1st Lt Clarke Henry Thompson, Co. G, 7th Virginia Infantry, On the Campaign

26 05 2017

Near Centreville, Fairfax Co.

Friday, August 2, 1861

Dear Aunt:

According to promise, I take this opportunity to write you a few lines. I am in camp near the above named place, and have been ever since last Sunday, at which time our regiment marched here from within on mile from the great and ever memorable battlefield of the 21st. I have thus far been spared from the bullets of the enemy, though subject to their fire in both battles.

I left Culpeper C. H. on the 26th of June, arriving in camp at a place called Wigfall, some two miles from Manassas, stayed there six or seven days, then marched with the regiment (which is called the 7th Va. Regt) to a place called Occoquan, a distance of eighteen miles.

We remained there a week and returned. In some five or seven days after our return we were ordered out to meet the enemy, a distance of about two miles, where we camped on the ground and many of us without blankets. On the next day which was Thursday the 18th, we marched some three or four miles in a different direction where we met the severest volly of musketry from the enemy, who were some thirty yards upon the hill, hidden completely from view. As luck would have it, not many of our regiment were killed or got wounded, but many of the enemy were slain. It was really a sight to find the blankets and clothes and things scattered over the field after their defeat.

You may think strange, but many of our men went upon the field the next morning and got off the dead bodies of the yankees, money, cards, likenesses, and many other little notions, many things no doubt had been stolen from our private citizens upon their route from Washington to the field.

We then stayed in our trenches for two whole days and nights waiting for them to return, but they did not return and they brought up a flag of truce for permission to bury their dead. Instead of acting honorably, they left their dead and wounded and went two miles up the run, where they threw up the most tremendous breast-work against us.

We took up the wounded and had them cared for, and believe me, General Beauregard had the dead buried.

On Saturday we were ordered out of the trenches and marched two miles, where we rested until Sunday morning, when we marched ten and a half miles to meet the enemy again. The battle commenced before seven in the morning and lasted until late in the evening. Our Regt. got upon the field about three o’clock in the afternoon at which time the enemy retreated.

We lost out of our regiment and fifty killed and wounded. They fired upon us very heavily for, I suppose fifteen minutes, we marched after them but not very far, as their retreat was in such haste and confusion that our Cavalry could hardly keep up with them, such a defeat was never known.

They scattered thousands of dollars worth of blankets, oil cloths, hats, coats and shoes. They actually threw away trunks filled with surgical instruments. Besides these there were silk dress patterns, bonnets and underskirts, found marked to to the wives of the men in New York, as trophies gotten from the “Rebels” as they term us. These things were stolen from private individuals in Alexandria and Fairfax C. H. How could a young man, dear Aunt, help volunteering to fight such a mob of heartless wretches as they? They actually killed the stock, burned houses, destroyed furniture of the people as they advanced.

We whipped them very decently, and they went back to the spot from which it took them six months to march, in six hours. They were seen to pass the streets begging the citizens for private clothing, thinking that they could escape, and that we were still after them. They fell in the streets and died of exhaustion. I had the audacity to think last Sunday, that I was not made to be struck by a bullet. It is, I think, the hand of the All-wise One that prevents the balls from striking me, for they whistled around like hail.

All history to a battle is mere fiction to the reality. It is an indescribable sight to see bodies mutilated in every manner in quantities all over the place, and arm here, a head there, a leg in another place. There were many cut up in this way. Some of the bodies actually laid out of the ground for six days. Hundreds of the finest horses were slaughtered upon the enemy side.

We took some 12,000 guns, 71 pieces of cannon, 1000 men and 500 horses.

I had no idea that I could stand what I have, but I can now walk over a dead “Yankee” with as good grace as I would a dog.

I hope that our Country may soon be at peace, but from the present movements of our regiments, I fear not, some four or five have passed down in the last few days. It is thought that we will advance upon Washington in a short time, how true this is I am not able to say, you can hear more news than we. The soldier’s life is not a pleasant one by any means, but when one knows the duty that he owes his Country, he will make any sacrifice. I shall ever consider the service that I have done the most noble act of my life. You will excuse this epistle as I am writing very fast. I will close. Remember me most affectionately to Uncle Albert, Cousin Fountaine and family, and all my relatives and friends.

Your most affectionate nephew,

C. H. Thompson

N. B. Write soon and address your letters to Manassas, in the care of Captain Walden, 7th Va. Regiment.

Library of Virginia

Transcription Image

Contributed by Keith Yoder

Clarke H. Thompson at Fold3 

Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 4

14 05 2017

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 4: Green and Green Alike (Don’t get me started on this quote – some view it as an indication of Lincoln’s raw, common sense. I see it as evidence of his poor grasp of military realities – if, in fact, he said it.)

P. 91 – The first sentence of this chapter is one of my great pet peeves: “On the day Irvin McDowell assumed command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia…”

The footnote for this paragraph cites Starr’s Bohemian Brigade and Warner’s Generals in Blue. Neither of these are primary sources (nothing wrong with that), and neither of them discuss the origin of the name Army of Northeastern Virginia (this is the first time the name is used in this book.) Why does this note not cite some order creating the army, or some report referring to it for the fist time? Because, as far as I’ve been able to determine, there never was any organization on the books called The Army of Northeastern Virginia. The moniker was only applied post-battle, and post formation of The (Federal) Army of the Potomac. Why is this important? What difference does it make? Maybe none. But it bugs the heck out of me when I see it. OK, enough on that, let’s move on.

