Cpl. Guilford Wiley Wells, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

24 06 2020

Another Letter from the 27th.
—————

The following letter descriptive of the Battle of Bull Run and incidents pertaining thereto is from a member of the Lima company, in the 27th regiment. We have already published a number of letters from members of that regiment who took an active part in the bloody work, but we venture to five one more.

Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 2[?], 1861.

Dear Father, Mother, Brother and Sister: I now take my pencil to write you, that your uneasiness in reference to me may be quieted, as you no doubt ere this have heard that our regiment was all cut to pieces in the Battle at Bull Run, and probably think that I was either killed or wounded. But I am not, though I am all fagged out, as I was on the march and in the battle from 2 o’clock Sunday morning until 7 o’clock Monday night, and not having anything to eat except four or five crackers in the forenoon of Sunday.

As I suppose you and my friends of Conesus are anxious to hear, I will give you a short description, as I saw it, and I was in it from beginning to the end. Our regiment was the first which charged on the enemy, notwithstanding the papers said it was another regiment, which the Washington papers corrected this morning.

I will give you the details of the battle. We marched in the morning for Bull Run, which was about ten miles from where we were encamped. We passed around the enemy’s batteries and succeeded in outflanking them, and arrived on the ground at 11 o’clock. On our march we did not find but one drop of water, and then it was dirty water – so dirty that it was not fit to drink even by a beast, but as our canteens were empty we filled them. When we reached Bull Run we did not have time to get water or anything to eat. We then marched down to the woods, where the enemy were all alone, but when we arrived at the woods we saw a regiment who swung their handkerchiefs and showed our colors, and we supposed them to be our friends, but our suppositions were all false, for when we reached the end of their line and they were about twenty rods from us, they flanked us and fired, which of course surprised us, but we returned the fire and charged upon them, and drove them into the woods. Our loss was very great. They killed or wounded over half at the first fire. We rallied around our colors, and were ordered to retreat. As the batteries opened fire upon us with large cannon and shell, we fell down flat, loaded, then charged upon them again, when another regiment entered the field to our aid. Then followed the whole force. We then drove them out of the woods on the hill beyond. Then commenced one of the hardest fought battles, I think, ever fought on this continent. First one retired, then the other, but still we drove them. At the same time the groans of the wounded and dying were singularly blended with the roaring of cannon and the rattle of musketry. Oh, such a sight I never want to see again. You can have some idea of it if for once you will imagine the people of Conesus all together, and all wailing and groaning, and each covered with blood, while the people of Livonia were there, and there lying dead. This would be something like the sight which I gazed upon Sunday.

O, mother, you never saw suffering like that which is exhibited on the battle field I saw one man who had five balls put through him, and yet was alive, but there was no doctor to dress his wounds, and he walked [?] miles and fell down exhausted and died. I saw many upon our retreat who could not have walked had it not been that the enemy were following them with the intention of taking all prisoners that they could reach. This served to inspire them with energy sufficient to keep on the march until from utter exhaustion they dropped down.

But I am wandering from my story. We fought for [?] hours. Some of the time we thought victory was just coming, but at that time a new battery would open on us. We would then work to silence it, and then another would open, and in that way we fought until our ammunition gave out, and we found the enemy had plenty left, and were using it to the very best advantage. We then were ordered to rally once more around our flag, but the regiments were too much broken, yet they succeeded in rallying about 1,000, but the Black Horse Cavalry made a charge on us and we were obliged to leave on a run. We left many valuable things on the ground. I for one left may coat and haversack with all I had to eat. As we left, we overtook the Rhode Island Regiment with their cannons, and as most of the horses were shot, they were obliged to cut the [?] and leave the pieces on the ground for the enemy. We left scattered all over the ground, with men running in every direction. We left at the hospital all out wounded, and we did not have wagons enough to draw them. The doctor remained until the commenced to throw shell upon the hospital, something which was never known before. As the building caught fire the doctor took his horse and cut through the cavalry. They then made a charge upon the hospital killing all who were so unfortunate as to be wounded in it. We had a number of our company – three or four – from East Bloomfield, one from Honeoye Falls, two from Lima, and the 1st Corporal. How many more we can’t say, as we know of many who are missing, but do not know whether they were killed or wounded. We did not succeed in getting a wounded man away or burying those who were killed. They used us worse than ever man was used by Indians, as they skulked behind trees, fences, and whenever we left a wounded man on the field, they rushed out and cut his throat.

But again, after we arrived on top of the hill, we marched to a house. Upon arriving on the other side, the first thing we knew, they commenced throwing shell at us. They fell among us like hail, without much harm. I found I could not go much further. A wagon came along and I put everything – gun and accoutrements – in it and left as fast as I could, which was not very fast, being without anything to east from 2 o’clock in the morning – without rest, and running most of the way. We found two regiments at Centreville, but they were so close upon us we were obliged to leave en masse.

The drivers commenced to run their horses – flipping over and breaking the wagons. Our loss of wagons must have been 30 or 40 left filled, [?] a [? ?] which they took from us. As I passed along the road I found many who wished me to give them something to eat, saying that they had had nothing for 24 hours. As I was in the same fix I could not administer to their wants. I had nothing to eat until a black woman gave me a small piece of biscuit, which tasted as good as anything I had ever had. I arrived at Washington Monday night at 7 o’clock in the rain, wet through and cold as I could well be. I went into Willard’s Hotel and they gave me something to eat, and I found a fire to dry myself. I then went to my barracks, found a hard board to lie on, which seemed much better than the cold ground. I am well now. A lady here gave me plenty to eat and some salt and water to wash my feet in, as they were very much swollen. She seemed to take as much interest in me as though I were her own boy. She came up this morning and took me down to her house for breakfast. I write this on a board on the ground. I will try and write a more [?] letter next time.

G. Wiley Wells

Rochester (NY) Union Advertiser, 7/31/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

27th New York Infantry roster 

Guilford Wiley Wells at Wikipedia

Guilford Wiley Wells Ancestry 

Guilford Wiley Wells at Fold3 

Guilford Wiley Wells at FindAGrave


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