Sgt. Eldon A. Tilden, Co. D*, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Battle, Retreat, and Sun-Stroke

21 12 2016

From the Second Vermont Regiment.

The following is an extract from a letter written by member of the Waterbury Company, to his parents in Barre. It gives some interesting details of the engagement at Bull run, about which all are so anxious to learn:

Bush Hill, near Alexandria,
Sunday, July 28, 1861.

Dear Parents: – Our detachment was sent as a reserve to cut off the retreat of the enemy, if there should be one in our directions, and if not, to be ready for any emergency or any duty which they might assign us.

We marched about four miles from Centreville, where we halted in a pleasant grove near Gen. McDowell’s quarters, and awaited further orders. While resting, we could distinctly hear the incessant reports of cannon and musketry from both sides, and (listening for ourselves the sound of charges) we were satisfied that our forces were gradually driving the enemy, when the order came to forward, which was promptly done. Gen. Howard gave the order to forward double-quick time, which pace was kept up for over four miles, through an open field, most of the way, and the sun pouring its melting rays directly in our faces. The result of this, (which was wholly unnecessary) was that many of the troops were obliged to leave the ranks; many of the men were sun-struck, some even died from the effects of it. I was one of the number that was sun-struck, I suppose, for I cannot tell what else it could be. I run as long as I could stand, when I fell perfectly insensible, and remained so for nearly an hour, I should judge; the first I knew, some one was pouring water upon my feet, wrists and head, who also gave me something to drink. I have since learned that it was the Hospital Sergeant, and he tells me there were over a hundred in the same situation that I was. After I came to a realizing sense of my situation, I threw away my blankets and tried to regain my feet, which I finally succeeded in doing, and started at a slow pace for the battle-ground. I passed several deserted (concealed) batteries, from which our troops had just drove the Rebels, and arriving upon a small hill, I had a distinct view of the grounds. Below was a small valley, from which the Rebels had but a few moment before retreated to another but a short distance. I passed to the opposite hill, looking for our Regiment, but could hear nothing from it until the retreat commenced, when I met one of the w[?]ers, who told me the Regiment was badly cut to pieces. Several Regiments passed me on their retreat, before I saw any of the boys from our Regiment. But at last I found one who told me the position of our brigade, which I immediately started for. I could not get much further, however, as the retreat had become general, and troops, artillery, and baggage wagons were rushing in all directions – Up to this moment I supposed victory was complete, and our troops were fast driving the enemy towards Manassas. But the truth was far from it. The Rebels had just received reinforcements, and were making a desperate charge upon us, which our forces, having been engaged a long time and being nearly exhausted, could not stand. I will not give a description of the retreat, as you probably have already as good an idea of it as I could give you, but suffice it to say, there was one general stampede. During our retreat we were cut off once near Bull run, where there was a small battery which opened upon us with some effect, but was soon silenced by a reserve of our troops who were [?] in the vicinity. The Rebel cavalry made a charge upon is at this point, but were met by ours, and out of eighty, only eight or ten succeeded in escaping our fire. I was in a small ravine through which all of our troops had to pass, and which was completely blocked up by the baggage and ammunition wagons. When the last attack was made, I had just passed one of the wagons to which there was two horses attached, when a shell burst near the wagon, which frightened the horses, and they, coming against me, knocked me down, when the horses, wagon and all passed over me. Three men were killed near, by the shell; one of them fell by my side. One musket ball passed through my pants, near the right ancle, and another hit my sword belt near my left hip.

We retreated to our old camp, from which we started in the morning, and should have made a stand there, but it seemed to me that the officers were more frightened than the troops, though I suppose they expected there would be an advance of the Rebels on Washington. We had stopped only a few moments, when the order came to march to Washington, which we did, arriving in Alexandria the next morning, making a march of over fifty miles in a little over twenty-four hours.

The Barre boys that were in the engagement were Strong, Jones, Beckley, Goodrich and Camp, who displayed wonderful coolness, taking deliberate aim. They receive especial praise from the officers. Willey was sick with the measles, and was left with several others at the hospital at Centreville. Smith was just getting over the measles, and was with the baggage team, but came very near being taken prisoner.

Our loss in the whole division is said to be about 500 or 600, but we cannot tell yet, as stragglers arrive every day. There has been an estimate of the loss in our Regiment made which will not exceed 40 killed. From our Company there are 4 missing, but we think they are only taken prisoners. I am informed from a reliable source that our Colonel was not near his command. He paraded his Regiment and retired to a large tree, and watched the proceedings. He has been branded as a coward in Washington, and probably will be in the papers over the signature of Col. Bowdish** of Vermont. The other Regimental officers conducted themselves in a manner which reflects credit upon them.

Troops are rushing into this vicinity by thousands, and the Departments are adopting the most vigorous measures for a thorough re-organization of our army, when I think there will be a desperate move, although I do not think we shall be called upon.

E. A. T.***

[Montpelier VT] Christian Messenger, 8/7/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John J. Hennessy

*Company D was raised in Waterbury

**Possibly I. B. Bodish, a leading Democrat of Burlington, VT See Vermont in the Civil War 

**Initials E. A. T. in Co. D correspond with Sgt. Eldon A. Tilden

Eldon A. Tilden bio 

Eldon A. Tilden at Fold3 

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2 responses

21 12 2016
22 12 2016
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks, Chris. That’s a newer book, so I don’t think I’m going to try to use that photo without the author’s permission.

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