Capt. Adolph Nolte, Co. C, 13th New York Infantry, On the Battle

13 03 2019

WAR CORRESPONDENCE.
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Important Letters from Capt. Adolph Nolte – A Graphic and Concise Description of the Great Battle – The Irrepressible Thirteenth in Action – Their Achievements – No Reinforcements – The Retreat, Etc.
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[Translated for the Evening Express, from the Rochester Observer]

Camp Union, July 23, 1861.

As you perceive from this letter, we have returned sooner from Virginia than we entered. – In entering we occupied three days; for leaving, one night. Nevertheless, we can maintain that we have lost the battle with honor, and that the cause of our defeat is owing to nothing but the defective disposition of our forces, in lack of ammunition, and to the fatigue of our troops. The general course of the battle you will learn in detail from the newspapers, and the official reports. So I will inform you briefly only as follows.

From 7 o’clock in the morning, till 3 in the afternoon, (of Sunday,) we drove the enemy out of every position. He made a stand nowhere in the open field. The flight and pursuit continued over hill and dale, through valley, defile and forest, until we came upon his strongest batteries, at 3 o’clock, three miles this side of Manassas.

Instead of resting the troops, who from 2 o’clock in the morning had been upon their legs, in the most terrible heat, almost unprovided with water, and very little biscuit, they were ordered to storm the batteries lying opposite. In the enthusiasm of victory they rushed fiercely upon them. However, they were received by a fearful fire from heavy artillery, and from firmly placed batteries, at which the company had (???) a stand. Our artillery, light six-pounders, began to play against the heavy artillery of the enemy. But their heavy caliber was immensely superior to ours, and our ammunition, which had been employed during the day, was lulling.

From this moment forth, we were in the hands of the enemy, who rained upon us a hail of balls, bombs and schrapnels, as far as their heavy artillery could reach. Nevertheless, we advanced one more, about half of a mile, and captured one of the nearest posted hostile batteries. However, we could not retain it without artillery, and were compelled to get out of reach of the enemy’s artillery, after being completely showered with a flood of balls.

Here we met with te severest blow. We had no reserve, neither infantry or artillery, which could have stood against the enemy, and behind which we could have reorganized. Our battalions were, singly, as they advanced, thrown against the batteries and driven back. Of a reserve no one had thought. Now every one knows, who has any knowledge of war, that dissolved battalions behind sufficient reserves, upon the battle field, can again be brought to a stand and to order – but never when they are upon the march. A retreat followed, and from this moment forth, were all the regiments and arms a promiscuous, irregular heap – tired to death, and retreating upon the narrow mainway, blockaded by hundreds of wagons, and through the close woods.

The Thirteenth Regiment.

Now, with reference to our regiment. We left our camp Sunday, the 21st, at 2 A.M. After we marched a few miles we met the enemy. Our position was at the extreme right wing – beside the 69th and 79th. After we marched a few miles, we met the enemy. After that the artillery had opened fire, and several regiments of the rebels had been scattered by well-thrown grenades, and after that Lieut. Hunter’s brigade had flanked the enemy on the left, we advanced and drove the enemy by our fire. They nowhere made a stand. They were defeated everywhere, and the pursuit was over hill and valley.

Having arrived at Bull’s Run – a river not deep, but shut in by steep banks – the most of our troops refused the pontoon bridge and sprang as if mad through the creek. Having reached the opposite hight, our fire commenced anew upon the flying and distracted columns of the enemy, until they got beyond reach of shot. Here Gen. McDowell and Col. Sherman, our Brigade commander, met and shook hands. In the salutations and our hurrah were a little too early. The command to advance was given. Our fatigued regiments, who from 2 A.M. till noon, had been in terrible heat upon their feet, stimulated by the enthusiasm of victory, ran down the mountain and up another hight, when, as we were crossing the summit of the same, we came within shooting distance of the enemy’s chief battery, and the balls began to fly around us thick as hail. We formed division columns and made an advance march down the hill. Here fell two of our company, (the German) the first in the Regiment, the shot striking about three yards from me in the rank. It shivered the right thigh of private Nauth, and the right foot of young Werner. The piece of the shell whirled about our ears like hail.

