A Personal Account of Bull Run.
[The following is an extract from a private letter from Frank L. Lemont, now 1st Lieut. in the Lewiston Light Guards in the 5th Maine.]
Camp Vernon, Alexandria, Va.
My Dear Father: – It occurred to me last night while walking out alone, and thinking of home, that a true account of my actions and feelings that eventful day of Bull Run, might not be wholly uninteresting to you. I will commence from Saturday night at our encampment near Centerville, and end Monday noon, the time I arrived at Alexandria. At Brigade inspection that night, our commanding Office, Gen. Howard, told us that it would probably be the last time we should parade on that spot and he wished all to join in prayer for our welfare and the success of our arms. He joined with our Chaplain, and the whole Brigade uncovered their heads. It was a solemn sight and there were solemn yet determined men there. I felt as though I would like to ask God to be my support for the next 24 hours, for during that time I felt that I should need strength, and such strength as He only can give. But I was very calm although I did not know as ever I should behold another sun go down. Our orders were to be ready to march at one the next morning. I lay down, had a refreshing slumber and awoke at the long roll, greatly refreshed, prepared my coffee, drank it and eat my hard bread with a good relish, and by that time we were ready for a start. We expected to be brought into action at sunrise, but we kept halting, and it was past eight o’clock before we left Centerville, then we had nearly ten miles to march although the enemy was only three from us.
The attack commenced about sunrise. It was one of the hottest days of the season, but I stood the march beyond what I had dared to hope. While hundreds of stalwart fellows fell out on all sides, I kept on hardly feeling fatigued. During our march, at regular intervals of a few seconds could be heard the booming of cannon, and, as we approached nearer the scene of conflict we could hear the cracking, snapping, sound of Light Infantry as they made their successive charges upon the masked batteries of the rebels. They were sounds that I pray to God the valleys and hills of Old Maine may ever be strangers too. At 2 o’clock our Brigade arrived at Sudley Church, or rather Hospital. The doors and windows were open and the body of it was prepared for the wounded, nothing remaining but the desk or pulpit. It was here that the battle commenced in the morning, and the enemy had been driven back to their masked batteries. Our course was obstructed by the ambulances, filled with the wounded mangled in every shape. We passed along double quick trampling over the wounded, sitting and lying by the way side, until we came to an opening directly in range of the Rebel guns. Then commenced our first great danger. We passed nearly a quarter of a mile by the flank with the six pound shots whizzing just over our heads and falling all around us. Still but very few of our men fell in this movement. We then filed to the left, and passed down into a hollow under the cover of a hill, but the shot and shell were thick. By the time we got to this place the most of the men had deserted us either through fatigue or, – but I don’t wish to cast any reflections. Suffice it to say we had but eight men in our company ready to go up over the hill beside Lieut. Daggett and myself.
Up to this time I had felt no fear but still I felt very uncomfortable. My strength had not deserted me and I think my cheek was not pale. While we stood waiting and taking breath, a shot sped by and struck a fellow in the forehead killing him almost instantly. He was standing about three feet from me, and I shall never forget the sound the bullet made as it struck him. He fell upon his back, ,threw up his arms, trembled slightly and was dead. He was the first man I saw killed that day. You may think that I have grown hard-hearted when I tell you that that sight did not move me, but I assure you it did not unnerve me in the least, but I did think of his mother, if perchance he had any, as he lay thus uncared for; his body at the mercy of a ruthless foe.
We now had to ascend a hill through a thick growth of scrubby oaks and firs, and then we came out upon a broad opening with a wood in front and one in the rear, and the rebel cannon playing upon us at both ends of the fields. You can imagine our position slightly as we charged down upon a masked battery concealed in the woods in front. During all this time we were exposed to a galling cross fire, ball and shell coming both ways.
I noticed many dead bodies as we passed up through the woods on to the hill, and one I noted in particular. He lay upon his right side. He was killed with a six pound cannon ball. I entered the left arm near the shoulder, and, I should judge, went entirely through his body and I thought at the time that I could run my arm through his body. It was a terrible sight and one I never wish to see again. I stopped for a moment and thought of his friends at the north, perhaps at that very moment sending up a prayer to God for his safety not dreaming that he, around whom their affections twined, was already with his Maker. – Such is war!
