Vivandiere, 7th Louisiana Infantry*, On Blackburn’s Ford and the Battle (1)

4 05 2020

From the Seat of War in Virginia
—————
Special to the New Orleans Crescent

Manassas Junction, July 21, 1861.

Mr. Editor – A few hours having elapsed since the smoke of the two late desperate conflicts between despotism and liberty cleared away, I will endeavor to disrobe wild rumor of its exaggerations and give your readers as correct and intelligible a report of the past few days in Eastern Virginia as it is possible at present to communicate. On Tuesday, the 16th inst., the entire corps d’armie, constituting the column under the command of Brigadier-General McDowell, left Arlington Heights, with the intention of forcing its way through to Richmond, via Fairfax and Manassas. The advance was made by four different routes leading towards Fairfax Court-house, and directly to Centreville.

The right wing, composed of the first division, four brigades under Gen. Tyler of Connecticut, approached by the [?]town turnpike. The center, composed of the second division, two brigades, Col Hunter, U.S.A., came by the Leesburg or Centreville road. The left wing was composed of the third division, three brigades, Col. Heintzelman, U.S.A., and the fifth division, two brigades, under Col. Miles, U.S.A. The latter approached by the “Old Braddock road,” and the third by the “Little River turnpike.” The fourth division, under Gen. Runyon, of New Jersey, constituted the reserve. In the whole column there were sixty-two regiments, about 55,000 men.

Meeting with but little resistance, these several divisions were concentrated at Fairfax Court-house where there was but about three thousand men under Gen. Bonham, of South Carolina. This position was surrendered by Gen. Bonham’s command, which fell back towards Centreville and Blackburn’s Ford on a small creek called Bull’s Run, about four and a half miles north-west from Manassas Junction. On Thursday, the 18th inst., the center of this imposing army, composed of the second division, numbering upwards of 12,000 men, under the immediate command of [?], were reported approaching Blackburn’s Ford. This ford is about twenty-five feet in width, and is approached by an irregular ravine made by the spongy nature of the soil. The northern bank is a perpendicular bluff about thirty feet high, with sides of a precipitate character. The southern bank is low and subject o overflow at high water.

Gen. Beauregard, hearing of the approach of McDowell to this ford, was on the alert and in a few hours had concentrated about 3,000 infantry and three pieces of artillery (Major Walton’s) at the ford. McDowell opened the ball with a [?] from a portion of Sherman’s celebrated battery, consisting of six or seven assorted pieces, including the famous eighteen pounder. The first few shots from the battery were directed at temporary headquarters of Gen. Beauregard, situated about half a mile to the rear of the ford, and the aim of the heaviest gun was directed at our hospital, from the top of which, in plain sight, a yellow flag was flying. The Washington Artillery, taking a position to draw the fire of the enemy from the hospital, responded, and soon had the six pieces of the enemy’s battery in full play upon their own guns. On the fourth or fifth fire, our six-pounder disabled the great eighteen-ponder of Boston, and soon after the music of the enemy was less deafening. Gen Beauregard, who commanded in person, now ordered the Seventh Regiment of Louisiana, under Colonel Harry T. Hays, and the First, Eleventh and Twenty-fourth Regiments of Virginia, to take position at the extreme southern flank of the ford, and prepare to give a warm reception to the enemy, who were seen approaching the opposite bank with their whole force of infantry. Gen. Bonham, meanwhile, had stationed his command of brave South Carolinians, consisting of several thousand gallant troops, and two batteries, a few miles above the ford, but did not come into action. The “bully Seventh of Louisiana,” under the inspiring command of ‘our Harry,’ charged the narrow border of timber that skirted the run at the ford, and with two of the three Virginia regiments above mentioned in close order beside them opened a most murderous fire on the thickets upon the opposite bank. “Our Seventh” in this, its first engagement, proved an honor to the State which sent it forth to battle for Southern independence.

Hitherto untried and inexperienced in the arts of war, both officers and men proved their mettle and efficiency. Col. Hays was not only theoretically but practically the head and front of his command, rushing with heroic coolness and bravery into the thick though narrow chaparral of undergrowth which skirted the banks of the stream, closely followed by his entire command. The Virginia regiments, coming in about the same time, drew a raking fire from the enemy on the [?], almost directly over our heads, the aim, however, being too high for effect. The Virginia Blues, under command of Capt. D. A. Wilson, Jr., of New Orleans, following their gallant leader, who, sword in hand, led his scarcely less heroic company down to the very brink of the stream, occupied the southern bank of the ford, being, in the absence of Capt. Terry’s Livingston Rifles, on the extreme left of the regiment. The conduct of Capt. Wilson and Lieuts. H. C. Thompson and C. E. Bellenger of the same company, is worthy of all praise; but being desirous of mentioning other names in connection with heroism on this memorable day, I am compelled to omit any detailed description of their acts. Under one of the most pouring showers of [?] [?] ever witnessed, the Virginia Blues followed the lead of the officers mentioned, almost to the water’s edge, the other companies of the regiment following obliquely to the right. The First Virginia Regiment having been the first to enter the woods, about a quarter mile above the ford, was under a most murderous fire, when the Seventh Louisiana entered. Encouraged by the reinforcement of the latter, who went into the thicket with a war-whoop which would have one credit to a band of Comanches, the Third, which was being slowly forced back from the water’s edge, returned to the charge with renewed vigor, and, sustained by the Third and Eleventh of Virginia in the rear, the First of Virginia and the Seventh of Louisiana stood their ground without flinching, receiving and returning the fire of the enemy for eight or ten rounds, when the Yankees retreated from the ford and scattered up and down the run.

