The Battle of Bull’s Run.
The following letters were written for the information of friends, by a member of the Janesville Volunteers, and not for publication. We are, however, permitted to publish them to satisfy the public anxiety for all the news that can be procured in relation to the Second Wisconsin regiment, which suffered quite severely in this battle. We hope the missing from the regiment may return, but the probabilities are that many of them never will. Our readers who have read the letters of Corporal Hamilton in our paper, will especially regret to learn that his name is among those placed on the list of those who have not been heard from.
Fort Corcoran, Va.,
July 23d, 1861.
Dear Father: – We have at last had the long looked for fight. On Thursday, the 18th, our boys had a little fight at Bull’s Run. The contest was unequal, and the enemy fell back towards Manassas Junction. On Sunday last, our boys came up to a fort of masked batteries. The fight commenced about six in the morning, and lasted till five in the evening. Our men fought with the greatest bravery, and without a leader. The soldiers say that at the commencement of the fight, the officer in command ran away, and was not seen again in the battle field.
All allow that it has been one of the hardest battles ever fought on this continent. The celebrated Sherman’s battery was taken by the rebels, and retaken at the point of the bayonet. Our boys took a battery of six guns, but were afterwards compelled to retreat. At six o’clock, our troops were so badly cut up that the order was given for a general retreat; and a large portion of the federal army broke and ran for their lives, hotly pursued by the rebels. We lost a great many men killed, wounded and taken prisoners, and about one hundred wagons loaded with provisions.
The battle was fought about 25 miles from here. All night on the 21st, and all day Monday, the 22nd, our boys came straggling along, and even to-day, the 23d, some of them have just arrived. Many of our company have come in wounded, and some of them were left dead or wounded on the battle field. None of the officers were killed, and but one wounded slightly in the arm.
The President, Mr. Seward, Gov. Randall, Gen. Sherman and G. B. Smith, of Wisconsin, were all here a little while ago, and all made speeches to us. Lieut. McLain told the President that we had brave men, but no officers. The President said we should have officers before we went into another fight.
Gen. Tyler has been arrested for making the attack on Bull’s Run without orders. – When the first division were retreating, and the rebels were following in hot pursuit with their cannon, killing and wounding many of our men while running for their lives, the second division came upon the rebels, forcing them to retire, with much loss, to Manassas Junction, two miles south, where they will make another stand.
It rained all night, and many thousands were obliged to lay out in it. We are all in good cheer.
Camp Peck, July 24, 1861.
I have just written over two sheets of paper to you, but on receiving a letter from you, I thought I would write a little more, as the excitement here has somewhat abated. This afternoon, all that feel well enough are out to work building a brush fence around our camp. I think by the appearance of things the enemy are advancing on Washington. The man that went up in the balloon this morning, went southeast out of sight. He threw out several messages, but they were sealed, and directed to General Scott. Sergeant Sanders just came in and said the enemy were within twelve miles of here.
We can hear cannon roaring now, and have for several hours. One of our Captains has just returned from Vienna where they are fighting.
I think from what I have heard, we have thirty thousand troops between here and the rebels.
They (the rebels) are being reinforced all the time. The next battle will tell, as we will be about equal in numbers, but they will have to make the attack.
In retreating from Bull’s Run many of our boys threw away their guns and knapsacks. I have had the measles, and was not well enough to be in the battle, but was left with one hundred others to take care of the camp.
One regiment is going home this afternoon. They are called cowards by all who stay. There are many others whose time is up, but they say they will stay till old Jeff. is dead, and they have a piece of him. Good grit, don’t you think so?
If I live I am bound to have a lock of his hair. I am quite smart, and think I shall come out all right.
The enemy are fierce, and are quite sure they will whip us out, and I confess it looks as though it was going to be a hard struggle.
Wheat, corn, oats, and potatoes, and everything looks poor. I have not time now to give you a description of the country, but when the war excitement quiets down a little, I will give you a plain account of it.
We are two miles from Washington, and within two miles of a fort. We are building a brush fence around our camp. I have the rheumatism, and am excused. Many of our boys have bullet holes through their clothes and caps, and yet were not hurt. We are a hard looking set, all covered with dirt, as we have to lay in the mud. We have had hard work to get anything to eat, but we get plenty to-day.
This morning we find that thirteen of our men are missing: Corporals J. Hamilton and Sackett, Chas. Brown, S. McKay, McIntyre, Jason Brown, Perry, O. Wilcox and five others. We are the only regiment, so far as I can learn, but what had some of its commissioned officers killed. We have one wounded in his arm. One of our boys, after receiving a ball through his knee, got down on the other and fired over twenty times, and then retreated twenty-five miles.
We have lost out of our regiment about 200 men – a very small loss compared with some other regiments. The rebels came out and formed a line of battle with their backs toward our brigade, had the stars and stripes flying, and all supposed they were federal troops. One general told the boys not to kill their own men, and so they did not fire. All at once the rebel captain gave orders to about face, and they then fired on our men and killed many of them. The Zouaves pitched into them and cut them down. As soon as the rebels fired they raised the secession flag. F. Lee shot it down. The rebels caught it up and run. Our boys chased them until they ran into a masked battery, when they were forced to retreat.
One of our captains has a young negro slave who ran out of the rebel fort and came to him. The young darkey reports that the rebels have two regiments of slaves, but they had to be kept inside the fort to prevent their running away. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon the rebels came out with seven hundred cavalry, mostly black horses. They made a terrific charge on our men, and dashed through many regiments. The Zouaves made a stand to resist their fury, and with the help of others, killed nearly all the men, took as many of their horses as they could catch, mounted them and rode off. Our boys say the ground was strewed with swords, revolvers and implements of war. Chauncey Ehle shot a cavalry man just in time to save his own life. Clark Thomas shot one under nearly the same circumstances, but he was run over and cut off from the rest of his company. After wandering about for a while, he succeeded in securing a South Carolina charger, mounted him, and made his escape through the woods.
From your affectionate son,
W. H. Foote.
[A letter from the same writer, received to-day, dated the 26th, says: “All the officers are safe except Corporals Hamilton and Sackett. It is reported that Hamilton is in a Highland regiment, and that Sackett was shot in the chin and is in Georgetown hospital.”]
Janesville Weekly Gazette and Free Press, 8/2/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy