Unknown Captain*, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

24 02 2020

From the Daily Freeman.
The Vermont 2d at Bull Run.

The Vermont Second were on the left wing, which brought us directly opposite a portion of the enemy’s line stationed behind a fence; but in about ten minutes we had the pleasure of seeing their line give away, and they fled to the woods. But at the same instant I discovered a movement of a large body of their troops towards us, with the evident design of outflanking our right. We seemed to have the battle now immediately before us, and the necessity of a change of position of our Regiment was apparent to all. We had nearly ceased fire when I noticed Capt. Walbridge, who was on my right, and on the right of the Regiment, facing his men to deploy to the right. I inferred from this that the general order had been given to deploy, although I heard no such order. But it was impossible to hear, and we had to go by signs, and guess our way through. I immediately gave orders to my Company to face to the right, and we marched around so as to prevent their outflanking us. I discovered at this time that Capt. Walbridge and myself were alone in this maneuver, and I have since learned that no order was given to this effect; but the movement saved a part of our artillery at least. All concerned had by this time discovered that, on account of superior numbers of the enemy’s reserve, we should not be able to hold the ground against them; but the Fourth Maine, which was not on our left, and the Vermont Regiment – part on the left and part on the right – held the position a long time, retiring slowly, while our wounded, baggage, and artillery mostly gained the line of retreat. It was nearly night, and God save me from another such scene as followed. The ground where we were, was so situated that we could only retreat along one road, which passed through a dense wood, and that vast array of wounded and whole, baggage and artillery, all rushed for this pass. Why we were not all cut to pieces, I do not know. The Rebels did not see our entire defeat, and did not pursue us as promptly as they might have done, and we gained a very fair start on them. But night was setting in, and we could not get Companies together, much less Regiments, and every one retreated on his own hook. Horses were unhitched from baggage trains, and turned back, covered with riders, and the wagons left to block the already narrow pass. Horses and wagons were often overturned, and left piled pell-mell in the gutters. At one place we had a bridge to cross and I never saw such confusion. There we lost most of our baggage. I counted as many as twenty dead horses, with wagons innumerable, piled in this ravine, and troops actually crossed over this mass of horse flesh and wagons, boxes and barrels, cannon, &c., rather than over the bridge. I had thus far kept the most of my Company together, and from the fact of our being last off the field, and in the rear, I was every moment expecting an attack on our retreating columns. But the delay here was so great that I rallied my men, and we passed to the left into the woods to a point above the bridge some few rods, where we crossed by wading the creek, which was about waist deep. This carried us to about the middle of the column, and we stopped a moment to witness the dreadful scene at the bridge. I saw an ambulance, in which were several wounded troops, run off the bank, killing the horses, but leaving the men still alive. All sorts of horrible sights, too shocking to contemplate, were before us. We now proceeded to the top of the hill, where we sat down to empty the water from our boots and ring it out of our clothes. While this engaged, the report of a cannon to the rear but too plainly told that we were pursued and overtaken, Our cavalry, however, it seems, were expecting this, and a gallant charge from them saved us from utter annihilation.

We were now ten miles from the camp we had left in the morning, and thirty-five miles from Alexandria, the only point where we could count ourselves safe. If we had stopped the retreating column here, and formed in some order we might have made a successful stand, but this was impossible. If I had now had all my company together, I would have given all the money I ever saw in Vermont, or ever expect to. You may perhaps faintly appreciate my feelings in thinking that out of my whole company who were anxiously looking to me for advice and direction only about twenty could be counted; and among the missing was my own boy. I halted and we held a counsel as to whether we would proceed or wait and try to gather in the rest. We concluded that we could not aid them by remaining, and having with us all that we knew were wounded, we concluded to keep along and pick up what we could. Our march was now direct to Alexandria, thirty-five miles, and we did not make any long halt till we reached here about ten o’clock this morning, a terribly tired and worn out set of fellows. We ate some luncheon from our haversacks about eleven yesterday, just before going into the battle, and that was the last we had until some time after noon to-day. I have been trying to get up life enough with the boys to have them wash and improve their looks a little, but all except one or two are still sleeping in the dirt, so black you could not recognize them. We succeeded to-day in getting some bread and butter, which is all we have had to eat, but the men are so tired they all lie around me unconscious of hunger.

(Barton, VT) Independent Standard, 8/9/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* The writer mentions a son in his company. Using this roster, this captain could be – Co. D, Capt. Charles D. Dillingham (there is also a Martin L.); Co. E, Capt. Richard Smith (also Edward H. and Nathan F.); Co. H, Capt. William T. Burnham (also Andrew J.).

Dillingham was born in 1837, and would not likely have a son of age.

Smith was 40 years old at the time. Fold3 

Burnham was 43 years old at the time. Fold3

I’ve been unable to positively establish links between the Smiths or between the Burnhams.



7 responses

24 02 2020
24 02 2020
Chris Van Blargan

Andrew Burnham was born in 1821 and William Burnham does not have any relatives living with him in the 1860 Census, so that appears to rule him out.


24 02 2020
Chris Van Blargan

The 1850 and 1860 censuses show Richard Smith’s oldest son as Charles W born 1844/45. His younger son Elmer would have been too young to serve in 1861.


24 02 2020
Jens Falster

That’s too bad. Back to speculating. Capt. William T. Burnham of Co. H would have been my best guess based on the assumption that the Barton, Vermont Independent Standard was the hometown newspaper of the writer. . Barton is in Orleans county in Northern Vermont and not far from the town of Fletcher in Franklin County where Co H was first raised. The other companies in the regiment appear to have been assembled from towns further south. Capt Burnham resigned his commission 25 Oct, 1861. Age 43 is on the old side for the rigors of co cmd. Andrew J. Burnham at age c.40, may have been a younger brother or cousin. Vermonters as a rule were very patriotic and devoted underground railroad abolitionists, which may account in part for the advanced ages of many in the ranks. An interesting note on Capt James Hicks Walbridge (34). It appears his Co A was armed with rifled muskets while the rest of the regiment had to make do with Springfield Pattern 1842 smoothbores. Walbridge eventually advanced through the field grade ranks to become regimental Col. He resigned 1 Apr 1864, His 1st Lt at Bull Run was Newton Stone, who became Col of the rgt and was killed in the Wilderness fight some weeks later.


24 02 2020
Chris Van Blargan

I checked Burnham in the 1850 Census. He was married but had no children. He died in June 1862.


1 03 2020
Chris Van Blargan

I suspect the author may be Lt. David L. Sharpley of Company G. Captain Drew was ill and there I have seen reference to Sharpley being in command at the battle. Sharpley’s eldest son, David Thomas, was in the same company.

Liked by 1 person

2 03 2020
Christopher Van Blargan

Sharpley appeared likely as his son was enlisted in the same company, but The Burlington Weekly Free Press of Aug 2,1861 contains an article indicating that the son of Captain James Hope of Company B was missing after the battle. I don’t see Hope’s children on the muster roll but it was probably his eldest, Henry, who would have been 18 or 19. I assume he was serving his father as an unofficial aide. Henry died in 1916.

It makes sense that Company B, which would ordinarily be to the left of Company A, would be the first to follow Company A in aligning to the right.

Hope was a noted landscape artist who painted the well-known murals of Antietam as well as the Bull Run battlefield.


Liked by 1 person

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