Fifer Sherman Greig, Co. A 13th New York Infantry, On the Campaign

27 05 2020

War Correspondence.
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Letter from Sherman Greig – Graphic Description of the Fight at Bull’s Run – How the “Milk-Sops” Behaved – The Pet Regiments of New York – The Rout and Arrival – The 13th “Turned Over” and the Federal Government – What is Thought of the “Impressment.”

Fort Bennett, Va., July 26.

Eds. Express: – I suppose the Rochesterians are awaiting news from the “milk [?] –. And though much worn by the labors of the past week, I will essay to enlighten them as much as possible concerning things past and present. If I remember rightly, my last letter was dated at Camp Union – just above here – (Fort Bennett lies to the right of Fort Corcoran, on the bank of the Potomac. It was mainly built by the 13th – our Regiment.) In it I made no mention of our expected march, but the next day we received our rifles, and shortly after, orders to march. We left the Camp about noon on the 15th, and reported at Vienna at 7 P. M. having marched a distance of perhaps fifteen miles. The next morning we moved forward – passing “Germantown” (containing three houses) and halted at Centreville. Here we found an earthwork, thrown up by the rebels, which they had deserted. It was a strong position, and offered, as a Southerner would say – a “right smart chance for a fight.” We spread our blankets on the east side of the hill, in hopes of getting a night’s rest, but we were doomed to disappointment.

Late in the day the skirmish commenced at Bull’s Run, and about five o’clock, our Brigade, consisting of the 13th, 69th and 79th New York and 2d Wisconsin, was ordered to the scene of action. When we arrived on the ground, we found the New York 2d badly cut up and dispirited. We were deployed to the right and left of the main road in the woods, and were under a hot fire for half an hour. We had nothing to do but “grin and bear it,” as no order was issued either “forward” or back. The 13th came off without a scratch, being so near the enemy’s guns that the shot passed over; but the 69th, being behind us, received some injury, several being wounded and two killed outright.

The order soon came to retreat, and we moved back to Centreville, “pensive and dripping.” – Here we lay two days to “recruit,” when the forward movement began. The men being supplied with “two days rations” and everything in readiness, we arose at 5 o’clock Sunday morning, and after a march of two hours duration, halted in sight of the enemy. A shell from Sherman’s battery announced our visit, and the enemy appeared in force on the right, seemingly to offer us a welcome.

THE FIGHT.

On the right, too, Hunter’s Division was coming in from Harper’s Ferry, and it appeared to us probable that an engagement might take place with them before we “got a hand in,” which haplessly was the case. Having already deployed to the right through the woods, our division, or brigade, emerged into the open fields just in time to hear the first roar of musketry and to charge on the enemy’s flank, which was done with a shout and a shot – shot first. Before we had time to draw up in line of battle the rebels were in full retreat across the fields.

Here we found ourselves in an open space of country – perhaps a mile square – completely surrounded by woods. The road from Centreville enters this square on the east side, and turns near the center in a southerly direction. Up this road the rebels run, and disappeared in the long line of woods to the south. Our officers were sanguine that “the day was ours,” and we were accordingly ordered to charge across the open square. This, I think, was exactly what Beauregard wanted. He had thrown out a few regiments as a feint, for us to attack, which drew us around in front of his position. And now, as we follow up his regimental “stool-pigeon,” (which lost some of its feathers by the way,) he opens his stationary batteries upon us, and crosses the fire with flying artillery.

Our batteries now responded, in our rear, and we were thus placed between two fires. The enemy’s shot cutting us down at every discharge, and out own shell frequently bursting overhead and sinking its missiles among us. Still the shout, was that very sentimental one, “Go in boys!” and though the whir of the bullet was incessant, and the roar of the musketry deafening, though they frequently stumbled over a corpse or passed a riderless steed, still they went in! Far up the southern slope, and within fifty rods of the masked batteries stood a log house surrounded by fruit trees. The house was filled with rebels, whose rifles brought down many officers in our division. To the right, and a little below this house by the southern road, the West Point Battery, of six rifled cannon had been stationed in the hope of silencing the masked batteries in the woods, but their horses were piled dead on the limbers, and the men cut down at the guns! They could not withstand the withering fire that devoured them as a flame.

The 13th Regiment of “milksops” were ordered forward to sustain that battery – and they went. Over dead horses, and over dead men, up the road – plowed by the cannon shot – nor did they pause until they were at the foot of the log house, and their balls had emptied the trees of the assassin “tigers” of the south. Here we lay flat upon the ground, under a fire two murderous to describe. Whenever a rebel showed his head in the house, or among the trees a Remington rifle spoke, and he gave no answer!

We saw on chasing a wounded man, with his bayonet poised to strike, when Charlie Buckley, one of our best men, arose full length, and taking deliberate aim, fired. The would-be murderer sprang into the air and fell. As a German remarked, close by – “I didn’t see him get up any more.” Edward Searl, of Co. F, ran up to the house, thinking it occupied by our men, and was taken prisoner. They “mashed” his gun, called him an abolitionist, and rifled his pockets. Searl, not liking the style, resolved on a “leap for life,” and went through a window, with a full volley of rifles after him. He came off without a scratch!

We now discovered that we were fired upon from the rear! and turning, beheld a scattered body of the much puffed-up 69th banging away at us, perfectly wild! All the troops behind us were now in full retreat, and we found that we had got to “git” or be taken. So away we went – double quick – down the hill, the bullets coming after us with the roar of a hail storm. We formed around our colors (which have been ventilated by the enemy’s bullets) and prepared for a general retreat, which was ordered.

Now, a word or two about the Fire Zouaves, 69th and other New York City regiments, which have been lauded to the skies, while the 13th “milksops” were not seen by the New York reporters. The story about the Zouaves “fooling the Black Horse Cavalry,” is an exaggeration, to say the least. The Black Horse Cavalry did charge upon the Zouaves, but were fired upon by two or three other regiments. The Zouaves seemed to be the special favorites of the rebel gunners, who dropped their shot among them in a most loving manner. The Zouaves were fearfully cut up. The New York 69th charged into the field with the perfect “Irish cry,” and, as I am informed, shot one of their own men through the back of the head the first fire. The next thing we heard from them they were firing into us near the log house I have mentioned! – The 79th Scotch regiment charged nobly, and their Colonel fell from his horse which shouting to his men and waving them on like a Colonel. – We had a beautiful lot of cavalry along with us. They sat on their horses during the fight, and made a fine retreat when the retreat was ordered.

THE ROUT.

Ambulances containing the wounded and dying, baggage wagons, men and horses, were mingled together in one dense mass – stretching along the road for miles – all in full flight, and apparently every one seeking his own safety. We had been beaten, cut to pieces, and outnumbered – three to one. The men were disheartened, and a panic overspread the whole dense throng! The accidental overturning of a wagon was sufficient to scatter the men in the wildest confusion. I saw full grown men throw down their arms – their only defence and hope of salvation – and run into the woods, screaming like affrighted women. Horrible and humiliating! It almost made me believe the Southern saying that “Northerners will not stand.” The rout continued on a circuitous road through the woods until it reached the bridge at Pugg’s Run,” just beyond Centreville, where the enemy had anticipated us an planted a cannon; and, I think, weakened the bridge. When the train had partially crossed the bridge, and was winding over the hill, their guns opened upon us at the same time their cavalry charged upon our baggage wagons, and a scene here ensued that beggars description.

The rush on the bridge broke it down, and cannon horses and men were buried in one wrangling mass. An ambulance containing wounded persons, fell into the creek, and it is said that the driver cut his horse loose, mounted his back and rode away, leaving the maimed and dying in the creek. The large iron gun was lost at this point but I have since heard that it was retaken by the Jersey Brigade, which we met at Centreville. Here we encamped for the night, after having placed our wounded in the hospital under the efficient care of the surgeons. We had scarcely lain down, before an order came for another retreat, and we immediately started, en-masse for the Potomac. We arrived at our old quarters in the forenoon of the next day, completely worn out. We had marched all night and had fought the whole day before! The first shot was fired at seven in the morning, and the last at sunset near Centreville bridge.

We ae back again after having participated in one of the hardest fights recorded in American history. We report ten killed, twenty-three wounded and twenty-nine missing. None of Company A have been killed; one is missing and two are wounded. The loss in our regiment is astonishingly small, considering the heavy fire we sustained. There were many “hair-breadth ‘scapes,” and the men are now engaged in relating them. I am happy to report myself “without a scratch.”

“TURNED OVER.”

There is a subject which deeply agitates our camp at the present moment, and one that will not be lightly passed over. We were informed last night that the State of New York had turned us over to the United States to serve for the term of two years! Now this is the sense of the men: They volunteered to serve the United States to serve for the term of three months, to meet the emergency of the times. Many of them left wives whom they could not possible leave for a longer period, and support. Many of them left old fathers and mothers who depend upon their children’s labor for bread, but who could spare them three months for their country’s sake. – These husbands and children have come – they have served faithfully their three months – they have fought, and many of them have fallen. And now, as their contract with the government is fulfilled, they wish to return home, with honor – as they deserve. Now they are told that the Government proposes to hold them for two years! – an act which they consider impressment, and a great wrong. They have thus far brought honor upon themselves but should the government impress them, they will be a disgrace to the service, and a great grief to Rochester! I say this, because I hear the men talk, and I know their feelings upon the subject.

If Rochesterians desire that the 13th Regiment sustain its present good name, they had better sue for its honorable discharge on the 14th of August next, at the War Department in Washington. Rochester papers should discuss the subject, and bring it before the people. Soldiers forced into battle will not fight, and their gloomy spirits dent to dampen those of other troops. I consider it very impolitic on the part of the Government to force men into this campaign who cannot well go, and who have already done as much as their circumstances will allow. Remember what I say: If the Rochester Regiment is forced into the service for two years, Rochester may cease to be proud of it.

Our men at present are completely worn out, and many of them sick. I had the pleasure of meeting C. D. Tracy, of the Express, Collins of the Democrat, and Hon. Alfred Ely, at Centreville, just before the fight – have not seen them since. Wonder what they thing of the Old Dominion and the “F. F. V.’s?”

I will write again as soon as I get recuperated. At present I am played out.

S.G.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/30/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

13th New York Infantry Roster 

Sherman Greig at Ancestry.com 

Sherman Greig at Fold3 


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