July 29, 1861
I have just returned from a fight where steel met steel and war in earnest reigned. I have experienced the sensations of General Jacksons celebrated passages across Canada lived in all its reality and can truly say it’s enough. Geo. I have heard cannon balls, bomb shells & bullets fly about my ears like hail, seen the dead & dying in every direction, heard the groans of the wounded and witnessed all the horrors of a battle field — been on a march and returned to camp unharmed. The troops which composed the grand army that crossed the long bridge and envaded (sic) VA’s sacred soil on the 10th inst. singing Dixie’s land and otherwise manifesting their joy in leaving the dull monotony of camp like to enter upon the active duties of a campaign have returned with broken ranks and saddened hearts…. Our regt. was placed on a knowl directly in front of a masked battery whose fire we could not return & there remained nearly half an hour, their shots making sad havock (sic) among the men — they however stood up like heroes until ordered to change our position — the fight was desperate on both sides. At one time we supposed the day was ours, and a hurrah arose along our whole line, but the reinforcements of Johnston coming up the reserve failing to appear and a sudden & unaccountable panic arising among our troops turned a victory into a disgraceful defeat and will leave a sorry page in the history of the Republic. There was a lack in some of the Generals. Some say Gen. McDowell was drunk — others that he lost his self-possession and many other vague reports — the fact is the Federal Army was not ready — it numbered not over 40,000 in all including the reserve, while the rebel forces amounted to 90,000, in a strong position chosen by themselves, strongly fortified by nature & art. They have shown themselves cowards in not meeting us in the open field — they would not stand against our charges, and only behind trees, in rifle pits & bushes did they stand, the retreat was disorderly and everyone looked out for himself.
I was behind our regt. and among the last to come in. Crossing a bridge a masked battery opened a destructive fire & a company of cavalry charged. Several of our men were killed, but only six of their horseman returned.
In the rush I left the road & took a roundabout path in the woods — at one time I imagined the cavalry was in pursuit with no idea of being taken I concealed myself in a clump of bushes & drew out the old revolver, determined to give some of them a pil, but it proved to be some of our own fugitives.
Write soon. Direct as before. Co. H. 2nd Regt. N.H.V.
J. N. Patterson
Joab N. Patterson Letters, 1888-1889, MC 119, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.
Joab N. Patterson, 2nd New Hampshire, Co. H; born in Hopkinton, NH; age 26; resided in Hopkinton; enlisted Apr. 22, ’61, for 3 months as a Private.; not mustered in; re-enlisted May 11, ’61, for 3 yrs.; appointed 1st Lt. June 4, ’61; mustered in June 5, ’61, as 1st Lt.; appointed Capt. May 23, ’62; wounded July 2, ’63, Gettysburg, Pa.; appointed Lt. Col. June 21, ’64 ; Col. Jan. 10, ’65; mustered out Dec. 19, ’65. Brevet Brig. General, U. S. V., to date Mar. 13, ’65, for courage in battle and good conduct throughout the war. P. O. address. Washington, D.C.
Contributed by David Morin