Letter from 6th Alabama Regiment
Union Mills Ford, Va. July [?], 1861.
Daily Enquirer: —McLane’s Ford, on Bull Run, is about four miles north-east of Manassas, three miles below the Stone Bridge, and two miles above Union Mills Ford. Gen. Ewell’s Brigade, composed of the 6th Alabama (Rifle) Regiment, Col. Seibles, the 5th Alabama Regiment, Col. Rhodes, and the 6th Louisiana Regiment, Col. Seymour, are stationed at Union Mills Ford. It is a strong point, and for this reason avoided by the enemy. The battle at McLane’s, on Thursday the 18th, was fought mainly with artillery at long [?]. The firing continued for four hours, near the expiration of which time the enemy in strong force attempted to cross the stream. Our musketry opened upon them and kept up the fire for half an hour, when the enemy fell back and the battle ceased for the day. They lost about a hundred – the confederates nine.
On Sunday morning the 21st, at half past 6 o’clock, the enemy opened fire again with cannon on our batteries at McLane’s. This was intended as a mere feint, designed to induce us to the conclusion that the main fight would be there. In this they were mistaken; Our Generals were not at all deceived by the ruse, and hence did not change any of their plans or arrangements. At 7 a fire was opened by them with cannon on our batteries at the Stone Bridge. This was also a feint to cover up, as long as possible, their real plan of attack. Within an hour or two after this it was ascertained that a force of not less than 25,000 had succeeded in crossing the stream a mile and a half or two miles above the bridge. With this force the left wing of our army soon became engaged, and here mainly, above the bridge, on the Manassas side of the river, the battle was fought and won. The plan was to turn our left flank, place their flanking force between us and Manassas, and thus hem us in, making a retreat to Manassas impossible, and with an overwhelming force cut us to pieces. Her (a mile and a half towards Manassas from the river) Sherman’s famous battery was captured, and here, for two miles in almost every direction, the field was covered with thousands of their dead and wounded.
The enemy had engaged in this battle, at the various points up and down the river from the bridge, about 40,000 troops, with a reserve of about the same number, perhaps more. They had at least 80,000 on and near the field – the prisoners say they had 105,000. We had engaged from time to time during the day, about 15,000 men, with a reserve of about the same number. The enemy commenced retreating about half past 4 o’clock or 5. It was a fair, open fight – they having as much advantage of the ground as we, and greatly the advantage in artillery and superiority of small arms, and as to numbers they were two to one. Notwithstanding all this, our brave boys whipped them out, chased them from the field, and covered themselves with unfading glory.
One not present cannot fully conceive of the extent of the unbridled confusion and dismay which spread amongst the enemy as soon as they commenced to retreat. They ran in every direction, every man for himself, through fields, over fences, through the woods, spreading here and there like partridges when beset by a dog. The army (what was left of it) went into Washington and Alexandria this broken up and completely demoralized.
Our regiment was not in the fight. At 11 o’clock we were ordered to cross the river and engage the rear of the enemy. We crossed, marched to within a mile of the enemy, were ordered to re-cross the river and engage them in front; we re-crossed, and arrived with the head of our column at the bridge just in time to see squads of the retreating enemy as they fled over the distant hills east of the river. If we had not received the order to re-cross the river, we would in half an hour have been up with the rear. I need not say what would have been the result. One thing is certain; the 6th Alabama Regiment would have occupied a splendid place in the picture.
Their lost in killed and wounded cannot be less than eight thousand, perhaps twelve thousand. I see some of their papers are putting it down at twelve. Killed on our side about two hundred and seventy-five, and from five hundred to a thousand wounded and missing.
Our troops continue to bring in prisoners. We have now but little short of 1500. The Confederates captured about sixty pieces of artillery as near as I can ascertain this evening, any quantity of horses, wagons, axes, spades, picks, ambulances, muskets, ammunition, provisions, blankets, shoes, knapsacks, canteens, and every other thing belonging to a well-appointed army. They left their dead and wounded on the field, and have made no effort to bury the dead or in any way care for the wounded. At this writing, hundreds of their dead are lying on the field, and the place has become so offensive that our troops are abandoning it for the present. After burying our own dead, and caring for the wounded, a large body of our troops have been engaged in the humane task of burying the enemy’s dead and administering to the necessities of their wounded and dying, but it has been impossible to bury all of their dead. The citizens are aiding our troops in this work, and between them the prisoners are furnished all the delicacies the country affords and in every other way are as well provided for as it is possible to do under the circumstances. Our advanced forces are now at Vienna. You will hear of this division of the army again, I think, pretty soon. Lincoln says “let the war be short and decisive.” So say we.
Sergeant Bates, Privates Perkins, Pool, Howard, George Prince and A. J. Smith, who were lost on the morning of the 17th, were not killed; they were taken prisoners by the enemy, and are now in Washington. I am satisfied of this from conversations with citizens who were present or near by and know all about it. Bates fired upon the enemy from his post as officer of the picket guard; attempted then to escape, but soon found himself surrounded so as to make fruitless any further effort to escape.
The Russell Volunteers are generally well and in fine spirits; so too with Capt. Waddell’s company. The health of this regiment has improved greatly, we have now comparatively but few on the sick list.
These Yankee scoundrels have spread dismay in their track east of this, by shooting down hogs, cattle, poultry, and taking horses and every thing else they wanted, (or which they, in their venom, desired to destroy) without the consent of the owners. Every citizen whom they suspected was friendly to the South has been unceremoniously stripped of all he had.
One of their regiments, on the 21st, in battle, displayed the Southern flag, and by this means deceived the 4th Alabama regiment, got the first fire and cut up that regiment prodigiously. Such unmitigated scoundrelism, practiced by an unprincipled regiment, met its just retribution in being soon cut to pieces itself.
[B. H. B. ?]
Columbus Daily Enquirer, 8/5/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy