Pvt. Duncan L. Brown, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

29 05 2020

War Correspondence

Letter from Duncan Brown, of Captain Wanzer’s Company – Description of the Battle – Col. Slocum Wounded – Corporal W. H. Merrill Twice Wounded and Removed to the Hospital – Death of John Clague and Wm. Hanlon – The Retreat and Arrival in Washington – Return of Missing Privates, &c.

Camp Anderson, Washington
July 23d, 1861

You have heard ere this of the battle at Manassas Junction. I have seen a battle field before, but I hope never to see another like that of last Sunday. The entire division was ordered to march at two o’clock on Sunday morning. They were encamped about eight miles from Manassas, and had nothing to eat except pilot bread and some fresh beef, but neither coffee not tea to nourish them. But, notwithstanding, they started in the finest spirits, and marched to the scene of the action. About eleven in the morning they came in sight of the rebels. But instead of three divisions, ours was the only one which was there to engage the enemy. But there was no thought of backing out on our part. Under a broiling sun the 27th were put to the double quick up a hill, and held their own until five o’clock, when McDowell, gave the order to retreat. Col. Slocum, (a braver man never lived) was seriously wounded and carried off the field by Capt. Wanzer and Lieut. Baker. He was conveyed to Washington, where he is now doing as well as can be expected. The doctors think he will be able to be with us in about six weeks.

But my hand trembles as I write you the disasters in our company. Poor Merrell, the regular correspondent of the Express, who was one of the color guard, stood by the flag until twice wounded – once in the arm and in the groin – when he was carried off the field and taken to a house used as a hospital for the wounded. But how can I tell you the remainder?

[The writer proceeds in the narration of incidents, which, for humanity’s sake, and especially in consideration of the feelings of those who are nearly related to the sufferer named, we feel it is our duty to suppress. He continues as follows:]

But there is a day of retribution at hand, and we will be revenged.

My pen again fails me to tell you of another who fell – one whom I loved more than a brother – John Clague, formerly a clerk in Rochester’s banking office, who was shot in the back, the ball passing out at the right breast. He lived about an hour, in the most horrible agony. He was only in his 19th year, but he fell, doing his duty under the flag he had sworn to protect. – The greatest regret is felt in the company, for he was beloved by all. The night before the battle, I was getting provisions for the regiment, (being in the Quartermaster’s department,) and being very busy, I could not go to supper; and he being fearful that I would have to go without, came to me and told me where I could find it, when I could get a chance to eat. Before parting, he told me that the regiment had orders to move before morning, and in a playful manner said: “Good bye, Brown, I may not have a chance to speak to you again.” These were the last word I ever heard him utter. But, although dead, he never will be forgotten by me.

Another boy, named William Hanlon, had his leg shot off, while trying to get around the brow of a hill. The poor fellow asked to be run through the heart with a bayonet, to put him out of his misery. He was taken to the same building as Merrell. * * * There are about 20 missing out of our company, but I hope they will mostly all turn up.

Hon. Alfred Ely was on the field as a spectator, and although urged not to expose himself, determined on crossing to the 13th. He was accompanied by Dist. Attorney Huson, and their rashness has probably cost them their lives.

There was a report in the city yesterday that Mr. Ely has been killed, and his body brought to Arlington. This is untrue. I saw three of Capt. Brown’s company this morning, and they say that the report at Arlington is that he is a prisoner. C. D. Tract, of the Express, was also present. I have endeavored to learn something of him, but without success. I can only hope he is safe.

I was not engaged in the field, being guard over the provision train, which halted [illegible…] whistled around like hail. I arrived at Long Bridge on Monday morning, with the train safe but tired and hungry. Col. Rogers, of Buffalo, with his usual kindness, had hot coffee and cooked meat in readiness for us, which, I tell you, came just in time, for hundreds could not have marched a mile farther, having had nothing to eat for nearly 72 hours, and having marched over 70 miles during 21 hours. We will probably march again in a few weeks, when our battle-cry will be “revenge.”

Although the scene was horrible, there were many laughable incidents, one of which I will mention. Horace Hibbard, and a chap we call “Black Tom,” members of our company, while on the retreat, came across a wagon drawn by four horses. The teamster was in the act of cutting the traces, when Hibbard seized him by the neck and started him for the woods. He then mounted the saddle horse, and Black Tom one of the leaders, and started, as they thought, for Washington, but instead brought up at Alexandria. Hibbard had made up his mind to sell the leaders to get something to eat, but you can imagine his disappointment, when he found they were branded with the U. S. mark.

The men who are missing in our company, beside the dear, are Jenks, Ambrose, Burbank, and Hosmer. The dead are Merrell, Clague, and Hanlon. It was Bull’s Run instead of Manassas where the battle took place.

I saw Smith and Bronson, two printers from your city, who belong to the cavalry.

Sergeant Webster, on the retreat up the hill, never turned his back upon the enemy, but kept a bold face and loaded and fired until darkness set in. The enemy’s artillery was loaded by niggers, and fired by white rebels.

Later. – Burbank, Jenks, and Hosmer have come in, leaving only two missing, exclusive of the dear. Hon. A. Ely is a prisoner at Bull’s Run.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/29/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster 

Duncan L. Brown at Ancestry.com 

Duncan L. Brown at Fold3 



3 responses

30 05 2020
Christopher Van Blargan

Hanlon and Merrell were captured, but survived. Hanlon applied for disability in 1862 an Merrell was later commissioned a captain in the 108th New York.


8 01 2021
Pvt. John B. Edson, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Death* of Pvt. John Clague | Bull Runnings

[…] company on 5/31/1863. Hospital steward Daniel Bosley of Co. E. reported Clague killed instantly. Pvt. Duncan Brown of Co. E reported Clague died after about an […]


16 08 2022
1861-63: John Boultwood Edson Letters | Spared & Shared 23

[…] company on 5/31/1863. Hospital steward Daniel Bosley of Co. E. reported Clague killed instantly. Pvt. Duncan Brown of Co. E reported Clague died after about an hour. Clague was however reported very much alive after the battle by […]


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