Sgt. Lyman H. Smith, Co. E, 2nd Wisconsin, On the Battle

25 07 2012

Interesting Letter from a Wisconsin Boy.


Below we publish an extract from a letter written by Lyman H. Smith, an Orderly Sergeant in the Second Wisconsin Regiment to his sister, Mrs. Williams, of Richford, Vermont. Mr. Smith formerly resided in Richford from whence he went to Wisconsin some six years ago, and as a member of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment was engaged in the sanguinary conflict at Bull Run on the 21st of July:

Headquarters Second Wisconsin Reg’t.

Fort Corcoran, July 24, 1861.

Dear Sister: I was happily surprised to receive a letter from you, it being the first for a long time. I am glad to hear you are well. You will probably learn, ere this letter reaches you, of the terrible battle which has been fought near Manassas in which our Regiment took a prominent part, and suffered a severe loss. It was the greatest battle, I think, ever fought in the United States, and I trust the hardest that will be fought. We started from camp at three o’clock in the morning and marched on the enemy. At eight o’clock we met the enemy and commenced firing. The battle was hotly contested for nine hours with but little intermission. When the action commenced we had only twelve thousand troops on the field while the enemy had seventy thousand. At eleven o’clock we had apparently fairly won the day. About this time we discovered a large force advancing in the direction whence we expected reinforcements, which, however, proved to be reinforcements of the rebels. These fresh troops fell upon us, and our men fell like sheep at the slaughter, but our brave troops stood their ground, expecting help, until seven o’clock in the evening, when not receiving reinforcements we were obliged to abandon the field and retreat. When we had retreated about a mile I was informed that my messmate had been wounded and was left upon the battle field. I went back to the field determined if possible to find him, but after searching in vain for half an hour, was obliged to run for life amid showers of shot and shells. In the meantime the Regiment had got out of sight and I was left alone to make my escape as best as I could. In a short time I came up with the wagons containing our dead and wounded. About this time the rebel cavalry charged upon us. We escaped to the woods, a distance of thirty-five miles, without anything to eat, arriving here at Fort Corcoran at eight o’clock the next morning where I remained with the two New York Regiments. I never passed through so much in any three days of my life as on that day. Just think of standing right under the cannon of the enemy for nine hours, their shot falling like hail among us! I received two shots, one grazing my head the other my ear; they did not hurt me much, only enough to make me fight harder.

When our Regiment had fallen back to let another take its place, I went with the Fire Zouaves and we charged upon a battery, when we succeded in getting inside. Such a sight as was there presented I never wish to see again – the dead piled in every direction. This time we fairly drove the enemy from their guns, but their overwhelming force was more than we could stand. I have read a great deal of the horrors of the battle field, but one from reading, can imagine nothing of its real horrors. There were the dead and dying in every direction; some calling to be relieved from misery by being shot; others imploring help; while others were urging their comrades on to battle. One young fellow from Massachusetts lay dying his comrades trying to shoot him. He said to them, “Go on and save Massachusetts; don’t stop for me I shall soon be out of trouble. I expect we shall have to fight again to-morrow. We suppose there is fighting going on to-day about twelve miles from here, as cannon are heard and two Regiments have been sent from here to-day to assist our troops. Our men are nearly worn out and can hardly walk, but we must fight. You as if we have plenty to eat? No! we do not have half enough and what we have is very poor; but we are soldiers now, and not human beings!

St. Albans Daily Register, 8/2/1862

Clipping Image

Lyman Smith on

Contributed by John Hennessy


21 07 2012

In case you came here looking for the answer to a very simple question, yes, today marks the 151st anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).

Take some time and cruise the site. Check the articles for original content, and the resources for primary accounts. Create your own narrative of the event.

You’re welcome.

Above photo from Manassas National Battlefield Facebook page.

Communist Plot

19 07 2012

I’ve been informed by my friend Craig Swain that Bull Runnings has been “blocked” in China. As we used to say back in the day:

Better dead than Red.

What is a “Civil War Blog”?

18 07 2012

I ask that without implying that there is, or even should be, a definition. The beauty of a blog is still that it can be whatever the blogger wants it to be. I’ve tried to be pretty clear of my own intentions, which you can read over in the right hand column of this page.

I read most of my favorite blogs using Google Reader. There are dozens I consider to be “Civil War blogs”, even without ever having firmed up what that means in my own head. What classifies a blog as “Civil War” to you? One that shares research concerning the military, political, or social aspects of the war (there are a few out there, though not as many as one might think)? One that discusses how the war, or rather the era and its elements, are remembered today or at various times? One that offers opinions on what other bloggers or writers or commentators are saying? One that simply promotes the blogger’s print works? One that draws tenuous comparisons between the Civil War Era and our own to prove out the blogger’s own current political positions, or to discredit those of others? One that at least attempts to use some of the unique capabilities of digital history techniques, such as hyperlinks, metadata, video? All of these? None? Are any of them more important to you than others?

On a related note, what compels you to read a “Civil War” blog, or deters you from doing so (you can include Bull Runnings in either case)?

You may recall that a while back a few of “us” tried to categorize at least one type of blog, the “information compilation blog” or “battle blog.” You can read about that here and here.


UPDATE: A related question is “Who are Civil War Bloggers?”. Robert is discussing that very thing now over at Cenantua’s Blog.


15 07 2012

Once again real life has infringed upon my hobby, and I haven’t been able to come up with any posts lately. If you’re not already doing so, please be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, as I frequently put stuff up on those outlets (look in the right hand margin of this page and make the appropriate clicks to follow.)

