them handed it to me. When looking through it I saw, about two miles off, what I took to be about 10,000 of the enemy. The field appeared to be black with them. I returned the glass, saying: “My God! have we all of them to fight yet?” Just at that moment “Pendleton’s Battery” turned their guns on them and I saw the first shell strike in the field. I don’t think it was five minutes until the field was vacant. I felt considerably relieved. I had had enough of fighting that day. We had gained a great victory. The enemy were completely routed and panic-stricken, and never halted until they arrived at Alexandria and Washington.

My company only numbered fifty-five, rank and file, when we went into service, but, ,so many having the measles and other ailments, we went into the fight with only twenty-seven men, and out of that number we lost five killed and six wounded. The killed were William I. Blue, Thomas Furlough, James Adams, John W. Marker and Amos Hollenback. The wounded were Sergeant William Montgomery, John Reinhart, Robert C. Grace, Edward Allen, A. A. Young and Joseph Cadwallader.

The regiment went right into action with about 450 men, and lost forty-three killed and 140 wounded. Our regiment fought the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves and the 1st Michigan, which poured a deadly volley into us. While we were engaged in front, Colonel Cummings ordered the regiment to fall back three times before they did so. All the troops engaged suffered more or less, but the loss of the 33d Virginia was greater than that of any regiment on either side, as the statistics will show, and it was the smallest regiment, not being full and not numbered.

We worked nearly all night taking care of the wounded, for nearly all of the enemy’s wounded were left in our hands. I took a short sleep on the battle-field. The next day was rainy and muddy. The regiment was ordered to “fall in,” but not knowing where they were going, I did not want to leave until I had buried my friend, according to promise. When they had marched off I hid behind a wagon, and Sergeant Daily, seeing me, ordered me to come on. I told him never would I leave that field until I had buried my friend, unless I was put under arrest. He then left me, and I looked around for some tools to dig a grave. I found an old hoe and spade, and commenced digging the grave under an apple tree in an orchard near the “Henry house.”

While I was at work a Georgian came to me and wanted the tools as soon as I was done with them. He said he wanted to bury his brother, and asked if I was burying a brother.

“No,” I replied, “but dear as a brother.”

“As you have no one to help you,” he said, “and I have no one to help me, suppose we dig the grave large enough for both, and we can help one another carry them here.”

“All right,” I said, “but I want to bury my friend near the tree, for, perhaps his father will come after him.”

So we buried them that way and gathered up some old shingles to put over the bodies, and a piece of plank between them. Then I rudely carved the name on the tree.

Captain William Lee, who was acting Lieutenant Colonel, was killed, and our Sergeant Major, Randolph Barton, a cadet from the Virginia Military Institute, was severely wounded.

That evening there was a detail made from each company to bury the dead, and we buried all alike, friend and foe, and this ended the first battle of “Bull Run,” and the first big battle of the war.

There is no doubt but that the timely charge of the 33d Virginia turned the tide of battle and saved the day for the Confederates. Colonel Cummings took the responsibility upon himself and ordered the charge just in the nick of time, for in five minutes’ time the Federals would have had their battery in position and would have had an enfilading fire on the brigade and Pendleton’s Battery, and made their position untenable. I herewith append a letter from Colonel Cummings, and one from Captain Randolph Barton, which bear me out in my statement, and more fully explain the situation and results. Also one that I had written to my parents three days after the battle, and which is still preserved.

Cummings Letter

Barton Letter

Casler Letter

James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 21-33





Lt. George Campbell Brown, Aide-de-camp to R. S. Ewell, On the Battle

23 02 2013

I joined a company raised near Spring Hill & even before its organization we experienced the evils of the elective system of officering troops. Every post from Captain to Corporal was elective – & after some intriguing & squabbling we split into two companies – one, under my cousin Capt. G. W. Campbell, Jr. joining the 1st Tenn. Regt. (Maney’s), the other under Capt. (afterwards Major) N. F. Cheairs joining the 3d Tenn. (Jno. C Brown’s).

When I had been in Camp Cheatham about a month, I was sent home with a severe acute rheumatism of both knees, and by the advice of my physician (who assured me I would not be fit for duty in the infantry for six months) resigned my position as 1st Lieutenant & accepted the offer just afterwards made me by Genl R. S. Ewell of A. D. C. of his Staff. I secured a horse after some difficulty & started him for Manassas Junction under charge of my Mother’s carriage driver Robert, who went as my servant. Went on in the passenger trains myself & reached the Junction on the 19th July, two days before the Battle of Manassas. I recollect the despair which came over me when I heard Genl E’s Hd. Qrs. were at Union Mills, 5 miles off, as I thought of my big trunk. But I left it at the station & started down the R. Rd. lined with tents & troops & of course covered with filth in consequence. Pretty soon a young man of affable address caught up with me, bringing with him two others that I soon found out were under his guard as it gradually dawned on me that I was too. It turned out that his Lieut. had charged him to keep special watch on me as I might be a spy.

In honor of my supposed rank, I was carried direct to Genl Ewell’s Hd. Qrs., one of the men with me being dismissed at his Regts Camp, the other’s convenience postponed to mine. On the way I nearly lost the confidence of my guard and felt quite like an imposter myself. We met a group of a half-dozen plainly-dressed riders going at a gallop towards the Junction. “There goes Genl Ewell, now,” said the guard. I was forced to confess that I had not recognized him. We found only Lt. Taliaferro present at Hd. Qrs. – a gawky, good-natured freckled young “Plebe” from West Point, but who, in my humbled condition, seemed then to me most majestic & terrific in his military power & of almost incredible affability & condescension, seeing that he welcomed me quite like an equal. He gave the guard a receipt for me & we sat together in the small shade the quarters afforded until Genl E. retd. in about an hour – a medium=sized & plain man, with well-shaped, spare figure & face much emaciated by recent sickness but indicative of much character & genius. I had not seen him for eight years & found it not easy to recall his features. He had evidently changed much by exposure & bad health.

That night he told me Genl Beauregard expected a fight on the morrow. I must not forget his first greeting to me – a characteristic one. Seeing him busy in giving orders when he first came up, I kept my seat waiting to make myself known till he should be at leisure. Talieferro went up to him & told him I had come. He immediately came & shook hands saying, “Well, Campbell, I am sorry you have come.” Thinking he meant that he had mean time appointed another officer on his staff, I faltered out that I was too, if it embarrassed him in any way. He laughed & said that he meant we would probably have a fight the next day – that he had hoped I would stay away long enough to miss it but as I was here, it could not be helped. Next day he lent me a horse (he had then but two) which on the 21st I, in my “zeal without knowledge” rode nearly to death.

Early on the morning of the 20th, it was known that McDowell might attack at any time & the nerves of all were strained to their highest tension, listening for the beginning of the conflict. A Lieut. Clendening of Alabama (6th Ala. I think) was on duty at a picket post 3 miles below Union Mills, and before we had got fairly ready to move, came rushing to Hd. Qrs. pale & breathless with excitement (not fear) to report that the enemy had thrown a bridge across Bull Run from the side of the steep hill opposite & were crossing a heavy force of all arms over it. He described it minutely – said that the hill was steep & they had two bridges, one above the other (thus [sketch not included]) and were then crossing rapidly. He had seen infantry and artillery, and an officer on a fine white horse had made a special impression upon him. “What had become of his picket?” He had forgotten it entirely and feared it was cut off – had gone beyond it with a field-glass and seeing the bridge & enemy not over a hundred yards from him had rushed to Hd. Qrs. to tell of them.

Not believing his story, of which the details were almost incredible, Gen, Ewell mounted him on a courier’s horse & sent him with R. F. Mason (afterwards Maj. & A.Q.M. on Ewell’s & Fitz Lee’s Staff) to find the picket & point out the bridge. The picket knew of no enemy – but Clendening with a confident air carried Mason to the stream & pointed out the bridges. He showed the troops crossing – called on Mason to listen to the rumble of artillery – and to look at the man on the white horse who sat at the end of the bridge, directing the movement. It was a pure figment of his heated brain! Mason returned with him to Hd. Qrs. & by way of corroboration brought a member of the picket. Clendening denied nothing. He had seemed much abashed when they proved him mistaken about the bridge – but said he really thought it was there. Je was placed under arrest & the affair investigated. Luckily for him, Gen. Ewell sent for his Colonel, Captain &c, & found out his character. He never drank – was plainly sober – & showed intense mortification at his error. There was insanity in his family – but not much – and it was finally determined, upon consultation with medical men, that hard living & mental excitement had produced temporary insanity. He was released & advised to resign – did so & went home, intensely grateful to Gen. Ewell. He was a man of high personal character. A drunkard or habitual liar would have been shot, or tried by a drum-head Court, at least. His false report had been communicated to Gen. Beauregard by courier, & though instantly contradicted (i.e. in half an hour) might have caused a serious delay or change in the movements of the whole army.

Our brigade consisted of the 5th Alabama, Col. Rodes, the 6th Alabama (12 companies), Col. Seibles & the 6th Louisiana, Col. Seymour, with four pieces of the Washington Arty. (brass 7. pdrs., & 12 pdr, howitzers) under a Capt. T. L. Rosser, & three (or four) Cavalry Companies under Lt. Col. Walter Jenifer. Rodes (killed as Major General) was already prominent, being much commended for his conduct on the retreat from Fairfax Station & Sangster’s X-roads, to the present position. His Lt. Col. (Jones) & Major (Morgan, afterwards Brig. Gen’l. of Cavy. in the West – Alabama or Tennessee) were good officers. Seibles was a tall blustering politician, out of his element – his Lt. Col. (Baker) a mere cipher. Both resigned without reaching a higher rank. His Major (Jno. B. Gordon) commanded a Georgia Brigade & came out of the war a Lieutenant General. Poor old Seymour was killed in temporary command of Taylor’s Brigade at Cold Harbor – a brave gentleman but inefficient, slow officer. His Lieut. Co., a turbulent fellow, staid away from the Reg’t a good deal, I was told, & was thrown over at the reorganization. Major James resigned in August or Sept. from a quarrel with the Lieut Col. whose very name I forget. James was sensible – I know nothing of his soldierly qualities.

Rosser ended the war as Major General of Cavalry – Jenifer as nominated Lieut. Col. of same. Jenifer was worthless as an officer – a great dandy but small man.

The three infantry regiments had over 2500 men for duty. Seibles had some 1360 on his rolls – the others about 250 less, each. The Cavy. was about 300 men – & the “Governor’s Mounted Guard” & “Goochland Troop” were very fine men & unusually intelligent. The other Companies I forget. The Governor’s Guard were composed of young gentlemen from Richmond – & had as privates, Warwicks, Haxales, Strothers, Allans, &c. The Goochlanders were of nearly similar material.

It seems now ludicrous, yet very sad, to recall how eagerly we all looked forward to our first fight. Roser kept his battery continually unlimbered, ready for action, posted on a high hill just above the RRd. bridge & ford at Union Mills. Seible’s reg’t covered the side of the hill above & below the ford, sheltered in rifle-pits & behind large rocks that lay thick on the hillside. Rodes was very strongly & skilfully posted (I remember Gen’l. Ewell’s praising his works for their engineering skill displayed) below the RRd. bridge – & Seymour above the bridge – each of them with part in reserve.

Holmes’ brigade from Fredericksburg had come up on the afternoon of the 19th or morning of the 20th & was in reserve at [?] house, a mile & a half in our rear. Holmes ranked Genl Ewell – hence a blunder on the 21st.

Genl Ewell’s staff then consisted of 1. Col. Humphrey Tyler, almost always drunk – ordered to him from Richmond. 2. Lt. (Cadet) John Taliaferro, son of “Farmer John” of Orange Co. – brave & willing but young & stupid. 3. Capt. (afterwards Maj Genl) Fitz Lee, assigned to him by mutual request – very valuable & efficient. 4. Capt. (afterwards A.Q.M.) Rhodes – willing & quick – did not stay long with him, being ordered to Richmond at his own request. 5. R. F. Mason (afterwards Maj. & A.Q.M.) energetic & efficient as a scout & cool & brave – not useful except on the field. 6. C. Brown – No Qr Mr or Commy – no Brigade Surgeon – till late in the fall. A. M. Hudnut of Richmond acted as Clerk at this time & until October.

21st July – First Manassas. The night before this, Gen. Ewell sitting, for want of chairs, in his half-empty trunk – I, in front of him on a pallet – told me we would probably fight next morning – & to be ready to ride by daylight. I was – and thew whole command lay ready under arms till 8 A.M. listening from before sunrise to the fire of the guns at Stone Bridge & in front of Mitchell’s Ford. At [?] an order came from Genl Beauregard to be in readiness to move & at [?] after waiting for the expected orders to advance till uneasy Genl Ewell sent for further instructions. I here insert the correspondence bearing on this affair, so misunderstood at the time – & by at least one person, so wantonly misrepresented – viz. the correspondent of the “Columbus (Ga.) Sun” – who insinuated a charge of treason against Genl Ewell – but apologized & retracted when called on to give authority for his statements. Genl Beauregard gave Genl Ewell full permission to publish his (Genl B.’s) letter in his own defense – but presently wrote to him, begging him to wait for the publication of his (Beauregard’s) official report, which would fully & satisfactorily explain the matter. Genl Ewell did so wait – but when the report came out its way of stating the affair was so vague & unsatisfactory that he was greatly disgusted, seeing the probability that nine out of ten who read it would still impute blame to him when in fact it belonged to Beauregard. It seems hard to believe the most important order of the day, seeing that it was to move the wheeling & guiding flank of a body of twelve or fourteen thousand troops, by a courier. Still more so that the name even of the courier should be unknown – & that having sent he should wait – within fifteen minutes ride of the camp of those troops for several hours, waiting to know why they did not execute his orders & neither go himself nor send a Staff Officer moreover a courier to see to their execution. But so it was – and in the eyes of some at least in our Brigade, Beauregard was great no longer.

As I find on examining my pages that the correspondence I spoke of is not among them I leave a space for it & proceed. Genl Ewell, being aware of the original programme of Genl Beauregard, uneasy at getting no orders sent to Genl Holmes to ask if he had any, & finding he had none, took the responsibility on himself of moving across Bull Run on the road towards Centreville, sending a Staff Officer to inform Genl Beauregard of what he had done – and sending word to D. R. Jones on his left – Genl Holmes promised to follow him & started to do so. But I omit a very important link. When Genl E. first sent to Holmes, he sent als to D. R. Jones on his left, who returned a copy of a dispatch stating that “Ewell was ordered to cross Bull Run and move on Centreville & directing him (Jones) to conform to the movement as soon as notified by Ewell that it had begun.” This is the substance of the communication – & on this were based the subsequent movements of Ewell & Holmes.

We crossed Bull Run at Union Mills Ford – the 6th La. only using th R. Rd. bridge. Halting on the hill beyond the stream to form and close up, we moved in column on the Centreville Road – Rodes in advance, then the Art’y – then Seibles – then Seymour. But we had barely gone a mile & a half, when Capt. Rhodes, who had gone to Genl Beauregard, returned in hot haste to discontinue the movement. The order that he brought is indelibly engraved in my memory, from its peculiar phraseology. It was in the form of a circular & ran thus: “On account of the difficulties of the ground in their front the troops will resume their former positions.” It was dated 10 1/2 A.M. & signed by Beauregard. It was some time afterwards before I fully appreciated that the “difficulties” were the Yankees whom D. R. Jones attacked at McLean’s Ford. He ran up against them as stupidly as if he were blindfolded – and got run off in a minute. But I suppose the real reason of our recall was the state of affairs on the left, but that Beauregard for some reason felt it better to give a false excuse than none at all – perhaps for fear of disheartening the men.

At any rate we went back to our little house on the hill side & the troops to their bivouacs – and waited through the long July day with only an occasional flutter of couriers or Staff, listening to the distant & heavy firing, as only those can listen who hear the noise for the first time – with nerves at such a high tension that every moment we seemed to hear the guns come nearer & nearer. We gradually learned the state of affairs – that the struggle was to be decided on the left, seven miles away – and we began to comprehend that only in case of our defeat or as a forlorn-hope to prevent it, could we expect to share in the combat. Yet when after three P.M. the order to move was brought by Capt. Rhodes or Capt. Lee (I’m not certain which) with a face very firm but far from exultant – we moved with enthusiasm and perfect confidence. The change of direction put the 6th La. in advance & the men, mostly hardy Irishmen, outfooted the less robust soldiers of the Ala. Regts. so much that we had twice to stop & wait for them. The day was excessively hot & dusty – yet those Irish marched over four miles an hour – but we did not reach the field soon enough to do more than take a look at the rear of the enemy hurrying across Bull Run a mile above the Stone Bridge & cheer Johnston & Beauregard & Davis as they rode past us.

In less than half an hour a rumor came to Genl Beauregard that a force of the enemy were crossing at Union Mills. Not even fully understanding the completeness of his victory, he at once ordered our troops to return there & if we found no enemy to encamp for the night on our old ground. We did so – and our share in the first Manassas consisted of a march two miles to the front and back – and another seven miles to the left and ditto – the only fire we were under being that of two rifled guns opposite Mitchell’s Ford which shelled the road we were on as we passed, but being three miles away, hit nobody.

Next day passed with a rain that became heavier til near noon – then slackened – & Jno. Taliaferro who had heard that his brother was wounded had gone to see him having brought back a wonderful account of the battle-field I begged leave to go see it – and with a courier named Bruce, rode over it. One Yankee, with his head blown clean off by a round shot & only the chin left with a short black beard on it, giving it a peculiar appearance of Beastliness (in its literal sense), made on me the impression, scarce effaced by subsequent horrible sights, of being the most horrible corpse imaginable. Another I remember with a rifle ball quite through both hips from side to side, who was lying in a branch into which he had evidently crawled hoping to ease his pain. Most of the wounded had been removed but we found one poor fellow mortally hurt, on an out-of-the-way hillside, covered with two or three oil-cloths by some charitable hand, but so helpless that he had not been able to cover his head & one ear was quite full of water from the rain. Bruce lifted his head, wiped out the water and gave him some whisky, or apple brandy, from his canteen – & we received for it a warm blessing from the poor Irish boy – very likely his last words to any human being, though we sent two of the ambulance corps to take him to hospital. I remember being surprised to find so few dead as I saw & learning afterwards that many had been buried & that I had not seen quite a large part of the field – though I was where the hardest fighting took place – near the Henry house.

A few days later we crossed Bull Run & took up our camp on the waters of Pope’s Head Run near its mouth. Here we lay quiet for two nor three months. No special events occurred, except that Capt. Rhodes left the staff for Richmond to become A.Q.M – and Major James resigned from the 6th La. because of his quarrel with Lt. Col. (whom I never saw to my knowledge) & was reappointed in the Engineers. Mr. (afterwards Major) B. H. Greene of Miss here joined us, as volunteer aid to Genl Ewell. My servant Robert, who had been first our cook & then our driver at home, cooked for the mess – & we catered by turns – living pretty well. Humphrey Taylor, who was really all the time in the “biled owl” stage of drunkenness, and had a remarkable faculty, that had once or twice deceived Genl Ewell, of listening with apparent attention & deep gravity to any orders given him & replying mechanically: “Yes, Sir, Very well. It shall be done at once, Sir – ” while all the time stupid, blind drunk – he, say, had been sent to Manassas Junction on the 21st, to find Genl Beauregard – had got drunk & never been heard of till I passed him on the afternoon of the 22d in a sutlers tent talking to an Indian, or a mulatto, woman who kept it – and the next we knew of him was a publication in a Federal paper giving the news of his capture at Cincinnati in an attempt, doubtless inspired by bourbon, to bring his wife away into our lines. I have never met him since though we exchanged for him late in the war. He was never of any use to the C.S. and I was surprised that they exchanged him, considering the circumstances of his capture – & that he brought it on himself.

Terry L. Jones, Ed, Campbell Brown’s Civil War: With Ewell and the Army of Northern Virginia, pp. 20-33





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.








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