J. J. F., 69th New York State Militia, On the Battle

14 11 2017

Letters from Members of the Sixty-ninth.

————

What the Men had to Eat – Effect of the Enemy’s Batteries – Fatal Mistake of the Wisconsin Regiment – Strange Incident – The Retreat.

Washington, July 22, 1861.

Dear – : I suppose you have full accounts of the battle that was fought yesterday around Bull’s Run. I received your last letter just as we were about to start for that place, and the nature of its contents made me answer it immediately with what means I had at hand. I had, as you may imagine, but little time and less materials then, and I sent it by a Priest who had come all the way from Washington to assist our own Chaplain in his duties that evening, and who was to return when the regiment started. The battle was fearful, and the Sixty ninth did its duty to the last moment. I have come back to Washington this 2 P. M., to recruit a little from the great fatigue I suffered, and you will see by this that my ideas are yet a little confused. We did not move from our camping ground, after all, until 2 A. M. of yesterday, and by daylight we came in sight of the rebel batteries, when we were halted, and disposed to the best advantage for the battle. We were now in the rear of the batteries which were unsuccessfully attacked last Thursday, on the line of a road which led directly to them. The first cannon was fired exactly at half past six which was continued without an answer from the rebels until half-past eight, when the fight began in earnest. At eight o’clock we were marched out of the woods where we had laid hidden, to protect our own guns from a charge, and sallied out into the open field, up a steep hill, where a fierce contest was raging between our forces and the rebel infantry. The enemy’s guns played on us at the moment we broke cover, and we did not reach the desired spot until after a sharp contest; we drove a lot of the enemy out of a wood which we had to pass. Again we were attacked by a small party of skirmishers hidden in an orchard right on the edge of the battle-field, and there we lost three or four men including Captain Haggerty of Company A, who was at the time acting as Lieutenant Colonel in place of Nugent, who had not sufficiently recovered from the accident he met with to accompany us. When the enemy saw us coming to reinforce our men, they retired to their batteries, which we were then ordered to storm. We had to run over half a mile, with three or four of the batteries throwing shell and grape shot at us, until we got under the hill on which the one that we were to attack was erected. Without a moment’s breathing space, we mounted the hill, and, being formed, we marched up to the trenches, and blazed away at the enemy. The fire we there received was terrific, and laid many of our brave boys low. The whole ramparts were every few moments a sheet of flame, and I never expected to see you again in this world.

Twice we were repulsed, and at the third charge the Second Regiment, Wisconsin, which was sent to our aid, fired into us from the rear, mistaking us through the smoke to be the enemy. That, and a charge of rebel cavalry, threw our ranks into confusion, and we were compelled for the third and last time to retire, leaving I should think some four hundred of our comrades dead and wounded on the field. We were engaged from eight A. M. until five P. M., or thereabouts, having had nothing but coffee and crackers the evening before, so you may form some idea of our fatigue. The regiments which had attacked the batteries were nearly all cut up and scattered, and sought shelter in every hole and ravine, from the terrible fire of masked batteries, which then seemed to have sprung up in every clump of bushes. The scene was desperate. Men who ha bravely marched to the cannon’s mouth, were now seized with panic, and fled in every direction, vainly striving to get out of range of the enemy’s guns, which now threw shell and grape in every direction. How I came through it all without a wound could only be by, I might almost say, the direct interposition of the Almighty.

After the regiment was reduced to a few men, I left that scene of carnage, escaped the cavalry, and reached a road, on which hundreds were flying away. I was fatigued almost to death; but still all hurried along to where they hardly knew. At last we struck upon the Centerville road, which was distant probably eight or nine miles, and having reached there, pushed on to Fairfax, fifteen miles or so more. We travelled all night to three A. M., when we reached Falls Church village, where I supposed the rebels could not pursue us; and, at any rate, I could go no further, as I was almost raving with fatigue and thirst, and, throwing myself down on the grass by the roadside along with a comrade, I lay in a sort of a half dreamy state until daylight when, not being able to hire a horse or wagon, we were again compelled to take the road, and reached the fort about ten or eleven A. M. to-day. The distance travelled was between thirty-five and forty miles, and after what I went through that day, you will agree with me that I require a little rest. When I arrived at the fort, I found it garrisoned b the Twenty-fifth Albany Regiment, and full of soldiers who had reached there during the night. Colonel Corcoran had not been heard from; it was thought he had been taken prisoner, until word reached just before I left that he was in Willard’s Hotel wounded in the knee.

My first thought after arriving was to telegraph you of my safety; but I found the greatest difficulty in getting across the bridge, double guards being stationed there, and it was only by discovering that the officer of the guard (who was a Dutchman) did not know that Colonel Corcoran was absent that I succeeded, by presenting a pass from him (the Colonel), so that it was between two and three o’clock before I reached the telegraph office and sent you the dispatch, which I trust you have received. I saw Peter Daly in the fort all safe. One of the young men who came with me from Mrs. K—‘s was wounded and taken prisoner, or killed, I have reason to fear, after we left the field.

Before going into the fight we were ordered to throw down our blankets and haversacks, which, of course, are all lost. There was nothing of value in the haversack but a revolver, and I can get another one without any trouble. Tell your mother that during the fight I lost both the gold dollar and the cross which F— gave me, but how I cannot tell; the chain I found cut and the hook broken, so that it may have been a stray ball, as they whistled all around when we were attacking the battery. I thought I would have had that dollar as long as I lived, but now it is gone, and the cross also. I have a good notion to make Uncle Sam pay for both, only I don’t think he is rich enough to pay at present. Perhaps I may yet come across some rebel wearing it, and then there will be a row. I had a good many curiosities for you which I picked up along the march, but lost all save these three papers which I took out of a secessionist’s house in Centerville after it was set on fire by our troops contrary to orders.

Yours, &c.,

J. J. F.

Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, “A Catholic Family Newspaper,” 8/3/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

69th NYSM Roster


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