Pvt. Charles Henry Howard*, Col O. O. Howard’s Brigade Staff, On the Battle and Retreat

28 01 2017

The Maine Regiments in the Battle. In the absence of a letter from our correspondent of the Third Regiment this week, we copy the material portion of a letter from a correspondent of the Boston Journal, written by a member of Colonel Howard’s staff, giving interesting details of the part taken by the Maine regiments in the battle at Manassas.

———-

The third night after leaving our encampment at Clermont – four miles from Alexandria – we bivouacked near Centerville, about one mile this side of the battle ground on that day, Friday.

Many of the officers got no sleep that night. All were awakened at 11 A. M. and marched at the appointed time. We were delayed soon after leaving camp for other divisions to pass, and did not leave Centerville till some time after sun rise.

Just after leaving Centerville, we passed Col. Keyes’ brigade, containing the Maine 2d. Many of our friends came to take us by the hand as we passed, and said there had been an unbroken column passing them since early dawn. About two miles further on we turned to the right in order to outflank the enemy’s position and attack in the rear. Gen. Tyler’s division, in which was the 2d Maine, attacked in front. By order of Gen. McDowell, our brigade halted at the turn and allowed Cols. Franklin and Wilcox to pass on. The Ellsworth Zouaves were the rear regiment of Wilcox’s brigade. The guns had now become quite frequent, and we saw the red-shirted and red-capped Zouaves disappear at double quick. We waited till noon, some improving the time to get a little sleep. An order then came to hurry us forward, and we marched at quick step for about four miles – then took a path through the woods – a shorter route than the others had taken. Messengers came back saying we were carrying the day, and at this point an order was brought from Gen. McDowell to go at double quick. This was unfortunate, for the men were tired and very much heated – but the order came from the scene of conflict and we pressed on. When we came neat the battle ground we began to meet ambulances with the wounded and dying. Col. Hunter was the first one severely wounded whom we met. We were then under cover of the woods where was a hospital. As soon as we came out the cannon balls began to fly about is in terrible profusion. Some of the officers left their horses here, preferring to be on foot. Col. Howard and aids rode at the head of the column – Maine 4th in advance, Vermont 2d next, Maine 5th, Maine 3d in the rear. The first two formed in line in a ravine and marched up a hill where there were some trees, but unfortunately the battery they were there to support retreated before they arrived, and met them as they came up. The 5th and 3d formed and awaited orders, but soon after a body of cavalry came dashing down the hill in retreat, and there a battery of the enemy opened nearly upon the right flank of the ravine. This accelerated the flight of the cavalry, and when the cannon balls began to strike among the ranks of these reserved regiments, they became somewhat scattered. The flight of the cavalry, which indicated a general retreat operated disastrously upon these men, but they afterward rallied, when Col. Howard returned for them to come up to the support of the two regiments already advanced to the brow of the hill. These two had fired about twenty rounds apiece, until their muskets became too hot to use. A part of the Vermont 2d had rifles, and their officers desired to halt, saying they could reach the enemy from that point. Col. Howard consented in this case, and the Vermont 2d were gratified to see a body of the enemy’s troops flee before their fire, and retreat along the road to Manassas Junction.

Col. Whiting, Vt. 2d, showed great coolness and courage as did Col. Berry, 4th. The Maine 4thhad halted in a line with the Vermont 2d, but the enemy were so sheltered and at such a distance their firing took little effect. The 3d and 5th came up, but advanced no further. No order to that effect had come from Col. H., but undoubtedly their officers supposed such to be the case. Col. h. made a strenuous attempt to move them, riding out in front and urging them on, but once halted it was impossible to advance them further, and they were exposed to a galling fire. Maj. Staples, commanding the 3d Maine, and Lieut. Burt, Brigade Quartermaster, conducted with heroic gallantry, leading on the regiment. Col Howard’s horse was shot, and shells were exploding about him. The fire of our musketry seemed so utterly useless and the ranks were so thin that no better course could be taken than to retreat, as all our forces were doing.

After we had reached the ravine again the battery began to pour down upon us a most destructive fire. We passed up the opposite hill. Troops were now flying in all directions, and our men started to run. Col. Howard distinctly said at this moment that he would not run away, he would be taken first. He therefore walked his horse with the few who still adhered to him, and a little further on we rallied all that could be found of the 3d brigade. The enemy now began to press upon the rear, and the order came to retreat to Centreville. Brave men regretted deeply this command, but it was transmitted to our brigade with the additional modification, “in good order.” A panic seemed to have taken hold of all our forces, and there was great confusion in the retreat. There was danger of our being cut off, and just before we reached Centreville another gun opened upon us; but evidently the enemy was too disabled and exhausted to secure the advantages which they might have had from our confused retreat had they been fully aware of our condition.

We found our reserve had had a battle at Centreville, but had succeeded in driving back the enemy, and now received our mass of flying soldiers in safety. Many kept right on toward Washington. Our brigade returned to their old camp, attended to the wounded we had brought away, made hot coffee, and the men for the most part went to rest. Our officers finding that the other troops were all leaving, were desirous of starting for Washington. There were rumors that the enemy were close upon us. Col. Howard, however, would not retreat further without orders, and sent to headquarters for instruction. The general order for retreat then came, and we set out in perfect order from Centreville. Our baggage had all fallen into the hands of the enemy, the train having attempted, by some misunderstanding, to follow too closely upon the column. The officers lost all except what they wore upon their persons.

We halted to rest a Fairfax Court House, but remained there only about an hour. Before daylight we were on our way again. Col. Howard determined to take the brigade back to our old encampment at Clermont, though all the other troops had gone either to Alexandria or Washington. After staying there a few hours, as there were alarming rumors, and many of the officers and men were anxious to come to town, Col. H. procured a train of cars and took them to Alexandria, where he obtained quarters for the four regiments. The 3d Maine returned to Clermont last night, and the others will do so immediately, as it is a healthy location, and much better than the narrow and filthy quarters afforded in the city.

The 3d Maine is farther advanced than any other regiment.

C. H. H.

Maine Farmer, 8/1/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Charles Henry Howard enlisted as a private in the 3rd ME Infantry, and at that time was assigned as a clerk to the colonel of the regiment, his brother Oliver Otis Howard. When Col. Howard was elevated to brigade command, Pvt. Howard joined his brigade staff.

Charles Henry Howard at Find-A-Grave 

Charles Henry Howard at Ancestry.com

“We Are in His Hands Whether We Live or Die”: The Letters of Brevet Brigadier General Charles Henry Howard 

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