Report of Lieut. John M. Wilson, Second U.S. Artillery
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 362-363
FORT CORCORAN, VA., July 24, 1861
SIR: In obedience to your order, I beg leave to make the following report of our attack and retreat at the battle of Bull Run:
By order of General Schenck, we prepared to move forward at exactly 2 a.m. Sunday, July 21, but owing to the infantry not being ready, our departure was delayed nearly an hour. Our brigade led off, our position being just behind the New York Second Regiment, who were preceded by the Ohio First and Second.
We moved forward slowly, experiencing little difficulty, except at the bridge across a small brook, the ford of the brook being obstructed by fallen trees. The difficulty arose from the weakness of the bridge, we fearing it would break under the weight of the 30-pounder gun. We passed over, however, without accident, and moved forward on the road, the troops taking position in line of battle, skirmishers in front.
At 5 a.m. exactly the first gun was fired by Captain Carlisle, who fired three times from the 30-pounder rifled gun without eliciting any reply from the enemy, who could be seen in crowds in the adjacent woods. Our battery then moved forward, and by order took up position on the brow of a small hill, facing down a ravine, with heavy woods immediately in rear of us. At the suggestion of Major Barry, of the artillery, I opened fire from my rifle section upon the enemy, immediately in rear of an abatis a short distance off, and dislodged them at the first fire; this was about 8.30 a.m. Colonel Hunter’s column having moved to the right to go over Bull Run, the enemy advanced out to meet them, when I again opened from my rifle guns, with what execution I could not tell. The firing on the right soon after became very severe. A regiment now attempted to cross Bull Run, when a battery behind a hill in front of us opened upon them, and they fell before it, breaking rapidly.
Our battery now opened upon the enemy in the most gallant style, firing with the greatest rapidity shot, shell, spherical case, and canister, and silenced their battery in a short time, we being under a very severe fire of solid shot and Hotchkiss shell. On inspecting their position afterwards it was found that they had been literally cut to pieces.
We then opened on a battery much farther off, and with the 30-pounder gun (rifled), and were replied to with such accuracy as to take off half the splinter-bar of the limber, and some of the shell which fell among us proved to be from the Parrott gun. A short time before this our infantry support was withdrawn, and we were left entirely alone. Soon after, we were ordered from this position, and I moved forward alone with my section to cover the position where a bridge was to be thrown over Bull Run, we being supported by the First Ohio Regiment and some other. By order of the commanding general of the brigade, I took-position in an open road, and fired at a house and into the woods. A battery, which could not be seen, now opened upon us with remarkable precision. I continued to fire for some time, until I was ordered to move farther down towards the run. I limbered up, and was about to move off, when vast columns of the enemy were seen coming over the hill, and though evidently beyond the range of my guns I fired at them by order of the commanding general of the brigade, again coming into battery, still being under a severe fire from the battery which we could not see.
In a few moments, having run out of ammunition, with the exception of one shell for each gun, I retired, by order of Colonel McCook, and took position with the rest of the battery, under Captain Carlisle, on the brow of a hill about one hundred yards from the position I then occupied. Here again we were under fire from some unseen source, and the shot and shell rained in among us. Our battery then again opened, the section under Lieutenant Fuller having been operating upon the enemy while Lieutenant Lyford and myself were absent with our sections. Lieutenant Lyford had moved just to my front and left, by order, and was also under a galling fire. On his return, we limbered up and moved slowly off to the road for a new position. We halted in the road, and a few moments after, by order of Captain Carlisle, I moved forward to get a proper position.
Just as I started, an orderly brought me an order from the commanding general of the brigade to halt. I halted, but soon after Captain Carlisle, by order, ordered us forward again, but it was too late. We were charged by cavalry in a road where we could not come into action–woods on each side of us and we in column. The infantry fell back precipitately in the woods. We moved forward at a gallop. Our men were shot down and sabered. The wheels broke down in all the pieces and caissons of my section. I halted to see if they could be fixed, amidst a perfect shower of pistol bullets, but finding they could not be, moved forward with the pieces on a jump without wheels until every trace broke. The men behaved gallantly and the non-commissioned officers with great coolness and bravery. I halted at Centreville, where an attempt was made to make a stand, but soon after moved on with dispatches from Colonel Sherman to Fairfax Court. House, arriving there about dark, and telegraphing the dispatch to Washington. With what men I could gather, and as many horses as I could get, I moved on the following day to Fort Corcoran, where my company is now being reorganized. Our loss is still unknown, as the horses and men are constantly coming in.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN M. WILSON,
Lieutenant, Second Artillery
Capt. J. HOWARD CARLISLE,
Commanding Company E, Second Artillery