Lt . Luther C. Warner, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

Letter from Lieut. Warner.

We are gratified to be able to print this afternoon the following extracts from a private letter received last evening from Lieut. L. C. Warner, of Company C, First Regiment. He gives a graphic and evidently truthful account of Rhode Island’s participation in the fight of last Sunday, and the intelligent reader will readily gleam from its perusal a confirmation of a remark made to Mr. Wm. E. Hamlin by one of the soldiers after the battle, that Lieut. Warner was one of the bravest men on the field.

Camp Sprague,
Washington, D. C., July 24, 1861.

Lewis Pierce has just called on me with sad news from you, and brings a paper recording my death first and afterwards a prisoner. My first duty after arriving at Washington was to telegraph you of my safety. I went to the office and immediately sent a despatch. Our company supposed I was lost, until I came into camp. After we came off the field of battle our company stacked arms near a piece of woods. There were two of our men missing, one of whom I knew was wounded. I stayed longer than I was aware of, helping to attend the dying and suffering, also in getting Capt. Prescott’s body off the field, not thinking of any retreat being ordered, as we were victorious on our part of the field.

I was absent just an hour, and then started to join our Regiment, but when I got down to where we stacked our muskets, they were all gone, and the rebels were firing shells and grape after them as they were retreating. I started after them upon the run, running nearly two miles. I got sight of the regiment, and renewed my exertions to overtake them, but I was so exhausted I could not, and getting over a fence, which adjoined a piece of woods, I stumbled and fell, completely exhausted and nearly melted. I could not arise but lay there fully one hour. I then started alone through the woods, not knowing where I should get to, but I found one path on which we came, before it got too dark, and followed on. I picked up a Sharpe’s rifle, cartridge box, balls, &c. which some poor tired soldier had left, loading the same, determined to defend myself when I came out of the seven miles long woods. I saw several soldiers of other regiments, and continually overtaking them all along, until we had a party of about thirty. When near Bull’s Run Bridge we were fired upon by some of the rebel scouts and one of our men killed. We returned their fire with deadly effect, for we saw three of their number fall. The bridge was covered with dead men, horses, teams, &c. in one mass, so much so that we could not cross where the rebels shelled our forces on their retreat.

We waded across the river waist deep. After going half a mile we came upon several hundred of our men resting. Hardly had I reached them before the shells began to come again from the rebels from a high hill on our right. The men fired and then began to retreat in confusion again. I was alone until I reached Centreville. Here some three regiments who were held in reserve were drawn up in line of battle to meet the enemy if they advanced. The mad all they could of our retreating ones join them. Finding I was an officer they mounted me on a horse and I rallied the broken columns all I could, and had some four or five hundred soon in line. I talked, begged and plead with them to make a stand and give the rebels one more volley. Did not have to wait long before the shells came, but it was so dark they fell short of us. After firing a few times they ceased, when all of a sudden, from the woods on our left, came the Black Cavalry. When near enough we poured three volleys into them which must have killed many for they fled in haste. Then came the shells again, one of which exploded near me killing my horse, and I fell headlong but without a hurt excepting a slight scratch. It was a narrow chance. They now ceased firing, so I concluded to press forward.

I still clung to my rifle and started again. I had not gone but a short distance before I had a chance to use it upon one of their horsemen who fired at me on the run. He tumbled off dead, I think. I had hardly time to load again before another one dashed at me. I made him bite the dust. He uttered a tearful oath as he fell. I looked at him as he lay with the moon shining upon him, and he looked more like a devil than a human being.

I tried for some time to catch his horse, but I was too tired to run. He was a noble animal, but I think rather wild. Again I trudged along, taking to the woods all I could, then cross lots, keeping near the road for my guide, until I came to Fairfax Court House. Here there were several thousands of our soldiers resting. We left this place well guarded. Here I met one of the Band, and we started together for Washington. Clinging to my rifle, I travelled all night long, resting only twice to eat three crackers which I had in my knapsack, the first food I had put into my mouth since the evening before.

Day broke at last, when our journey was not accomplished. My feet swelled so that I had to take off my shoes and walked over ten miles barefoot. At 20 minutes past 11 o’clock I reached Fort Corcoran, on Arlington Heights, completely used up. It began to rain at 6 A. M., and I was wet through. I had to throw away my blanket and coat in order to carry my rifle. Col. Baker at the Fort took me into his tent, and gave me dry clothes, refreshments, &c. Then I sought rest and did not awake till after dark, I could not cross the river then and therefore remained. I returned yesterday morning and as I remarked in my letter this morning, immediately called at the telegraph office to apprize you of my safety, although I was so lame it was most impossible for me to walk.

This all seems like fiction, as I wrote you this morning, but it’s true. Our men were glad enough to see me, and the officers, too, for they thought me lost, as I was a whole day behind them. I am now getting along nicely.

This truth is prominent: We (the R. I. troops) were the first in the field; first in the fight, and the last to retreat. Tell everybody of this, for it’s so.

Providence Evening Press 7/27/1861

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Unknown, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

A Volunteer’s Narrative.

The following letter from a member the First Regiment to his mother has been kindly placed in our hands. It gives a very vivid picture of some of the terrible scenes enacted on the last Sabbath, and its graphic frankness gives it a peculiar charm: –

Camp Sprague, July 22, 1861.

Dear Mother; – Ere this you must have heard of the dreadful battle that took place Sunday. * * * * I am perfectly well and unhurt, with the exception of a few bruises. The destruction of human life has been fearful to contemplate, but that you may get a connected idea of the battle, I will begin at the beginning.

Sunday morning at half after two, we set off for “Bull’s Run,” and to escape a masked battery, made a circuit of about fifteen miles. Just as we approached the “Run,” – about 8 o’clock, we heard the sound of heavy cannon, by which we knew the fight was commenced. So we hurried on although Col. Burnside said we would not be called upon until the last, but we found this to be a mistake. As for the first time I approached a battle field, my feelings can be imagined better than described. The first thing of not was a shell whistling through the air, and “bang” went a bomb almost at our feet, and covered us with dust. We could hardly help flinching and bobbing our heads as we heard the whirr of these missiles of death.

We, instead of being kept back as a reserve, were formed directly after our arrival into a line of battle, and marched upon the enemy. Now the scene became awfully thrilling and dangerous. Every few minutes a shower of bullets would come among us, and some were sure to fall beneath their deadly force. We had to climb over a fence, and then proceeding to the brow of the hill, we fired upon the enemy below. The balls whistled around my head like hailstones; one knocked my musket out of my hand, while another just grazed my thumb joint. I fired eleven times and loaded lying down. The scene was dreadful; the first shot fired at us, hit our beloved Lieutenant, Henry A. Prescott, in the forehead, and he dropped instantly; and they kept falling and bleeding and dying before our faces, but we merely kept loading and firing. We had to sustain ourselves nearly half an hour, when some regulars came to our assistance and charged the enemy.

The battle lasted all day, and the slaughter was dreadful. * * * * We were safe nowhere. The cannon balls would come whizzing over our heads every few minutes, generally killing some one in their progress. We drove the enemy back into their batteries several times, when suddenly a panic seized the troops. It was said that the rebels had captured all our artillery and were making a charge: 40,000 men set off on the run, leaving muskets, blankets, wagons of provisions, and the dead and dying all lying on the field. Ours was the only brigade that retreated in any sort of order. * * *

The scene was terrible. Shells were exploding and cannon roaring made such a noise that the cry of the wounded could not be heard. Cavalry, infantry and artillery, in one confused mass, hurried away as fast as possible. Some seized their arms, others not. One of the terrible scenes was just as we were retreating, the men were grabbing their muskets, which were loaded and capped, when one suddenly went off, wounding Jesse Comstock, a fine fellow of my age and a great friend of mine. He cried “Oh dear, I’m shot! Don’t leave me here! So we placed the poor fellow in the ambulance, but had hardly done so when a shell came tearing through the trees and landed directly in the ambulance, blowing at once to atoms one of our dearest companions in arms. But so we lost him – hard it seemed after his escaping the chances of battle, to so fearfully lose his life.

We were obliged to retreat the same way we came, by making a long and tedious circuit. On the way, not a drop of water could be procured, yet in spite of that, we marched fifteen miles without a single rest. It was a sad march, too, for we knew that our retreat would be cut off by the enemy, and true enough, just as our army, scattered as it was, reached the straight road, the rebels opened fire upon us with their artillery. The grape shot came pouring and whizzing by me, and we all began to run. Our artillery had strived to gain a post on the opposite hill, but before our arrival the rebels hade effectually barricaded the bridge, so that it was impossible to get anything over it. Ambulances, cannon, men and horses were piled in one confused mass, and to add to the horror of the scene, the enemy commenced firing solid shot and shell directly at the bridge, blowing up the living and the dying.

I leaped over a fence, and had hardly done so when I heard a loud crash and looking back I beheld (horrible dictu) the upper half of a soldier’s body flying up the hill. He had been cut in twain by a solid ball. At this almost barbarous cruelty, – that is, firing upon an almost unarmed and entirely unopposing force, a cry of mortal terror arose among the flying soldiers, and they followed me into the wood. This of course led the fire to be turned in my direction, and I quickly found the balls coming close to me. I dodged several; for if not crowded, you can dodge a cannon ball. I came within an ace of being killed by one of the flying missiles. I saw it coming directly towards me, and sprung into a gully close by, and the ball whizzed past close by my head, ploughing up the earth each side of me.

I ran three miles to where we were to encamp, and found what was left of our regiment starting for Washington. We arrived here this noon, after a march of fifty-six miles in two days, and a hard battle thrown in. * * *

I never shall pass such a dreadful Sunday, I trust and pray. I have seen war, and seen enough, and I hope I shall never hear the din of cannon and the rattle of musketry, while I again live. How I escaped is miraculous. We have to be thankful that all our relations were preserved to us. We come home within three days, with a regiment stripped of many of its brightest ornaments. * * * We shall return with a train of mourners, and a flag shattered with bullets. * * * * *

Give my best love to all and my kindest sympathy to sorrowing friends.

Providence Evening Press 7/26/1861

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