Surgeon Charles W. Le Boutillier, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle and Captivity

27 11 2012

Dr. C. W. Le Boutillier’s Account of the Battle of Bull Run.

Immediately after our arrival at Bull Run, (near Sudley’s Church,) or a short time before the fight commenced between Heintzelman’s command and the enemy, a consultation was had between Surgeon Stewart and myself. He informed me that it was desired that I should go with the regiment and that he would soon follow with the ambulances. I followed, accompanied by Oscar Sears and twenty of our musicians who had been detailed by Col. Gorman to assist in taking care of the wounded.

A few minutes before we became engaged in action, I requested Chaplain Neill, (who was gallantly marching up with the regiment) to go back and “hurry” up the ambulances, and also to have some litters sent up to us. He want, and soon returned with two litters, bringing one himself upon his own back, and informed me that he had delivered the message.

We soon became engaged with the enemy, and at the first fire had about twenty killed and about thirty wounded.

The second fire produced about the same effect; and was nearly as fatal to us.

All the men detailed to assist us, left after the first fire; leaving Mr. Neill, Oscar Sears and myself alone to attend the wounded. For half an hour or more, we had our hands full.

We examined almost all the wounded (with the exception of those who walked away from the field) and carried them to a place of comparative safety, and dressed their wounds when necessary. It must be remembered that we also had to attend to very many of the wounded Zouaves who had been left on the field, deserted by their commanders. Four or five of our wounded were killed by the bursting of a shell in their midst after we had left them.

After attending to those who were wounded at the first two fires from the enemy, we had little to do except occasionally to visit the sufferers and furnish them with water and stimulants, a supply of which Oscar Sears (the acting Steward) had brought for that purpose.

During the fight, the brave little Sears never deserted me. He was always on hand, and discharged his duties gallantly and like a true soldier. Soon after the second fire of the enemy, they were repulsed and fell back from their position in front of our regiment. From that time until the retreat was ordered the regiment was divided into small squads, skirmishing about in the woods.

The first fighting was about 11 1-2 A. M. The retreat began about 4 1-2 P. M.

After the regiment was ordered to retreat, Oscar and I stayed with our wounded upon the battleground, for half an hour, still hoping the ambulances would arrive. I have been informed by Dr. Stewart since my return to Minnesota, that the Medical Director ordered him to take them upon the battle field. The enemy then came up and drove us away. Had the ambulances arrived even as late as four o’clock, our wounded, or the greater portion of them, might have been removed toe Centreville, and thence to Washington.

On leaving the field, Oscar and myself, were separated. I walked towards a house which I thought looked like a hospital, and on reaching it found I was not mistaken. I there met Drs. Powell and Furguson of the 2d New York and entered into conversation with them. I scarcely had been talking with them five minutes when a squadron of cavalry numbering about 50 men, charged upon us, surrounded the yard and house, and although we exhibited our green sashes and informed them that we were surgeons and that the building was a hospital, they fired upon us – emptied every gun they had in their hands, – screaming all the while, “shoot the d—-d sons of b—–s.”

They killed three of the wounded – two Northerners and a Georgian who were lying on the ground in front of the house under a locust tree. They also shot the brave Furguson in the left leg, fracturing both bones. They immediately began to load again, and we believing that it was their intention to murder us, rushed into the house and determined to defend ourselves. There were about ten or twelve privates who had assisted the wounded to this place, who had retained their arms. They fired upon the enemy from the doors and windows, killing their captain and four privates and put the whole to flight.

This captain it seems was a lawyer residing a few miles from Petersburg, Virginia.

As soon as they had left, Dr. Furguson was placed, with two others, into an ambulance, and we started for Sudley’s church or Bull Run, but were soon surrounded by 200 or 300 of the F. F. V., or black horse cavalry, who riddled our ambulances with bullets. They then ordered us to follow them, and we were taken to Manassas Junction. We earnestly begged them to permit us to stay with the wounded, who we knew were on the field of battle, but they informed us we must first see the General Commanding.

We arrived at Manassas Junction at nine or ten o’clock, P. M., and were immediately sent into the hospitals, that were then being prepared for the reception of the wounded.