I’ve been notified that my regular reviews in brief column (it’s been known by several names over the years) in Weider History Group’s America’s Civil War magazine has run its course. These things happen, in fact have happened before, and will continue to happen in the magazine business as formats change. I’m thankful for the opportunities editor Dana Shoaf has provided. On a happier note, I have been asked to write reviews on single titles, and my first one will appear in the issue of Civil War Times that will be in process in August.

I also mentioned earlier that I’ll be speaking to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable in 2014. I’ve been putting together a few notes for that presentation and am really pleased with how things are going. We’ll be covering a lot of assumptions that are generally accepted as fact concerning the campaign that may not be quite accurate. OK, make that flat out wrong. It should be fun, and if your group is interested you can contact me at my email address to the right or send me a message on the Book Me, Danno! page.

Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson On the March to Manassas, the Battle, and the Aftermath

2 07 2012

[No date]

On the 18th of July I struck my tents, rolled them up, and left them on the ground, and about noon marched through Winchester, as I had been encamped on the other side of the town. About an hour and a half after leaving, I had the following order from General Johnston published to my brigade: “Our gallant army under General Beauregard is now attacked by overwhelming numbers. The commanding general hopes that his troops will step out like men, and make a forced march to save the country.” At this stirring appeal the soldiers rent the air with shouts of joy, and all was eagerness and animation where before there had been only lagging and uninterested obedience.. We continued our march until we reached Millwood, in Clarke County, where we halted for an hour or so, having found an abundance of good water, and there we took a lunch. Resuming the march, my brigade continuing in front, we arrived at the Shenandoah River about dark. The water was waist-deep, but the men gallantly waded the river. This halting and crossing delayed us for some time; but about 2 o’clock in the morning we arrived at the little village of Paris, where we remained sleeping until nearly dawn. I mean the troops slept, as my men were so exhausted that I let them sleep while I kept watch myself.


Manassas, July 22d.

My Precious Pet, — Yesterday we fought a great battle and gained a great victory, for which all the glory is due to God alone. Although under a heavy fire for several continuous hours, I received only one wound, the breaking of the longest finger of my left hand; but the doctor says the finger can be saved. It was broken about midway between the hand and knuckle, the ball passing on the side next the forefinger. Had it struck the centre, I should have lost the finger. My horse was wounded, but not killed. Your coat got an ugly wound near the hip, but my servant, who is very handy, has so far repaired it that it doesn’t show very much. My preservation was entirely due, as was the glorious victory, to our God, to whom be all the honor, praise, and glory. The battle was the hardest that I have ever been in, but not near so hot in its fire. I commanded the centre more particularly, though one of my regiments extended to the right for some distance. There were other commanders on my right and left. Whilst great credit is due to other parts of our gallant army, God made my brigade more instrumental than any other in repulsing the main attack. This is for your information only — say nothing about it. Let others speak praise, not myself.


[Soon after the battle]

Mr. James Davidson’s son, Frederick, and William Page (son of my dear friend) were killed. Young Riley’s life was saved by his Bible, which was in the breast pocket of his coat . . . My finger troubles me considerably, and renders it very difficult for me to write, as the wind blows my paper, and I can only use my right hand. I have an excellent camping-ground about eight miles from Manassas on the road to Fairfax Court House. I am sleeping in a tent, and have requested that the one which my darling had the loving kindness to order for me should not be sent. If it is already made, we can use it in time of peace. . . . General Lee has recently gone to the western part of our State, and I hope we may soon hear that our God has again crowned our arms with victory.


August 5th.

And so you think the papers ought to say more about your husband! My brigade is not a brigade of newspaper correspondents. I know that the First Brigade was the first to meet and pass our retreating forces – to push on with no other aid than the smiles of God; to boldly take its position with the artillery that was under my command – to arrest the victorious foe in his onward progress – to hold him in check until reinforcements arrived – and finally to charge bayonets, and, thus advancing, pierce the enemy’s centre. I am well satisfied with what it did, and so are my generals, Johnston and Beauregard. It is not to be expected that I should receive the credit that General Beauregard and Johnston would, because I was under them; but I am thankful to my ever-kind Heavenly Father that He makes me content to await His own good time and pleasure for commendation – knowing that all things work together for my good. If my brigade can always play so important and useful a part as it did in the last battle, and trust I shall ever be more grateful. As you think the papers do not notice me enough, I send a specimen, which you will see from the upper part of the paper is a leader. My darling, never distrust our God, who doeth all things well. In due time He will make manifest all His pleasure, which is all His people should desire. You must not be concerned at seeing other parts of the army lauded, and my brigade not mentioned. “Truth is mighty and will prevail.” When the official reports are published, if not before, I expect to see justice done this noble body of patriots. My command consists of the Second, Fourth, Fifth , Twenty-seventh, and Thirty-third regiments of Virginia Volunteers, commanded respectively by Colonels, James W. Allen, James F. Preston, Kenton Harper, W. W. Gordon, and A. C. Cummings; and, in addition, we have Colonel Pendleton’s Battery. My staff-officers are Lieutenant-colonel Francis B. Jones, acting adjutant-general; Lieutenant-colonel J. W. Massie, aide; Lieutenant A. S. Pendleton, ordnance officer; Captain John A. Harman, quartermaster; and Captain W. J. Hawkes, commissary.


Jackson, Mary Anna, Life and Letters of General Thomas J. Jackson, pp.177-181