LETTERS FROM OUR BOYS.
From George M. Morris.
[We are pleased to lay before our readers the following minute and graphic letter from our able correspondent, Corporal Morris. — It is the best published letter which we have seen from any member of the 13th regiment.]
Fort Bennett, Va.,
July 28, 1861.
By the kind care and protecting arm of the controller of the destinies of man, I am able to indite you a letter this morning. — Confident that nothing short of power Supreme could have saved me from the danger which at times has surrounded me within the last two weeks, I return thanks to the God of battles for thus preserving me. We left our camp July 16th, in connection with Tyler’s division of the Grand Army, and moved forward into the enemy’s country. — We reached Vienna at 7 o’clock P. M., and encamped for the night. Early in the morning we resumed our march, taking the road for Georgetown, where a small force of the enemy were known to be intrenched. — The road was blockaded at short intervals by fallen trees, which the pioneers removed without much trouble. Skirmishing parties were constantly kept in front, at sufficient distance to give timely warning of the appearance of the enemy. As we approached Georgetown, two regiments were thrown into the fields in line of battle. Sherman’s battery proceeded along the road until the intrenchments could be seen. The rebels were at work on them, and seemed to be unconscious of our approach. A couple of shells from our howitzers soon attracted their attention, and caused them to make a hasty retreat. Two balls from the rifle cannon tore a hole through the intrenchment large enough for our troops to pass through. We saw no more of them that day. In an old house at Germantown two prisoners were taken. A short distance beyond Germantown we joined Hunter’s division, which left Alexandra at the same time ours left Arlington. They had come by the way of Fairfax, and met with similar success to ours. We proceeded on our journey about five miles farther and encamped for the night in an old secession camp which had just been vacated. They had been compelled to leave while preparing supper. The fires were still burning, with meat in kettles cooking over them. We slept soundly all night without being disturbed. It was understood that we were to proceed to Centreville that day, and that all the divisions under McDowell were to meet them. A large force of the enemy was expected to be intrenched at this place. Our marching on this day (July 18th,) was slow and cautious. We came in sight of the intrenchments before the other divisions came up, but nothing could be seen of the foe. After satisfying ourselves that the enemy had vacated this place also, we went forward and planted the stars and stripes on the breast-works, cheered them heartily. and turned into an open field to wait for the other divisions. They came up about noon, and a brigade belonging to Schenk’s division proceeded forward on the Manassas road; the remainder of the army staying at Centreville. About two o’clock the report of cannon was heard in the direction our troops had taken, and we knew a fight had commenced. Soon the news came that the advance regiments had been fired into by a masked battery, and a general engagement had commenced. Our brigade, (Sherman’s) was ordered forward to the support of Sherman’s battery, which had opened fire on the enemy. We “double quicked” for the three miles, and came into the scene of action. — Our regiment formed into line of battle, filed into the woods behind our battery to protect it from a charge of infantry. An open field lay between us and the enemy. They were secreted in a dim woods on the side hill above us. Nothing could be seen of them save a dragoon occasionally. The only means of learning their whereabouts was by the smoke of their guns. We lay upon our faces in the woods, while cannon ball and shell fell all around us thick and fast, for over an hour. Quite a number of the dead and dying lay strewn through the woods. — Had our regiment remained on their feet, we should have suffered terribly. As it was, not a man was hurt. McDowell came up about four o’clock, and seeing that nothing could be accomplished from the position we then occupied, he ordered the troops to fall back to Centreville. Thus ended the first day’s fight. Another move was not made until Sunday last. About two o’clock on the morning of the 21st, we started again for Manassas. Hunter’s division took the right flank road, Tyler’s the front, and Schenck’s the left flank. All started at the same time, with the intention of reaching Bull’s Run together, but at different places. This they accomplished without opposition. The road we took led us so that when we reached Bull’s Run, we were in the rear of the battery that fired into us on Thursday. Sherman got sight of it and threw two or three balls from his thirty-two pound seige gun, which tore it all to pieces. We then commenced feeling of the enemy from different points, by throwing shell into the woods in front. — They did not reply to our guns. They could be seen on the hill above us, and the pickets exchanged several shots.
By some means they got wind that Hunter was flanking them on the right, and they sent out a force to meet him. Our Brigade lay in the woods at this time waiting for Hunter to commence the attack. From an open field at our right we could see the enemy as they went out to meet Hunter. Our gunners threw a shell amongst them which done great damage and had the effect to disconcert them for a short time. They soon were out of reach of the guns in one brigade so we could do nothing but stay quietly in one place and wait for the fight to begin. At precisely nine o’clock Hunter came up and the fight began. He opened his battery upon them in the center of their column and flanked them on both sides. After a few rounds of small arms, they began to retreat. We were then ordered across the fields to cut them off. In consequence of being delayed on account of a stream, we did not reach them in time to prevent their retreat, but in time to give them the content of our guns, which made terrible havoc. One South Carolina regiment was entirely cut to pieces. The firing now ceased for a short time on both sides.
Our officers were confident that the victory was ours. McDowell and his staff rode into the field and was cheered loudly. An American flag was seen coming out of the woods opposite to us, and all thought it was Schenck’s division coming from the other side. It proved to be a ruse of the enemy however. As we advanced forward they opened a masked battery right where they had planted the stars and stripes. It cut several of our regiments horribly. One of our batteries soon engaged it, and our brigade was ordered to charge upon it. The 69th took it on the right side, 79th and 18th on the left. Had it not have been for the arrival of Johnson with a reinforcement of fresh troops just at this period, we should have gained the day without a doubt. But he instantly attacked us with a body of men numbering five to one, and forced us to fall back. The scene of carnage which now ensued beggars all description. New batteries before unseen opened on us from all directions. — The leaden messengers of death whistled around us — wounded men begged for aid — the dead men trampled over — all were nearly exhausted and dying of thirst. Having no fresh troops to fall back upon, a general retreat was absolutely necessary. By accident, not by bravery, I was about the last to leave the field. Could language paint the scene that I saw, then could I draw a picture that none but incarnate fiends could gaze upon without a shudder. Men lay around writhing in mortal agony. Some who had lost an arm or leg were begging pitifully for water. Others were dragging themselves slowly along into the bushes, there to breathe their last, alone and unheeded. My heart shrinks within me as the scene passes through my mind. Let those who have caused this war tremble at the surely coming retribution. The God of Heaven will surely hear the prayer of the mother left desolate in her old age. His forbearance may be long lasting, but it will have an end.
A few words concerning our company and I close. There is but two of them wounded, D. E. Smith and R. C. Ketchum. They are not seriously hurt. Both of them are wounded in the arm. The rest of the company are in much better health than could be expected under the circumstances. We marched 40 miles and fought nine hours without eating or sleeping. Many had such sore feet that they could not walk for four days.
I will write you again the latter part of this week, and give you some further particulars of the battle. Hoping never to be called upon the battle field again,
I remain your friend,
Geo. M. Morris
Dansville [New York] Advertiser, 8/1/1861
Contributed by John Hennessy