Letter From A Private In Capt. Wilkin’s Company.
Interesting Account of our Soldiers in the Battle.
[Mr. William Nixon permits us to publish the following letter from his son.]
Washington, July 23, 1861.
Dear Father: — I now write you in answer to yours. We arrived here yesterday afternoon from Manassas. I suppose you have heard of the battle there. It was a hard one. We fought steady for about six hours. Col. Gorman led us right into the mouths of the cannon, and into the midst of a large body of infantry. We were terribly cut up, losing half our company, but it is lucky we got out as we did.
I have not seen Edward since we left the field , but I guess he is all right, for some of our boys say they saw him on the road. Half our company only are here, [?] [?] expect some of them are yet on the road.
In the fight, I saw several of our boys shot down, two on my right were shot dead with the same ball, which went through the body of the first man on my right and struck the man in his rear in the shoulder. They fell like a stone, and did not utter a word. Mr. Halstead had all of his finger on one hand shot off. Robert Stines was shot in the elbow; he fell, and the blood ran out in streams. He asked me for some water but I had none to give him.
Mr. Neill was in the battle with us, but I do not know how he came out. One of the doctors was wounded, but not severely. Both Surgeons staid to take care of the wounded. It is reported that the rebels have slaughtered all the wounded.
In our retreat we were followed by several thousand dragoons for ten or fifteen miles. I thought I was at one time a prisoner. A companion and myself stopped to get a drink, and got left behind, and just as we were through drinking, a lot of cavalry came up and commenced firing upon us. I thought then that we were surely gone, so I told him to hurry up. He dropped his gun and came along with me a little ways, but could not keep up, but fell in with some other boys, and that was the last I saw of him. I have since heard that he was taken prisoner.
I got off better than I expected. When I went to the field, I did not expect to come off alive, but I put my trust in the Lord and he spared my life. As we were forming into line to go on to the field, I raised my eyes and asked Him to preserve me through the contest, and it so happened.
I never saw hail flying thicker than the balls did around me, some of them brushing my hair. We went in with the expectation of not seeing more than one or two hundred of the enemy, but when we got along by the side of a little grove a shower of balls came through the woods, and after a little there were about two thousand of the rebels ran out of the woods, and made believe they were our friends, and Capt. Wilkin ordered our men to cease firing, and then they poured a volley upon us, and just then we saw the Secession flag. I hauled up my gun, took deliberate aim at one of them, and shot him in the breast; he wheeled to run, took two steps and fell. I walked over him afterwards, and he was nearly dead. One of the Zouaves wanted to run his bayonet into him but he was stopped.
Our little Captain Wilkin fought like a man. He picked up a musket of one of the killed and shot four of the rebels, and took one prisoner.
Our boys fought like men – we were with the Zouaves all the time. They say they want the Minnesota boys to fight with them hereafter. No one can say but that all of our boys have done their duty. They went at it as cooly as thought they were shooting at a mark. We had a terrible hard time since we left Manassas; we camped one night at a place where we stayed one day, on the afternoon of which our company went out scouting, and discovered a battery of six cannon and several hundred men ready to fire upon us. We went back to camp to get more men, and when we got there the whole division was ready to march to Centreville, six miles distant! We had not had anything to eat since morning and all of our rations were gone, but we had to start right off, and march at double quick two or three miles to get up with our Regiment. We got to Centreville about nine o’clock at night and had to lay out all night in the rain without tents, and with nothing to eat until morning. We stayed here two days, and had nothing to eat but crackers, with dirty creek water to drink. We started at three o’clock in the morning for the battle field, and when we got within a mile of it stopped and got a drink. We were then ordered to at double quick into the field, and were about dead when we got there. As we went into the fight, we threw down our blankets and knapsacks, and when the retreat commenced we had no time to pick them up. We marched the rest of the day and all night and part of the next day before we reached Alexandria, where we stopped about an hour and got breakfast, and then proceeded to Washington where we arrived yesterday, and went into quarters. It rained all the time we were marching.
St. Paul Press, 7/30/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy