Wounded Bull Run Prisoner Returns Home

27 12 2013





Pvt. James Rorty, Co. G, 69th NYSM, On the Battle, Imprisonment, and Escape

16 01 2012

The 69th at Bull Run.

—————–

The annexed letter from one of the gallant 69th, who was taken prisoner with Colonel Corcoran at the Battle of Bull Run, gives some interesting details regarding that event, and the subsequent treatment of the prisoners by the Confederates, which have not heretofore been laid before the public: -

New York, Oct. 12, 1861

To the Editor of the Irish-American:

Sir – As anything relating to the late campaign of the 69th, and the present unfortunate position  of its brave Colonel and some of its members, must be interesting to your readers. I desire to lay before them through the medium of your wide spread columns, the following sketch as well to correct certain prevalent erroneous impressions as to present some facts on the subject hitherto unpublished, and unknown to the public.

Popular as the corps was, it had many grievances (most of which were owing to the hastiness of the organization, and the shortness of its term of service), but it seems to me that the report of Brigadier General Sherman after the battle of Bull Run, contains a statement which does the greatest injustice to the Regiment, and which has become the heavier grievance from being borne in silence and thereby tacitly admitted. He says, “after the repulse of the 2d Wisconsin regiment, the ground was open for the 69th, who advanced and held it for some time, but finally fell back in confusions.” He omitted saying what many witnessed, and what Col. Corcoran, confirmed in Richmond (when we first saw the report) that he rode up and ordered Col. Corcoran to draw off his men, while we were still obstinately maintaining our ground, not only against the main strength of the Confederates hitherto engaged, but, also, while pressed hard on the right flank by the fresh troops (Johnson’s) which Gen. Smith and Col. Elzey had just brought from Manassas, and which, according to the official report of these officers, numbered 8,000 men. I do not pretend to say that we could have held the position against such overwhelming odds, but as we did so until ordered to abandon it, simple justice and fair play should have prompted Sherman to tell the whole truth. The manner in which he managed, or rather mismanaged his brigade, is more open to comment than the conduct of any regiment during the day. Inferior in numbers as we were to the enemy, he increased the disadvantage by keeping one excellent corps idle (th 18th N. Y. V.), and bringing the others into action separately and successively, allowing one to be broken before another was brought to its support, and thus throwing away the only chance of success that remained. Notwithstanding the heavy reinforcements the Confederates had received, they were so badly beaten and disheartened up to this time that there can scarcely be a doubt but that a vigorous, simultaneous, and combined attack of Sherman’s brigade and Keyes’ would have carried their position. Instead of this, after our regiment (leading the column) had turned their right under Gen. Evans, dispersed and almost destroyed the crack corps of the south – the N. O. Zouaves, instead of following up our advantage and pushing home the flying foe we gave them time to change their position, concentrate their strength, and deploy their fresh troops. We have reason to be thankful that our ill timed delay was not entirely fatal to us, as it would have been had not Beauregard’s order to General Ewell to get [in our rear mis]carried. Again, when our attack failed, and the retreat began, Col. Corcoran endeavored to cover it by forming his men in square, in which order it moved to the point at which we crossed Bull Run, where on account of the woods and the narrowness of the path down the bluffs that formed the west bank, it had to be reduced to a column. Sherman, who was in the square, told the men to get away as fast as they could as the enemy’s cavalry were coming. This prevented Col. Corcoran from reforming the men on the other side of the Run, a movement which would have not only effectually repelled the enemy, but would also have covered the retreat of every battery lost subsequently. It was in his efforts to remedy the disorder and straggling caused by this “license to run,” that Col. Corcoran (who, from the unfortunate and irreparable loss of Haggerty, and the absence of all his staff, was obliged to be somewhat in the rear) was cut off from the main body of the regiment, by the enemy’s horse, and being able to rally only nine men, moved into a small house, to make a better defence, but was induced by some of his officers to surrender as resistance was hopeless. Meantime about half a dozen men had joined him at the house, of whose arrival he was ignorant. Trifling as the reinforcement was, he surrendered so reluctantly that I verily believe had he known of it he would not have surrendered without a