“Juvenis,” Battery A (Reynolds), 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, On the Battle and Retreat

22 11 2016

Army Correspondence.

Camp near Harper’s Ferry, Aug. 5th, 1861.

Mr. Editor: – I hope you have not thought that, because I have not contributed lately to your paper I was among the fallen at the battle of Bull Run. True, I was in that battle, and in the thickest of the fight for five long hours; but no missile of death was allowed by my Heavenly Father to strike me down. Members of my own company and of my own mess fell at my side, the shells burst at my feet, the spent musket balls struck me, but I am still unscathed, ready for another conflict with my country’s enemies; ready for the life long conflict with the enemy of souls, ready I hope to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to lost men.

It seems strange to me, that even the presence of death has no effect upon the minds of men. One can still hear the same coarse jests, the same profane language, the same taunts at those who speak to them of religion, as before they were surrounded by the dead and dying.

We are now encamped in a lovely place; the mountains of the Blue Ridge are on every side except where the Potomac winds through them. We have taken the 1st R. I. Battery, as their time is up, and our battery with the exception of one piece, was lost at the battle of Bull Run. Perhaps your readers would like to have a short account of that battle, which was one of the bloodiest in American history.

We were encamped between Fairfax and Centerville, and expected to remain there for some time. We had built our huts of branches, our fire places and cranes were ready for use. Sunday morning at on o’clock the bugle sounded, and the battery was harnessed up. We mounted the boxes and silently wound along the road towards Manassas Junction. There was no music, no loud command; our General wished to steal a march on the enemy. We were confident of victory, as we had confidence in our commander. We took a circuitous path through the woods, and without once having halted during the march of twelve miles, we reached the field of battle. The Rhode Island troops had the right of the line, the 2nd regiment in advance, the 1st next in order with our battery between. The first notice we had of the presence of the enemy was the volley of musketry from the woods upon our lines. The 2d regiment charged and drove them from the woods, down the hill. We were instantly ordered into action. We got into battery as quickly as possible and engaged a battery about a third of a mile from us. We soon silenced that and engaged the enemy in other parts of the field. The battle grew hotter and hotter – thicker and thicker flew the bullets, the shot, the shell. Our horses suffered severely, our men at the guns were entirely exhausted, wounded or dead. We were so thirsty that we threw ourselves into the mudy brooks and eagerly swallowed the mud and water. The enemy were retreating on every hand. Already Beauregard had sent a dispatch to Richmond, and even while we were fighting, Jeff Davis was packing up his State papers to send them to a place of safety. Bu all day there had been a constant stream of reinforcements pouring into the woods where the rebels had their head quarters. All at once the celebrated black horse cavalry charged upon us, their fresh infantry poured their volley into our ranks, their masked batteries opened upon our flank; thick as hail the shot flew; four hundred of the Zouaves were cut down. We retreated. We ran before that stream of lead and iron. No man could stand such a fire as that. The retreat became a rout; all were mingled together in dire confusion; the road was crowded with fugitives; the wounded, the wearied all rushed along together. We brought our battery off the field, and dozens of wounded men climbed upon our boxes and pieces, some with broken arms, some with broken legs, some with the blood flowing down their faces, some with their clothes red with blood. We were obliged to leave many a poor wounded, dying man who beseechingly begged us to take him upon our boxes. Those that were free from wounds were panic struck. At the least alarm every man almost would flee for his life, not knowing where he went. Thus we passed slowly along. We came out of those long woods, the dust in the road was so thick that nothing before us could be seen. We began to hope that the enemy would not disturb us, for now we had reached the direct road to Centerville, and our reserve was two or three miles before us. It began to grow dusky, for the thick dust and the woods on either side of the road hid the setting sun; all at once into that dense mass of men, horses and wagons, the enemy from a masked battery poured their shell; the musketry opened upon them; their cavalry charged upon them. What a scene! We were just at the bridge, but upon it was piled the government baggage wagons. We could not pass with our battery; for it was a narrow bridge, and there were deep gullies on each side. Our drivers cut the traces, we left the wounded men to save our own lives, and helter skelter we dashed on towards Centerville. The cavalry of the enemy charged upon us, and many a poor soldier fell before their sabres. We soon met the reserve coming up under Colonel Miles, but still we hurried on through that long dark night; morning dawned, and still we had not halted; Washington and the long bridge hove in sight, and we sank down upon the ground exhausted! for we had eaten nothing since Saturday. We had marched ten or twelve miles to the battle field without halting, we had fought through that hot day, we had marched nearly forty miles from the battle field to Washington. Thus we fought, thus we retreated.

I will not say upon whose head a terrible retribution should be visited. We long for an opportunity to wipe off the disgrace of that day.

O! how much pleasanter we spent the hours of the last Sabbath (the 4th inst.) Though separated from our regiment, we had religious services. We repaired to a huge pile of rocks shaded by tall trees, and there one of our number preached to to us the gospel of Christ. It seemed lik a heaven below.

Juvenis.*

Boston Christian Era, 8/16/1861

Clipping image

*In Latin, Juvenis is a young man or a youth. The root of juvenile.

The History of Battery A, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery

Contributed by John J. Hennessy

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