Pp. 93-94 – The author notes that McDowell was hampered not only by “inadequate communications” south of the Potomac, but also faced a shortage of wagons to carry rations for his army when on the march. He had to deal with a “lack of cooperation from superiors and colleagues alike,” and that McDowell would later attribute this to Winfield Scott’s dissatisfaction with his elevation to command of the army in the field. General J. K. F. Mansfield was an instrument in Scott’s obstruction of McDowell’s efforts.

P. 101 – In the same vein, McDowell later claimed that he “had no opportunity to test my machinery…” That is, he couldn’t drill his new regiments in battlefield, brigade sized evolutions. When he did exercise a group of eight regiments together, Scott accused him of “trying to make some show.” The author points out that failure to drill regiments as brigades and divisions resulted in the inability to use them as such in practice. This gives some insight into the time-honored opinion that the “piece-meal” insertion of units into the battle was key to Union defeat.

P. 103 – The author raises a good question: Why was Daniel Tyler, who held no volunteer or regular army rank, and who had been out of the army for almost 30 years, given command of the largest division in McDowell’s army? Other than a generally favorable remark from W. T. Sherman (“has a fair reputation”), a good reason isn’t offered. The author notes and provides evidence that the men in the ranks were left unimpressed by Edith Carow (Mrs. Theodore) Roosevelt’s grandfather. [As a side note, I found some evidence in Alan Gaff’s If This is War that, despite having personally drilled the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers of his division at least once, the men were less than familiar with Tyler, as some of them believed he attempted to rally the men on Henry House Hill, when he was nowhere in the vicinity. I’m guessing they confused him with another white-haired officer, Samuel Heintzelman.]

P. 108 – The author notes that the June 1 raid on Fairfax Court House by Lt. Charles H. Tompkins, and his “wildly inflated estimate of the troops” there “inhibited McDowell from making further reconnaissances.” He also states that “some historians” claim this also resulted in a postponement on the eventual movement on Manassas and allowed more time for Beauregard to strengthen the defenses there. [Delays leading to defeat, and separately to plan failure, will be a recurring theme.]

PP. 108-112 – On June 3, Scott directed McDowell to give an estimate of the number of troops he would need to make a move on the Bull Run Line (and maybe Manassas Gap), in conjunction with Patterson’s movement against Harper’s Ferry. McDowell’s was to be a supporting role. McDowell returned a number that was very low, a total of 17,000 men including a 5,000 man reserve. McDowell felt this would perhaps compel Beauregard to fall back on Richmond. Even when credible reports established that Beauregard had 20,000 on the line, McDowell still thought the move (and men), which would bypass Fairfax Court House, could succeed via a move toward Vienna. [The author does not explore this line of thought, but here we see an indication that McDowell is thinking along the lines of Scott’s campaign in Mexico, a series of turning movements by smaller forces, in the face of which the enemy would withdraw.]

As a test, McDowell ordered a foray to Vienna. The misfortune that befell Brig. Gen. Schenck at that place seemed “to have infected his men with a deep-seated fear of ‘masked batteries,’ one that politicians and newspaper editors would play up.” [All of which may be true, but I have yet to find any creditable evidence that this in any way impacted the orders to and dispositions of McDowell’s force when it eventually moved out. There are more practical reasons for those than some “fear” of masked batteries, a theme that runs through many chronicles of the campaign.]

P. 112 – The author notes that as of June 24, McDowell had access to fewer than 14,000 troops in his department [a much better term to use than a formal army name, by the way], but that he remained confident that if he could properly train, organize, and motivate all the men he would receive over the next few weeks they could defeat the rebels “if they needed to fight them at all. He [McDowell] continued to believe that a well-mounted advance might persuade” the rebels to fall back to better defenses nearer the Rappahannock River. [And here it is: I don’t think McDowell ever stopped believing that.]

P. 113 – By late June, those in power were getting anxious for a move. McDowell would say later that whenever he mentioned the obstacles he was facing, he received the same response regarding the relative “green-ness” of his men and those of the enemy [it’s tough sometimes to nail down just who first flung this classic, but misguided, comeback McDowell’s way – I’ve seen it attributed to both Scott and Lincoln]. The author correctly points out that it was the “government’s” lack of patience that was pressuring for a move, not that of “the people” or “the press.” [Of course, that buck stops with POTUS.] And so on June 21, Scott directed McDowell to present a “finished plan to ‘sweep the enemy from Leesburg to Alexandria’ in cooperation with a column from Patterson’s army.”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Image: Sergeants of Co. G, 16th New York Infantry

10 05 2017



3rd Sgt. Luther Lee Partridge; 4th Sgt. Andrew Christie Bayne; 1st Sgt. John Henry Austin; 2nd Sgt. Edwin O. Betts. June 24, 1861. Courtesy of Military Images Magazine