We worked all night. Next morning we were waited upon by an aid of General Beauregard who presented us with a written parole which we refused to sign on the following grounds: 1st. That Surgeons who voluntarily remained on the battle field were never made or retained as prisoners of war.

2d. That the parole was not even such a one as is generally given to prisoners of war, as there was no provision in it for a release from the parole or an exchange.

After further consultation we concluded not to sign any parole, and informed them of our decision, and told them that if the wounded were neglected, the responsibility would fall upon them. Shortly afterwards we were taken before Gen. Beauregard who heard our reasons for refusing the parole. He then informed us that he would put us on verbal parole that we would not escape. We then returned to our respective duties. Out of 28 Surgeons, only five signed the parole. However it is proper to say that the Secretary of War (Walker) did not insist upon the original parole given to these surgeons and gave the regular parole.

We stayed at Manassas two days, when we were informed that they desired us to go to Richmond to prepare hospitals for our wounded. On our arrival at Richmond we were set to work to cleanse two large five story brick tobacco factories for that purpose.

In a few days our wounded began to arrive, and we continued to receive them until both buildings were completely filled.

The poor fellows were brought to us in a most shocking condition. They had been thrown into cattle cars, without straw or hay for bedding – those with broken and amputated limbs must have suffered most terribly. The fractured limbs had not been placed in splints in the majority of cases, and the bones generally had worked their way through the wound and protruded through. The cases of amputation was still worse. The sutures had cut through the flesh leaving the muscles and bones bare, and the majority of wounds were alive with maggots – almost every case of amputation resulted fatally.

The wounded at Richmond were not furnished with any blankets or clothing, and very little medicine – a few cots were furnished for the worst cases. There was at one time one hundred and twenty cases of fever in the hospital under my charge, and three fourths of them had to lie on the bare floor.

The wounded were furnished with bread and fresh meat, and occasionally rice and a few vegetables. Only for the timely aid of kind friends whom we met in the city, the poor fellows would have suffered far worse. The guards have positive orders that in case any one “poked his head out of the window, to shoot him.” Nothing was permitted to be carried into the hospital without a specific order from Gen. Winder – the Commander at Richmond.

The other prisoners were still worse treated. They were incarcerated in the same class of buildings, (Tobacco Factories) say two hundred and fifty on each floor. There was only one water closet connected with a building containing at least six hundred prisoners, and only two were permitted to go to it at a time. There were among the prisoners whole families of Western Virginians, some of whom must have been 70 years of age.

The officers, about 80 in number, were on a floor about 60 feet in length by 20, and were not furnished with anything but the common food given to the other prisoners – a great many of them had nothing but the bare boards for a bed during my stay there. They were not permitted to look out of the windows and a few were shot at, and wounded for disobeying the order – and a number of our wounded were shot at for unintentionally disobeying the same order. Sergeant Harris of the Minnesota Regiment, came near being killed under those circumstances. The officers, especially those of the 69th (Irish Regiment) and particularly Col. Corcoran, had to submit to all kinds of indignities. They seemed to think that a foreigner and Democrat ought to be severely punished when found in arms against them.

After we had been at Richmond some two weeks, we, the Surgeons in attendance upon the wounded, held a consultation, and agreed to take the parole which eleven other Federal Surgeons had taken, but with the understanding that we would be permitted to stay as long as our services were required by the wounded. We did so, and after than enjoyed considerable privileges.

About the 15th of September, a Medical Commission of Surgeons was appointed by the Confederate Government and reported that our services were no longer required, and we were informed that we would have to leave, and in accordance with those instructions, left. Before leaving we furnished the wounded with some clothing and a little money which we succeeded in raising  from some true Union friends in Richmond.

I deem it also my duty to say that as far as I could judge, Co. Gorman, and all the Field officers, and in fact the whole of the Regiment behaved (with a few exceptions) bravely and reflected great credit upon the true “Northern Star.”

St. Paul Press, 10/20/1861

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Charles W. Le Boutillier at Ancestry.com

Charles W. Le Boutillier Bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. Alexander Carolin, Co. A, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

29 01 2012

The following letter was received from Alexander Carolin, a private in the Sixty-ninth Regiment, and is addressed to his father, Mr. Dennis Carolin, ex-Alderman of the Fourth Ward. Private Carolin took part in the entire combat, and was an eye-witness of the death of Captain Haggerty:

Fort Corcoran, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father – We had orders to move on Saturday evening at six o’clock for our encampment near Centreville. We did not start until two o’clock in the morning. At about five o’clock we reached a place between Bull’s Run and Manassas Gap, where we came to a halt. Two Ohio regiments and the Seventy ninth of New York were with our column. Our regiment moved about, trying to get the enemy to attack us. We had Sherman’s Battery with us, besides a battery of rifled cannon. Our column kept up a fire on the woods, on the opposite side of the ravine, a distance of about a quarter of a mile, trying to find out the masked batteries, but the enemy would not return the fire. About ten o’clock we discovered two batteries, and drove the enemy out. The Sixty ninth advanced. We went off at a run, but could not overtake the enemy, as they scattered in every direction through the woods., kept up the run, turned to the right, waded through streams, climbed steep hills, left our battery behind us and outflanked the enemy, and came on them when we were not expected. The Louisiana Zouaves were doing big damage when we came on them. We gave a yell that could be heard far above the roar of the cannon. We fired into them and charged them with the bayonet. They were panic stricken and fled. We covered the field with their dead. Haggerty rushed forward to take a prisoner, and lost his life. The man turned and shot him through the heart. We drove the enemy before us for some distance, then got into line and had them surrounded. General McDowell came up just then, took off his hat and said, “You have gained the victory.” Our next fly was at a South Carolina regiment. We killed about three hundred of them. After fighting hard for some time we cleared the field of all the enemy. The enemy again rallying, the real fight then commenced. We were drawn up in line, and saw the other regiments trying to take the masked batteries. They were cut to pieces and scattered. We were then ordered forward to attack the batteries. We fought desperately, but we were cut down. We lost our flag, but took it back again with the assistance of a few of the Fire Zouaves, who fought like devils. We charged a second time, but were mowed down by the grape and rifles of the enemy. We came together again to make another charge, but we could not get together over two hundred men. We formed into a hollow square, when we saw the enemy turn out their cavalry, about a mile in length, and the hills all about covered with them, trying to surround us. All the regiments on our side were scattered and in disorder, except what were left of the 69th. The Fire Zouaves had to retreat, leaving a number of wounded on the field. Haggerty’s body was laid in a house when we were returning back. Col. Corcoran asked me to assist in carrying back the body, and I accordingly went back. We carried the body for some miles on a door, the shot falling thick around us. We had to leave the body on the road. Col. Corcoran, I hear, was afterwards wounded and taken prisoner. What we could gather together of our regiment marched back to Fort Corcoran during the night. I am trying to cross the river to send you a telegraphic dispatch, but the government will not allow any soldiers to cross. I escaped unhurt; although the men on each side and in front and rear were either killed or wounded.

I remain yours, affectionately,

Alexander Carolin.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863

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Contributed by Damian Shiels





The New York “Irish-American”

28 01 2012

A big thanks go out to FOBR (Friend of Bull Runnings) Damian Shiels, a professional archaeologist who specializes in military archaeology and who runs Irish in the American Civil War from, of all places, Ireland. He’s been feeding me clippings from the New York Irish-American, featuring letters primarily from the 69th New York State Militia on the battle. I hope you’re enjoying them. I think they’re great, especially in illustrating the limited perspective of most private soldiers during battle.

Just a word – you should keep in mind that the 69th NYSM is NOT the 69th New York Volunteers that would be a part of the famous Irish Brigade. That was a completely different organization, although some (and it’s hard to say how many) members of the 69th NYSM did join the 69th NYV. I’ve been informed that there was some division among the men of the militia units in their loyalty to its colonel, Michael Corcoran, and the captain of Co. K, Thomas Francis Meagher. The schism was perhaps rooted in the Fenian movement. While Meagher was recruiting up the new 69th NYV, some members of the militia unit, which had mustered out of US service when its 90 days were up shortly after Bull Run, joined him, some decided to stay with the militia, and some joined other units, including the 88th and 63rd NYV which also became part of the Irish Brigade, and the various regiments of Corcoran’s Irish Legion which was formed after Corcoran’s release from captivity and his promotion to brigadier-general. The 69th NYSM would operate through the war, being called back into emergency service once or twice more during the conflict, and in fact it survives to this very day and has an illustrious history including Father Duffy (as portrayed by Pat O’Brien, above with James Cagney, in The Fighting 69th; below is my 2004 snapshot of Duffy’s statue in Duffy Square in NYC). So, no, the Irish Brigade was not at Bull Run, and neither was the regiment that would be a part of that brigade and known as the 69th NYV.

