The Battle of Manassas – Letter From an Officer in the Maryland Brigade to His Wife.
You know when we left Winchester, late the afternoon of Thursday; we marched all that night, and at sunrise the next morning camped for breakfast on the Shenandoah. At eleven our brigade commenced the crossing, and by two got fairly on the march again. After twelve that night we reached Piedmont, when the men got food, only the second meal since leaving Winchester.
Saturday, however, we remained, the railroad dispatching troops with horrid inefficiency. At two A. M. Sunday morning we got on the cars; a train ran off – water gave out – men were called for to shovel water in the trough with spades, and had it not been for Col. Fisher of 6th N. C. I do not know when we should have got off. His energy and experience got us started, and at eleven we reached a point some three miles from Manassas, Gen. E. K. Smith commanding his brigade, and Elzeys our Maryland one as General of Division. Then none of Smith’s men had arrived, and taking command of the Marylanders, who were the first formed, he led off, followed by the Tennessee 3d, Col. Vangham, and Virginia 10th, Col. Gibbons, and a light battery under Lieut. Beckham.
The dust was dreadful, the heat terrific, but unslinging knapsacks we went off at double quick. The Lieut. Col. and Major having been obliged to send their horses by road, were on foot. The boom of heavy artillery gradually extending to our left showed the battle widening there, and an attempted out-flanking us. At the cars we had received a colour presented by the ladies of Baltimore, and fastening that to our old colours, those of the Frederick Volunteers, we had only the flag of Maryland, and her old arms over our heads. As we passed regiment after regiment, cheer after cheer went up for gallant Maryland. Hearing the line of fire which now crashed and rolled and thundered in front; a regiment of cavalry drawn in line showed the preparation for a charge; under a hill a long line of men showed a reserve protecting themselves against the round shot and bullets which whizzed and whistled in a continuous stream over our heads. Then an Aid galloped up – Hill, from N. C. – without a hat, “Forward, Maryland!” was his shout and then a responsive shout showed the spirit of our men. To run for two miles and a half in a terrible heat and dust, by men without sleep the night before and no food since the previous day, told on men and officers. I nearly gave out, and thought it impossible to go a step further, when a halt was had. The men rushed, permission being given, into a mass of mud and water, stirred by thousands of men and horses, and eagerly drank it. General Smith sent to General Beauregard for orders. The answer was, “You must do the best you can. Go where the fire is hottest.” Forward, was the word. On sprang the men. Troops of wounded and dispirited men met us coming slowly back from the field. “Haste,” said they, “we are getting cut to death – they are mowing our men by ranks and companies.” The words infuriated our men. The double-quick became a run, and over fences, through brakes and gullies and briars, they rushed with reckless impetuosity. Just then came up one of my horses. I gave it to Col. Stuart. Soon after a raking volley from our right brought the order from General Smith to “Lie Down,” but it was too late; Company F, and Irish company from Baltimore, had seen the enemy in the woods. Their caps and red breeches showed the Zouaves, and, with a yell, they fired and charged. Gen. Smith fell within ten feet of me, shot through the neck, and four of our men were brought down, but the Zouaves were gone. The long roll of small arms just in front indicated, we thought, a sharp, deadly conflict there, so, charging through a thick wood, we halted just on the other edge. Going up the hill, a splendid horse came up riderless. I caught him and mounted. As we halted – Colonel Elzey then in command, Smith being off the field – was just in the center of our Regiment. The 3d Tennessee on our right, 10th Virginia on our left, and Beckham’s battery on a hill, masked by some light woods. Just then we discovered the enemy in force on top of a high hill, not two hundred and fifty yards from us, flag flying and bayonets glistening in the sun. “Get me a glass, get me a glass,” said the Colonel.
But my eyes were better just then. The wind threw out the Stars and Stripes; the long line of light shivered along their ranks as they bought their guns to a ready preparation to fire. I rode along the line, saying to the men shoot at their knees; and as I got back to the Colonel, her ordered, give it to them, boys; and the Maryland rifles rang out clear and sharp; but high above them – above the roar of battle – above the tempest of whewing, whizzing balls – the cheer of the “Maryland Line” rose full and high. With each volley they cheered. The enemy attempted to stand the leaden hail; but then Col Elzey gave the order to charge, and, with another yell, over the fence we went and up the hill – gallant Tennessee stretching out like a line of light on our right, old Virginia gathering in on our left, while Beckham’s battery fired one, two, three, four, as regularly, as coolly as if firing a salute – one, two, three, four. But we beat them all in the race. Up the hill – no enemy there. Dead, dying and wounded and panic-stricken were lying in heaps. Their fine horses, together with swords and sashes, splendid saddles, all were there. But Captain Edelin, of company B, watching the flag head, had followed it during the charge and took it from the colour-bearer. All his guard shot down or fled, the gallant fellow had taken it from his lance and wrapped it around his left arm, where he was badly shot. It was the flag of the First Michigan Regiment – a crack corps. But just in front was a thick pine wood. In it the man dashed, and the last stand of Yankeedom at the battle of Manassas was taken. They fled like sheep. The Regiments in front of us were First Michigan, Second Vermont, Fourth Maine, New York Fire Zouaves, New York Sixty-ninth. We charged them and ran them with rifles without bayonets, only two companies of the Regiment having muskets. We then went forward, taking prisoners; but the battle was over. Beauregard inquired for us, and told Col. Elzey he was the Blucher of the day. President Davis came along, and the men cheered heartily.
The hard fighting done by other regiments was wonderful. We were particularly blessed, for though under a terrific fire for three hours, we lost one killed – a clever young fellow from Washington county – who joined me on the Maryland Heights. Lieut. Mernot and four wounded. But other regiments were terribly cut up. I saw men lying in ranks as they stood in line around a battery – the Rhode Island one, Burnside’s, I believe – friend and foe were lying so thick it required careful riding to avoid treading on them. Such was what I saw – necessarily a small part. The next day, Monday, we lay out in the rain without shelter, and at midnight started for Fairfax Court-House. A brigade under Col. J. E. B. Stewart leading. The infantry under Col. Stewart leaving the regiment to me. As we got up the road the marks of the rout thickened. Wagons, provisions, guns, pistols, clothes, everything to supply an army completely were there. Patent frying pans, which folded up, patent cartridges, patent tents, patent coats, bedsteads, everything. We came carefully along leaving all behind, and reached our camp, Fairfax Court-House, where we now are. We have the tents of the Maine and Vermont volunteers, conical and every shape, but miserably constructed. The funniest capture was our Chaplain’s – he is always prowling about, and at last got the baggage of the Maine Chaplain, which he seized and brought into camp. He has gowns, surplice bands, cravats, and all other adornments of a High Church clergyman. He saw the Maine parson, who is very saucy and full of fight; but Cameron, got his clothes nevertheless.
Richmond Examiner, 8/17/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy