E. T. W., 14th New York State Militia, On the Retreat and Aftermath.

8 06 2020

Willard’s Hotel, Washington, D. C.
July 25, 1861,

To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle:

I reached this city yesterday morning, in time to see many of the straggling soldiers as they returned from the advance of the Grand Army. Here one gets at the truth in the rough, unblemished by the sensation despatch mongers of the day. It has been a terrible rout. We have not suffered the enemy to rout us, but have performed the task ourselves. Up to 4 P. M., on the day of the last engagement, our troops were gradually unmasking the batteries and positions of the enemy. A heavy reinforcement came up from Manassas to the rebel side, for which, strange to say, no provision had been made by our commanders, and the word fall back was given by a division officer. Simultaneously a report started that Johnson, with his whole division, was flanking our men, when the run of the teamsters commenced, interspersed with members of Congress in all haste, adding to the confusion, and producing a panic such as probably the world ever saw. The roads were crowded with soldiers, civilians, cattle, horses and baggage, each trying to outdo the other in speed to save life. The panic extended to over half our forces, while strange to say those who did retreat in order, could not be prevailed upon to make a stand at Centreville, nor even to bring off the wounded. There was too, a fatal lack of ambulances, only litters carried by hand could be had, and thus our gallant colonel of the 14th Brooklyn Regiment was abandoned, after having been carried come distance, his friends claiming that the only ambulance they could procure was destroyed on the way; he was first carried from the field to the church, temporarily made a hospital, thence to a blacksmith’s shop, where he desired to be left; and finally, after being carried some little distance beyond in an ambulance, became separated from the soldiers, and has not been heard from since. From the best descriptions I can gather of his injury from intelligent parties, it was a flesh wound in the thigh, from which he lost much blood, but which was not of a dangerous character. He was in good spirits when last seen, suffering a little pain, but talkative and hopeful. The soldiers all say that he led them into action in the most gallant manner, and first had his hat shot off by a rifle ball; afterwards receiving the musket ball in the thigh; and even after receiving this sever injury, after nearly fainting from loss of blood, he ordered a soldier to hold him up, cheering on his men, utterly regardless of himself, and as determined as ever! Such a record is Col. Wood’s – may he yet be spared. The enemy sent in word that our wounded should receive the same attention as their own men. All here believe that the Colonel is beyond our lines, in their hands a prisoner, but carefully nursed by the two surgeons of the regiment, both of whom have not yet come in. No doubt they are with the wounded, and in a few days we shall see them again. Lieut. Col. Fowler came in, after having been given up as dead. He lay concealed in a thicket until dark, and then marched in on foot. All concur in this, that the 14th is entitled to great credit for their gallant fighting. They stormed and took an open battery three different times, each time being overwhelmed in numbers. Thirteen Colonel of other regiments are yet missing! – showing the desperate fighting done by our men, and that the enemy’s sharpshooters were especially ordered to pick off our officers. The Fire Zouaves performed prodigies of valor; the 69th, and especially the Rhode Island regiments, covered themselves with glory. An incident is given of Gov. Sprague, who was in command of the Rhode Island brigade, worth repeating – “Boys,” said he, rushing to the front ranks, during the hottest of the firing, when the regiment was like to be thrown into confusion by the thundering of iron hail about them. ”Boys, follow your Governor! give them the Devil!” And so they did. Military men on the field advance the opinion that the rebels suffered severe loss, probably three or four times greater than ours. They fired too high, while our men took deliberate aim. The Fire Zouaves killed at one volley, all but seven of their “Black Horse Cavalry” – a crack company. In an open field, our troops will overwhelm them. Nothing, however, can be clearer than that this advance upon Manassas was all wrong. Our troops did not want Manassas as a strategical point, why not then have passed around it, or have attacked it to the man. While Banks would make a Secretary of the Portfolio of War, worth the whole cabinet together. Meetings in New York and other northern cities could effect this change. There has been great energy in preparation lacking, to get ready our army. A second mistake can not be allowed, the present army is perfectly demoralized, not to say disorganized. A prominent military gentleman declared to me last evening that Beauregard could take Washington now in two hours time. – That the several regiments are not in condition or character to fight. All last night many rumors were flying about, that Beauregard was advancing for a night attack upon the city, and I will say that a majority of the people here believe in Beauregard’s advance very soon. The administration does not yet in my judgement realize fully the “situation.”

Nothing clearer shows this than the utter neglect to consider what should be done if defeated at Bull’s Run. No preparations of any kind contemplated a defeat, and had Beauregard followed our army he would have annihilated it, taken Washington, and dictated his orders from the White House that night. Providence seems to have protected us through many blunders. It will now take two or three months before any advance can be made; let us hope that General Greeley will learn a lesson of war by this defeat. I am sorry to say that the officers of our regiments instead of being in their several camps, are at any time to be seen lounging about our hotels and bar rooms; Wilson declared in the Senate today that one half of them “were not worth the powder to blow them to pieces.” I give his exact words. Not a few of them are intoxicated nightly. Strike their names from the roll, Mr. Lincoln, and do not place the Republic again in jeopardy through the culpable neglect of supine hands. Many of the officers outran their regiments, and some even changed their uniform to facilitate their flight as civilians! What a shameless disgrace! Incidents are related of whole regiments standing hours in the rain, awaiting a meal of victuals on their arrival here, while Colonels and officers were dining at hotels! And it is an absolute fact that the army at Bull’s Run too up the line of march at half past two o’clock in the morning, marched till ten, and men went into action without a mouthful to eat the whole day. One of the 14th boys told me he would and could have brought in our Colonel, but for his very exhaustion from hunger and thirst. And [?] plenty of baskets of champagne were known to have been sent down by brigades. These things will be corrected next time not doubt.

E. T. W.

Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, 7/25/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

14th New York State Militia (84th New York Infantry) roster 

* The only E. W. located in the roster who was enlisted at the time of the battle was E. G. Wackeohagen (Wackerhagen) of Co. C.