Hope that makes sense!





Thomas D. Norris, Co. A, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

28 01 2012

The annexed letter, from a member of Co. A, 69th Regiment, gives some interesting details of the fight:-

Fort Corcoran, July 22, 1861.

My ever dear and beloved Wife.

I suppose you feel unhappy at present on account of passing accounts from the seat of war. I should not wonder, ,if you knew the half of our poor fellows that are lost or left behind. It would be no use for me to try to give you anything like a description of the battle field. – Enough to say, that besides bomb shells and rifle cannon shot, we had musket balls about our ears as thick as hail almost all the time from six in the morning until six in the evening, and a noise to be compared to nothing earthly. – Through the mercy of God, and the watchful eye and protecting shield and interceding care  of our glorious and blessed Mother, I was saved from even a scratch. Now you see how thankful we have a right to be to God for his excessive kindness to us at all times, and particularly now.

I tell you, my loving wife, it was an awful day. We left our camp about three o’clock yesterday morning, and marched about three miles through wood, &c, crossing streams knee deep, until we came or went to the scene of action, which was about three-quarters wood, and the remainder in little naked spots scattered amongst the trees. We opened fire on the enemy at ten minutes to six in the morning, and got no reply. We repeated and repeated, and got no reply still; so we drew nearer and changed our position  and gave them another salute, but with the same effect. We could not see a man nor hear a shot unless our own, until they, (the enemy) had everything as they pleased, and then, O my dearest, did we not have music! In a short time after the fight commenced, we saw a grand battle about a mile away between 8 Secessionists and some of our Union troops. The 69th were ordered to the relief of our party. Off we went in double quick time, crossing a river up to our knees, and soon we were before the enemy. We let them have it quick and hot; and in less than three minutes we put them to the route. But our noble and brave Haggerty, who was acting as Lieutenant Colonel, rushed so bravely in before us, and was about taking a prisoner, when he fell a victim to a ball that passed through his heart. Our Artillery gave in very early in the day; our cavalry rendered us very little or no assistance, while the enemy’s batteries played on us hot and heavy all the time. Our infantry had to do the best they could. The enemy were entrenched on the left of a battery that was playing directly on the Sixty ninth. This entrenchment was filled up with Southern riflemen, who could receive reinforcements from a wood that covered their left in spite of our troops. My dear wife, here is where they committed a slaughter on our troops, who went up, one regiment after another. The 14th, of Brooklyn, were cut up pretty much, as well as I can think; so were our Eight Regiment, of New York. The Fire Zouaves, ,who fought like tigers, were cut up badly. Our time was now come; so we advanced towards the aforementioned battery, into a hollow, and, stooping down, and letting their rifled cannon balls whiz closely over our heads, we passed immediately under their battery to their left and took our position in front of the entrenchments. Then the firing commenced, when a great many of our poor fellows fell. The firing continued from ten to fifteen minutes; and, our fellows getting confused, from a retreating Ohio regiment, who ran through our ranks, had also to retire from a hidden foe, for we could only see their heads and shoulders), a force far greater in numbers than ours, and who were to be aided by about three hundred cavalry who were bearing down on us. We took our flag of Erin, with the Stars and Stripes, away, all right, although some of our boys were obliged to work hard for it. Colonel Sherman, fearing the cavalry still, told the bravest of colonels (Colonel Corcoran), to from square. The gallant colonel said, “I have not as many as I like to do so; but we’ll do the best we can.” So the brave and determined colonel formed us into square, and so we retreated, receiving a fresh flanking fire from our adversaries as we went along, and a great many of our men were wounded in this way, amongst the rest our adored Col. Corcoran and Captain Clarke were both wounded in the legs. I believe the colonel was not much hurt. Their cavalry followed is all the way; and this, with a flank fire from the woods on both sides as we retreated, caused the artillerists to loosen their horses and ride them off, leaving their guns all in the hands of the enemy. This was about six o’clock in the evening; and we marched to our camp, about 30 miles, and reached there about daybreak. There was a reinforcement sent to meet the enemy, and if there are licked we’ll expect the enemy every day to attack Alexandria and Fort Corcoran. They won’t have masked batteries then, and you may be sure that we’ll let them have what they want, and what they will have. Oh! how surprised you would be to see T. F. Meagher, riding his poor steed, with one of its hind legs blown almost away – the fleshy part of it was all gone. Oh! my dear wife, he is a brave soul, and was with us all the time, under shot and shell, encouraging and cheering us up, and giving us a hurrah, for old Erin, now and again, that warmed is to the heart. With him and our own beloved Colonel, we could not help feeling ourselves blessed. About the other officers I won’t say anything, as it would be hard to pick a choice of them; they are all regular trumps – although I prefer Lieuts. Kelly and Strain, they being our own Company’s officers. I need not tell you that all the regiment are in great gloom at the loss of Lieut. Col. Haggerty – moreover Company A, whose Captain he was. I forgot to tell you that Acting Brigadier general Sherman publicly thanked the 69th for their desperate fighting; and when they were formed into line, after the first battle, he and his staff rode in front, with his hat in his hand, cheering for them. Give my love to all, and do you continue to pray for your own loving husband.