desperate fight. As I shared all his subsequent misfortunes, and witnessed the manly fortitude with which he bore them, the consistent dignity with which he repelled all overtures for any parole that would tie up his hands from the Union cause, and repulsed some Southern friends who endeavored to seduce him from it, it may not be improper to sketch his prison life. Owing to the inadequate arrangements for our accommodation in Richmond it was afternoon on the 24th, before some of us got anything to eat, so that we had eaten only once in four days. The colonel was extremely exhausted, but desired all his men to be brought to him “that he might take a look at – and know,” as he said, “those who had done their duty to the last.” Learning that some had no money, and wanted clothing badly, he gave $20 out of his own scanty resources to be laid out for their use. He also purchased and sent a number of shirts to the wounded of his corps, and sent some money to many of them also. He was never allowed to go out, not even to the hospital, to see his wounded men, which latter I heard him complain somewhat of. He was kept quite apart even from us how were in the same building, although some of us managed to see him daily or oftener. I wish to contradict, however, a statement which has obtained universal currency about him which is an unmitigated falsehood. He never was in irons, nor was he threatened with them from his capture until his removal to Charleston on the 10th ult., when we last saw him. Rigidly as he was watched, and great as was the importance attached to his safe keeping – the consistent bearing of which I have already spoken, had won for him the respect of every Southerner, and though it at first drew on him the virulent abuse of the Richmond press, even it ultimately changed its tone and declared “that the consistent obstinacy of that most impudent and inveterate of Yankee prisoners, Col. Corcoran, was preferable by far to the repentant professions and cringing course of some prisoners to obtain parole.” As to our general treatment it was harsh, although as long as any hope of the Government making an exchange remained, our guards were courteous and communicative, and I feel bound to say that the cavalry to whom we surrendered (the Clay Dragoons) acted in every respect like chivalrous and honorable men. Latterly, however, some regiments of raw recruits – mere conscript boys, whom the 10 per cent levy had drawn out, committed great atrocities on the prisoners, firing through the window at us on the slightest pretence of breach of the regulations. Several shots were fired into the room where the 69th were confined, and one man of the 2d N. Y. S. M. was wounded in the arm. Shots fired into the buildings were said to have resulted fatally, but as we could not get to them I cannot vouch for the fact positively. Atrocities like these, coupled with the prospect of being sent further South, induced many to try to escape, but the great majority failed, and were put in irons. As, however, none of the 69th, save two who were unsuccessful, had tried, your correspondent thought it became the honor of the corps to make an attempt, and accompanied by Sergeant O’Donohue, of Co. K, and Peter Kelly, of Co. J, left Richmond on the 18th ult., passing the sentries in disguise. Captain McIvor, who intended to accompany us, was unfortunately suspected by the guard, and put in irons. I regret to see he has since been sent to New Orleans. Our provisions (2 lbs. of crackers) soon ran out, but Virginia is full of corn, and we lived on the enemy. After travelling a week (solely at dead of night) we came on the Confederate lines on the Potomac, above Aquia Creek, and after running into the most advanced cavalry outpost, from which we escaped narrowly, and coming in contact with sentries for miles along the river, we at length found shelter and concealment in a deserted fishing house. Having built a raft to reach the Potomac fleet which was in sight, it turned out to be too small, and O’Donohue embarked alone on it, and reached the Seminole, the captain of which, however, refused to send a boat for us who remained on the Virginia shore, and insisting on sending O’Donohue to Washington, we were left to our own resources, and built another raft on which we reached the Penguin during the following night, and were sent aboard the Yankee. The engineer, Mr. Carpenter, and one of the crew furnished me with a complete suit of clothing which took away my naked, half savage appearance, and the steward, Mr. Fitzpatrick, attended to our famished and ravenous appetites with similar humanity. As this aid was no way official, and came solely from a generous and humane spirit we shall always cherish grateful feelings towards these gentlemen. From Lieutenant Ross(?), of the Navy Yard, Washington, and the captain of the Philadelphia steamer, we received similar kind treatment. Trusting that the length of this communication, will not render it objectionable,

