Pvt. George Field*, Co. H, 2nd Maine Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

4 06 2020

Another Soldier’s Account of the Battle.

Extract of a letter from George E. Field* of Lee, private in Capt. Meinecke’s Company, to his father, dated July 23d:

“We were called out at one o’clock Saturday night, and given to understand that there was to be a battle the next day, and were then marched along from point to point, till eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, when the order came to throw aside our blankets and haversacks, and prepare for a charge on the enemy. We then ran some two miles, over streams, through woods and swamps, till nearly one half the regiment dropped behind from sheer exhaustion. We then formed a line under the brow of a hill, and waited for the stragglers to come up. Then came the order to charge up the hill, and the moment we reached the top we were met by a shower of musket balls; we returned the fire and charged again, loading as we ran. The enemy retreated towards their batteries, and the moment they were out of range of their own cannon, we were met by a perfect hurricane of balls, grape-shot and shell; but we kept on till we almost reached the batteries, and then came the order to retreat, which we did slowly, firing as we went.

* * * * *

Our brigade of nearly four thousand men formed and retreated under General Tyler, in good order for a mile, when we began to be joined by others, all broken and in confusion, which produced a panic in our ranks, and we retreated for two or three miles in complete confusion.

As we approached a narrow bridge over a shallow stream, we were attacked by a force of the enemy, and then commenced to rush for the bridge. Men, baggage wagons, ambulances and artillery were all struggling to get across. I jumped off the bridge into the water to escape being jammed to death, and had just got under the bridge, when down came a heavy wagon and four horses, head over heels. I swam across and got out on the other side. Our regiment then formed in a line, waited until all were over and then closed in and acted as rear guard till we met our reserve force. We got to our old camping ground at dark and laid down on the wet ground without blankets, by the side of our guns, some of us wet to the skin, and slept an hour, when the word came to continue our retreat. We marched all night and until ten o’clock next day, when we reached Alexandria. It rained smartly. We had marched about fifty miles, and most of the regiment had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours. When we arrived we stood two hours in the rain. They then gave us a drink of whiskey (I took some that time), and turned us into an old store and left us. About dark we were supplied with a loaf of bread and a slice of raw bacon.

Capt. Meinecke was quite badly injured while crossing the bridge. Our chief surgeon and chaplain were taken prisoners. Capt. Jameson acted with great bravery in the charge and led his men to bring off the wounded.

Bangor (ME) Daily Whig and Courier, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* Only George A. Field in 2nd ME was found in available databases (below). Records show him in both Co. H and Co. I. Captain F. Meinecke commanded Co. H.

George A. Field at Ancestry.com 

George A. Field at Fold3 

Unknown, Co. D, 5th Maine Infantry

4 06 2020

Manassas Battle.
5th Regiment – Brunswick Company.

We have received from a correspondent an account of the late action near Manassas Junction, and as our 5th Regiment, in which is our Brunswick Company of Volunteers, were in the engagement, we give some particulars of the occurrences o the day, which may be interesting to our citizens.

Sunday morning our army under Gen. McDowell were in position, in and around Centreville, a few miles this side of Bull’s Rin, which is four miles east of Manassas Junction. The Regiment was ordered to be ready for the march at 2 o’clock A. M. The Companies were called at 1 ½ and the Regiment moved at 2 ½. The Brunswick Company paraded with 72 men besides officer, and their organization was then very perfect and every man eager for battle. – After marching about one mile the troops halted for two or three hours, until sun rise; the march was then resumed, passing Gen. Tyler’s Division, and in the direction of Bull’s Run, arrived at the position of Gen. McDowell and Stagg. The troops then rested 2 ½ hours. Soon after the halt, cannon in the distance commenced playing, and the battle began. Howard’s Brigade, and probably the whole of the third Division were ordered forward on a road leading to the right. The day had become very hot and the men began to suffer much from the thirst, heat, and fatigue, carrying each an India rubber blanket, woolen blanket, haversack, with three days rations, and forty rounds of ammunition. The road perfectly level and plains covered with woods, they could see nothing of what was transpiring in other parts of the field. Artillery was continually playing on their left. At length they commenced “double quick,” which means steady run, the men suffering much and had no water. After marching thus some six miles, the country opened, plans changing to rolling hills and slopes, and the woods to grain and grass fields. When the order to the Brunswick Company was given, “by platoon into line,” about one third had fallen out from utter exhaustion. The men formed promptly, however. After gaining the open country, although the company was very much reduced by exhaustion, they hurried forward without rest, the men crying in agony for water, but keeping their places in the ranks until they dropped. The Regiment soon met a steady stream of fugitives of every corps mixed up together, hurrying their retreat and carrying many wounded to the rear.

At this time and officer rode up in front of the Regiment, and reported that the enemy was in retreat. After giving three cheers, the Regiment rushed up a hill and fell under the fire of the enemy. One of the officers says, “I understand full well that our Division was routed, and that our Brigade was moving up to cover their retreat; but I do not suppose that the whole army is defeated.” The Regiment moved on to the battle field, and passed a long ridge under a terrible fire from the enemy’s rifles and rifled cannon, balls and shells. – After a short halt, the Regiment was reformed, and Gen. Howard gave the order, “Forward brave remnant of the 5th,” when the Regiment rushed over hills and through woods, right down in the face of the enemy. A battery of rifled cannon were playing directly on the colors of the Regiments, and rifle musket balls flew thick – not a man flinched – the Battalion marched steadily on until ordered to halt and commence firing. At this time there were in the Regiment from 150 to 200 men in the ranks. – They fired 5 or 6 rounds when they were ordered by Colonel Dunnell to retreat. – They retired in common time and re-formed in the hollow from which they started. An officer of the Company says, “I marched by the colors and rallied the Battalion on them three times. The third time I ordered the color bearers to follow me, and, assisted by Lieut. Small, took every straggler of the 5th Maine, and put them behind the colors. I soon had about 50 men whom I marched steadily on, on the left of the main road through the woods. Then occurred to me for the first time, the idea of coming off the field. I determined to bring off the colors and the remnant of the Regiment. On Sunday evening we returned to our camp of the morning, behind our reserves at Centreville. About 7 P. M. we formed and marched to Fairfax Court House, where we slept on hour, and then continued our march to this city. We arrived here safe – our men behaved nobly – fatigue killed them. Before we left the battle field, Lieut. Kenniston had given out from exhaustion, and is now missing, either killed, or wounded and a prisoner. He behaved bravely, and if he has fallen he has done so nobly. Lieut. Small has also done his duty fully. He was by my side all the time. Howard’s Brigade made the last attack, last rally, and returned in better order than most of the troops. The D. Company brought off the colors of the 5th Regiment. We went nearer Manassas Junction than any other Regiment.”

The Captain of the Brunswick Company speaks in the highest terms of his non-commissioned officers, and of the men he says, “I do not think any of the Brunswick boys are killed. They all stood fire well.” Of himself he says, “I had a fair opportunity to study the nature of the projectiles used in modern warfare.”

Brunswick (ME) Telegraph, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy