Corp. William Pittenger, Company G, 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, On the Campaign

28 11 2017

Army Correspondence of the Steubenville Herald.

————

Washington, July 23d

Dear Herald: – It is with emotions of grief, shame, and sorrow that I again write a few lines for you. We have met the enemy and they are not ours. The chivalry has gained the first great victory of the campaign, and all we have gained for the last few weeks is lost, and the work is to be done once more. But I will try and tell the sad history in order.

On Monday it was announced to us at dress parade that we were to march at 3 o’clock the next day. Many disbelieved and others thought that the march would be to Washington to be discharged. But when the day came our tents were struck, our knapsacks piled up, and after the usual amount of confusion and noise, we started — marched up the hill to Fall’s Church, saw the forces that were to join us, and really believed we were to go forward. That night we marched as far as Vienna, (rendered famous by the attack on the First Ohio) and there slept for the night. Early in the morning we moved forward. The day was intensely hot, and the men suffered for want of water, which was very scarce and bad. — About 10 o’clock a.m., we reached Fairfax, and as the enemy was there in force, we deployed over the fields, in line of battle. All expected to hear the cannons roar, and all were anxious to march forward. They were gratified; we advanced, but it was a hard task. Such jamming and crowding I never saw. Part of the way lay through very thick woods, and between pushing through brush and stumbling over stumps we began to realize some of the beauties of war. But soon we saw the “Secesh” in full retreat at the double-quick. They left many things behind in their hurry. This was a bloodless victory.

We rested two or three hours, and then moved forward, camping for the evening in a road. All were extremely tired, but arose next morning, refreshed by a good night’s sleep, and again took up the line of march. We reached Centreville at 10 a.m., and our regiments halted for the rest of the day. Centreville was a Rebel camp and was slightly fortified. The head-quarters were on a high hill, commanding a fine view, bounded on the west by the rugged line of the Blue Ridge, and extending four miles to the east and south. I was stationed there with ten others under the command of Lieut. McCoy, as a guard to protect the property. From here we had an outline view of the battle and Bull’s Run on Thursday. First the signal gun was heard, then others in rapid succession. In about half an hour the firing ceased. At this time our troops had taken the batteries, and were in full tide of success. An officer rode by and announced that victory was won, but even while he was speaking the firing commenced much more warmly than before. For some time the roar was incessant, almost as quick as the tapping of a drum. Then it became fainter, one shot following another at long intervals, and soon ceasing altogether. The scattered men from the regiments which were most disorganized came straggling by, and reported a very severe fight, saying that more than half their men were left on the field. This was soon found to be an exaggeration. They said they were at first successful, but the enemy receiving reinforcements, rallied and won the day, though with severe loss.

By this time all the troops were in motion and as the Ohio regiments filed past, the guard fell in with them, fully expecting that we were going to attack the battery. At about two miles distance from it, we formed in line of battle and moved forward a short distance and there halted, stacked our muskets, and lay down beside them for the night. Friday passed off without any movement on our part. On Saturday we heard we were to march the next day. This produced much dissatisfaction, particularly in the first regiment, as they thought their time had expired. So much was said about it that Gen. Schenk called them together and made an address, appealing to their patriotism and promising them that before the rising of an other sun we would be marched to the battle-field. This had the desired effect, and he was enthusiastically cheered, the men declaring that they were ready and willing to meet the foe. We arose at two o’clock, and started to our post, being assured that we were under the immediate command of Gen. Scott. The plan of battle was a good one, though it was scarcely so well executed. In front of us lay the low brush-covered hills near the junction. These were all planted with batteries, and could only have been carried with a great loss of life. — Two columns were to engage these, but not to risk an advance. The third proceeded due west for three or four miles, and then formed in a long line, of which Schenk’s Brigade, consisting of the New York second and the Ohio boys, was the left division. It was intended that this division should engage the western batteries of the enemy, while the rest of the column swung around and took them in the flank and rear. The march was rather a tiresome one, but at 6 1/2 o’clock we were in position. Hitherto all had been deep silence, broken only by the crackling of branches as we forced our way through the woods. We lay down, and all was as quiet as if two mighty armies were not preparing to shed each other’s blood — when, boom went one of our cannon. The ball sung along and burst right over our heads. This would never do, and we were moved further down into a ravine, and again lay down. The skirmishers were ordered forward, and soon the muskets were ringing sharply around. — We paid little attention to this, listening to the deeper music of the cannon, and were soon gratified. The battle first opened on the eastern part of the line. — The cannonading was heavy for some time, but soon ceased. Out men had driven them back to their trenches, and then retreated. It was our turn next. An officer came and told us that our forces had got into the enemies’ rear, and that we must advance to prevent them from retreating eastward. We jumped up with alacrity and marched down the ravine, which rapidly became wider and more flat-bottomed. Just as we came to the edge of a partially cleared space, and without any previous warning, a masked battery opened fire upon us — at point blank range, being not more than two hundred yards from us. The whistling of the bullets was more loud than pleasant, and in the surprise many dodged from the ranks into the bushes, but soon returned to their places. It was amusing, in spite of the danger, to see the ranks all fall as the cannon exploded, and then rise again. The order was given to retreat back into the woods a short distance, which was done in perfectly good order, and then all lay down. So far our line was unbroken; but the New York 2d, finding their position too hot for them, rushed back, trampling over us, and falling down among us, which somewhat confused us. Meanwhile the shot was flying thick around, crashing through the trees in every direction. Every little while we could hear the scream of a wounded man, as the balls struck him. [Illegible sentence.] One poor fellow who was lying not far from me, was torn to pieces by a [?] shot. The bombs, of which only a few were thrown, were most destructive. After nearly an hour, the New Yorkers were called away, and soon after I heard what seemed the sweetest music I ever heard — our own men on the hill north of us opening fire. They plied the enemy so hard that they soon ceased firing on us. We were then formed into line, and marched to the rear of our battery.

The roar of the artillery by this time was awful. The heavy thundering of the guns, the bursting of the bombs, the sharp singing of the balls, and the rattle of musketry on the right, where the columns approached within striking distance, all mingled together like the music of some grand orchestra. We were still within full range of the enemy’s guns, and were compelled to lie down to avoid the shot that whistled over our heads in unpleasant proximity. All this time our forces were rapidly gaining ground, and taking one battery after another, by the most desperate fighting.

The Rhode Island battery, on the extreme right was working with great rapidity and effect. A charge of the enemy’s cavalry was made upon it. They approached within one hundred and fifty yards without being discovered. Then the battery opened on them with grape, killing many, but still they advanced, and discharged their carbines on the artillery with such effect as to kill or wound most of the men and horses. The Fire Zouaves then gave them a volley, which sent them back at full speed, with half their saddles empty. This regiment did some splendid charging, and several times put the chivalry to rout, even against great odds.

All this time our troops had been slowly but surely advancing, and we were sure that the battle would soon be won. A few sharp volleys were heard and then all was silent, while an officer rode along our line, that was drawn up behind the battery in imposing order, and announced that the day was ours. A wild cheer rent the air, but the echoes had scarcely died away, when the firing again began, and dense clouds of dust were seen in the distance. “It is Patterson in their rear,” was the first exclamation; — the next — “God grant it may be Patterson.” The confused files of a regiment were next seen, and then the teamsters and citizens in their carriages, wheeled about and drove off the field at the top of their speed. Schenk’s brigade stood firm, but was ordered to take up a position on the edge of an adjoining wood, where we awaited the progress of events in intense expectation.

Up to this time (about 4 p. m.) there was no panic among the soldiers, but just then a corps of officers rode along the line in a very excited manner. One of them said that there was an immense body of the enemy supported by artillery charging on us and asked, “How can we meet it?” The advice of each was different, but enough was heard to know that our officers had caught the panic, and of course it was shared to some degree by the soldiers, but still they stood firm. The order was given to retreat, which was done slowly and in good order. The 2d Ohio in particular retreated very slowly, without the slightest disorder, and halted repeatedly in columns prepared to form a hollow square, but was ordered forward by the general officers. The cavalry, probably deterred by our being prepared, did not charge us, but attacked the hospital. The artillery gave them a few vollies, and the stragglers shot down many. We all earnestly hoped that a stand would be made, but in vain. Our Generals had other ideas. We retreated several miles, and at a large creek with only one small bridge over it, were attacked again. This was just on the edge of our temporary camp, and in a very good position for defense. The troops were drawn up in two long lines and in as good order as when arrayed in the morning. The slight attack was repulsed with ease, and it seems to me there would not have been the slightest difficulty in defending ourselves against any force the enemy could have brought against us so late in the day, and before morning we could have received many thousand fresh men to aid us in renewing the battle. But a retreat was again ordered, and commenced in good order. Our regiment kept its ranks unbroken for ten miles after leaving the battle field, and then became disordered from teams driving among us in narrow lanes, and from the men, overcome by thirst and fatigue, lying down by the roadside. I am thus particular on this point because it was stated in some of the papers that we became infected with the panic, and were the first to change a retreat into a rout. The enemy’s batteries first opened on us and soldiers who remain nine hours under fire and then retreat ten miles with their files unbroken, do not deserve to be charged with being panic-stricken. But I must close now, only saying that we will all be home in a few days. I may give you some incidents of the battle and retreat in my next.

Wm. Pittenger

Steubenville Weekly Herald, 7/31/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by Dan Masters

William Pittenger, Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure

William Pittenger at Wikipedia

William Pittenger at Ancestry

William Pittenger at Fold3

William Pittenger at FindAGrave 

 


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29 11 2017
David Corbett

Superb report from the Ohio hero and failed train thief !

Liked by 1 person

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