The Second Battery
The following extract from a letter of a member of the second battery tells very clearly the part that battery played in the battle. Having described their march to the forest beyond Centreville, the writer says:
“The axmen of the 2nd New Hampshire regiment, some 25 strong, led the way; then followed the 2nd Rhode Island regiment, the light battery being immediately in the rear of the regiment, and the 1st regiment in our rear. We marched slowly but steadily, gradually working around to the left and rear of their batteries at Sutter’s Mills, till 11 o’clock, when upon the head of the column appearing through a grove, they were greeted with the compliments of a 10 gun battery on a hill to their left. ‘Forward’ was the word now, and forward we went, the horses on the jump, and came into ‘battery’ in a field on the left of our line of march, under a heavy fire from their battery and from a body of infantry concealed in a wood just to the left of our position. It was rather nervous business for one who had never seen anything but ‘muster day’ encounters to find the balls flying round his head, perfectly regardless of whom they might hit, and to see one of our horses shot dead before the gun he was harnessed to could be turned round and brought into position. The 2d regiment deployed and drove the enemy’s riflemen from the wood, so that we could confined our attention to the battery in front, which we silenced after firing some 250 shell into it. Gen. McDowell came up just as they stopped firing, and said ‘Well done, Rhode Island boys!’. We were next sent to an open field on the right to engage another battery, and after firing a short time, the left section, under Lieut. Monroe, was sent to the extreme right to support Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries, while the right and centre sections were ordered to the front to support the battery of Captain R. Arnold.
When the left section reached its position, they were within 40 yards of the enemy’s lines, and their men and horses completely exhausted. Capt. Reynolds seeing the enemy were about to charge, and the artillery being without support, ordered a retreat, and brought off both guns and one caisson. The other caisson was taken, the horses being killed. Our boys were particularly fortunate in saving their guns, for Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were both taken at this time, and our guns were placed between theirs.
The other sections were busily engaged all this time with a battery of much heavier calibre, until their ammunition was nearly expended, when they were ordered to fall to the rear. One of our gun carriages was shattered, and we were obliged to have the piece slung under the limber to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. We then formed our battery in regular column of sections, and moved off in the rear of the regiment. At this time our troops had been driven back at every point, and the order was given to retreat. Our column moved back over the road they had travelled so proudly in the morning, in great confusion. Lieut. Col. Wheaton rallied the 2d, and Col. Burnside the 1st, and marched them off in good style.
When we reached the bridge across the Bull Run, the enemy opened on us a terrible fire of shot, shell and musketry, which caused a perfect stampede among the troops. The teamers on the government baggage wagons upset their wagons across the bridge and entrance to the ford, and we were obliged to abandon our guns. We only saved one piece, which was carried over just before the fire commenced. I was at the rear of the column when they opened their battery. The second shot they fired took off the head of a soldier who had his hand on the bridle of my horse. From the bridge we moved on the ‘double quick’ to Centreville, where we met the reserve column under Gen. Runyon, who protected the retreat of the flying troops. At Centreville I took —— on my horse and rode ‘double’ to our old camping ground, where we rested for a couple of hours and then turned towards Washington. We found our baggage wagons, three in number, at Utterbachs, and throwing out all the baggage, put our men in them, and so brought them through in quite good shape. I was glad enough to get some sleep when I reached camp. Twenty-six hours in the saddle and four on the battlefield is rather harder work than I have been accustomed to.
Lieut. Weeden had his horse shot under him. The ball struck about six inches from his leg. I was hit four or five times by spent balls. One dented my field glass so that the lower slide won’t work.
All our men worked like heroes, and one of their officers, who was carried to our hospital to have his wounds dressed, said ‘that Rhode Island battery cut up our men terribly.’
We are ready for another dash at them, and to morrow we start for Harper’s Ferry to take the place of the first battery.”
Providence Journal 7/31/1861