Diary 7/22/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

21 11 2009

Arose this morning very tired and sore, scarcely able to walk at first but after breakfast felt better and walked around to see what was to be seen after yesterdays fight.  I was witness to some awful scenes.  Saw the wounded, shot in every portion of their body, head, neck,, body, arms, hands, legs & feet.  Some with their limbs taken completely off.  Some have died since being brought here, others dying.  Wherever I walked the same spectacle presented itself.  Among them all I heard not a word of complaint and scarcely a groan.  From what can be ascertained we lost in killed and wounded between fifteen hundred and two thousand.  Went around to a large pen of prisoners.  There were four or five hundred in the pen I saw, and nearly all of them the lowest class of foreigners.  This afternoon, a portion of the cavalry brought in seventy five more of the wretches.  They were all marched off to the cars and sent to Richmond.  As one squad of thirty passed our tent to the cars one fellow spoke to us, saying “Good bye boys I left home to go to Richmond and by ——- I am going.["]  We learn to day that the 4th Ala Regt was not so badly cut up as was supposed.  There have not been more than forty or fifty killed.  Col Jones was not killed, but shot through both legs.  Genl Bee died this morning.  The Cavalry captured a large amount of baggage, ammunition &c.  We got one very large gun from them which they familiarly called “Long Tom”.  We got also a very fine ambulance, in which the medical staff were conveyed about.  They had every thing complete.  I suppose it was the best equipped army that ever started on a campaign.  Old Scott is a great fellow for having everything ready before he makes a move.  The small arms captured were the finest minnie muskets, which will be of great service to the army, as we are in need of more arms.  It has rained all day without ceasing, making it very disagreeable here, especially for those who have no tents, and a great many here have none.  The tents of the 4th Ala were left at Winchester.  Capts Porter King and Balls sleep with us tonight, making ten or twelve in a tent, but we can sleep very well, as we are not very particular how we sleep.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 23-24





Diary 7/21/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

20 11 2009

Slept cold last night as I had only a single blanket whi[ch] was too small to sleep upon and cover with at the same time, besides the night was colder than usual.  Arose quite early this morning and found we had orders to prepare to take up our line of march.  We got breakfast as soon as possible, which occupied but little time as we had only to stick a little piece of meat on a stick, hold it over the fire a minute or two and breakfast was ready.  Soon after eating we began to hear the booming of cannon, apparently about two or three miles off, which still continues it now being about 12 o’clock.  There seems to be fighting at two points, on the extreme left and centre.  We soon got ready and the regiment crossed the creek.  We crossed and recrossed several times before we got upon the regular march.  We however got straight after a while and had a forced march of eleven miles to the battle field.  It was indeed a battle and a bloody one.  We passed on in sight of one place where they were fighting but did not stop, as we were going to  the assistance of the 4th Ala Regt. which we heard was being terribly cut up.  On the march we met many wounded returning from the field.  We marched on to avenge the blood of those who had fought so gallantly.  We witnessed sights we had never seen before.  The horrors of a battle field.  As we marched in sight the cowardly villains were retreating, we could see their guns glittering among the bushes as they moved off.  We heard that the 4th Ala was surrounded at one time by the overwhelming forces of the enemy, and cut up terribly.  General Bee was badly wounded.  Heard that Col Jones was killed, Lieut Col Law and Major Scott badly wounded.  Syd May was in the fight but came off unhurt.  It is said that the enemy came up with a Confederate flag, and our men thinking they were friends did not fire upon them, but as soon as they got within an hundred and fifty yards of our troops, turned loose both artillery and musketry, mowing them down like grass before a scythe.  It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on the continent.  We lost a great many in killed and wounded.  Their loss was tremendous.  The enemy were completely routed, losing fifty pieces of artillery, ten thousand stands of arms and a great many prisoners.  The Virginians did excellent fighting.  They charged their famous Shermans battery.  The Cavalry pursued the enemy under the command of President Davis in person.  The number of killed cannot yet be accurately ascertained.  Both sides lost heavily.  It is said that the enemy lost at the lowest calculation between four and five thousand in killed and wounded.  To night we have orders to march back to our bivouack.  Squire Griggs[,] Joe Grigg, and myself came to Manassas Junction to see Father, who is here with the baggage.  We found him well, but very uneasy as he was confident that we were in the fight.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 22-23





Diary 7/20/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

19 11 2009

Slept finely last night although it rained, of which however I was not aware until this morning.  Brother was on guard last night and this morning is a little unwell.  Hard at work this morning throwing up breastworks along the creek bank[.]  Expecting an attack all the while and we are preparing for it. We do not expect to leave here without a fight.  We have orders from Genl Beauregard to prevent a crossing of the enemy at all and every hazard.  He says our stand at Farrs Cross Roads was worth seventy five thousand dollars to our side, for it was a perfect ruse, the enemy thinking we had nothing to fall back upon, and was the cause of our victory.  The weather is quite warm today, but we got along very well with our work, as we are divided into platoons and work alternately, so that it is comparatively easy upon us.  We finished as we thought, about dinner time, and a good work it is, certainly bullet proof, as we have rock and railroad iron in it, we are now ready for the enemy.  After finishing work we fell afoul our fat meat and crackers and eat as none but hungry men do.  Did not enjoy my dinner as much as I wished to, for some thief stole my tin cup, after I had strapped it neatly to my canteen and thought it all safe.  I am sorry to know that there are rogues in our regiment.  After dinner the boys all stretched themselves out upon the ground for a nap, but soon we heard them calling out for the men to fall in to go to work again.  Some were already asleep and when the order came, they got lazily up rubbing their eyes and cursing the yankees and their luck.  There is no use swearing about work for we have it to do, and the sooner we do it the better for us.  We worked till night and made the works doubly as strong as they were before dinner.  Do not think the Yankees could shoot a cannon ball through them now.  The Yankees have been burying their dead all day.  Nine hundred and fifty of them are missing, and a large number wounded.  There are however so many reports in circulation, that it is hard to get the truth of any thing.  It is now reported that we will have to advance upon the enemy tomorrow.  How true it is no one knows but the officers.  I do not mean our officers, for they do not know any more than the privates, some of them not so much.  Capt Hobson is unwell today, and has been lying under the shade of a tree all day.  It is amusing to see us cooking our meals down here on the creek, we however enjoy it as well as if we were in camp. 

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 21-22





Diaries and Letters

19 11 2009

I don’t know how many of you have noticed this, but there are very few published collections of soldiers’ diaries and letters that discuss First Bull Run.  I sometimes run across various sites that have letters transcribed on them, and I think I’ll start a new section on my links page for them.  But here’s how you can help:

If you have in your possession any diaries or letters written by campaign participants or even civilian commentators, please let me know via this comments section. 

If you’d like to share any family diaries or letters here, that’s great – I’ll include attribution, and if you want to provide a biographical sketch of the writer that can be generally confirmed I’ll include that too.  Images of the documents themselves are a plus – I have to be responsible and try to limit the risk of posting phony stuff.

And, if you know of a published work or website, even if it should be obvious to me, shout it out.

Letter above by a civilian observer from this site.

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Diary 7/19/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

18 11 2009

Fortunately for us we had not much rain last night.  Slept very soundly, three of us under one blanket.  The trees kept off the heavy dew.  Four or five of the boys came in this morning.  They broke down on the road and were left behind.  Brother came back from the Junction, where he went yesterday of account of being sick.  He states that father is very unwell, not being able to walk at all.  He was quite uneasy yesterday as he thought we were in the fight.  The enemy sent over a flag of truce this morning asking permission to bury their dead.  They say that they lost fifteen hundred men.  The correct list is however hard to get at.  Our loss is thought to be between fifteen and thirty killed and forty or fifty wounded.  Have not heard a gun today.  The bearer of the flag of truce states that they retired to Centreville and are throwing up breastworks, thinking that we are pursuing them.  We are again placed in the bushes to prevent the enemy from crossing to our side of the creek.  We have orders to charge them should they attempt a crossing.  Col Rodes says he wants to give the Greensboro boys a chance at the enemy the first opportunity and he thinks this the best way to do it.  The glorious news of the repulse of Patterson by Johns[t]on came in this afternoon.  It is said that he has driven him beyond the Potomac, which we hope may be true.  Whether it be true or not Johns[t]on has sent Beauregard four thousand men to reinforce this line.  An attack is expected and all the sick have been removed from the Junction; Among those sent by Johns[t]on to Beauregard is Col Syd Moore’s regiment.  The Yankees have made no advance today.  Guess they do not like southern balls and bayonets.  At Winchester where the engagement took place between Johns[t]on and Patterson, Johns[t]on found he could not dislodge the enemy from their works, he gave the order to storm them.  The South Carolina boys pitched in and ran over their works in short order, completely routing them, capturing their artillery and ammunition and fifty prisoners, who arrived at the Junction yesterday.  Our provisions got pretty short today, but fortunately some were sent down to us, and we pitched in like a pack of hungry wolves.  We have nothing but hard crackers and fat meat.  Our cooking utensils consist of sticks sharpened at one end, upon which we put our meat and hold to the fire until done.  It eats firstrate too especially when a fellow is hungry.  We sleep again tonight under the trees and bushes.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, p 21





Diary 7/18/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

17 11 2009

[Describing fight at Blackburn's Ford]

Arose early this morning and broiled a piece of meat on the coals for breakfast.  After eating, we were marched off about a half mile to a bridge across Bull Run where we were stationed along the banks of the creek and on the railroad.  We had been here but a short time, when we heard the booming of artillery, in the direction from which we came yesterday.  The firing was kept up all day, ceasing three times only for a few minutes.  When we heard the connonading and occasional volleys of musketry, our company was placed in the bushes to watch for the approach of the enemy.  We remained there all day.  This afternoon Lieut Williams, who was left behind yesterday, came in and reported a great battle fought about three quarters of a mile from where we first went yesterday at a place called Mitchell’s Ford.  The enemy eighteen thousand strong attacked our forces four thousand strong.  The attack was made with both artillery and infantry.  Our forces had the Washington Artillery from New Orleans.  They first attacked the centre and endeavored to take our battery, but were repulsed with heavy loss.  They then attacked the right wing, but were again repulsed.  After this they collected themselves and made another attack on the left and were for the third time repulsed with even greater slaughter than before.  They then retired from the field.  When they attempted to storm the battery, they were allowed to march up to within a short distance of it when our infantry rose up and turned loose a volley into them which completely routed them.  They ran in the utmost confusion.  After going some distance they rallied, when Genl Bonham gave the order to charge them, but before our troops could get near them they broke and ran like sheep before wolves.  Report says that we lost sixteen killed and forty or fifty wounded.  Their loss is estimated at from five hundred to a thousand killed and wounded.  The Yankees made a bold stand for awhile, but could not contend against southern bayonets and the Washington Artillery.  Received two letters today, one from Brother, the other from Aunt Ann.  (Mrs. Cheney) All well at home and the crop good.  He says there is [not?] a danger of Lincoln starving us out.  To night we have every indication of a heavy rain, as we can hear the distant rumbling of the thunder and the clouds are flying overhead.  We have to sleep in the bushes and but few of the men have blankets.  Father sent me a blanket, but I could not find the man he sent it by, so have to do the best I can and take the rain if it comes.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 20-21





Diary 7/17/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

14 11 2009

[Describing withdrawal from Fairfax Court House.]

After all the hustle and stir last night, no yankees came, but on the contrary every thing went on as ever, and I believe more so, for every one kept as still as possible, listening for the expected account.  This morning we heard firing out toward the pickets and all around the country.  about eight o’clock a couple of scouts came in at full speed, one having a yankee behind him captured by the pickets.  The regiment was immediately put in order of battle and marched down to the breastwork.  Tents were struck and the wagons loaded.  Father who was unable to walk, mounted a wagon horse and went off with the baggage.  Where we got to the breastworks Capt. Shelly’s Company was sent out as skirmishers, and soon we heard them open fire upon the enemy.  The firing was kept up for about an hour.  The balls whistling over our heads, I have often heard of balls whistling around a fellows head, but never knew what tune they played until this morning.  They came thick and fast, some falling within a few feet of us.  The pickets were driven in, but they came in orderly, displaying great coolness and bravery.  They fired each three or four rounds.  We remained at the breastworks about an hour and a half.  The pickets killed some ten or fifteen of the enemy.  We had only two men wounded, they very slightly.  One a member of the Warrior Guards (Tarrant) shot through the leg.  The other of Capt. Shelley’s company, having a portion of his ear shot away.  They came upon us with a large force and tried to flank us, and would have succeeded had we not received orders from the commanding general to retreat.  I think Col. Rodes intended to give them a fight, but had to obey the orders to retreat.  We left our breastworks with great reluctance, for there was all our work to be abandoned to the enemy without a fight.  The pickets from our company who were attacked were Jim Locke, Wm. Kennedy, George Nutting, John & Joe Wright.  They all got safely into Camp.  We left the breastworks and marched slowly and in order down the Centreville road.  The day was intensely warm, but we had to march ahead to avoid being flanked, as the enemy were pressing forward with great rapidity.  We marched eleven miles to Bull Run, where we met two Mississippi regiments, one South Carolina regiment and the Washington Artillery.  Here I found Father, who was much rejoiced to see us safe and well.  A good many broke down on the march.  Brother broke down, but managed to get a ride behind some one and came on safely.  I think one could have followed up our retreat and gathered at least two wagon loads of clothing, knapsacks &c, which the boys had thrown away.  A good many have now no clothing at all, not even a blanket.  We only remained at Bull Run about two hours, when we took up our line of march to a place called Union Mills, a distance of three miles.  We arrived there shortly after sunset, stacked arms, made fires, and dried our selves, as we had to ford creeks on the march.  Feel like I can do some sleeping tonight, as I did not have an opportunity last night.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 19-20








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