Pvt. Charles Winters, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

15 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.


[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]


Washington, July 23, 1861.

* * * The last time I wrote to you I believe I was in Fairfax C. H., near Centerville. Since then I have witnesses as terrible and bloody a battle as American history can boast of. We were routed up Sunday morning at two o’clock and marched towards Bull’s Run, a distance of about fifteen miles, where we arrived at twelve o’clock. The battle immediately commenced by cannonading on both sides. But this was too slow work, and we were marched up in musket distance. The first regiment we met we were going to fire into, but they told us not to fire into our own men, so we shouldered our muskets and had hardly done so when they poured into us with a whole volley of musketry, cutting down several of our men. They use all manner of stratagem, which was very effectual at first. They would send out little squads of men to get our men to chase them, and as soon as we got near enough, there would a whole regiment rise from behind some embankment and pour into us. Some would hoist the Stars and Stripes to make us think they were Union men. But these things finally played out. One regiment of cavalry tried to play this game on the New York Fire Zouaves. They allowed themselves to be fooled till a good opportunity presented itself, when they poured in upon them cutting them all to pieces. The report is that there were but six left. Bully for the New York boys – The rebels were very strongly fortified. They had embankments all around them, and a thick wood behind them where they could retreat and be in perfect safety. In short they had every advantage, but we made them retreat once and should have probably gained the day had they not been reinforced by a brigade from S. C. This was worse than we could stand so we had to retreat. They gained the day, but whether they gain the morrow is another thing. They have got to be routed out of there and Manassas Junction, their cake is dough*. There only hope of salvation is to keep these two places.

I never should or never could have suspected a people reared as they have been under the blessings of Christianity and civilization, to be possessed of such inhuman cruelty. I have often shuddered, and had my blood run cold when reading of the [?] of Indian wars, but I don’t know as I ever read of anything more cruel than to deliberately pull wounded men out of the wagons and cut their throats. I did not see this done, but there are boys in our company that did. Every wounded man they came across on the battle field, they would either cut his throat or run him through with the bayonet.

Our retreat march, before we could get in any kind of safety, was back to our old camp fifteen miles, and in this the rebel cavalry tried to outflank us, and they came very near doing so – Some ten or twelve of us stopped at a mudpuddle to get a drink, when we heard a great noise. On looking up to ascertain the cause we saw the rebel cavalry coming down a lane at right angles with the path we had to take. The boys scattered in every direction. I stopped half a second to see what to do, and finally ran for the woods. We came to a creek about the time the rebels got to a bridge where the creek crosses the main road. Our only chance was to jump in and wade through which we did in double quick time. They fired at us as we were crossing but did not hit us. After we had crossed, all the boys but myself ran for the woods. I suspected that part of the rebels had gone that way so I kept along the edge – Three or four balls were fired at me but without effect. We finally got to our camps where we stayed about two hours, when we were ordered to march, for it was not safe for us there. We came back to Washington where we arrived last night at four P. M., making almost forty eight hours without sleep, nothing to eat but sea crackers, a march of sixty miles, and a battle of five or six hours, You may judge for yourselves whether we were tired or not.

Charles Winters.

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*”Their cake is hoe” – One’s actions have failed or not led to the desired outcome. The phrase appears in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Charles Winters roster bio 

Charles Winters at Fold3 



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