Extracts from a letter by Lieutenant Fuller, to his parents, giving an account of his experience at the battle of Bull’s Run, on the 21st instant.
Arlington, Va., July 26, 1861
My Dear Parents – You have, undoubtedly been expecting to hear from me before this, but I have been to unwell to write. I have been suffering from indisposition ever since we left our old camp for the interior, and the fatigues and exertions of the march, battle and retreat, added to this, have made me down sick; to-day I am much better, although very week. I am stopping at Mr. Jackson’s; they have treated me very kindly, and have done every thing in their power to make me comfortable.
Well, we have met the enemy, and however humiliating the fact may be, we are forced to acknowledge that we were worsted in the contest. You, of course, have long ere this read the different newspaper accounts of the fight. None of them were fully correct, many of them false in every particular. Please to hear what not only an “eye witness,” but also a participant has to say on the subject.
On Saturday evening orders were received to be ready to march at half past two the next morning. At that hour, the call sounded, and we were awakened from our half finished repose on the damp ground, to march to battle. We were soon on the move. It was a beautiful morning, and as the sun rose from behind the adjoining hills, its rays were reflected back from the thousands of glittering bayonets. I looked, and thought perhaps it might be the last sun rise I should ever witness, (alas, it proved to be the last to many in that moving multitude,) but I soon shook off all gloomy thoughts, and passed on. About six o’clock our brigade was filed to the left, and marched by divisions into a piece of woods; the artillery were stationed in an open field near by, and soon opened by sending a thirty pound ball up the road. This was not replied to. After a short interval, another shot was fired, but this like the first elicited no reply. – Our attention was not called to a large body of troops on a road about three-fourths of a mile to the right of us, we knew that it could not be Col. Hunter’s division, as it was moving in the wrong direction, and he, Hunter, had not had time to make the circuit. Our battery now opened fire upon them, sending shell and shot into their midst, and scattering them considerably. We soon heard a volley of musketry, and knew by this that they had not been met by Col. Hunter. Volley after volley was fired, and the battle became general – on the right, on the left, and in front, the deep thunder of the artillery and the sharp report of the musketry were heard in frightful rapidity. We were ordered forward; and at a double quick march, we rushed on to support the gallant Hunter; wading across Bulls Run, and climbing a steep bank, we found ourselves in close proximity to the enemy who were retreating; we opened fire upon them, and their falling bodies proved that our aim had not been in vain. They soon, however, gained the corner of the woods, and we were ordered to cease firing, and marched some three-fourths of a mile to a rise of ground, where we found a considerable portion of the “grand army” assembled; the battle for a time had ceased, and we were allowed a resting spell, during which General McDowell rode past the different columns, and was loudly cheered by the soldiers.
We were soon ordered forward again, and had marched about one-fourth of a mile, when a concealed battery opened upon us, the first shot taking effect upon two of Captain Nolte’s company – they stood but a few feet from me when they fell. On we pressed almost running; we were ordered to the left to support a battery which was being stationed on a slight elevation; we were here halted and ordered to lie down. The firing by this time had become terrific; the balls from rifled cannon passing over our heads in close proximity; several of our regiment were struck; Michael Toole, of our company was here wounded in the knee by a spent ball.
We were ordered to charge forward, and at a double quick pace, we moved towards the enemy’s lines, and soon came in range of their musketry; it was there that many of our brave men fell dead or wounded. The firing was incessant; we replying with visible effect. Approaching a large piece of woods, between which and us was a log house we halted, but still continued firing. Here some one cried out, cease firing; that we were shooting our friends. We stopped for a time; and during the interval a man came into our ranks, I asked him if he was a Union Man? He replied, “No, I mistook you for a Baltimore regiment.” I immediately took his sword and revolver, placed him under guard, and then firing was resumed. We evidently were getting the better of our opponents, when suddenly we observed the whole line of our forces to swing back like a gate, leaving our regiment unsupported. No order to retreat was given that I heard, and there was no occasion for it that I can learn. It was a stampeded started on the hill by a cowardly regiment, aided by the civilians and teamsters who were near. – There was nothing now left for us to do but retreat, or be surrounded by overwhelming numbers; so we marched back up the road to a place where they were attempting to rally our forces, but the attempt was a vain one. The reserve had taken the alarm and scattered like chaff. Fearing I should lose my prisoner, I took him under my own charge; he turned out to be Lieut. Dunalt of the twenty-seventh Virginia regiment, he belongs to General Johnston’s division, and had come by forced marches from Winchester to join Beauregard.
