The Michigan Second In The Battles At Bull Run.
Extract from a private letter.
Arlington Heights, July 24.
I had quite an adventure last week, and will give you an account of it as well as I can. Tuesday 16th, at four o’clock P. M., we commenced our forced march, the skirmishers two miles ahead of the column, with the scouts flanked out right, left, and forward. At night we reached Vienna, where we met another division of our troops. We stopped until the morning of Wednesday, the 17th, when we marched through Germantown to Fairfax, where our skirmishers were deployed, and on closing to, we found that the enemy had vacated everything. The bugle sounded the “assembly,” and we marched to Centreville, and encamped two miles beyond for the night.
Thursday, at eight o’clock A. M., we marched toward Manassas Junction, and at eleven o’clock we come through the woods to Bull Run, where it looked mischievous. Two pieces of artillery were ordered forward. After they had fired several shots, they were answered and immediately our skirmishers were deployed forward, and we passed over a clearing through a ravine, and up on the other side, when we came into the woods again, and passing from behind one tree to another for about forty or fifty rods, we struck upon the enemy who were drawn up in line of battle, some 6,000 strong, before several batteries; they immediately opened a musket fire upon the skirmishers and came after us with “charge bayonet;” we were obliged to rally back through the woods behind the First Massachusetts Regiment, which was advancing upon them. Captain Brethschneider immediately informed them of the batteries’ cross fire and they changed their position further to the right; our skirmishers were also taken further to the right. During this time a raking fire of cannister came upon us and we rallied promiscuously. The left wing of the First Massachusetts was badly cut up, and at the same time the New York Twelfth, who were on the extreme left of the field, where our skirmishers firs went to, reached the full blast of the cross fire. The Michigan Second was on the extreme right of the Massachusetts First, but afterward moved further toward the left, to cover the skirmishers who were now rallying between the two regiments. While we were rallying there, the cry came: “Skirmishers this way; they are murdering our wounded.” I looked round and not seeing the Captain and having only a few men I hurried back again. Our Corporal, R. Wright, then saw a wounded man of the New York Twelfth trying to get up, and one of the rebels standing over him with his bayonet at his breast slowly pushing it in. Wright took aim and laid the rebel at the foot of his victim.
During this last time the skirmishers were fighting on their own hook and could hear no command and lasted quite a long while before we got out of the woods again, which is the reason why our Colonel thought we were all lost; I retreated out of the woods and found Captain B…who was very glad to see me again, and the Colonel ordered the skirmishers to retire. At the same moment a ball flew right over the Colonels head about five steps from where I stood, but he did not mind it at all. I then looked for some water, which was difficult to find. During this [?] the New York Twelfth were retreating promiscuously, for which they are much blamed; at the same time the Michigan Third, Massachusetts First and Michigan Second were withdrawn from the field and marched back to Centreville, where we stopped overnight. The next morning the regiment were marched to the field again, but only to make breastworks.
On Sunday [?] and divisions came up on the opposite side, and the battle was again commenced from three [?], our brigade forming the centre. The battle lasted six hours and a half. [?] [?] the right flank division was noticed to be retreating, and a heavy fire of musketry was opened on the left flank division.
Things began to look mischievous and our division was ordered away from the field. By the time we came to Centreville our regiments were drawn up in line of battle across the fields, and we could see the men of the Michigan First, Fire Zouaves, and other regiments, which formed the right division, coming down the road in disorder.
Our brigade then put out pickets and laid down to sleep. At eleven o’clock we were aroused and marched back toward Washington. Our camp is now on Arlington Heights. The President and Secretary of State came to our camp yesterday afternoon and promised to send two soldiers for every one secessionist.
During the time we were away, I was obliged to sleep on the ground, and some time could not get my blanket. At night it is always colder here than at home, and last Monday it rained all day. I was in my shirtsleeves and could not get my clothes, and when night came, I and my skirmishers were quartered in the secessionist, Gen. Lee’s, barn. We were wet to the skin. However, we crowded close together to keep each other warm, and because we were tired, we slept without feeling it. The next morning we rose early and waited for the sun to warm and dry us again.
I am well. None of our company were killed that you know, but Wolenweber is severely wounded, and a few others slightly. Wurstenberg had his arm shot off when we [?] on Sunday the last time.
J. V. [?].*
Detroit Free Press, 7/30/1861
*J. V. [?]., likely 1st Lt. John Valentine Ruehle (see comments below). was apparently with Capt. R. Brethschneider’s detachment (Light Battalion of Infantry) of the 2nd Michigan. Brethschneider was captain of Co. E, however the detachment included men from all companies of the regiment. Mathias Wollenweber, considered by some the first Michigan casualty of the civil war, was a member of Company A, as was Frederick Wurstenberg.
Contributed by John Hennessy