But I was unharmed and received not even a scar. I stood in my place in the company while they discharged 8 or 10 rounds and discharged my pistol once, when it occurred to me that I might get into a tight place and need the other charges, 5 in number. When we went up the hill, I put up my sword and took out my pistol, for I thought that would be the most effective, but I only fired one barrel for the reason I have above mentioned.
Our regiment retreated in the same manner that it went up, except that they did not keep together after a short time, all breaking up and mixing with other troops. The scene then became one which passes all description. You can imagine what it was, when I tell you that there were between twenty-five and fifty thousand men panic stricken, every one for himself rushing in greatest confusion, cavalry running down Infantry, field pieces dismounted, horses dashing away without riders, baggage wagons bottom side up, &c. Lieut. Daggett and I left the field together, and had retreated a short distance, when we heard a rushing sound of air, and before we thought what it was, a shell burst just above our heads, and for a few seconds the pieces flew lively. I do not know what saved us for doubtless it was aimed at us, for they tried to pick off the officers, and they saw our sword-scabbards glitter in the sun. After that we watched for the coming of those fellows pretty sharp. As we were passing over the brow of a hill, a few moments after, I cast my eyes in the direction of the enemy and to my surprise I beheld the main body of their Infantry sweeping down over the very ground we had occupied but a few minutes before. I turned round and for a few moments I was lost in the grandeur of the spectacle. They presented to us a mighty front, extending to the right and left, almost out-flanking our army. I saw their banners wave and the glittering of their bayonets in the sun. It was a sight I have longed to see, for it was to me something of a novelty to see a body of rebel troops. I had but little time to look at them for they were almost upon us and we had to leave as fast as our weary legs would carry us, and by that time I was nearly beat out.
Just then George Hamilton came up with us supported by two men. They delivered him up to me. He was nearly given out and I took his gun, lugged it a few steps and stuck the bayonet in the ground, and for aught I know it sticks there now. He gave out and laid down and I had to leave him behind. But the most trying scene was yet in store for me. I had passed on but a few steps when the cry came that the “Black Horse Cavalry” were charging upon us. I looked back but I could see nothing but smoke and men flying in all directions for shelter. It was a broad level field without a shrub or anything to secrete man or beast except a wood some quarter of a mile distant, and it was my aim to reach the cover of the wood, but how to accomplish it I did not know, for I was well nigh ready to fall, when Lieut. Daggett came up and said, we must run for our lives, and I confess that moment I felt the sensation of fear, but believe me when I tell you that that was the only time during that engagement I had any such feelings. We could but just totter along slowly with nothing but our swords to defend ourselves with, our company having all left us and just behind us 150 mounted devils, armed with carbines and swords, following up our weary men and cleaving off their heads without resistance. The idea of going as far as I had been that day and getting out so far and so well, and then having my head cut off was anything but pleasant. By some means we reached the cover of the wood. I sat down on a stump to pull of my boots in order to help me along, but I was so weak I could not get one leg over the other without taking hold and lifting it up, but I managed to get them off somehow or other, and that aided me considerably.
From that time we were not in much danger from shots from the enemy. We arrived again at Centerville after sun down, having been absent from that place nearly sixteen hours, during which I tasted nothing and hardly sat down. We went back to our camp and made a little coffee and lay down to rest for a short time, expecting soon to be on the march again for Fairfax. I laid down in the open air and slept about an hour, when the word came “the enemy are right upon us.” We sprang for our equipments, formed, and were soon on the march. We arrived at Fairfax Court House, at midnight and halted for a short time but were soon on our way again. After I left my boots I went in my stocking feet until I could scarcely walk. Just before I got to Fairfax I was lucky enough to find an old pair of shoes without strings, out at the toes and otherwise injured but I was then clear into Alexandria. We got into Alexandria at noon on Monday having been without sleep for 36 hours and nothing but hard bread to eat and in a tough battle three hours. I was unable to reach Alexandria on foot; but I got within a mile before I finally gave out.
Lieut. Frank L. Lemont
Lewiston Daily Evening Journal, 8/12/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy