“Palmetto,” Bonham’s Brigade, On the Battle

20 07 2020

The Battle of Manassas.

Richmond, Va., July 29th, 1861.

To the Editors of the Dispatch: – Among the many incidents of the battle of Manassas which have been reported in the city press since the fight, there was one important fact which should not be passed over in silence, and I am surprised that it has not before this time been mentioned, viz: the share which two South Carolina regiments had in the affair.

These regiments (the 2d South Carolina, Col. Kershaw, and the 3d* South Carolina, Col. Cash) reached the scene of action about 1 ½ o’clock P. M. Just before they caught sight of the enemy, they were met by at least fifteen hundred of our men – many of them wounded – coming away from the field of battle, who told them “the day was lost!” that “we could do nothing with the enemy, for their artillery was too strong for us!” that “Col. Hampton and all his officers were killed, and the enemy were driving our forces back!” This was the tenor of the information received by these two Palmetto regiments, who had already gone over four miles of hilly and broken ground at the double-quick step, and were, of course, in no plight to plunge into a contest with twenty times their force, probably flushed with the prospect of victory, and excited to madness by the contest. But, the gallant Palmettos, although believing they were marching on to certain destruction – upon a worse than forlorn hope – never faltered a moment, except to inquire the nearest way to the scene of combat, and hurried on. They soon heard a sharp volley from a wood in front, and the balls whistled through their ranks, cutting down many of their number, while the air overhead was alive with the hoarse scream of shells and the hum of cannon shot, as they crashed through the branches around.

Charging through the wood, they came in sight of the enemy – the N. Y. Fire Zouaves and the Chasseurs – and with a cheer that was heard above the din of battle, rushed upon the foe, firing as they went! The enemy immediately broke and fled across fields, fences and ditches for about a mile; but five or six regiments of them rallied on a high hill opposite. The Palmettos made at them, but were ordered to halt. Why this order was given we could not at first see, for our ranks were being rapidly thinned by the long range Minnie and Maynard guns of the Yankees. But while asking each other what it meant, we heard the clear voice of Col. Kershaw tinging over the field, “Boys, lie down and let the artillery fire over you!” – We immediately fell upon our faces, and the artillery (consisting of two pieces of Kemper’s Alexandria Battery,) sent death and desolation among the well-drawn up lines of the foe on the opposite hill, while our men picked off the officers or individuals occupying the prominent places among them. They began to waver, and a few more shots from Kemper and a volley or two between the pauses of the artillery from the deadly Mississippi rifles of the Palmetto boys completed the rout, and the enemy fled in confusion. Their own artillery, (six splendid rifled pieces of Griffin’s Battery) was turned upon them, and lent additional terror to their flight. But the fact to which I referred in the beginning of this slight outline was this: – These two South Carolina regiments, together with Kemper’s Battery and a detachment of the Va. Black Horse Cavalry, pursued the enemy for six miles beyond the field of battle and captured over twenty pieces of artillery, besides arms and stores innumerable, which otherwise would have been carried off!

Palmetto

Richmond (VA) Dispatch, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

* The 3rd Carolina was commanded by Col. J. H. Williams. The 8th South Carolina was commanded by Col. E. B. C. Cash. Both regiments were in Bonham’s Brigade along with the 2nd and 7th South Carolina. The action described appears to coincide with that of the 2nd and 8th SC, which operated together. This mistake could have been made by the editors (mistaking an 8 for a 3), or by the letter writer, who may have been unfamiliar with the command of the 8th or 3rd SC, or may not have been an eyewitness and was reporting second-hand information. It is assumed the letter writer was a participant, but not known.


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