Thos. D. Norris.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863

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Contributed by Damian Shiels





John Stacom, Co. E, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

27 01 2012

Mr. John Stacom, of the “Ivy Green,” Elm-street, now a member of the New-York 69th  Regiment, arrived home on Tuesday, having received a wound in the left hand. He says:-

I was in the fight on Sunday all day, until we got completely off the field, and were on the road toward Vienna. On Sunday morning we were within two or three miles of this place. We encamped by the side of a road close by a wood, and then formed in line of battle, and proceeded steadily down through a thick wood into a ravine (Bull’s Run), and kept firing continually, in order to draw out the enemy, and unmask his batteries. After a good deal of firing, they opened upon us. We then fought our way down into the plain. The Wisconsin Regiment and the 69th tacked a large party, estimated at a number of thousands, total about 17,000, partially hidden in some brushwood, and succeeded in driving them completely away at the point of the baynet. They were in great disorder all over the field. Gen. McDowell came in at the other end and headed them off, while Col. Hunter approached on the right with his division, and the action then became general. It continued until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when all stood still and we thought the battle won. The Generals collected on the hill, and were cheering and shaking hands. General McDowell took his hat off, complimented Col. Corcoran, and said the victory had been won. All at once the reinforcements on the other side, under Johnston, as was supposed, came down upon us, and the men being completely exhausted, gave way, until they reached the road. Col. Corcoran had only Capt. Meagher with him after Lieut. Col. Haggery was killed, which hapened in the first engagement. I saw him fall by a musket ball. Thomas Francis Meagher was the most conspicuous man on the field, riding on a white horse, with his hat off, and going into the battle most enthusiastically. At one time our regimental color was taken, and Meagher seized the green flag of Ireland, went to the front, leading the men to the charge. The color was recaptured, the enemy was driven back, and we then formed in hollow square, by orders, and retreated steadily off the ground.

We got on the road all well, and in good order. Having got my hand hurt, I took a Secessionists horse, and rode among the civilians, of which a lot, including artists and reporters, were gathered in carriages and on horseback. They were viewing the battle from the hill. Soon after I left my regiment, the civilians got panic stricken, and from them panic seized the teamsters, who imagined they were going to be cut off. From the teamsters it spread into several Ohio regiments and then became general.

I rode back alone. If there was any more fighting, it must have been in the road after the retreat commenced. I think there was no more fighting. The reinforcements opened four or five batteries on us immediately. There was only one party (in the woods) that we fought at all. We did not see any more, except a complete cavalry regiment, that charged on the Zouaves. Among the cavalry about three companies were colored, and officered by white men.

Gen McDowell three times charged us on batteries. It appeared that the 69th and the Zouaves were all over the battle field, as there were Aids running all the time saying the General wanted us over here or over there, to take this or that battery.