We marched under the continuous rain of balls – which tore down many others of the regiment– to the left over the way, and took position behind a small hight. The divisions of the regiment, changing positions, advanced to the top of the slope and from this fired upon the hostile position. Finally came the artillery, and posted itself upon the back of the hill, in order to answer the fire of the battery. We remained in our position in order to cover the artillery, and had the satisfaction of receiving all the shot which was intended for them. A mass of men fell here. Unfortunately, the artillery had exhausted its ammunition, and returned to the left. We began our fire afresh, advanced over the hill, and drove the enemy through a hollow lying behind, where we took possession of a stone house, which had served them as a protection.

From here we advanced through a hollow, up another hight, on whose left side a deserted block-house, surrounded by fences, also served as a defense for the enemy. While we were scaling the fences, Sergeant Becker received a ball in the right shoulder. I held him for a moment, with the assistance of Sergeant Major Schreiber, and whilst the latter was tying him up, I followed quickly to the remainder of our companies, which had just posted themselves behind the above mentioned block house.

Already on the advance, was our regiment, likewise the 69th and 79th – entirely separated! Our assault was made, not in column, lines, or any regular manner, but in a promiscuous and confused mass. I met here men from the companies of Capts. Lewis, Williams, Hyland and Lieut. Geck, in confusion. They had posted themselves partly behind the house, partly behind the fence, and fired upon the enemy, whose cannon and musket balls whizzed about us like hail. Here private Bauman fell, hit in the breast by a ball, and breathed his last. This last result WAS THE TURNING POINT OF THE BATTLE. The other wing was thrown back and fled, and so was our little heap – if it were not to be cut down entirely – compelled to seek safety in flight. We retreated across the field toward the defile, and it is a mystery to me to this hour, how one single man got away safely from the awful grape shot and muskety.

When I leapt the fence bordering the defile, I was compelled to remain for several minutes behind a small hill, before I could venture forth, for had I during this time only raised my head, it would have been riddled by a dozen balls.

At last we got through the valley behind the opposite heights, where the balls from the batteries could no longer reach us. Here I met private Stuermer, whose foot had been smashed, and who had been carried away by a few of his comrades. On the opposite plateau our troops reorganized to some extent, but as we had no reserve, it was impossible to bring order out of confusion. The retreat took place without the enemy’s daring to follow with his infantry. We dragged ourselves, fatigued almost to death, about twelve miles back, towards Centreville, and from thence in the same night, to camp Union.

So far as concerns the wounded of our company, we have brought with us but one, Sergeant Becker, who could march. The remainder have fallen into the hands of the enemy. NOT TWENTY OF OUR COMPANY WERE TOGETHER AT EVENING, and I fear that more have fallen than the above mentioned.

All the wounded of our company fell at the attack – none on the retreat. Of the whole regiment, I was not able to find together at evening iso much as fifty men.i The rest were scattered in every direction, like the other regiments; and on Monday noon there were not as many as eighty men in camp Union.

I regard to the retreat, I shall write in my next, since this letter will otherwise be too late for the mail. We were from Sunday morning to Monday morning on the march, without eating or drinking anything, except a little sea-biscuit and a little dirty water. We were during this time, from seven to eight hours, under fire, and had marched fifty miles. Let those answer for the result who have sent 20,000 exhausted troops, with light, half provided artillery, against an enemy of 60,000, well entrenched, and well provided with the heaviest artillery.

Rochester Evening Express, 7/25/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

13th New York Infantry roster

Adolph Nolte at Ancestry.com

Adolph Nolte at Fold3

Adolph Nolte at FindAGrave