Washington, D. C., July 30, 1861.
On Sunday morning at two o’clock, the long roll (the battle signal) beat, and up we started, with gun and blanket, and three days’ provisions, and fell into line. We were then about four miles from the battle-ground. We took up the march ahead, as were in the advance; and after going, under a most beautifully-bright moon, for about three miles half the time up hill, stony, rough, and at double-quick, we were halted, and let the “Grand Army” file past us. It was such a splendid sight! – artillery parks, a few cavalry, and then regiment after regiment of infantry, until some thirty thousand had passed, when we again fell in.
About ten o’clock the cannonading commenced, and we could see regiment after regiment fall back, but, at the same time, we steadily advanced and drove back the enemy; and about half-past eleven we were called upon to advance, still under a load of blankets and provisions. We were the reserve of the brigade and know it meant something. They took us a mile at least, through fields, over fences, through the broiling sun, heavily loaded, at the double-quick. Our men now and then fell down exhausted. If there were any cowards, they had a good excuse. Suddenly we faced the enemy – then, laid aside only our blankets, formed in line of battle, and then the Second Maine (with whose officers I was well acquainted) and Third Connecticut went in together. The First and Second formed further off to our right. We advanced, again up hill, firing at the retreating army. Some of our regiment dropped back; not many – two or three of our company. Presently we were staggered just on the brow of the hill, by a thundering discharge of musketry from two houses. We rushed on, up the lane, my company directly in front of it, but all circling around it. The enemy left it and fell back. We gained the houses and were rushing in, when we saw the American flag hoisted by what we supposed the enemy. The cry ran along: “Cease firing; you’re killing our men!” There was a slack on our part; we hoisted our American flag and Connecticut Third Regiment colors on the house; and, “honor to whom honor is due,” Major Warner and Capt. Jack Nelson did it (so let it be recorded), when instantly there was the most terrific fire of grape, canister, shell, and rifled cannon, from what we afterward found to be a masked battery of sixteen guns (ten in front and six on the flank.) We charged at the point of the bayonet; a shell burst within six feet of me; cannon-balls, musketry, fire, flame, smoke, and noise; something struck me on the side; I fell heels over head forward, and lay bewildered for a minute, then up again. There lay some ten or twelve men all cut up to pieces, John H. Sellick shot through both legs; Thomas Winton, through one leg; the others (not of my company) mangled here and there. Another rifled shot came through the house, tearing everything, and it passed within four feet of where I stood in the opening, cutting down eight or ten men. Another shell struck the roof of the house, tearing it all to pieces; and then the order was given to fall back. We did so, under the brow of the hill, under a terrific discharge of shot, which cut us fearfully, so that when I mustered my company in again, thirty were missing. As I left the field, I picked up a very pretty sword, which I gave to one of my men to carry, but which he finally threw away. We brought off Sellick and Winton, badly shot. Just as we were lying down flat to avoid the shot, which were flying around (and I lay flat on my face, panting like a dog – no water, and wet through with perspiration), I saw an officer gallop across the field, I started up (at first supposing, from the gray uniform, that it was one of my Maine friends). He said: “Where’s the rest of ’em?” Says I: “What regiment do you belong to?” Said he: Oh, yours. Hallo! where did you get that sword?” Says I: “Why that’s mine.” That made me smell a mice; and, at the same time, I saw S. C. with a palmetto tree on his buttons. I seized him by the collar and jerked him off his horse, and said: “You’re my prisoner!” and brought him, horse and all, in. He was the aide-de-camp of Gen. Johnston, coming to give us orders, supposing, from the position which we held, that we were rebels. I delivered him up to head-quarters. His sword I still carry. Presently up dashed another horseman from our rear, who also mistook us for a Georgia regiment. We took him prisoner. We saw then that we (the Third Connecticut Regiment alone) were surrounded and unsupported. We fell back, as we all supposed, to recruit our energies, and go in again; but suddenly a panic seemed to take hold of the troops (not ours); they scattered, an d started in all directions. The fight became general; the enemy followed up; our reserves were not there to cover our retreat; every opening or road we crossed we were fired at with shell and grape, and men fell back exhausted, and were cut off by cavalry. I came along and found poor Winton abandoned; he called on me to save him. Curtis and I took him in our arms and bore him along; we each handed our sword to one of our men to carry; we have not seen them since, and never will. The men ran away and abandoned us, and lost our swords; but we got Winton along to a horse, and he is safe. Poor Sellick! I have not seen since; we carried him under a tree and left him. We got, of course, behind, and separated. I got separated from Curtis, and lost in the woods.
