Unknown Officer, 11th North Carolina Infantry, On the Campaign

30 08 2020

LETTERS
FROM OUR VOLUNTEERS.
—————

Bull’s Run, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father: –

I received your letter, with that of mother’s on last Sunday morning. I would have written as soon as I got back from Richmond, but have been so busy ever since, that I can’t possibly write as often as I would like.

We left Danville, for Richmond, the Saturday after we were there. I had a tolerably hard time at it too. I was officer of the baggage guard, and did not get a bit of sleep or rest from Friday morning till Sunday morning about one o’clock. We then staid in the old Fair Grounds at Richmond till Tuesday evening about sundown, when we took the train for Winchester. The first train under command of Lieut. Col. Leach and the Major, started about half past six, and the second about an hour afterwards. I stayed with the Colonel; he asked me to stay and go with him and some other officers in a passenger car, attached to the second train. We travelled pretty well till about 10 o’clock, then the car I was on stopped with a sudden jerk that nearly knocked us down. I started out and found the whole road lined with soldiers. At first I thought we were attacked, but our train had run into the train before us, and smashed to of the cars loaded with Capt. Connelly’s, Scott’s, and Gilmer’s Companies. We had some 7 or 8 hurt but not seriously. We had to stay here till after eight o’clock next morning, and reached Manassas about sundown the next day. When we arrived there we found the women and children from Fairfax Court House, passing by in crowds, running from the enemy. The camp was deserted with the exception of one New Orleans regiment left there to guard the baggage. We were to change cars here for Winchester, but Col. Kirkland concluded to offer our services to Gen. Beauregard, instead of going on to Johnston. Beauregard got back to the Junction about 9 o’clock, when he accepted us and promised to give us “a chance at them.” We were up all night preparing, giving out cartridge and instructing the men how to load, till 4 o’clock, when we formed in columns and commenced our march for Bull’s Run, a small stream about 4 miles from the Junction, where our forces had thrown up earth works the night before. We were first employed as skirmishers in a pine thicket on the left, for about an hour, when some of our scouts came in and reported the enemy about 40,000 strong, advancing directly on our centre. We were then called in and held as a reserve, on top of a hill about a mile from the ford. We were all resting after our march, when we heard the roll of the kettle drum calling the men unto the trenches. We were then ordered on to the extreme left. As we were marching through an old field about three miles from the enemy they opened a battery of rifled cannon on us, but no one was hurt, although several of the men got suddenly sick about that time. We went across the field about a quarter of a mile, double quick, until we came to the creek, when we took up our position on a long rail fence. It was not long before the firing grew warm on our right, and occasionally some one of out men would fire at a Yankee, but we were not sure of killing any. The musketry was very heavy for a while, but our men gave them a bayonet charge which settled them for a time. The artillery went at it then and fought for about an hour, when the enemy sent in a flag of truce and got permission to bury their dead. The loss of our men inn that fight was about 50 or 60 killed, wounded and missing; that of the enemy was 905 according to their own reports. We were ordered to shift to the centre which was considered the most dangerous position on the whole line. We slept on our arms all night without interuption. The next morning we all went to work, with all the spades, shovels, and picks we could find, and by night felt tolerably secure. About 8 o’clock the pickets commenced firing and retreating, and every man had to run to his post. We were called to arms about a dozen times that night, but were not attacked after all. Everything was quiet on Saturday. Our men were burying the dead Yankees by hundreds; after they had got permission to bury their dead they would not do it. We all slept well on Saturday night, but on Sunday morning, about half past 6 o’clock, they opened on our centre, where companies from Forsyth and Stokes were entrenched. The shells burst all around us without doing any injury to any of us. A regiment of Alabamians was stationed just behind us in the woods, and one of the balls from the rifled battery passed directly over our heads and killed one of those then wounded another. One passed within a foot of our flag staff which was planted on our breast-work; another struck our works, but we had made them so strong that it could not pass through. There was a very heavy column of the enemy directly in front of us all day, but did not advance close enough for us to fire into them. They kept up a continual fire of musketry on both our wings, but the principal attack was made on our left. Old Scott was there himself. The Yankees fought well but could not drive our men back. At about 4 o’clock we heard the men cheering on our left and Gen. Bonham with his staff came galloping up the line throwing up their hats and telling us that the Yankees were in full retreat. We no sooner heard it than our Colonel came dashing down the lines and ordered us in pursuit. We pitched out and formed a column, and pursued them about three miles, but they had the start of us too far for the 11th to overtake them. The Yankees left their baggage, gun wagons, and everything else in their retreat. The road was literally strewn with clothing, knapsacks, canteens and blankets and our cavalry were taking prisoners in every direction. Their loss was very heavy and it can not be less the 8,000, while ours, though large, was comparatively small.

I was at the Junction yesterday and saw about six hundred prisoners on their way to Richmond. Capt. Wharton’s company is out on picket guard and have just sent in two Yankees. – Corporal Hunter, the same who clerked for Mr. E. Belo, commanded the guard that brought them in.

We took all the enemy’s artillery and about all their baggage wagons and horses. They brought in 108 horses yesterday.

I guess we are the dirtiest set you ever saw in your life. I have not changed my clothes since I left Richmond, on week ago to-day. We have to sleep in the trenches with only a blanket on a board, if we can get it, if not, on the naked ground. It has rained three times since we have been here and you may know how we look. A well digger is not sight to what we are. I must close now, as we will have to march to Centreville this afternoon; it is about 5 or 6 miles from here, and the mud is about a foot deep.

P. S. – We do not march till tomorrow.

(Winston-Salem, NC) The People’s Press, 8/2/1861

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2 responses

30 08 2020
Jonathan Soffe

Great stuff Harry! Any information on the Madison Cavalry or the Loudoun Cavalry’s participation at the battle?

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30 08 2020
Harry Smeltzer

Nothing on Madison Cavalry or Loudoun Cavalry, (both unattached and independent) at this point.

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