Letters From The Second Regiment.
Camp Clark, July 22, 1861
To the Editors of the Evening Press: – Dear Sirs, I am oppressed with the long fatigue and overwhelmed with grief, but cannot rest until I have written a few lines to you.
Perhaps the best thing that I can do is to give you a simple narrative of what has transpired, so far as it has come under my own observation. According to orders issued the night before, we took our line of march yesterday morning at two o’clock. As in the advance upon Fairfax, the Second Regiment led the advance, under the command of General Hunter, who was constantly present to direct and to urge forward the Division. By a forced march of what could not have been less than eighteen miles, lasting from two until about nine o’clock, we reached, by a circuitous route through the wilderness, the place of conflict – a place called Bull’s Run. None of us had rested the night before, for more than an hour or two – some of us had not closed our eyes at all. All were greatly fatigued by the forced and lengthy march – during which we only halted a very few times, and then only for a moment or two. The Second Rhode Island Regiment not only led the advancing column, but, as before, performed all the flanking and skirmishing duty – their flanking lines extending for a great distance into the wilderness and the duties of it attended with great labor. About nine, as we were just coming to the edge of the woods through which we had been winding, the skirmishing commenced by our flanking companies, and word was brought to us that the enemy was waiting for us in force on the open space just beyond.
Without taking a moment to rest or to breathe; even without waiting for others in the rear to join them, the officers and men of the 2d regiment listened to a few sentences from Gen. Hunter, and, led by their brave Colonel, rushed with a shout into the open space, and found themselves face to face, and almost hand to hand, with a greatly superior force of the enemy. The battle commenced instantly and fiercely. I can compare it to nothing but the mysterious storm spoken of in the Apocalypse, only every drop was a ball, which mowed, and smote, and cut, with the force of lightning. I did not see a man falter. Led by their officers, who shouted forward, and showed themselves as brave and true as steel, and companies rushed through the storm of death and drove the superior force of the enemy before them. In a few moments the battery, led by the brave Capt. Reynolds, drove into the field, and wheeling, began to pour their death dealing missiles into the ranks of the foe. This seemed to me to be the most terrible moment of this terrific conflict. The enemy, close at hand, seemed to me to conceive the idea of driving our men back and taking the battery. The air seemed to grow dark and was rendered vocal with the storm of balls cutting through it and rending the trees in our rear. Still the officers, themselves among the foremost, shouted forward, and our men not only maintained the unequal conflict, but steadily drove the enemy before them. Perhaps it was not so long as that, but it seemed to me a full half hour before the other regiments came to our support and the enemy were repulsed and driven back. I supposed the day was gained, as I had not doubted but that it would be from the beginning. Of course there were dead and wounded on every side of us. Some of us had been constantly engaged in bearing them back into the edge of the wood and supporting and consoling them as best we could.
As soon as possible the carriages prepared for that purpose were brought up, and the wounded carried yet farther to the rear and placed in the charge of the surgeons. Our beloved Colonel fell gallantly leading on his regiment. He was instantly borne to a house near at hand, and then to the hospital below, and every exertion was made to revive him, but in vain. There was no consciousness, and he survived but a short time. I need not add that we are filled with the profoundest grief at his loss. May God bless and comfort his wife and mother and whole family.
Of the, to me perfectly mysterious, result of the general battle, I have neither time nor strength now to speak, nor of the retreat. I say result of the general battle, for our part of it was a victory. Our officers fought and fell like heroes, and the whole regiment has gained for itself and the State imperishable fame. Our beloved Governor has proved himself to be among the bravest of the brave. He was constantly in the front of the battle, and when his horse fell dead under him, he was instantly with drawn sword cheering on the men, and through the mercy of God he has escaped with only a scratch. The command of our regiment devolved upon Lieut. Col. Wheaton, son of our senior Surgeon, and he has in every way shown himself worthy to succeed Col. Slocum. I assure you he can ask no higher praise than this. By him and his officers our regiment was kept organized and controlled through nearly the entire retreat, while others were broken and scattered.
We know that we owe to him, and yet more to the cool and indefatigable exertions of our brave Governor, that the result of the conflict was not yet more disastrous. He was with us through the whole – forgetful of self – thoughtful only of the rest.
The beloved dead and wounded we were compelled to leave; not, however, until an arrangement had been made with a superior officer of the enemy who had fallen into our hands to have them most sacredly and tenderly cared for.
Of the extent of our loss I cannot now judge. In our regiment, of the dead and those who may be considered fatally wounded, the number I think will fall short of one hundred. This is all I have time to add. May God sanctify to us and the whole nation this great sorrow.
Providence Evening Press 7/25/1861