Capt. Henry Alanson Barnum, Co. I, 12th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat (3)

17 09 2018

WAR CORRESPONDENCE.
———-

Camp of the Onondagas,
Arlington Heights, July 28, 1861

Editors Standard: I have but just found time to send you the details of the battle of Sunday, the retreat and the incidents connected therewith.

Friday morning, after our engagement of the previous day, an account of which I sent you, our brigade marched back and occupied the position which we held on the day previous. It was generally understood that the battle would not be resumed on that day, and we laid in the woods skirting the field, ready for any attack that might be made on us. We were not disturbed, however, and the day passed as quietly as tho’ we were holding a pic-nic at home.

Evidently the previous day operations were simply to feel the position of the enemy, and time was now being taken to prepare for an attack that would be victorious beyond a question. We felt that though the rebels covered the wooded hills, valleys, plains and ravines several miles square with their terrible masked batteries, supported by an immense force of infantry and cavalry, yet victory must rest with us, and we talked of visiting the various points when we should have driven the foe from them.

At night our regiment was drawn up in line in the raid reaching to the edge of the woods, where we staid till morning, ready for any emergency.

After daylight Saturday we withdrew a few rods into the woods and prepared our plain breakfast of coffee, crackers and ham, and after partaking thereof, laid around in the shade during the day, endeavoring to become refreshed from the weariness consequent upon our previous labors and the wakeful night.

After nightfall we were again drawn up in line, and again rested all night on our arms, rather expecting a night skirmish attack.

Sunday, the 21st, dawned brightly on the two powerful armies, with their deadly engines of war, resting but half a mile apart, and ready at the word to rush to the eager destruction of each other. All expected a bloody day. I drew the wills of several of our officers, and most of us left our watches and money with the sick, who had to retire to Centreville. It was an impressive morning. The timid paled at the prospective carnage, and the brave set their teeth and features in a stern resolve.

We had learned enough of the enemy to know that the victory which none of us doubted wo’d be ours, would be won at the fearful cost of the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the gallant men who then walked in the full, buoyant ardor of health, and the impatient courage and bravery of true and loyal freemen.

At an early hour our brigade, the most advanced of the centre of our army, moved forward out of the woods, and was drawn up in line of battle at the edge of the field and in the rear of our battery, ready to attack or resist the enemy, as circumstances might require. From the brow of the hill before us, occupied by our battery, we could at one view see the whole wooded section of the country, occupied by the army of the enemy, as it gradually arose from the low ground skirting Bull’s Creek, or Run, the dividing line of the opposing forces. Only here and there could be seen naked ground, and at these places the baggage wagons of the enemy could occasionally be seen traveling along, and now and then a body of cavalry galloped past.

Clouds of dust rising above the trees in a hundred different places, showed us that, however quiet those woods appeared, they concealed the active movements of a mighty army, whose artillery, cavalry and infantry were hurrying to their several strongholds and preparing the shock of war that was soon to come.

Whenever the dust arose within range of our guns, shells and shot were thrown to the spot, and must have hastened their already hurried movements. Once a body of cavalry filed across the road in front of us and within a half mile of our position. Down the black yawning mouth of one of our “dogs of war” rolled a heavy shot, and in instant the range was taken, a heavy report, and away it sped on its death dealing message. Range too high. Another. Range still too high. “Bring a five second shell.” Away speeds the terrible instrument, bursting directly over their heads, and they scatter out of sight into the woods like sheep.

Their batteries were within range of us and might have done considerable damage, but they deigned not to reply.

Soon, at the right of us and some mile and a half or two miles away, the heavy voice of cannon is heard, slowly at first – then faster, showing that the guns of the enemy send back defiance to our own. Occasional discharges of musketry mingle their sharp tones with the cannon’s heavy roar. Now a volley of musketry chimes in. Another and another. – Thicker and faster sounds the continuous clatter of musketry, louder and deeper rolls the cannon’s heavy bass, the shouts of thousands of maddened men eager for their brothers’ blood, fill the air; clouds of smoke shut out the view, on the curling waves of which I co’d almost imagine devils were riding in hellish glee at the sickening carnage below.

The point of contact, indicated by sound, advances toward the enemy, and gradually the clangor of battle subsides. A line of the enemy’s deadly masked batteries is taken by our brave troops and their forces driven back. A brief interval of comparative quiet passes, and again and again the dreadful scene is enacted.

Our spunky little adjutant, “spoiling for a fight,” gallops over the gory field, and returns with the welcome news that the enemy are being slowly driven back, though they contest every inch of ground with the fury of fiends. In the distance their baggage wagons are seen hurrying away toward the Gap. The day is ours! Officers exchange congratulations, and the men send up a loud hurra for the old flag, which grandly waves as if in conscious pride at its vindicated honor and power.

A heavy cloud of dust a mile in extent rises in the distance, doubtless from the enemy’s retreating columns. But it approaches our lines! it reaches the ground where rests our wearied forces, where lay our gallant dead. – Clangor, crash and rattle again fill the air with their terrific music. The enemy are reinforced. The fight waxes faster than before. – Heavier roars the deep mouthed cannon, thicker sounds the muskets’ rattle, fiercer comes the battle yells, and darker smoke shuts in the scene.

Attention! Left face, forward, file right – march, and away we file back toward Centreville. Firmly erect in each musket borne, and tighter we grasp our trusty swords. “We are to reinforce our side,” runs along the line.

Bet we reach Centreville and file into a large field, and in common with a dozen regiments, form in line of battle.

Sixteen heavy guns are planted on the rise of ground, aids gallop from point to point, generals and colonels apply their glasses to their eyes. “They are trying to flank us on our left.” The dust rises in that direction. Further along and nearly in our rear a body of troops is discovered. Our line is changed to meet them and in breathless silence we await their approach. Nearer they come and the stars and stripes greet our anxious gaze! – They are our troops and a long breath of relief is enjoyed by all.

Another body emerges from the woods on our front carrying a small white flag. Is it a decoy? We send a shot over there and they unfurl the stars and stripes. They are our friends.

The distant firing ceases and the sable wings of night closes down on friend and foe, on the torn and bleeding flesh of the wounded and the cold brows and glassy eyes of the dead.

A night attack is more than probable, and at our request we are posted in the advance. Let the Black Horse Cavalry or the Alabama Wild Cats come, now, on the open field and we will show thoughtless reporters and pompous Generals that we are not cowards, and “do or die” passes from officer to officer and from man to man.

But we are not favored with a trial. At 11 P.M. we are ordered to iretreat to Washington! The command fell like a knell on our troops Retreat? The grand army of the Potomac retreat? Never. But it is the command and we must, though besides the many expressions of indignation and chagrin which I heard tears also flowed at the humiliating duty.

We were near the rear of the retreating column and did not see much of the confusion which was said to have occurred in the advance, but the fruits of that confusion were abundant. The road was literally strewed with barrels of meat and sugar, boxes of crackers, coffee and rice; shovels, spades, picks, guns, belts, knapsacks, blankets, many (27 in all) wagons filled with provisions or ammunition and an indiscriminate variety of articles not here mentioned, which the civilians and soldiers had thrown away to enable them to flee more rapidly.

Our boys took the matter coolly and instead of throwing away their things, kept a sharp eye out for “plunder,” exchanging their old guns for better ones as they found them along the route.

Near Fairfax we turned into a sideroad and encamped until morning, when we resumed our journey and arrived at Arlington about noon of Monday. It rained during Monday and from the fatigue of our campaign and retreat we have hardly yet recovered.

Hundreds of incidents occurred which would be interesting to your readers, but which time nor space will not allow to be written now.

I must not close however without particularly mentioning our detachment of skirmishers under command of C. B. Randall. They were acknowledged to have been the best in the battallion and were complimented by Captain Breslhetneider, commanding battallion, by Col. Richardson commanding brigade, by Gen. Tyler commanding division, and by all who witnessed their daring advances within conversational distances of the enemy’s line of battle and their skilful deploying, rallying and firing.

Ensign Randall particularly distinguished himself for dairing, courage and imperturbable coolness. Much of the time he was far in advance of his line instead of in his proper place, twenty paces to the rear. The boys say that when within plain sight of the line of the enemy’s infantry and in speaking distance, he coolly filled his meerschaum, lighted a match and took a quiet smoke.

Drum Major Daily also deserves particular mention for his valuable services in encouraging the men, supplying them with water, &c. He moved about when the bullets rained the thickest and did all he could to rally the regiment. Orri Storrs, Quartermaster’s Sergeant, followed the regiment into action and when the centre and left retired he came to the right and asked for t place in our ranks and did thorough service to the end. When I mention the coolness and bravery of Capt. Root who remained on the field among the whizzing bullets taking care of his wounded after his company had fallen back I have written of all whom I observed during the fire, beyond which I will not speak.

Spectators agree however, in their testimony of the courage and efficiency of Surgeon Pease and his faithful assistant Dr. Phillips. They followed us immediately in our rear with the ambulances till they reached the woods, so as to be near to care for the wounded. When the firing commenced the shot flew around and over them in a frightful manner, still they held their position faithfully to the close, bringing off their wounded and caring to their every want.

Of the whole affair I will only say that the dullest corporal in the army knows that if not as a whole, in most of the details, it was a stupendous blunder, the inglorious retreat being its culminating point. De Utassy of the Garibaldi Guards says of our attack on Thursday, that we were under a fire that no troops in the world have stood under longer than did we. Our skirmishers whom all commend are a fair sample of our regiment; and reports that persist in calling our regiment cowardly are founded on ignorance or malice.

Yours,

H. A. B.

P. S. We learn that some of those who first fell back from our attack in the woods on Thursday are endeavoring to soften any question of the propriety of their participate retirement on that occasion by claiming that those who stood their ground did not receive so galling a fire as they did. We shall not enter into a discussion of the matter, preferring to grant the claim with the remark that when they retired the entire fire of the enemy, battery and musketry, was centered on the right, yet it was withstood and there was not a square foot of space for several feet above where we were lying that was not perforated by bullet, grape or canister.

Syracuse Daily Standard, 7/31/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

Henry A. Barnum at Ancestry.com

Henry A. Barnum at Fold3 

Henry A. Barnum at FindAGrave.com 

Henry A. Barnum was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions with the 149th New York Infantry at Missionary Ridge


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