John E. Poyas, Co. A, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (2)

12 08 2011

From Virginia.

We have been favored with another letter from Mr. J. E. Poyas, a member of the Washington Light Infantry Volunteers, Hampton’s Legion, to his sister in this city, which we publish (even at the risk of repetition,) believing that every thing concerning the Stone Bridge battle will be interesting to our readers

Manassas Junction, July 24, 1861.

My Dear Sister -

I trust my letter of Monday has flown to mamma on the wings of the lightning. I should have sent a telegram, but there were so many ahead of me, I thought it would be lost, or delayed until of no use.

The Legion has been baptized in blood, and have now a name to sustain, not to make. Would that we had been complete on Sunday, for with our artillery and cavalry we should have been equal to the hordes opposed to us, and instead of holding them in check, which we did for three hours, with scarcely any assistance, we would have driven them back or cut them to shreds before General Beauregard saw us on the field, and he would have been still more proud of his Carolinians.

On Sunday, 21st of July, at 7 A. M., the report of cannon was hard in the distance, and we knew that the battle had commenced. At eight we were formed into line and marched for the field.  After marching about four miles a scout came to us, saying the enemy were approaching in numbers on our left. The Georgia Regiment and a small battery (two pieces) of artillery were near us, and first engaged the enemy. We approached under cover of a slight elevation of the ground, but not unobserved, for before we were well in sight their batteries opened upon us, and we lay upon the ground with balls, grapeshot and fragments of shell falling thick and fast around us. Of course, our small force could not stand before their hordes in open field, and the Georgians with the artillery were forced back. We then approached, skirting a small wood on our right, and opened fire upon them. At our first fire their colors were shot down, and it was here than Bankensee and Phelps met their end.

We were soon obliged to fall back to a fence, and behind that to fight as long as we could stand, then to retire to a road in our rear, take to a ditch, and with a rail fence before us, to hold our position as long as possible.

It was here [Lt.] Col. Johnson was shot by the wretches who approached us with a Palmetto flag, and many of our men were wounded, but we made them pay dearly for their deception, by leaving hundreds of them stretched upon that portion of the field. Whilst we were in that ditch, Colonel Hampton, who had one horse shot, dismounted from his other, and joining us in the ditch, took a musket from one of the wounded men, and from that time until wounded late in the afternoon, fought with his men. I am happy to say that he is doing well, and was walking out yesterday. From that ditch and the fences around we fought from 11 A. M. to 5 P. M. At that time we took a park of nine pieces of artillery. The Richmond papers say the Virginians took it, but Gen. Beauregard says that ours is the credit, and it is certain that the Legion flag was the first over it, taken there by Corporal O’Conner, of our company – Sergeant Darby having become tired had given it to carry until he rested. Our company flags we were obliged to leave in Richmond. The staff of our Legion banner was struck by a ball. Colonel Kershaw’s regiment first came to our assistance from Bull Run. They were followed by Col. Cash’s regiment and (I think) Col. Jenkins’ regiment in the course of the afternoon. Old Jeff. [Davis] came upon the field at the head of a large body of cavalry, and completed the route of the enemy. Cols. Kershaw and Cash’s, one Mississippi regiment, Kemper’s battery from Alexandria, and a body of cavalry, with the Legion started in pursuit. Near Centreville they had halted – we formed the line of battle and Kemper opened upon them – and the Palmetto Guard, who were thrown out as skirmishers, gave them a volley, which sent them off howling, leaving their cannon and everything they had. As it was after sunset and cloudy, we could follow them no further, though the cavalry still kept up the chase. We have taken 1300 prisoners, 400 horses, 71 pieces of artillery, and property to an immense amount, in fact, I doubt if there has ever been so hard fought a battle or so complete a rout of an army on this Continent; perhaps never on either where there was such disparity of numbers.

According to the newspapers Gen. Johnston commanded our wing, but we never saw him, nor did we see Beauregard until 2 o’clock. Up to that hour, we could have been crushed at any moment, for the Yankees had ten to our one at the lowest calculation.

A Virginia traitor had furnished them with our countersign, and they had furnished themselves with a bogus Palmetto flag; had also recognized the Legion as soon as it appeared on the field, and paid it particular attention, but had not the pluck to press on and crush us.

Gen. Bonham, when last heard of, was in possession of Fairfax Court House, and is probably at this time in Alexandria, as a portion of our army has advance upon it, and report says taken it without firing a gun.

My opinion is that if we take Arlington Heights at once, we may be able to take Washington, and by so doing put an end to the war; but I am quite willing to leave the whole affair under God in the hands of those in whose care he has placed it.

As I have not mentioned Theo. G. Barker, our Adjutant, I must not close this rambling account of our first battle without saying, he was as cool and brave as it was possible for a man to be. After the fight we shook hands and congratulated each other on our safety. Our Captain is a trump – the ace of trumps – and we are all much troubled to think that he will be taken from us to be made a Major. Our Lieutenants all acted nobly; they told me they did not think I could have gone through with so much fatigue. I am very glad to say that Henry Middleton is doing well, ,and it is hoped he will recover. There is also hope for Green. Our frequent moves when the lines would necessarily be broken, made it particularly trying, for men when thrown into confusion are very apt to become panic stricken.

Virginians, Georgians, Alabamians, Mississippians, Louisianians and Carolinians, all did their duty, and entirely routed the Grand Army of the United States.

Charleston Courier 7/30/1861

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