Our own forces were also somewhat distributed, the Seventh and First Regiments still holding their position at the ford. Sherman’s Battery now opened with renewed vigor, and the fight lasted for two or three hours, when the little battery of Capt. Eschelman, of the Washington Artillery, proving too strong for the enemy, the latter retired, and the hard-fought day was ours. Of the conduct of our officers, too much cannot be said in their praise. From prisoners captured yesterday at the battle of Stone Bridge, I learn that the Seventh Regiment of Louisiana come in for more than its mere numerical proportion of credit in bringing about the result, among the enemy. The idea obtained that the “Seventh” was composed of New Orleans thugs, murderers and jail birds, a la Billy Wilson’s “Zous,” and was known among the Federalists as the “ragged Seventh.” Even this rather exceptional character is preferable to the treatment the Seventh received at the hands of the telegraphic reporter, at this point, for the Richmond press, who, in his dispatches, I perceive entirely ignored the fact of the presence of the regiment on the battle-field.

I do not wish to appear partial or invidious, but cannot forbear mentioning a few of the names of the officers of the Seventh whose opportunities for the exhibition of valorous conduct were perhaps better than their brothers-in-arms. Of the conduct of Capt. D. A. Wilson, Jr., and Lieutenants Bellenger and Thompson, I have already spoken. Capt. Wilson, when the order to charge was given, drew his sword, and waving it above his head, shouted at the top of his voice, “Come on, blue birds! follow me!” And they did, through a shower of balls thicker than hail-stones, followed by the remaining companies of the regiment at irregular intervals, but a short distance behind. Capt. S. H. Gilman, of the Crescent Rifles, Company C, ably and bravely supported by Lieutenants Driver and Dawson, was also conspicuous in the fight. Capt. W. B. Ratliff, of the Irish Volunteers, was remarkable for his close attention to duty and his cool courage. Lieutenants Hewitt and Kernington, of the same company, also distinguished themselves. Of Lieut. W. P. Harper, of the Crescent Rifles Company B, who, owing to the illness of Capt. Jett, took command of the company, I have only space to say that he is every inch a man, and a leader of coolness, bravery and efficiency. He was well sustained by Lieutenants A. E. Knox and H. Grimshaw, of the same company. Of Col. Harry T. Hays, it would not be necessary for me to say more than that he was present in the fray, for those who know him to feel assured, that he did his duty valiantly, and came out with additional laurels. To others, let me say should his life be spared, which may the Lord of Battle grant, his name will be remembered as one of the best military commanders of the war.

Our Lieutenant-Colonel, Chas. D. Choiseul, proved himself in this battle an officer whose native element is war; while in regard to Major Davidson Penn, I have but time to say that his action on the field of battle contributed in no small degree to the success of our regiment in the fight. Of our adjutant, Lieut. A. M. Merriam, his native coolness and excellent military ability did not desert him when under fire; while, in relation to the Sergeant Major, Redwood, who, with rifle I hand, entered with spirit into the hottest of the fight, allow me to remark that the regiment made and auspicious selection when it placed him in the position he occupies.

I have been thus minute in recording the part taken by our “crack Seventh” in the battle of the 18th, from the fact that the very existence, or at least the presence of the regiment in Virginia, has been almost, if not entirely, overlooked by the Virginia press. While the telegraph has been made to give other regiments the glory which should attach to its proud banner, President Davis and Generals Beauregard and Johnson have not been slow to perceive and acknowledge the prominent position which the Seventh of Louisiana had held in both engagements on Bull Runn, and will all in good time contribute their testimony in favor of the gallant and indispensable services rendered by it on both occasions. Meanwhile the friends of the members of the regiment will be pleased to learn that “Our Harry” and his command have not been idle spectators during the exciting events of the past few days.

Of the battle on Sunday, the 21st, at Stone Bridge, I will not attempt a reportorial description, as the telegraph ad official accounts have reached you before this can appear in your columns. I wish, however, to correct one or two blunders of the telegraphic agent, and again claim a little need of credit for our favorite “Seventh.” In the first really intelligible account of the fight you received over the wires, you were informed that at about 3 o’clock P.M. of the eventful 21st, when our heroic Spartan force of but 15,000 men, after a most valiant and desperate struggle of four hours, against 35,000 of the enemy, were being slowly forced from their position near the Stone Bridge, that Gen. Kirby Smith arrived with his brigade, on the railroad from Winchester to Manassas Junction; and that when within two miles of the bridge, seeing the violence of the contest there, he stopped the cars, dismounted his men, and, without orders, marched to, and arrived at, the scene of the action just in season to prevent the loss of our position and to change the tide of the battle in our favor.

Now, without wishing to deduct one iota from the importance of this fortunate and providential movement of Gen. Smith, I beg to submit that Louisiana, represented by her gallant Seventh, played an important part at this most critical juncture of the battle. The position of the Seventh of Louisiana having been in the center division of the defense during the early part of the day, (where, without coming into actual contact with the center of the enemy, it had been kept marching, on double-quick time, from one station to another, for several hours) was, about 12 o’clock, ordered suddenly to march in company with the Thirteenth Regiment of Mississippi, under Col. Barksdale, to the Stone Bridge, seven miles above. These two regiments were immediately on their way, and arrived on the field at about 2 o’clock, just in time to reinforce and relieve the tired and almost fainting troops already in the fight. Fatigued and almost ready to sink from exhaustion and the influence of a broiling sun, Col. Hays and his ever-ready staff immediately proffered their services to jump to the rescue, and, together with Col. Barksdale of the Mississippi Thirteenth, under Col. Early in command of the brigade, started on double-quick across the field to encounter the foe, then drawn up about three-fourths of a mile distant, and in the midst of a most murderous fire of shot, shell and bullets, Col. Hays, seeing at a glance the urgent necessity for prompt action, formed his own men on the march, Major Penn taking a position in the front, at which point Co. Hays joined him as soon as possible. After receiving two or three volleys of minie balls from a large body of regulars and volunteers, an order from Col. Early to charge this body, was communicated by an aid to Col. Hays, who gave it to his command with such vim as to occasion a spontaneous and unflinching response from the entire regiment. The boys sent up a shout which was heard above the roar of the artillery and the incessant firing of infantry, and which struck terror to the very heart of the volunteers, who beat a precipitate retreat, but who were soon rallied by the sterner regulars.

The Thirteenth of Mississippi and our Seventh were now within about a quarter of a mile of the enemy, when an order from Col. Early to halt, placed both regiments at the mercy of the fire of the enemy. The order was founded on the mistaken belief of Col. Early that the body on whom the charge was being made were friends. Several sharp volleys from their ranks soon put all doubts to rest as to the character of the body, and a fresh order to charge, accompanied by a perfect war-whoop from both regiments, struck terror to the souls of both regulars and volunteers, ad a quick retreat of the enemy, however, in excellent order, was made. Gen. Smith now came up in line, and a general charge was made, when the entire force of the Federalists brake and fled precipitately in the direction of Centreville, followed closely by about three thousand fresh cavalry, Gen. Johnston’s division bringing up the rear, in hot pursuit. This is the truth, the whole truth, and simply the truth. And when the history of the never-to-be-forgotten battle is written by hands guided by cool and stubborn facts, it will be seen that Louisiana contributed not only her Beauregard but other brave officers and men, to aid materially in the accomplishment of the grand result.

In this engagement the following officers of the Seventh are said to have distinguished themselves in various ways: Capt. Geo. D. Clark, Lieuts. McFarland and Davis of the Continental Guards, of New Orleans; Capt. Ratcliff, and Lieuts. Hewitt and Kernington, of the Irish Volunteers of LaFourche; Capt. T. Moore Wilson, and Lieut T. Gibbs Morgan, of the Sarsfield Rangers; and Lieuts. Harper, Knox, and Grimshaw, of Crescent Rifles, Company B. Lieut. Harper, on the 18th, led this fine company into the field; Lieut. Saml. Flower led the American Rifles into the field and was active and efficient. Lieut. Driver, of Company C, Crescent Rifles, did the state good service on this memorable day. In the Virginia Blues, Capt. C. A. Wilson, Jr., and Lieuts. Thompson and Bellenger, and, indeed, the entire company present on the field, numbering some 76 privates, were highly applauded for their gallant and soldierly bearing. A private in the ranks of the Continental Guards, Mr. Antony Offergeld, was also highly complimented by his Colonel. The Seventh Regiment, Washington Artillery, and Major Wheat’s Battalion, were the only Louisiana troops engaged in that part of the fight which took place at Stone Bridge.

Vivandiere

P. S. Our loss in killed and wounded will not exceed 1300. About 1000 prisoners have passed through this place for Richmond, up to this writing.

New Orleans (LA) Daily Crescent, 8/1/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*The writer’s enlistment in the 7th Louisiana is assumed, but not certain.


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