Pvt. William Barrett, U. S. Marine Battalion, On the Battle

24 09 2018

Letter from a Marine who was at Bull’s Run

I was in the fight at Manassas Gap or Bull’s Run, as it may be called. The place has two names but I think Bull’s Run is the right one, by the way they treated us there. Out of our band of 320 marines that entered the field we only brought about 150 home with us. We were the first called to assist the Sixty-ninth. We faced them on the left of the battery, and when about fifty yards from it our men fell like hail stones. I had only fired three shots when my musket received a ball right at the lock, which put me back about three feet. As soon as I came to my ground again two men were shot down on my right and one on my left; about this time I began to look very warlike. As for my part I thought I would lose all presence of mind in such a place, but it was quite different; I was as cool as a cucumber. Then we got orders to retreat and the Sixty-ninth and Ellsworth Zouaves played on them again. This was the time they suffered; they only stood a few minutes when they retreated without orders. Then we were again called on to face the enemy, fifty thousand strong, while we had only about 200. This time we got the Seventy-First to relieve us, but to no purpose; we had to retreat. Then it was a general retreat all round; every one looked out for himself, but they took the short road and caught us again. If you had seen us swimming across Bull’s Run, you would have thought there was something after us then. We had to come to Washington, a distance of forty five miles, in our wet clothes, which were badly used up.

The route we took in going to Manassas Gap was by Arlington Heights and thence by Fairfax Court House, where several batteries had been erected. This was the first time we knew we had to fight; they never told us where we were going till then. When we were about a mile from the place they got us to load our muskets. We were the first up to the battery, where we were drawn up in line of battle, when we found that the rebels had fled to Manassas. Then the cavalry were sent in hot pursuit of the enemy, but failed to overtake them. We camped in Fairfax that night, and the boys enjoyed themselves by burning down the houses of the secessionists. Next morning we took the march again, and went to Centreville by night; here we encamped two days.

On Monday morning at three o’clock we marched to the field, and as well as I can mind it was ten or eleven o’clock when we got there. It then looked very hot. The Seventy-first was the only regiment then at them. When we arrived, just as we got out of the woods in the rear of the battery, we lost three men by cannon balls. I could not describe to you what the battle field looked like. At the time of the retreat we ran over the dead and wounded for a mile from the battery and to hear the wounded crying for help would have made the heart of stone ache. All along the road we had men, only wounded a little, who, when the long march came, had to give out and lie down to die. For ten miles this side of the field they could be seen lying here and there on the road-side.

Only four or five of the Pittsburgh boys, that I know of, were killed. One young fellow, named Frank Harris, who joined the Irish volunteers in Pittsburgh, was my right hand man; going up to the battery he did not fire a single shot; he was one of the first to fall.

There were but few of the marines who were not wounded. I believe there are not thirty in the barracks who are not wounded more or less. I think they intended to fix me when they hit the lock of my musket. You could hear the ball playing “Yankee Doodle” around your ears, but could not move . It was about as hot a place as I ever want to be in. I saw a horse’s head taken off by a cannon ball at the time of our retreat; but he kept on ten or twelve yards before he found out that he was dead, then dropped and the poor fellow that was on his back had to take the hard road for it.

I cannot tell you any more about the battle at present, as I am very tired, have not slept any for forty-eight hours and marched from forty to fifty miles, fighting our way. I wish you would send me a Pittsburgh paper with an account of the battle, that I can see the difference in it.

W.B.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, 7/31/1861

Clipping image

Contributed and transcribed by Damian Shiels

See more on this letter here

Source of identification of Barrett as the letter writer here and here.

William Barrett USMC muster sheets 1861-1864 here.

 


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