I am, sir, yours truly,

James M. Rorty.

Irish-American Weekly, 10/26/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

More on Rorty





Shockoe Hill Cemetery’s Bull Run Dead

26 02 2010

Friend Robert Moore sent me some links to lists of Union POW’s memorialized in Richmond’s Shockoe Hill Cemetery.  These men died in captivity and were buried along outside the east wall of the cemetery (thanks to reader Jeffry Burden).  They were disinterred and moved in 1866 to Richmond National Cemetery.  The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) erected a marker to them in 1938, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) put up another one in 2002.  See photos here.

Turns out there are a lot of names on those lists that are or may possibly be of men who were captured at First Bull Run – actually, a surprising number.  This will take a little time, but I’ll try to put the list together and post it here.  For now, you can find the names of all the identified soldiers here.

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Col. Michael Corcoran’s Account of His Capture

16 12 2008

The New York Times, August 11, 1861

LETTER FROM COL. CORCORAN.

The Manner Of His Capture By The Rebels.

Richmond, Va., July 29, 1861.

Dear Wife: I wrote a letter to Capt. Kirker a few days since acquainting him of my being in close confinement here, also Capt. McIvor and Lieut. Connolly, with about 37 other officers and 600 non-commissioned officers and privates from various regiments, among whom are Sergeants Murphy and Donnohue and 35 privates of my regiment.  They are all in good health.  I was very ill for the first two days after my arrest, but feel quite well at present.  I am deeply affected at the loss of Acting Lieut. Col. Haggerty, who was among the first who fell on the battlefield, and also several of my brave soldiers.  It is, however, consoling that they attender their religious duties before that day.  I had many hair-breadth escapes, but God in His infinite mercy has been pleased to preserve me.

I am uneasy to know the fate of many officers and members whom I had not seen in line immediately after the battle, among them are Capts. Thomas Francis Meagher and Cavanaugh, and Acting-Adjutant (late Captain) John H. Nugent.  My regiment came off the field in admirable order, and were on the road to Centreville, where I halted to rest and await orders for future action, knowing that our artillery would need protection in returning.  Two regiments that had not been in line and were returning in disorder, hung on my flank, and when the cavalry were seen advancing toward us, these regiments broke precipitately through my lines, throwing us into disorder, and caused a general flight.

I dismounted and crossed a rail fence, over which they had gone, and got the color bearer to halt, and called on the men to rally around the flag, but just at this moment a discharge of carbines from the pursuing cavalry and our own artillery drowned my voice, and destroyed all my efforts to muster the men.  I had only nine men who heard me an halted, and those, with two officers and myself, were immediately surrounded and taken to Manassas that night.  We left there the following morning, and arrived here Tuesday night.  Lieuts. Bagley and Gannon, with two Colonels, one Lieutenant-Colonel and other officers and privates of various regiments, arrived here this morning.  Some of our wounded have also been brought here, but I have not yet learned their names.  Give my love to your [?], William, Capt. Kirker and all friends.

Your affectionate husband,

Michael Corcoran

The New York Times, August 12, 1861

PRISONERS AT RICHMOND

Another Letter From Col. Corcoran

Richmond, Va., July 24, 1861.

Capt. James B. Kirker:

My Dear Captain – I know you will regret to hear of my being here a prisoner of war.  The circumstances connected with the affair are easily told.  My regiment was twice engaged during that hard contested fight on the 21st utl., and left the field with the thanks of Gen. McDowell for their services.  I brought them off in admirable order, having formed a square, to defend against the cavalry who were advancing.  I moved in the square until reaching a wood, having to pass through a defile, and over very broken ground.  I had to march by a flank until I reached the road, where we got mixed up with two other regiments, who were retiring in disorder.  I soon ordered a halt to connect our line, and scarcely had the command been given, when the cavalry of the enemy, were seen advancing, and immediately the other regiments went over the rail fence into the field, and mine with them.  I dismounted (my horse being wounded) and followed into the field, took the colors and called out to rally around it.  My voice was drowned amid the roar of the cavalry carbines and the discharge of artillery; consequently only two officers, Capt. McIver and Lieut. Connolly, with nine privates, were all I had.  This delay caused our arrest.  The cavalry surrounded us at a small house which I was about to use as a means of defence, and made prisoners of my gallant little band.  Many others were made prisoners in the same field and immediate vicinity, who had fallen down from exhaustion, making a total of prisoners from the Sixty-ninth of thirty-seven, who are all here, and a list of whom I send that you may publish for the information of their friends.

We lost many a brave and manly spirit on that day, which fills me with the deepest sorrow.  My beloved acting Lieutenant-Colonel – Haggerty –  was the first who fell; and I am fearful about Capt. Meagher, who acted as major, as I have not seen him since the fight, nor any person who could give me any information.  My imprisonment is deeply embittered from the want of knowledge of the fate of my beloved soldiers since my last sight of them.

There are about forty officers here, amongst whom are Capts. Manson and Farrish, Lieut. Irwin, John Whyte; Ives and Campbell, of the Seventy-ninth; Lieut. Gordon, Second United States Dragoons; Drs. Powers and Connolly, of the Second; Drs. Norval and McKletchy, of the Seventy-ninth; Lieut. Goodenough, of the Fourteenth Regiment, of Brookly, and Capt. Griffin, of the Eighth New-York.

There are about six hundred prisoners in this building belonging to different regiments – the Second, Eighth and Seventy-first, New-York, and Fire Zouaves.  I send you some lists; publish them for the benefit of their friends.  Give my love to Mrs. Corcoran and all friends, and believe me your sincere and affectionate friend,

Michael Corcoran

Colonel Sixty-ninth N.Y.S.M.

