Report of Maj. Alonzo F. Bidwell, First Michigan Infantry
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 411-413
HDQRS. FIRST REGIMENT MICHIGAN INFANTRY,
Washington City, July 25, 1861
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the First Regiment Michigan Infantry, on the 21st instant, at the battle of Bull Run:
At 2.30 o’clock of that morning the regiment left its bivouac, and was in position, with the other regiments of Colonel Willcox’s brigade, prepared for the advance. At 6 o’clock the forward movement commenced, and about 12 o’clock noon, after a long, rapid march over roads thick with dust, and where but a scant supply of water could be obtained, the regiment was halted with the brigade in a field to the right of the road leading from Centreville, and on the right of the enemy’s entrenchments. After a brief rest, the regiment, together with Arnold’s battery, moved across the road and took position in a wheat-field, the other regiments composing the brigade having moved towards the battle-field. But a short time elapsed when the regiment was ordered forward, and at a double-quick was hastened to the scene of action to support the Fire Zouaves, who had charged and fallen back. Moving in column by platoon along the slope of the hill under the fire of the enemy’s batteries we lost one color-bearer and several of our men. The regiment was here filed to the left along a ravine, then marched up the hill, and formed in line of battle near its summit, directly in front of the enemy’s position. The regiment was at once ordered to charge, and moved gallantly on, exposed to a sharp fire, up to a fence intervening between it and the enemy’s works. Here some little confusion occurred, the position of the enemy not being clearly understood, so rapid had been our movements, and the regiment halted, firing and loading under the cover of the fence. An order given at this time not clearly heard, a portion of the line fell back to reload. They were at once rallied back to the fence, when the regiment was reformed in line of battle and led on by Colonel Willcox in advance of our center, the regiment, responding to the wave of his cap with a cheer, cleared the fence, and charged down the slope upon the enemy’s battery.
A heavy and well-directed fire was at once opened upon us from his batteries and by his infantry, screened by the woods on both our flanks. The regiment moved bravely on, the fire becoming very destructive. The enemy being hid from view, and their fire coming from every direction, the line was broken, and the men in detachments, guided by their officers, when the enemy could be distinguished, loaded and fired with the utmost coolness and precision. At this time heavy masses of the enemy advanced along the road near their battery to our right, and, flanking us, their fire became actually murderous. The men stood it coolly, and advancing, divided as they were, into the line of woods, answered his fire. The enemy’s fire being continuous from every quarter, their infantry advancing on us through the wood in great force, our officers and men falling all about us, the regiment unsupported in rear or flank, there was but one thing to be done, and, gathering what we could about the colors, we fell back and reascended the acclivity to the spot from whence our first charge was made. Here we rallied as many of the men of the regiment as was possible, and endeavored to collect stragglers from other regiments.
In the hope that we could more successfully stop fugitives by retiring more from the line of fire, we fell back and continued our efforts to reform. The enemy now appearing in overwhelming strength on the right, we moved on to our bivouac of the morning, near Centreville, which was occupied by the regiment in comparatively good order.
After two or three hours’ rest, in obedience to orders, the regiment took up the line of march in good order for Washington.
Inclosed I transmit a list of the casualties of the day.(*) The loss is heavy, and occurred mostly in front of the enemy’s batteries. The loss of the officers is very large proportionately to the men, and is sufficient proof not only of their gallantry, but of the murderous fire that the regiment sustained. No troops could have maintained their formation for any length of time under such a fire. Hurried into action after a march of twelve miles over an exceedingly dusty road, with but little water and no time for rest and refreshment, our fatigued men evinced a courage, coolness, and endurance that entitle them to the highest praise.
The regiment went into the action four hundred and seventy-five men and twenty-five commissioned officers strong, and returned with a loss of nine officers and one hundred and eight men killed, wounded, and missing; being a proportion of loss of one-third of the officers and one-fifth of the men lost or injured in the vicissitudes of the day.
Of the fate of Colonel Willcox there is no certain information. It is known, however, that his horse was shot under him, and that he received a wound in the arm while advancing upon the enemy’s battery at the head of the regiment, and it was while engaged in the act of binding up his wound, as is believed, that Captain Withington, of Company B, who was acting as major, received a wound and fell on the field.
Captain Butterworth, Company C, was also shot, and has not since been heard from. Captain Lum, of Company A, acting as lieutenant-colonel, was wounded in the knee, and is now in Washington, as is also Captain Graves, of Company K. Lieutenants Casey, Company G, Mauch, of Company F, and Parks, of Company H, were also wounded, and have not been heard from. Lieutenant Warner, of Company I, also wounded, is now in Washington. Of those brave men who have met their fate in the engagement I cannot speak in too high terms. The regiment will cherish the memory of their gallantry. Nor can I refrain from referring with highest commendation to the valuable services, bravery, and good conduct of all the officers on the field. Where all performed acts of gallantry and valor, it would be invidious to particularize, and I trust that all will alike find in the terrible proportion of their loss the best record of individual worth.
A. F. BIDWELL,
Comdg. Second Brigade, Alexandria, Va.
(*) Embodied in division return, p. 405.