Corp. Patrick Lyons, Co. E, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Campaign

30 06 2020

Tuesday, July 16, 1861

After waiting long for the final order to march it finally came at last at 1 ocl. P. M. when we started for Washington and thence across the Long Bridge, rightly named being about 1 mile long, and were soon on the “Sacred Soil” of Virginia. We marched 11 miles that day and bivouacked for the night near Balls Cross Roads…

We were brigaded on the March with the 7th New York, 2nd New Hampshire, and the 1st R. I. The time for which the latter Regmt. Enlisted was now very nearly expired but they Volunteered to accompany us on this expedition which shows the stuff that they were made of & which entitles them to the front ranks amongst the Nation’s defenders.

Wednesday, July 17

After thawing ourselves out by some gymnastic exerises & having breakfast with the indispensible hot coffee we resumed out march to Richmond. Our Regmt. Had the right of the Column on this day’s March & consequently two companies were detailed to act as skirmishers & Co. E being one of them was deployed on the left of the column & advanced thro woods and fields till we came in sight of a pretty strong rebel fortification in front of the Village of Fairfax CH. The fort had the appearance of being still occupied thee being apparently Some heavy guns mounted & it was therefore deemed advisable to reconnoitre. Major Ballou was amongst the first to advance when upon a close inspection he found that the fort was evacuated, the guns Quaker ones (wooden).

The enemy apparently left in haste as a great many useful and some valuable articles were left behind and appropriated by our soldiers upon entering it. The writer picked up one trophy in the shape of an officers old fashioned red night cap, which he carried along in his haversack, but which , later he was destined to lose again.

We proceeded thro the Village which was an ancient looking place. The rebel flag floated over the Court House and some members of our Regmt hauled it down and hoisted the Stars and Stripes…

Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21, 1861

On Saturday evening the 20th we received orders to be ready to March at 1 ocl. That Night…but not until 2 ocl. Or thereabouts did we start.

The Column separated near Centreville. Our Brigade under the command of Col. Burnside of the 1st R. I. took the road to the right leading South West…Our destination was learned to be Bulls Run and as we had the extreme right of the army we had to march about 15 miles through thick forests and bad roads.

We met with no opposition till 11 A. M. when after having crossed the Stone Bridge over Bulls Run, Cos A and E were sent out to the right and left as skirmishers through dense woods. E had just completed its deployment when the left which extended to the extremity of the belt of woods discovered a force of about 200 of the enemy marching past our left flank through a clearing in the forest and the alarm “enemy on the left” passed along the line amid the greatest excitement.

The order from the Capt, close to the left was speedily obeyed and we fired a volley at the enemy who were falling back pretty lively by this time, believing no doubt from the racket we made, that our whole army was pouncing on to them. The Capt ordered us to advance over a fence at the end of these woods, which we did and again commenced firing. The enemy meanwhile having retreated to the opposite Slope of a hill between us, better known later as the Henry House Plateau. Returned the fire, but up to this time our casualties were few owing to the rebels being obliged to elevate their guns too high in firing over the hill.

We were thus engaged about 15 minutes when Co. A came to our assistance and we advanced to the Henry House on the Slope of the Hill which separated us from the enemy and everyone fired away at will and in some confusion.

It was ¾ of an hour before our Brigade formed line of battle on our right with the 1st R. I. Light Atillery near the extreme right when the battle became general all along the line. The enemies batteries opened on us from all points from woods in front and their infantry becoming emboldened proceeded to occupy a belt of woods on our left and front and put their Sharp Shooters in the tall pine trees opposite the Henry House.

It was here while advancing over the crest of the Hill, pistol in hand, and while getting over a fence, that the brave and lamented Col. Slocum (Col. of our Rgt) was shot in the forehead and died in a short time after being carried tenderly back to the Henry House.

The Major (Ballou) also fell here while riding along the crest of the Palteau receiving a canon shot in the thigh from which he died soon afterwards. Gov. Sprague was nor fortunate, he also rode along the hull and had a horse shot under him but bravely mounted another & repeated the act.

Co. E lost some of its best men here amongst who William Nichols, Corp. Stephen Holland and Henry L. Jacques were killed and Corp. Ezek B. Smith, Isaac Clark Rodman & John Clark, N. C. Dixson were wounded, the three former being captured, Smith and Rodman dying in prison at Richmond.

Meantime we were ordered back to the edge of the woods to get a fresh supply of ammunition. Up to this time everything was favorable for our side & we felt as if we would not be called upon again to take part in the battle…

[But again] the line was formed on the right of our former position, the Brigade in columns of Regts, our Regmt in front. We were not long in discovering that our troops were defeated and in full retreat and our duty was to cover the retreat. We descried a long column of the enemy advancing directly on our line and their batteries opened on us with disastrous effect…

The rout now became pretty general from all parts of the field excepting our force which had to stand in line facing the exultant and advancing foe. Our Cavalry and other mounted men added much to the consternation in their headlong haste to the rear, teams and ambulance got stuck in the mud and blocked the roads. Several Congressmen & other prominent men who came to see the battle in their Carriages added not a little to the confusion, members of all regiments got mixed up together, many of whom threw away their guns and equipment & set out to make their way to Washington.

But meantime, the space between the advancing column of the enemy and our brigade was lessening and we were ordered about face and marched off the field in good order until we came in contact with the disorganized mass near the stone bridge when it became impossible to preserve our organization. The enemy brought a battery to bear on the bridge and disables some ambulance wagons and artillery caissons which blocked it so that the troops had to wade the stream on either side and clamber up its steep banks, the water in the stream reaching breast high.

After crossing the stream the writer and John Allen were trudging along together when hearing some peculiar buzzing behind us looked around and saw a canon ball rolling after us which caused us to run in a zig zag manner till it gave up the pursuit.

Capt. Tower of Co. F was killed at the bridge and I suppose a great many others beside a large number of prisoners were captured among them Lieut. Church of…

…Upon arriving at Bush Camp, thinking we would make a stand here, reoccupied our huts and were soon fast asleep being completely exhausted by the fatigues of the past 20 hours our so…however…we were routed up and informed that the army were to retreat to Washington…

Jerry Quinlan and I kept together and jogged along with the weary throng composed of men from all the different organizations of the army, and I do not exaggerate when I say that we slept wile marching along at various stages of the journey, each one alternately stepping on the others heels, causing a momentary awakening…Traveling all night, the crowd to which I was attached, arrived at Fort Runyon, covering the long bridge, about 9 ocl. Monday morning the 22d.

Here we found the garrison working in hot haste arranging Shot & Shell for the guns & in every way preparing for the expected advance of the enemy, which however did not occure…For several days after we arrived in Camp, stragglers kept coming in by the twos and threes and all had woeful tales to tell of hardships and narrow escapes &c and about the last to arrive was Tom Flaherty with out late Col. Slocum’s horse, which notwithstanding repeated efforts of officers in command of the Chain Bridge to take away from him, he brought safely to Camp & afterwards the horse was shipped to the deceaseds home in R. I.

A few days after our return, the 1st RI bade us farewell & started for home which made us feel rather homesick. We exchanged our smooth bore muskets for their Springfield rifles and moved into their comfortable board barracks, which we did not long enjoy as we were moved to Brightwood about 5 miles from Washington and immediately set to work building fortifications for the defense of Washington.

From Voices of the Civil War: Letters and Journal Excerpts of South Kingstown Men in the Union Army, 1861-1863, Shirley L. Barrett, Ed, Petaquamscutt Historical Society, pp. 7-10

Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster

Patrick Lyons at Ancestry

Patrick Lyons at Fold3

Patrick Lyons at FindAGrave


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