There were many killed and wounded lying around on the field, like sheaves in a wheat-field. There was a house on the hill where wounded men were almost piled, and the rebels shelled it, as much as anywhere else, while they must have known, by seeing our ambulances, that they were only wounded. The Ohio, 71st, 8th, and others took part. The 71st made only one charge, and lost very few men. The 69th did all the charging.

New York Irish-American 8/3/1863

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Contributed by Damian Shiels





M. Crosbie, Co. E, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

26 01 2012

Fort Corcoran, Arlington Heights,

July 25th, 1861.

We have returned to the fort after a pretty severe time of it. I am glad to inform you that the regiment has not suffered as severely as at first supposed. If I was competent even to do it I wouldn’t attempt to describe the battle. I feel very deeply Haggerty’s death; he was the first man of the 69th that fell, pierced through the heart; he never spoke after; but, believe me, his assassin met with a fitting fate – as many as fifty bullets pierced him; he fired from behind a tree. I have lost some friends both in this and other regiments. There is not on this continent a braver man than Thomas Francis Meagher. When his horse was actually torn from under him by a rifled cannon ball, he sprang on one of their outside parapets, and, waving his sword above his head, pointed to the green flag following, shouting “Boys! look at that flag – think of Ireland and Fontenoy,” – all the while the bullets raining around him. It was nothing but rally, charge and repulse. We could see no enemy; they fought from the woods and from masked batteries. When we’d charge to the borders of the woods not one of them was to be seen – all the while their secreted riflemen and artillery, with every advantage of position, pouring their hail over and around us. When Corcoran ordered the flag to be lowered, as it made too prominent a mark, the man that bore it said, “No, colonel, I’ll never lower it,” and was almost instantly killed; another sprang to it, and met the same fate. One thing was evident, not a man in the regiment would lower that flag an inch. I thank heaven we have it safe. You must bear in mind we had to fight fresh men on their own ground, while we were after a weary march of fully 30 miles on a cracker per day, with horrible ditch water for subsistence, laying in the wet grass whenever halted; still the boys went to their work like bricks. Corcoran made a regular target of himself; I have not seen him since; I understand he’s wounded; he is a brave officer, but Meagher is the adoration of the regiment. I hunted everywhere and made all the enquiries possible to find where Haggerty’s body lay, but could not find it; his wife, I know, will be in a dreadful state; I did intend to write her, but am not at present fit; if ’tis any consolation to her, he died a hero.

Yours, &c.

M. Crosbie.

Co. E, 69th, Fort Corcoran.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1863

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Contributed by Damian Shiels





“R.”, Co. K, 69th NYSM, On the Battle

24 01 2012

The following letter from a member of Captain Meagher’s Company, the “Irish Zouaves,” Co. K, 69th , was received by R. J. Lalor, Esq., by whom we have been kindly allowed its use: -

Fort Corcoran, Arlington Heights.

July 22, 1861

Doubtless you have heard, ere this, of the terrible engagement of last Sunday. The affair is of such  importance in out annals that I hasten to give you a succinct account of it.

After the ad affair of Thursday at Bull’s Run Ford, where we lost a good many man of the Union troops, our regiment, with all the others engaged and in the immediate vicinity, were encamped in and around Centreville, on each side of the road lead to that place and towards Manassas Gap. We remained perfectly quiet on our respective camping grounds, save when our pickets and those of the enemy met. That the rebels were receiving reinforcements, was proved by the constant arrival of trains every night, as well as by outside intelligence. We, too, were receiving reinforcements and by Saturday night were ready for making an attack. We were ordered to hold ourselves in readiness by midnight, and, accordingly, by that time we were awake, prepared to march. When we reached the road, we went double quick for nearly two miles. Then, having crossed a bridge safe and gained the hill top, which had been obstructed by the enemy, we turned into the woods and remained there for some time, drawn up in line of battle.

Our good chaplain, Father O’Reilly, blessed us; and many were the prayers sent up to heaven that our arms might be nerved to strike terror into our enemies, and this save our distracted country.

