LETTER FROM LIEUT. J. P. DROUILLARD.
A letter from Lieut. Jas. P. Drouillard, who was in the battle at Manassas:
Camp Turnhill, Va.,
July 28th, 1861.
Dear Father: I am again back to our old camp, opposite to Washington, on the Potomac. The grand army, as you have doubtless heard ere this, was beaten by the enemy before Manassas, and completely routed. I cannot describe to you the scenes and events of our march to and from the battle-field. I was with a battallion of Regulars, numbering about 600 fighting men, under command of Maj. Sykes a Marylander by birth, but a true and loyal soldier. Four of my classmates were with me, and four of the class which graduated just before us—also two captains who were my instructors at West Point for three years. Our little battallion was on the field seven hours, and is the only one that never left the field after entering it, until the final retreat.
We won the victory at first, but while the rebels were falling back we saw in the distance immense volumes of dust raising, and knew they were reinforcements. Johnson’s column came upon us just in time to turn the wavering scale. Our volunteers fought well at first, and wherever they met the enemy on equal grounds, they repulsed them. By some means a panic was created among our troops—whole regiments threw down their arms, and ran for their lives. When defeat became inevitable, Gen. McDowell said the safety of the army depended on the Regulars, and ordered Maj. Sykes, our commander, to cover the retreat of the volunteers. Our little band was surrounded at one time by their cavalry, artillery and infantry, but we fought our way out, and while interposed between the retreating volunteers and the pursuing enemy, we were subjected to the most terrific fire. Maj. Sykes was all through the Mexican war, and says he never saw anything like it. Two of our officers were taken prisoners; they fell wounded, and our retreat was so rapid we had to leave them. I will not attempt to picture to you the battle-field, your imagination will suggest to you what a horrible sight it is to see over one hundred thousand men, on a single plain, engaged in deadly encounter. I never expected to get off the field. I expected to fall every moment—men were falling all about me—legs and arms, flying in every direction—the groans of the dying, and screams of the wounded are still in my ears.
You can form no conception of the rout of a large army. We marched forty-seven miles that day, without food and without water and rest. We were so sure of success, that all our cooked rations, blankets, &c(etc)., were left in the enemy’s rear, the point from which our column attacked. Twenty-five or thirty pieces of artillery, a large number of muskets, blankets, knapsacks, &c(etc)., fell into the hands of the enemy, besides many army wagons filled with munitions. The rebels are now hovering over Washington, and an attack is hourly expected. They had better not be to emboldened by their sucess. I think they lost two to one in killed and wounded. Gen. McClellan is here to supersede McDowell.
I would like to come home and see you all before we make another advance, because being with the Regulars, who never run, I do not expect to ever return from another campaign.
I hope you will get the trunk I sent you. My diploma and other valuables are in it; should I fall, my army trunk, containing many valuables, is stored at ____in Washington. My effects would be taken charge of by the War Department, but in case of difficulty, you will know where to apply. I will do my duty, and if the fortunes of war result adversely to me, I will leave a good record.
Your affectionate Son,
J. P. DROUILLARD,
Lieut. U. S. A.
Gallipolis (OH) Journal, 8/8/1861
Transcription courtesy this site.
James Pierre Drouillard bio
Thanks to reader Dave Powell