Report of Colonel George L. Burnham, First Connecticut Volunteers
Photocopy from Connecticut State Library in Site Owner’s Collection (*)
Fort Corcoran near Washington, DC
July 24th, 1861
Sir, I have the honor to report that we started from our Bivouac at Centreville at 2 O’Clock on the morning of the 21st of July, keeping the Warrentown Turnpike for about four miles, my regiment leading the Brigade. There the Brigade was ordered to file off the road into the fields to allow troops to pass, the Brigade being held in reserve that day. After waiting some three hours, we filed again into the road. Proceeding some two miles we again halted for a short time. We then were ordered to advance. Emerging from the woods through which we passed we were opened upon with a very heavy fire of shells from some two or three of the enemies batteries. The troops dropping at the flash of the guns, most of the shells went over us, but few doing any serious damage. Advancing at the double quick obliquely to [the] right of the road, we passed the building afterwards used as a hospital. I met Gen. McDowell [and] was ordered by him to march by the left flank (we then were marching by the right.) Passing through a narrow strip of woods we came in full view of the enemy, upon whom we immediately opened fire, and as well as I could judge, with considerable effect. We then were ordered to march by the Left Flank, following the Connecticut 2d. Being very hotly attacked by the enemies fire we kept well under the hill which protected our men to a great degree. We were ordered to charge on one of the batteries but it was countermanded by yourself as [it] was evident that it would be a perfect annihilation of our men. We then made attacks on the enemy whenever a favorable opportunity presented itself.
About 4 O’Clock we had orders to change our position marching by the right flank, the Conn. 2d filing past. Proceeding to the Hospital we learnt of the rout of our Army. My regiment kept in most excellent good order, although hotly pressed by the enemies fire. Reaching the woods we soon after met the enemies Cavalry in full charge, but my regiment standing its ground and one of our guns opening fire on them, they soon left us. Coming up soon after with the N. Y. 2d under command of the Lieut. Colonel (the Colonel being absent) who placed his regiment with my own under my command, but had gone but a short distance when seeing Gen. Schenck the commander of their Brigade I placed myself and regiment under his command for a short time.
Reaching Cub Run I vainly tried to rescue the Parrot gun which was mired [by the] side of the road. Fording the stream the staff of our color State Color was shot in two, but our colors on that day were not dishonored, but were brought off the field.
We then came up to Col. Miles Brigade which were held as reserve, and most nobly did he do his duty. His presence with his Brigade held in most admirable order revived the [drooping?] spirits of the tired and retreating soldiers who immediately took fresh courage. And the enemies Cavalry which up to this time and had pressed most earnestly and severely on our troops concluded it was time for them to retire, which they did much to our satisfaction. We then marched into our old Bivouac Grounds in Centreville in as good order as when we first reached them the day Thursday before.
Consoling ourselves that we were the first Regiment in the field, of the Brigade, and the last (as far as I could see) of all out of it our loss being eight wounded and nine missing. And allow me to say that the Troops could not have behaved better, faithfully obeying every order and were [easily?] handled, my adjutant being my assistant.
Resting awhile at Centreville we were ordered back to camp at Falls Church which place we reached after daybreak the 22d. Striking our tents according to orders we remained all day in a most drenching rain, which occasioned very much suffering among the men on account of the very fatiguing duties of the day before and the wanting of rest. At dark marching down with the two other Conn. Regiments we took possession of the two Ohio camps (1st & 2d) where with the Conn. 3d we rested for the night. Next morning we struck the tents and with all the Camp Equipage &c we sent to Alexandria, the Conn. 2d doing the same thing for the N.Y. 2d. The Three Regiments then marched to Fort Corcoran arriving at about sundown, well worn out.
My men, through this severe trial, seemed to vie with each other to find the least complaint of their sufferings, excepting, of course, those who basely deserted their colors or refused to go into the field on that eventful day, those complaining the most that suffered the least.
I hope I may be excused if there is any discrepancy in the report as I have been suffering with a most painful attack of neuraligy and with which I now suffer with redoubled force owing to my recent exposure.
I have the honor to be your most obdt servant
Geo. S. Burnham
Col. 1st Regt Conn. Vol.
To Col. E. D. Keyes
Commanding First Brigade
(*) All but last two paragraph breaks not in original. [ ] are edited into text.