Surgeon Norman S. Barnes, 27th New York Infantry, On the Retreat

28 05 2020

War Correspondence

[Our special dispatches of yesterday, 4 P. M., announced that Norman S. Barnes, of this city, Surgeon of the 27th regiment, was among the “wounded and missing.” At a later hour the following communication was received by Mrs. Barnes, from which we are permitted to make the following extracts. It will be seen that Surgeon B., although wounded, effected his escape, and is now in safety.]

Extracts from a Private Letter from Surgeon Barnes of 27th Regiment.

Camp Anderson
Washington, July 23d, 1861.

I am only slightly wounded, not so bad that I can sit up and attend to or superintend the care of the wounded.

Indeed, we have had a most terrific battle; the details of it you will get in the papers. The N. Y. Times’ reporter was near the scene of action, and retreated with us. Their papers will be a more reliable one on that account.

It was impossible to keep out of the way of danger. Cannon balls, grape, cannister and musket balls flew thick and fast about us; men and horses were killed all around me.

One horse was killed under me; I lost my coat, belt, sash, sword, &c; all my instruments and medicines. I amputated twenty five limbs. But the poor fellows were afterwards shoot, or bayoneted, or had their throats cut. ‘Twas a sorry sight.

As soon as I found that no respect was to be paid to Surgeons or to their wounded, I made up my mind to take care of myself. Up to this time I had not fired a shot; m revolver now did its duty. After that I took from a rebel soldier, somewhat against his will, a minie rifle – this served me better.

As I now had become a fighting man, I was compelled to join the ”rear guard” of the now rapidly retiring army. My horse Prince, that had been careering over the battle field on his own account, having broken away from the man in whose charge I left him, was no where to be seen; and with balls flying thick around me, and the rebels at our heels, I thought that on your account as well as my own, I’d take to the woods. Fourteen miles we – tired, hungry and thirsty fellows, fifteen or twenty thousand – pushed our way through the woods on foot.

We had not ne mouthful to eat or drink, except from mud-puddles. About fourteen miles from the battle-filed, my horse came along on a full run, with two men on him, fleeing for dear life. They dismounted, and I had it somewhat easier, but with a tired horse, bleeding at his sides, covered with foam and almost exhausted. After getting on him, and proceeding four or five miles, we were charged in the rear, where I still was, by a numerous body of the rebels, a large number on horse, and also by their flying artillery. About three hundred were killed, as nearly as we can calculate, from recent inspection.

A bridge which was just before us was blown to pieces, while I was fording the stream. Dr. Morse kept close to my side, and how we were saved I do not know, except it be through God. One thing, I do not remember that I once felt the least frightened, but made my calculations without confusion.

We left out camp, about forty miles from Washington, at 2 o’clock Sunday morning; overtook the enemy, strongly entrenched, about 18 miles distant; commenced action at 1:00; and after six hours hard fighting against more than twice our number; retreated to Washington, 58 miles. During all this time our men had been without food. We reached here yesterday morning at 8 o’clock. Since then a few stragglers have come in.

I’ve written in haste, surrounded by wounded soldiers, and giving directions to my assistants, unless in some important cases.

N. S. B.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/27/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster 

Norman S. Barnes at 

Norman S. Barnes at Fold3 

Norman S. Barnes at FindAGrave 



4 responses

29 05 2020
Christopher Van Blargan

His claim of the rebels murdering the wounded strikes me as an attempt to justify abandoning his patients on the field. My recollection is that a number of surgeons stayed.


29 05 2020
Harry Smeltzer

A number of surgeons did stay. However, reports of the rebels murdering the wounded, and burning a hospital, accurate or not, abound.


30 05 2020
Christopher Van Blargan


This one’s a little different in that he claims or at least implies that he saw it happen, and that is we why he left his patients. And he was allowed to leave, armed, after witnessing the murder of his patients? Then he redeems himself by disarming a solitary Confederate soldier to get his rifle? Because a single shot rifle is much less cumbersome and useful to hold pursuers at bay than a revolver?

It sounds a bit fishy.



30 05 2020
Harry Smeltzer

Definitely a lot of fishiness in letters from both sides. But that’s the record, and they all make up the story of First Bull Run.


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