From the Third Connecticut Volunteers.
An Account Of The Panic By A Member.
Arlington Heights, Wednesday,
July 24, 1861.
Dear Brother: – I have a letter written two days for you, but could find no way to send it to the city. We left our camp on Tuesday, the 16th, for the field of battle, and the past week’s endurance and hard labor, has been the greatest week of my life. Leaving Falls Village at 8 o’clock, marched to Vienna, and put up for the night. The next day we marched through Fairfax, in a round-about way; then to Centerville; most of the way through dense woods; tired and worn, we turned into a lot. At this time, Thursday, I think was the fight at Bull’s Run. The boys were very anxious to be in it, but we were held in reserve. We encamped in this lot, in the burning sun in the day, and the almost freezing dew at night, for a cover, Friday night and Saturday, until 1 o’clock Sunday morning, when our brigade moved about a mile, then halted [?] [?] hours, and let our grand division pass. We then fell in the rear, and marched about five miles, then halted again for an hour or more, when our brigade was ordered to march up to the battle field, and help the remainder of the division, which was about an hour’s march, at quick and double quick time. You can imagine what condition we were in to engage in a fight; tired and worn out, we were marched into the field; shot and shell pouring on us from the enemy, from one of their many masked batteries; their shots fell a great deal short of us, which was very fortunate. Our heavy guns were pouring in on them, with good effect. We could see them drop in crowds, as out shells struck in among them. We were ordered to take to the woods, which were a few rods in the rear of us. We were then ordered to charge on them, which we did, but without accomplishing much, for it was a pretty difficult matter for a brigade of infantry to take a battery, that we could not see, and pouring into us all the time. The enemy fell back, to draw us into the trap. The Maine 2d, being on the left, was cut up awfully; they got the worst of it; but our whole brigade did nobly; they stood together like men, advancing every time they were ordered, until towards night, we missed the division, except the three Connecticut and 2d Maine regiments, which composed our brigade. It was reported that a hasty retreat was ordered. We immediately turned and fled, as we saw that a number of rebel cavalry, with infantry to back them, were charging on us. Wearied and almost dead from fatigue, we were obliged to retreat, as the enemy were being reinforced all day, and we had no reinforcement. There was some mismanagement on the part of our officers, that we should be in this situation. Tyler was censured by both men and officers, for being so rash as to put us before a battery, when the rest were marched in a by way. He was bound to win, cost as many lives as it would. But the enemy being all fresh, we were whipped. Our brigade was the last to leave the field, and they left in good order; yet the road before us was the greatest scene of excitement that I ever witnessed. The lots were full of men, the roads crowded with artillery wagons, their horses on a dead run, colliding with freight wagons, and smashing hacks containing gentlemen spectators. I cannot begin to describe the confusion. Such a spectacle was never seen. There were troops at Centerville, who took a stand on the top of the hill, to prevent the advance of the enemy, and, with a few pieces of artillery, they gave our men a chance to escape. Everything that we had on, which had the least tendency to stop our progress, was thrown away. I was behind a man who was carrying a rifle. A shot passed by me, and knocked his piece out of his hand. I thought it about time to get out of the road. I took to the woods, threw off my haversack, which contained a number of eatables, writing materials, and many other things I would liked to have saved, next my belt, cartridge box, etc.; then went my blankets. It was hard to do it; but we were scattered, and running for dear life. The road and lots were covered with articles of this kind, which we were obliged to cast off, including muskets and all kinds of arms; but I hung to my canteen of water, for I thought that I could live longer without eating, than without drinking. I never knew what it was to want water, until this day. We drank water that, at any other time, we would not have washed our feet in. One man kicked a hog out of a mud puddle, and drank some water out of it. I saw a man riding a horse, when a ball came and cut the hind parts of the horse completely off. Many other incidents I shall reserve until my return home.
We escaped to Vienna, and turned in about one o’clock Monday morning, on the bare ground, slept about two hours, and started for our camp, at Falls Village. A party of three of us got strayed from the rest of our company, and when we arrived into camp, we found them all there, they having taken a more direct route. The three Connecticut regiments were the only ones that marched to their camps in a body. The rest of the soldiers having gone in squads of a dozen or more. We had to strike our tents, and wait all day in a drenching rain, for our wagons. At night we left the baggage with a guard, and started for the Ohio camp, about a mile towards Washington, where we remained all night, when the wagons came. We loaded them, and, with the 2d New York camp, started for Arlington. We got a good deal of credit for saving these camps, which the cowards had left, supposing the enemy would follow them up closely. We are top of the heap.
We intend to start for Washington some time today, about four miles off. We were very fortunate; not having lost but a very few men. Our mail came up to the battle field, and was taken by the enemy. I had four letters in it. That Sunday is long to be remembered. I would write much more, but I am so worn out that I cannot. I thought that you would feel anxious about me, and have scribbled these few line. I am as well as ever I was, but fatigued by long marches and hard work. A little recruiting will bring me all right again. We have not lost a man in our Company, and but one killed in our Regiment, as near as can be accounted for.
G. W. B.,
Rifle Co. C., Third Regiment Ct. Vol.
New Haven Daily Morning News, 7/26/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy