Letter from the 2d New Hampshire Regiment.
Camp Sullivan, July 25, 1861.
Dear Friends: – I am just recovered from my fatigue of yesterday and the few preceding days to write a connected account of what I have done and seen; but if I were to picture the scenes fully and accurately, the recital would fill a volume. We started Tuesday at 1 1/2 o’clock P. M. and marched into the “Old Dominion.” After a walk of about 10 miles we camped upon the ground: and on the next morning receiving orders, we marched about 10 miles more to Fairfax, which had been evacuated about two hours before. We had to clear the road of trees and stones placed to blockade it, and passed some formidable fortifications, also deserted. That night we slept under the shadow of the Court House, from which the flag of our regiment waved in place of a “Secesh” which was pulled down by Capt. Barker of Co. A. Early upon the next morning we started off again and encamped about 1 mile this side of Centreville, where a skirmish had taken place the day before. Here we slept two nights, and upon Sunday morning at 2 o’clock we again proceeded in the direction of the enemy, and after a tedious tramp of 10 or 12 miles outflanked them, and then the battle commenced. I suppose you have seen accounts of it and the unfortunate panic which was the sole cause of our retreat and defeat. We were ordered first into an open field on the right hand, just opposite a battery of the enemy, and a large body of infantry drawn up in line of battle, and without firing a shot were exposed to their galling fire. The cannon balls flew whistling by – shells burst over our heads – and the rifle and musket bullets flew just like hail. Here we did not lose many men, for the shots were mostly too high; and soon Lt. Col. Fiske took up the line of march for the other side of the road which intersected the field of battle, where we were in some measure protected by the guns of the Rhode Island Battery. Here the work of death in our ranks commenced, and a private in Co. H. was the first to fall, struck by a bullet in the temple, causing instantaneous death; and then in quick succession began to fall, the New Hampshire boys. – Our regiment was then marched, with the others composing the brigade, nearer the enemy, when they dealt as good as they received. The Goodwin Rifles and the Abbot Guards of Manchester, Co. I. together went up to within forty rods of a house which stood in the midst of their entrenchments and shot down the Secession flag twice, being all the time exposed to one of the terrible masked batteries, which were the only drawbacks to our victorious progress. Things went on quite favorably to our side till that unfortunate panic took place among our teamsters, (not our regimental ones,) but the army wagoners who commenced to drive pell mell towards this city – in some cases cutting the traces and mounting the horses, and riding as for dear life.
This fright was of course communicated to the soldiers and the retreat commenced in the utmost disorder, wagons, soldiers straggling along, artillery piece by piece, and ambulances filled to their brims with the wounded hurrying along, their inmates making the night hideous with their groans and cries, all conspired to make a scene which I shall never forget. At the bridge over Bull Run where we cut off to flank the enemy, the rear of the retreating column was fired upon by a rifled cannon which killed one or two horses of the R. I. Battery and caused the guns to pile up in an inextricable mass, cutting off some of the wagons and making a confusion altogether beyond the power of words to describe. They made no other attack, at least no organized one, although they may have harrassed our men some with cavalry.
In this way we came to the city, where we arrived all the way from 1 o’clock Monday A. M. till now; and all the men are not here yet. The N. Y. 69th and the Ellsworth Zouaves are the worst cut up, having made several charges upon the batteries of the enemy.
The Zouaves made 3 or 4 charges, which were never equalled in the annals of war. They were attacked by 600 Rebel “Black Horse” Cavalry and they killed or dismounted every one but six, capturing hundreds of splendid army revolvers, which they gave freely to all around them on the retreat; and they took a strong battery of rifled guns by a most splendid movement, but owing to overpowering numbers were obliged to relinquish it.
Our own company was not idle during the engagement, for our rifles told with the most deadly effect upon their ranks, and our boys charged up to the banks near the hill followed by Co. I., which I before mentioned, and from behind the fences picked them off fast.
Our Captain behaved gallantly throughout the whole affair, as did our Lieutenant – the latter taking as he did the place of our lamented Walker, was true to his memory, and acted with a coolness which throws lustre upon his character. Both of our officers proved themselves men, and worthy of the cause in which they are engaged. Col. Marston was wounded in the arm but notwithstanding that, he was again upon the field commanding his men in person.
Our regiment is quite fortunate, only 25 or 30 missing. Some of our Company have not yet come in. Holden of West Concord, Haynes, son of Sheriff Haynes, Fitts and Emerson of Candia, and Clay of the same place. The tree latter are probably only prisoners at the worst. Charley Cooper was wounded in the thigh, not dangerous, who with one or two others, some of whom are mentioned above, are all of our Company injured.
The scene on the field I will not attempt, as imagination can picture it much more like reality. But we are thankful that we are no worse off, and shall soon be ready to tackle them again under better circumstances.
J. W. O.*
Concord Democrat, 8/1/1861
*The only J. W. O. in the roster is Private John W. Odlin of Co. B. The members of his company named are also in the Goodwin Rifles, Co. B.
Contributed by John J. Hennessy