I walked slow to keep out of the jam., and had a good chance to view the field of battle. It was a terrible and sickening sight. Dead men and horses lay strewn in frightful profusion – here on poor fellow with his leg carried away by a cannon ball, was begging piteously for water – another prayed that I would take my sword and put an end to his misery, some were in the last agonies of death; others not so severely wounded were trying to escape dragging their mangled limbs after them. God forbid that I should ever be compelled to witness another scene like the one of Sunday last.
About a mile from the battle field a masked battery opened a terrific fire upon our retreating army – here they again scattered in all directions. I took a circuitous route along a stream, and just before sun down, found myself upon our camping ground of the night before. – Just below this was a remnant of our army drawn up in line of battle, I tried to join them but a volley of musketry opened upon us. (I forgot to mention that a few moments before I was joined by Ensign Gilbert,) we held a council of war, and concluded that our safety lay in staying where we were. So we lay down on the ground, the prisoner in the middle, and for all of me he could have escaped a hundred times; for I never slept more soundly in my life, and did not wake dill long after daylight, and probably would not then had it not been for the rain – The army had left during the night, and so we were obliged to start on alone – Just by the fence we passed a dead man, he had crawled all the way from the battle field, some six miles – to die. We reached Centreville about six and a half in the afternoon. Here a church had been converted into a hospital. I went in and beheld another awful sight, but I will not sicken you with a description. On we went, just below Centreville Gilbert left me being in something of a hurry to get back. I could not move faster on account of my prisoner, who was or pretended to be foot sore, and moved at a very slow pace. The road between Centreville and Fairfax, was strewn with wagons and provisions, amunition, horses, and all kinds of descriptions of property. I reached Alexandria safely about three in the afternoon, reported to General Runyan who complimented me highly, put under my charge two Georgians who had been taken, and sent me by steamer to Washington.
I could not get a bed for love nor money, all the hotels being full to overflowing. I put the Georgians in the station house, and happened luckily to meet Van Buskirk, he procured a bed for myself and prisoner at a private boarding house. In the morning I awoke sick all over, had the jumping toothache to boot. I had my tooth pulled, and took a buss for camp, arriving at Jackson’s, I found our camp had been moved. Most of our folks supposed me to be lost, and they gave me three hearty cheers upon my arrival. The men now say they will go anywhere with me, because I stood by them in the battle.
Raymond, Kelley, and Joslyn, of our company are among the missing. Raymond and Kelley I fear have been killed, Joslyn was last seen at a spring about a mile from the battle field. He may have been killed by the shot from the masked battery which opened upon our retreating forces, but I think if he did not go on toward home he got lost and was taken prisoner. Conners was shot in the arm; Thompson in the finger; Toole I have already mentioned. This sums up the disasters in our company, though from the regiment many are missing, twenty or twenty-five are supposed to be killed.
I must not forget to mention the bravery of JOHN RICHARDSON and CHARLES MORGAN of our company. When behind the battery, the artillery being nearly tired out, called for volunteers to carry cartridges; these two alone out of a whole regiment jumped up and worked for a long time carrying cartridges from the caissons to the guns right in the face of the galling and well directed fire from the enemy’s battery – providentially they escaped injury. Heber acted very bravely, ad did all the company with one or two exceptions.
I am so week and confused, I fear I have given but a poor description of the days proceedings – when I get stronger, I will try and be more particular.
Your affectionate son,
Brockport [New York] Republic, 8/1/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy