Corp. Alfred W. Burnham, Co. C, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, On the Battle and His Wounding

5 05 2020

Camp Beaufort, Hooker’s Division, Md., December 5th, 1861:

Well, brother, you wished me to give you a sketch of my life in this war, and the battle of Bull Run. It would take me a long time, but I will do it in as brief space as possible. We went from Manchester to Portsmouth, and stayed in barracks about three weeks; then took the cars to Fall River, and thence by steamboat to New York; remained there one day; then by ferry-boat to Jersey City, and thence by rail, by way of Harrisburg and Baltimore to Washington; staid there two days, and then bivouacked two miles from Washington, at Camp Sullivan; staid there until the 15th of July; from thence we went within ten miles of the battle-field; staid over night beside the road, and on the morning of the 21st heard the roar of cannon; took a hasty breakfast of hard crackers and salt junk, and started — three regiments — under command of General Burnside; we marched quick time about six miles; we could hear the guns so plainly we thought we were very near them, and orders were given for double-quick time, and we kept it up all the way to the battle-field.

When we arrived there we were nearly exhausted from our long march, but the rifle and cannon-balls came pouring in upon us like a hail-storm. We were drawn up in line on a hill, and orders came to fire at will, and we gave them the cold lead right smart, until they retreated into the woods, where we could not see them. Then we were ordered back, and found that but few of our boys were wounded. We lay there for half an hour, with the exception of one or two companies which deployed as skirmishers, and then we were ordered to the left of the Second Rhode Island Artillery, to support it from the rebel flanking movements. While marching to the left flank my position was second corporal, at the head of the 2d platoon. The enemy were at our right, and the balls flying like fury, and our men falling dead. As we were marching in this position a ball struck me between my shoulder and right breast. It felt like a shock from an electric wire. I called out, 0 my God! I am shot! —killed! let my gun fall, and dropped to the ground. Two corporals caught me in their arms, and carried me to where the surgeons were surrounded with the dead and wounded, and laid me on a blanket. As they placed me in this position it hurt my back. I put my hand around and felt the ball between my ribs, and called the doctor to cut it out, which he did, first cutting my coat and shirt nearly off. Pretty soon I saw our men retreating. I told them to put me into a wagon. They tried to keep me there, saying that I should be safe, for they thought that I would surely die. Seeing our chaplain, I requested him to have me put in, and he did so. By that time our men were passing us on the retreat to Washington, and we started, and every jolt seemed that it would kill me. As I lay on the bottom of the wagon I expected to die, but was bound not to be taken by the rebels. On we went till we got to the bridge at Cob Run, where cannon, wagons, and ambulances, lay overturned in a promiscuous heap. As our team could get no further, I got out and crawled between cannon, horses, wagons, and amidst their firing, and crossed the bridge. I had not the least fear of being shot though the balls flew about my head. I was perfectly cool and reconciled to my fate; shot or not, I expected to die.

Well, I reached the other side of the bridge, and traveled on foot twelve miles that night, to Centreville, and lay down on the floor in an old house. Next morning, I started at four o’clock, passed through Fairfax and on to within about six miles of Alexandria, where I stopped at a house and got some gruel—the first refreshment for two days. I reached here by the help of the boys that strayed along. Some of them would carry me on a board till they could carry me no farther. I told them not to wait for me—that I should get through; so, I staggered along until some one else would come up and assist me.

At one time they put me on an old horse; one held me on and another led him; every one that came along would lend me a helping hand, until I would urge them to leave me. Well, this is the way that I avoided being taken. If I had followed the advice urged upon me, I should have been a prisoner; but I was bound to die on free land, and among free men. While I was here one of our ambulances came out to pick up the wounded; in it I rode to Alexandria, by standing on tip-toe and holding on to the bows overhead. I remained at the hospital seven weeks.

Here all was confusion, but they found a mattress and placed me upon it, and the next morning, for the first time, I had my wound dressed. Here I had the best of care and attention. I will close by saying that my health is good, and that I weigh 165 lbs.; my average weight has been 145 lbs. for a number of years.

You may direct your letter to Sergeant Alfred W. Burnham, as before, &c.

The Burnham Family, Or, Genealogical Records of the Descendants of the Four Emigrants of the Name, who Were Among the Early Settlers in America, p. 458

Contributed and transcribed by David Morin

Alfred Burnham at

Alfred Burnham at Fold3

2nd New Hampshire Regimental history has Burnham listed as Berham, Alfred W.



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5 05 2020

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