The large gun “Long Tom,” commenced to throwing shell at 6.30 a. m. The rebels did not answer, but reserved their fire for a more favorable opportunity. Failing to bring them out, and our regiment having the right of the line, or advance post, we were ordered to move our quarters and approach the front. In doing so, we were obliged to move at double quick most of the way, and to ford a stream or two, knee high. This was a serious disadvantage to us, but our brave boys seemed not to mind it. Still further on we had to defile along a narrow path way among trees and shrubbery. Even this we did in safety, and soon gained an open plain, where we could perceive the position of the enemy, from the constant discharge of heavy guns.

Again changing our locality, we had to move through some meadow; and, just nearly as we passed the last one, a murderous fire was opened upon us from a ravine to the left by the enemy’s sharp-shooters. Our entire regiment halted, and facing about, fired two volleys into them though, without seeing them. This stopped their fire, and upon examination afterwards, we found that terrible chastisement had been inflicted upon them by us. The pace was strewn with their dead, and one officer had no less than seventeen balls in him. But we paid well for this; for one of the first men to fall was our recently appointed Lieut. Colonel, Captain Haggerty, of Co. A. His loss to us was beyond repair, as he had proved himself a true soldier under every circumstance, and was endeared to us all. He was brimful of courtesy and kindness to the humblest as well as to the highest in rank or station, though seemingly rough at times in his manner.

Poor Costelloe of ours – C. K – a recent arrival from Waterford, Ireland, and beloved by us all for his amiability and tenderness of character, fell also in this first fire, with three balls in his left breast and right cheek. They both died easily, almost instantaneously, for their wounds were too near the seat of life to permit them to suffer long.

When we had rounded the house used by our skirmishers as an hospital, directly in the enemy’s front, we were permitted to halt and rest after our severe march, and to recruit for the coming struggle. We could see one regiment after another of our forces assault the enemy and advance upon his position, but it was evident to us that up to this time no effect had been produced upon his batteries, though death and destruction were dealt out to him by our brave volunteers.

At last the order came for the 69th to try and do what the others had failed in. We advanced with hopeful hearts in close line of battle, exposed to the hot shot and shell which were instantly poured in our ranks, though, fortunately, at first with little effect. One ball, however, came near killing our brave Colonel, who treated the matter quite coolly.

A field over a quarter of a mile had to be crossed, then a fence to be cleared, and then another field of equal length till we reached the foot of the hill and woods occupied by the enemy. Here we halted a few moments, and then flanked along to the right across another field of equal length, and through an entrenchment and high stream, and then up a hill, before we stopped to fire or give the enemy a proof of our storming capacities. Worn out by our long and quick march, still more so by the fatigue of clearing fences, ditches, and streams, we stopped for a moment and fired deliberately into the enemy. Then another volley, then another, and we charged up the heights to their battery with all the impetuosity of our race; but we were “like sheep sent to the slaughter”. The cannon belched forth their shells in our midst, killing our men in groups, and scattering them in all directions. But, even then, they halted, tried to close up, and fired again; and then, just as we seemed to be carrying our point, we found ourselves being fired into on the right flank and rear by the rebel cavalry, who emerged from the woods and struck down and picked off all the men near them. It is even said that we were fired into by our own troops – of course, by mistake. But of this I am certain; our own cavalry, who had partly broken our ranks, when charging up the hill, were not to be found when we needed their protection.

Our flag of the Stars and Stripes was well struck, and the standard-bearer of the dear old Green Flag was shot down; but the flag was instantly raised again. One of our wounded men who carried a flag was shot down, and the flag was torn from his grasp. Raising himself up, he again attacked his rebel antagonist, struck him down, and carried off one of the Secession flags; but this was not long permitted to remain with him, for he was again charged upon, and the trophy taken from him, besides being taken prisoner. However, having a concealed revolver, he shot down the two soldiers in charge of him, and captured a Captain’s sword and a prisoner, both of which he brought in safely to our camp. His name is John D. Keeffe, and he is worthy of being recorded among our truly brave men.

I could recite to you numerous other instances of bravery deserving of record, but it would not be possible to do justice to all.

