Report of Bvt. Maj. Henry J. Hunt, Second U. S. Artillery
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 377-381
LIGHT BATTERY M, SECOND ARTILLERY,
Camp near Fort Albany, July 25, 1861
SIR: I have the honor to submit a report of the operations of my battery on the 21st instant.
The company arrived at New York on the 12th instant from Fort Pickens, Fla., with its battery, but without horses. A large portion of the men were recruits, and no opportunity for instruction as field artillery had been afforded them. The company reached Washington by rail on Sunday, 14th, and on Wednesday evening the battery, which came by sea, was received at the arsenal. Necessary repairs and refitting were at once commenced, ammunition and other stores drawn and packed, horses procured, and on Friday, the 19th, we marched from Capitol Hill to Colonel Richardson’s position in front of the enemy’s works at Blackburn’s Ford, a distance of twenty-eight miles. Saturday was devoted to instructing the recruits, shoeing horses, &c., and on that evening Lieutenant Platt’s section was detached to join the advanced guard. On Saturday night Lieutenant Edwards, Third Artillery, reported to me with a section of two heavy rifled guns. On Sunday morning, the 21st, Lieutenant Thompson’s section was placed in position on the right of the main road, overlooking the ford, and commanding the road by which the enemy’s advance was expected. A few shells were, by direction of Colonel Richardson, dropped into the woods and amongst the buildings which were supposed to contain the enemy, but no answer was returned, and the firing ceased. Soon after this an infantry column was seen pushing into the wood skirting Bull Run. Lieutenant Thompson moved forward a piece, and after a few rounds they disappeared.
At about 10 a.m. Colonel Miles ordered both sections of my battery to the extreme left, occupied by Davies’ brigade. Edwards’ section had been sent early in the morning to that position, from which he had opened his fire upon the woods and houses in front. I transmit herewith his report of the operations of his section, in which he describes the nature of the ground.
The firing was continued at intervals by the whole battery “as a demonstration,” but produced little or no effect, as there was no definite object, except when the enemy’s moving columns came from time to time within our range. We were supported by two infantry battalions, drawn up in line behind the battery. On inquiry, made immediately after my arrival on the ground, I was informed that a brigade of infantry was posted in the wood to our left and rear, commanding a deep and wide ravine on our left flank, and watching the road beyond it, which leads from below the ford to Centreville; and as we had skirmishers pushed forward into the ravine, I felt no apprehension of danger from that quarter, but still requested, as a precaution, that the battalion on the left should be formed on the brink of the ravine and in column, so that it might be readily deployed to front in any direction. No attention was paid to this request, and the regiment remained in line.
About 4.30 or 5 p.m., after the battle was apparently gained on the right, and whilst large re-enforcements of infantry and cavalry were observed hurrying up from the direction of Manassas, a strong force of infantry and some cavalry, variously estimated at from 2,500 to 5,000 men in all, appeared on our left, approaching parallel to our front by the lateral openings into the great ravine on our flank. The infantry only was first seen, and as they approached without any apparent attempt at concealment, preceded by our skirmishers, they were supposed to be our own troops. As the number increased, I rode down the ravine with my first sergeant to reconnoiter them. Some of our skirmishers stated that they had seen no troops; others said they were the Thirty-first [?] New Yorkers coming in. They carried no colors, and their numbers increasing to an alarming extent, I hurried back and changed the front of the battery, so as to command all the openings into the ravine and the approaches to our position. Colonel Davies at the same time detached a couple of companies into the ravine as skirmishers. The latter had scarcely deployed, when a sharp rattle of musketry removed all doubts as to the character of the advancing troops. We had been surprised, and the enemy was close upon us in large force. Our infantry regiments had changed front with the battery, but unfortunately closed their intervals behind it. Precious time was now lost in getting them on our flanks. Had they remained in our rear they would have been unnecessarily exposed to the fire directed on the battery, and in case of a determined charge for our capture, which I confidently expected, they would have been apt to fire through us, destroying men and horses and crippling the guns. At length they were moved to the right and left, and ordered to lie down and await the approach of the enemy, who by this time were closing up in apparently overwhelming numbers. I now directed the gunners to prepare shrapnel and canister shot, and in case the enemy persisted in his advance not to lose time in sponging the pieces–for minutes were now of more value than arms–but to aim low, and pour in a rapid fire wherever the men were thickest or were seen advancing.
The enemy having by this time completed his preparations and driven in our skirmishers, now rushed forward and opened a heavy musketry fire on the battery, but from the shortness of range, or from aiming upwards as they ascended the ravine, their shot mostly passed over us. The command was then given to the battery to commence firing. Under the directions of Lieutenants Platt and Thompson, Second Artillery, and Edwards, Third Artillery, commanding sections, the most rapid, well-sustained, and destructive fire I have ever witnessed was now opened. The men took full advantage of the permission to omit sponging, yet no accident occurred from it. The guns were all of large caliber (two 20-pounder Parrott rifle guns and four light 12-pounders), and they swept the field with a perfect storm of canister. No troops could stand it, and the enemy broke and fled in every direction, taking refuge in the woods and ravines; and in less than fifteen minutes not a living man could be seen on the ground which so recently had swarmed with them. The infantry regiments had not found it necessary to fire a single shot.
Believing now there was no support on our left (original rear), I executed a flank movement, so as to bring the left of the battery close to the wood and in front of the lateral road by which it had reached the ground. This movement threw the regiment on our left into the wood, and thus secured its possession. The fire was now reopened, the rifled guns throwing shell and the others round shot, so as to sweep the woods and search the ravines into which the enemy had been driven. In a few minutes orders were given to retreat, and I sent an officer to Colonel Davies to inquire if such were his directions; that the enemy were defeated, and that they would be unable to reform. The answer returned was “to retire at once on Centreville.” The pieces were limbered up, and, Lieutenant Edwards’ guns leading, moved off.
Scarcely was the column fairly in the road when a scattering fire was opened on the rear, doubtless by those who, having taken refuge in the woods, observed the withdrawal of our troops. The cry to the battery to “trot” was now clamorously raised from the rear, and confusion was fast spreading, when I directed a deliberate walk should be maintained, and pushed forward myself to the place where the ambulances and wagons were standing in the main road. The teamsters had taken the alarm from the rapid firing and the cries, and a panic was rapidly growing, when my assurance of our having beaten the enemy, and that there was no necessity for hurry, together with the appearance of the head of the battery emerging at a walk from the wood, reassured them and calmed the excitement.
The whole column now retired in good order, and was formed, together with all the disposable field artillery, in front of Centreville, under the immediate direction of General McDowell in person, and in so imposing an attitude as to deter the enemy from any advance in that direction, and to hold him completely in check.
During the night the troops were put in motion for their former camps on the Potomac. Barry’s battery, under Lieutenant Tidball, and my own were the last we could perceive on the ground. Just as I was leaving I received a message from Colonel Richardson, stating that his brigade was drawn up in column on the road, and that he wished me to pass him with the battery, but to remain near him, and that we would constitute the rear guard. This was accordingly done, but a mass of stragglers collected around the guns, and could not be prevailed upon to pass them or move without them. I was thus constrained to move forward until some 2,000 or 3,000 men interposed between us, when I received a message from Colonel Richardson, stating that a force of the enemy’s cavalry and horse artillery was in our rear and threatening an attack. I now drew up at the side of the road–to turn back in such a crowd was impossible—and only by representing that the rear was about being attacked could I urge them forward. On Colonel Richardson’s coming up, he stated that the demonstration of the enemy was very feeble, and we saw them no more. It is but just to say that the disorder and mob-like mixture of the volunteers did not appear to proceed from fear, but from sheer fatigue. They were footsore, lame, hungry, and tired, but seemed to be in good heart, and on my representing that it was important that a certain position in our advance should be occupied, some of Blenker’s German and of Montgomery’s New Jersey regiments formed in good order and took the position indicated. Had we been attacked by any force, I have little doubt that a stout resistance would have been made.
The officers of the battery (Lieuts. E. R. Platt and James Thompson, Second Artillery, commanding sections) performed all the duties devolving upon them with promptness, skill, and gallantry. Their labors in bringing the battery into good condition had been untiring, and to the thoroughness of the instruction they had imparted to their sections before they were dismounted in Texas is mainly attributable the efficiency with which the pieces were served on the field and the successful result of the action.
First Lieut. Presley O. Craig, Second Artillery, on sick leave on account of a badly-sprained foot, which prevented his marching with his own company, having heard of the sickness of my second lieutenant, volunteered for the performance of the duties, and joined the battery the day before it left Washington. He was constantly and actively employed during the night preceding and on the day of the battle, and his services were very valuable. When the enemy appeared he exerted himself in perfecting the preparations to receive him, and conducted himself with the greatest gallantry when the onset was made. He fell early in the action, whilst in the active discharge of his duty, receiving a shot in the forehead, and dying in a few minutes afterwards. This was the only casualty in the battery.
Cadet John R. Meigs, of the U.S. Military Academy, being in Washington on furlough, also volunteered his services, and was employed actively from the time he joined at Washington until the close of the battle. On the death of Lieutenant Craig, Cadet Meigs performed his duties until the close of the action with spirit and intelligence, and was very useful, after the affair was over, in conveying orders, observing the enemy, and rallying our troops.
Lieutenant Edwards commanded his section with skill and efficiency, and I can indorse the favorable report he makes of his lieutenants, Benjamin and Babbitt, and of the conduct of his men.
The behavior of the men of my battery was all that could be desired. They were cool, collected, prompt, and obedient, and not an instance of misconduct or neglect occurred during the action in the whole battery.
The first sergeant, Terrence Reily, was very efficient, as were also the chiefs of pieces–Sergeants Smith, Pfeffer, Flood, and Relinger.
A detachment of twenty recruits, under Lieutenant Brisbin, had been dispatched from Carlisle Barracks to fill up my company. Lieutenant Brisbin did not reach Washington until after we had left, but he followed us up, and sought us on the field. He did not succeed in finding the battery, but employed his men usefully in endeavoring to stop the retreat of our forces and in resisting the pursuit of the enemy. In the performance of these duties he was twice wounded. He speaks favorably of the services of Sergeants Bowman and Rogers, of his detachment.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HENRY J. HUNT,
Bvt. Maj. and Capt., Second Artillery, Comdg.
Lt. Co. M. Capt. J. B. FRY,