Sgt. John S. King, Co. D, 18th New York Infantry, On the Campaign

13 05 2020

The Part the 18th took in the Fight.
—————

We are permitted to publish the following letter from Sergeant King, of the “Walkill Guards,” showing what part their Regiment had in the fight at Bull Run:

Camp Myers,
Alexandria, Va., July 21, 1861.

Doubtless you are anxious to know what share the 18th had in the fight. I will give you a history of our movements in detail, so that you can judge for yourselves.

We left out Camp on Tuesday morning, with three days’ rations in our haversacks, and with buoyant hearts and spirits, marched for Fairfax C. H. Alas! how soon they were destined to be damped. We marched about eight miles, and then encamped for the night, wrapping our blankets around us, and disposing ourselves to sleep as best we could. We were aroused early in the morning, and were immediately on the march. We found the road greatly obstructed by trees felled across the road, seemingly done the day before. Our march, consequently, was very slow.

Within 5 or 6 miles of Fairfax, a firing was heard ahead, and an engagement was anticipated. We were destined, however, to be disappointed. The Rebels, after firing upon our advance guard, which was composed of two or three companies of the 18th, retreated, but not until the crack of the Enfield rifles had made some of them bite the dust. They were armed with Sharp’s rifles, and but for firing too high, might have done us considerable injury. As it was, however, we had one Lieutenant, one Sergeant, and three privates wounded – one private pretty severely. As we neared Fairfax intrenchments came in vie, and the word passed down the line, ‘Forward up the Eighteenth!’ No sooner heard than the words ‘Forward! Eighteenth, double quick!’ Past the column we went, and into the woods on a double quick, but no enemy was found. The intrenchments were deserted. The march the rest of the was to Fairfax was protected by companies of the 18th acting as skirmishers. Our company took the woods about two miles from Fairfax, to act as skirmishers. We advanced slowly, directed by the Lieut. Col., than whom there was no better officer in the army. Immediately before us, upon the brow of a hill, commanding the road, lay a splendid intrenchment; while immediately before it, and extending down for some distance, were piles of green brush four or five feet deep. We approached from the bottom, through the woods, and as we approached the outskirts the Colonel halted us. This was our Company alone, Company F being up on the other side of the road. We watched behind trees and stumps for about ten minutes, but no sign of an enemy could be seen. (This skulking behind trees and stumps is a part of the skirmisher’s drill.) Then the word forward was given, and we scrambled through the brush and started for the battery, catching up the blackberries as we went along. We reached the intrenchment but found it was deserted. They had left evidently in great haste, as we found warm bread in the ditch, and a knapsack belonging to the Tuscaloosa Volunteers. There were two letters inside which I meant to have sent home, but I have lost them.

We proceeded a short distance farther when firing was heard on the right, and “Rally on the right” immediately following. We at once closed up and prepared to receive a charge of cavalry, which was reported to be approaching down the road. It proved, however, to be our own men who belonged to another brigade, and had entered Fairfax in another direction. We proceeded within about a mile of the village and then encamped. We found a camp of the Fifth Regiment of the Twelve Month Volunteers, of Alabama, which had not been evacuated above an hour. Pistols, Bowie knives, coffee pots, chairs, camp stools, &c., were found scattered about in great confusion, and every volunteer had something or other on the end of his bayonet. We found a flag or banner of some sort belonging to the regiment, which was torn to pieces in a jiffy – a piece of which I enclose as a trophy of war.

We encamped here all night, and early in the morning took the road for Centreville, about 8 miles distant. We arrived there without molestation, and encamped within a mile of the village. We had not been encamped over an hour, when a heavy cannonading was heard to the west, followed by musketry, which lasted about an hour and a half. This was the first battle with masked batteries, the particulars of which you are doubtless better posted on than I am. I saw a great many of the wounded in Centreville the next day, and also some of the dead. I saw them bury a sergeant of the Boston Fusiliers. The grave was about four feet deep, and with a piece of carpet wrapped about him he was buried. The Fire Zouaves arrived the next day, and encamped in the field adjoining us. They are a hardy appearing set, and looked as though they could fight like the “Old Harry,” which was plainly made evident the next day.

At six o’clock we received orders to be in readiness to march at two o’clock, the 18th being assigned the post of honor, the right. We were roused up at two, and at five commenced our march for the enemy, accompanied by Green’s battery, and followed by the 16th and 32d Volunteer Regiments of N. Y. We reached the point where the fight was about 7 o’clock, and the battery opened fire upon the spot where the masked battery was supposed to lie, but no answer was received. We were posted in the rear of the battery, to prevent a flank movement of the enemy to capture the pieces. We were supplanted by the 16th in the course of three hours, and were sent into the woods to head off another anticipated movement of the enemy. Again we were marched a mile or so “double quick” down the road. In fact, we were kept changing around all the whole day. Towards evening we heard firing in the direction where we were stationed in the morning, and an officer rode up and ordered us up to support the battery at a “double quick.” We had got about half way there, when we met them retreating. We ascertained that the battery had been attacked by a thousand riflemen, who had been waiting all day for a chance to capture them. In fact, we were within 600 feet of a masked battery when we were in the woods, but they did not fire upon us, not liking the looks of our rifles. After our withdrawal the attack was made, and our battery opened upon the riflemen as they came out of the woods, scattering them in all directions, the 32d firing one volley and then retreating, and the 16th not firing one. Col. Davis ordered the retreat, and the artillery had to withdraw, but with reluctance. The commander of the battery told Col. Jackson, “My God, Colonel, I which I had had your regiment there.” We received praise from every direction, and were the last regiment to bring p the retreat to Centreville. We were completely fagged out, and when we could get a chance we would drop to the ground. We were posted out of Centreville a ways as a guard, and we rested about an hour, but had to keep awake. We were then called up, and were kept upon a steady quick march until we reached Fairfax. We staid here about an hour, and then started for Alexandria, a distance on the whole of 23 miles. The way was strewn with baggage wagons, which were turned over, run into fences, and their contents strewn along the road. A panic, it seems, had seized the drivers, and they had overturned their wagons and started back helter-skelter. The regiment kept together until we reached Fairfax. After that they commenced to fall behind. The regiment reached Alexandria about 10 o’clock, a. m. – that is, about 200 of them. I did not reach there until about 5 o’clock, stopping along the road to cook some coffee. I could write on for any length of time, relating incidents and so forth, but I am pretty well tired out. By the by, to cap that climax, after we arrived here our whole Company was put on picket guard, and we did not get any sleep then except what we could steal. We suffered greatly for water on our march, drinking anything we could find along the way.

J. S. King

Middletown (NY) Whig Press, 7/31/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

John S. King at Ancestry.com 

John S. King at Fold3 


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13 05 2020
Chris Van Blargan

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