I found two of my men, and some eight or ten of other regiments. We went along together; and just as we emerged into a road, alongside of a stream (Bull Run), some twenty feet wide, and about three feet deep, down dashed a large body of rebel cavalry. Of course, there was nothing to be done but to leap into the stream, which we did, from the bank, some eight or ten feet high. They fired a few shots as they went by, and one of our party fell dead in the water. Poor fellow! I thought for a few moments, “Have we been spared thus far to fall in such a miserable hole as this?” I went up to my waist, and waded through, dragging my canteen as I went along to get a little water in it, as I was almost gone with exhaustion. We got on to the opposite bank, and along about five hundred yards, and there we found Lieutenant Gray (honor to him for it) had made a stand, with what he could find of my company and some others. We stood the charge of cavalry, and drove them back; they charged again with three cannon. Gray led the boys, and took one of the cannon and brought it into camp; and the cavalry fled, with considerable loss of life. We finally came along, leaving the baggage-wagons, etc., and got into our fields at Centreville, where we lay down to rest without anything to eat; nothing under us, nothing over us, having lost all our blankets. We lay down at about 8 P. M. At 10 P. M. we were ordered up, fell in, and were marched to Falls Church, twenty miles, the way we took – via Vienna – without a halt of one hour, all told, during the entire route, and most of it double-quick.
Twenty-eight hours steady fighting; double-quick marching; nothing to eat; mud to drink – for I was glad to get a little moisture from where the horses drank – and the men tramped through, and we arrived at Falls Church a little after 6 A. M., put up our tents, which we had left there, in a heavy rain, and I lay down to sleep.
In two hours we were ordered to strike our tents and be ready to march. We did so. The cars to take our baggage to Alexandria got off the track, and we waited, in a pelting rain, until dark. We then marched, leaving a guard to look after the baggage, etc., and went along about three miles, through mud up to our knees – without exaggeration – when we turned into the Ohio camp, which they had abandoned. I lay down wet through, as I went into a stream up to my knees to wash off the mud, this being the eighth night I had lain on the ground in the open air without taking off my clothes or boots.
About 6 A. M. the colonel called the captains, and said it would be necessary to send back to Falls Church to bring our baggage; the guard left there had been frightened away by the enemy, and all would be lost. I jumped out and told him I would go back; Gray also. We got thirty-five privates (volunteers), all told, out of the Third Regiment. And we went back, through mud and mire, got to the camp, loaded up our (Third) baggage, then the Second Maine’s, and then the First and Second Connecticut’s, and brought back everything off all right. Of these thirty-five men, twenty were from my own company; twelve from Capt. Brook’s; two from Capt. Moore’s; one from Capt. Cook’s. So let it be recorded.
Our few Union friends treated us very kindly; but, at the same time, packed up and abandoned everything they couldn’t carry. It was melancholy.
When we came into Washington yesterday, amid here and there a cheer – though I held my head up, and my company came along proudly in good order, for they did their duty – I felt sad at the result.
Well, we got back to our regiment safely; immediately took up the line of march (though we had been six miles without a halt) and again at double-quick. I kept my company in order and steadily in rank.
We got to Arlington, through mud, soaked through, and again had to lie out on the wet ground with no covering, or walk all night; and the dew which came down was like a rain.
Yesterday, about five P.M., we again started, and marching (still double-quick) about eight miles, arrived at Washington, where we turned in, weary and hungry, into tents vacated by the New York Twenty-sixth. At about 11 P.M., our colonel (Chatfield) took the responsibility of giving each company crackers and cheese and a gallon of whisky – the first that had been dealt to us since we left Hartford – and if ever men needed it, it was after that battle. We stayed here last night, and now to-day we are pitching our own tents close by, and are moving in; but how long to stay, or what to do, we cannot tell.
I do not ask to take more credit to my company than they deserve; but they certainly had the thickest of that fight, as they went up a lane where they were most exposed. But I do say that the Third, together with the Second Maine, stood the brunt.
Speidel performed feats of valor; he was attacked by three horsemen, and had his sword knocked out of his hand, but he jumped from his horse. At the same time a foot soldier shot one of the horsemen. Speidel seized the dead horseman’s sword, killed the second man, and the third ran away.
Our friend Singer (and a better soldier never lived) is gone. He was wounded, and put into a wagon; but they fired into the wagon and killed him.
Our surgeon and the Second Maine surgeon were taken prisoners while attending the wounded.
Frederick Frye, Captain, Third Connecticut Regiment
New York Sunday Mercury, 8/11/1861
William B. Styple, ed., Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, pp. 39-41