Captain Thomas Francis Meagher gained the greatest credit of the day. His horse was shot when he first reached the field, the ball going farther and killing one of Company E, and when we reached the gap at the foot of the hill, he brandished his sword and called upon the brave Zouaves of the Sixty-ninth to follow him. His valor and bearing during the entire battle is the theme of every tongue. Lieut E. K. Butler also distinguished himself, and gained much in the favor of his scattered and decimated company. Our Colonel, too, showed the greatest coolness and bravery throughout the fight. He stood to the last, and rallied the remnant of his scattered forces, and took us off the field in a square and with our colors flying high; but he didn’t do this till after all other regiments had retired or were retiring. When we had gained the road, and had halted at the temporary hospital, we were charged by the cavalry again, who made sad havoc among the flying remnants of every regiment which had not gained the road. They broke and fled in all directions, and were pursued and cut down at all points. Such a scene was scarcely ever before witnessed.

This was the last point at which I saw our gallant Colonel, who, I am told, was wounded in the leg. He slipped quietly off his horse, and tried to rally his men; but the crowd and the pressure of the remnants of all the other regiments, rendered it impossible.

What remained of our regiment rallied round the Green Flag in Centreville, and after  consultation it was thought best to retire to Fort Corcoran and recruit, as we had not a field officer left to direct our movements. Captain Meagher here joined us and led us home, when we had to come to this decision.

This bold charge up that hill clean into the enemy’s batteries, will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Our company can only muster this morning about 80, with those who were left to guard the fort, out of 123. Lieutenant Conolly, a really brave man, has not been heard of since we rallied round our flag and formed the square. His loss will be deservedly regretted by us all.

Our Company suffered more than any in the regiment, on account of their red jackets, I suppose. Three men went out with me from the Fort to the battle fled [field?].  I alone returned. Many others of ours have the same story to tell. The Fire Zouaves, Fourteenth New York, and the Second Rhode Island, acted nobly and bravely in the grand charges they made upon the enemy when he showed himself before his batteries. So, also, did the Thirteenth New York. But it is safe to say that none made a bolder stand or a grander charge, and retired so slowly and steadily, and in such good order as did the 69th, when the fate of the battle was decided. The Herald and other papers may talk of a “great victory,” but by those engaged in the battle it cannot be considered anything but a great defeat. The generalship displayed was none of the highest, as you will believe when you learn that of the immense force of Union troops in the field, not more than one regiment at a time was ordered forward, and these at different points. We were not even protected by the cavalry and artillery. The former were not near us when we wanted them, though they were permitted to stand directly on our front, where they remained when we were advancing in line of battle, until Col. Corcoran, seeing that his line must inevitably be broken by them, ordered them off. They then moved to our right, and, strangest of all, it was from this point that the most terrible havoc was made upon us by the Rebel cavalry, who rushed out of the woods upon our men when their backs were turned, and they were engaged in charging upon the masked batteries, and cut down and trampled them to death. Most of the men lost by Company K were lost or taken prisoners here.

I blame none, censure none, for these blunders and omissions, nor do I offer any better plan of attack than that which was here adopted, but I must say that I expected better things of those who are appointed, and are supposed to possess the requisite qualifications of good generals. I trust they will be held responsible for the immense sacrifice of life on that terrible day.

Our artillery, too, was easily captured by the rebels. When the Virginia cavalry made their last charge at the hospital near the bridge and Centreville, the men in the foremost ranks of our artillery cut the traces and fled, leaving the guns an easy prize to the enemy. In accounts of battles previously read by hour humble servant it was always thought necessary to well protect, with cavalry or infantry, or both, the artillery companies. Yet Sherman’s Battery and “Long Tom,” a very heavy piece, brought up expressly to counteract the effect of the enemies’ heaviest guns, were permitted to fall into their hands without an effort being made to prevent it.

Of the many missing in our company, and in all the rest of the regiment several are known to be killed, many others only wounded – unless they have subsequently fallen into the hands of the Secessionists. Other are missing, of whom nothing at all is known. I trust that they may yet turn up, and that we shall be gratified by their safe restoration to their many friends in and out of the regiment. We deeply deplore their loss for we can attest to their courage and manly bearing on that day. I saw poor Maguire, for the last time, raise his piece aloft, waving it as if it were a sword, and calling upon the Zouaves to make one more bold charge and rout the Rebels. I fear he is lost.

R.

New York Irish-American, 8/3/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by Damian Shiels








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