List of Names  

  • Captain, James M’Iver.
  • Lieutenant, Edmund Connolly.
  • Color Sergeant, John Murphy.
  • Sergeant, Wm. O’Donohue, Company K.

Privates

  • James Kane, Co. K.
  • Daniel Cassidy, Co. K.
  • Patrick Dunn, Eng. corps.
  • John Cottow, Eng. corps.
  • Thos. McGuire, Eng. corps.
  • Jas. Gaynor, Eng. corps.
  • Edw. Sweeney, Eng. corps.
  • Jer’h. Castigan, Co. D.
  • R. H. Fitchett, Co. E.
  • James McNulty, Co. F.
  • Stephen Conner, Co. G.
  • James McRorty, Co. G.
  • Thomas Dunbar, Co. G.
  • John Gaffney, Co. A.
  • Thomas Brown, Co. A.
  • Wm. Moore, Co. B.
  • John Kerr, Co. B.
  • James McGinnis, Co. B.
  • John Nugent, Co. B.
  • Wm. Joyce, Co. B.
  • John McNeil, Co. B.
  • Maurice D. Walsh, Co. B.
  • Patrick Logue, Co. C.
  • Patrick Blake, Co. C.
  • Wm. Nulty, Co. C.
  • James McCarrick, Co. C.
  • Edward McGrath, Co. H.
  • Charles King, Co. H.
  • Geo. McDisney, Co. H.
  • Jer’h Sullivan, Co. H.
  • John Owens, Co. H.

Prisoners of Second Wisconsin Regiment

  • Serg’t Frank Dexter, Co. A.
  • Robert Welsh, Co. A.
  • E. C. Marsh, Company A.
  • Nathan Heath, Co. A.
  • J. M. Hawkins, Co. B.
  • S. P. Jackson, Co. B.
  • Joseph Froine, Co. B.
  • Robert Burns, Co. B.
  • —-Marshall, Co. B.
  • Henry Rhode, Co. C.
  • Thomas Brookens, Co. C.
  • A. Jones, Co. D.
  • John Hamilton, Co. D.
  • Andrew Brun, Co. D.
  • Hugh Murray, Co. D.
  • H. Stroud, Co. E.
  • Wm. Taylor, Company E.
  • Henry Weed, Co. E.
  • L. Perry, Company E.
  • Stephen Graham, Co. E.
  • Hutle Henry, Co. F.
  • David O’Brien, Co. G.
  • J. P. Christie, Co. G.
  • Serg’t. Holdridge, Co. H.
  • C. Trowbridge, Co. H.
  • Serg’t. J. Gregory, Co. J.
  • W.P. Wmith, Co. J.
  • Geo.W. Dilly, Co. J.
  • Fred Bune, Co. J.
  • S. H. Hagadorne, Co. K.




Preston’s Report

19 04 2008

The report of Col. Robert T. Preston of the 28th Virginia Infantry mentions his regiment’s capture of members of the 1st Michigan Infantry, including its brigade and former regimental commander, Col. Orlando B. Willcox.  Willcox remembered his encounter with the 28th VA and its commander, and identified the Captain – of Preston’s report (from pp 295-296, Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, edited by Robert Garth Scott, see here):

It must have been with great difficulty that the 1st Michigan cut their way back from their position, for the enemy were now on two sides of them, & I soon found were approaching on a third side.  These were the 28th Virginia.  A party of their scouts or skirmishers were coming up a road in the woods, when I discovered them & ordered the three or four men who had gathered about me to fire upon them, & shouting at the same time” bring up the whole regiment!’ as loudly as I was able, the enemy’s party beat a hasty retreat.  The men said one or two fell.

This little affair roused my strength a little, & had my horse not been wounded, possibly I might have been bound on him & escaped.  The poor steed (a magnificent dapple grey stallion) followed me like a dependent child.  But I had scarce strength enough left to form a plan; my only purpose was to get to the rear before the regiment, still fighting manfully, knew that I was down.

With Capt. Withington’s assistance, I now crossed a fence & was going across a bit of open field holding my right arm with the left, & Capt. Withington’s right arm around my waist, when in this helpless condition we were assailed by Col. [R. T.] Preston, who charged on horseback at us, thundering loud oaths, pointing his revolver & demanding our surrender.  Of course there was nothing left us but to comply.  The stout colonel (for he was a stalwart man with a grizzled huge beard & loud, gruff voice) then demanded who I was, & when I told him, he hallowed like a bull, “You’re just the man I’ve been looking for.”  I replied, “I am an officer & a gentleman, sir, & expect to be treated as such.”  He assumed a milder tone & politely told us [to] keep our swords.

Captain Withington was later Colonel William H. Withington of the famous Stonewall Regiment, the 17th Michigan Infantry.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Bull Run, as was Willcox.





A Few Charleston Civil War Sites

15 10 2007

 

Last week my family spent a few days visiting with my brother in Charleston, SC.  He lives on the water just off Ft. Johnson Rd., on James Island.  On April 12, 1861 artillery at Ft. Johnson opened fire on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor to initiate hostilities between the Confederacy and the United States.  From my brother’s dock you can see the local landmark Morris Island Lighthouse.  Morris Island is the site (now submerged) of Battery Wagner.  Across the street from my brother’s house, on private property, is the remnant of a Rebel battery, which was part of the island’s defenses.  I believe this battery was Ryan, Tatom or Haskell, but I have to check into that more.  Only a few yards from his backyard is the site of one end of Hatch’s Bridge, which ran to Secessionville during the war.  And a quick jaunt across Clark’s Sound brings you to Secessionville Manor, used as a hospital after the Battle of Secessionville (here’s a picture…click the thumbnails for larger images). 

secessionville.jpg

The long and the short of it is you can’t swing a dead cat in my brother’s neighborhood, or in Charleston for that matter, without hitting some piece of Civil War history.  I could literally spend weeks down there sightseeing.  While I only seem to be there for a few days at a time, I always manage to work in little CW excursions, not always an easy task when accompanied by a nine-year-old son and his mom who has little interest in my hobby.  This time we saw three Bull Run related sites.

As part of an hours long afternoon on the water we worked in a sea tour of Castle Pinckney, where Bull Run prisoners were briefly held (see here and here).  Below are three views, including a close up of the overgrown interior.  Note the curved wall which I believe gave the fort its medieval name.  Access to the island (Shute’s Folly) is restricted, but I hope to get permission to go ashore the next time I visit.   

pinckney2.jpg pinckney3.jpg pinckney1.jpg

Toward the end of our cruise we looped by the Morris Island Lighthouse.  Though not constructed until 1876, the lighthouse has a pretty strong Bull Run connection.  Its foundation was designed and built by Major Peter Conover Hains, who as a lieutenant and graduate of the West Point class of June, 1861 fired the first shot of the Battle of Bull Run from a 30-pdr Parrott rifle.  The lighthouse is suffering the ravages of time and the sea, but an organization is actively trying to save it, and procedures are under way. 

morrisislandlighthouse.jpg

The next day we had some time to kill, and to my surprise the family agreed to kill it by taking the cruise out to Ft. Sumter.  It was a beautiful day, if a little hot.  This time I got a picture of the storm flag, which flew over the fort during the bombardment.  The larger garrison flag, damaged in a storm earlier, is on display in the NPS visitor’s center near the aquarium, but flash photography of it is verboten and you can only view bits of it at a time.  Here are some images of the fort, the parade ground, the big guns, the storm flag, and my son.   

 sumter1.jpg sumter4.jpg sumter3.jpg 

sumterflag.jpg sumter2.jpg

To round out the afternoon, we drove over to Magazine St. to see the Old City Jail.  When the Bull Run prisoners were moved out of Castle Pinckney, the officers were sent to the City Jail and the enlisted men wound up at the Race Course on the outskirts of town.  During the fire of December, 1861, the guards abandoned the jail to help fight the flames, and the prisoners, including Colonel Michael Corcoran of the 69th NY State Militia, were left to fend for themselves.  They escaped out a window and spent the night huddled together for safety.  I don’t know if it was this window. 

cityjail1.jpg cityjail2.jpg

The next time I visit, I must try to find the site of the race course – as described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion, it was also the site of the earliest Memorial Day ceremony – and Magnolia Cemetery, where the only Bull Run prisoner to die in Castle Pinckney was buried.  But in Charleston, it’s always so much to see, so little time.





Bull Run Prisoners

8 08 2007

John Hoptak at The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry has an interesting post regarding Union prisoners, some taken at Bull Run, who were held for an unusually long period in “retaliation” for the treatment of Confederate privateers taken with the schooner Enchantress.  Check it out; it’s good stuff.  I wrote about some of these prisoners here, here and here.

11thny.jpgThis photo is from an 11th NY website, and shows prisoners from the regiment at Castle Pinckney.  While one of the men is shown wearing baggy trousers and sash, it should be noted that the color of the 11th NY zouave uniform was gray, and most of the men were wearing blue pants during the battle.  Right click on the thumbnail for the full size image.








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