Capt. Alfred Horatio Belo, Co. D, 11th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

5 08 2021

Battle Ground 4 miles north of Manassas
Junction, Va. July 21 [sic], 1861.

Dear Carrie;

Your very welcome note, together with Mollie’s interesting letter came very opportunely to hand this morning. We have just received our tents and put them up. We commenced receiving our baggage yesterday evening, but it was Company’s time to go on picket guard, therefore after going out and posting the pickets, I returned to camp, and with a few men left, succeeded in pitching all our tents last evening and this morning, and now as everything is going on quietly I have seated myself for the purpose off having a nice quiet chat with you.

It is unnecessary to say anything about our departure from Danville, as I noticed an article in the last Press giving the particulars. Our stay in Richmond was not long; we arrived here on Saturday about 10 o’clock P.M. and left on the following Tuesday at 6 o’c P.M. I suppose you have seen an account of the collision of that night. I was in the rear car, asleep at the time, but was waked by the jar. The troops were all on one train, and the baggage on another following behind. Between 11 & 12 o’clock the baggage train ran into our train, but strange to say the rear car was injured very slightly, while one or two next to it were smashed up considerably, wounding several of Capt. Connally’s men, and breaking and bending a number of guns. To look at the wreck afterwards impressed everyone with the thought that nothing else but the divine interpolation of God saved the lives of many of our Regiment on that night. The next morning we proceeded on our way and without anything unusual occurring, arrived at Manassas Junction about sundown. We were under order to report ourselves at Winchester, but learning here that a large force of the enemy was advancing, and in all probability a battle would ensue on the following day, we concluded to wait until Gen’l Beauregard returned, and if he thought our services would be more needed here than at Winchester, remain and go to W afterwards.

On the return of Gen’l Beauregard we were ordered to remain, and between 1 and 2 o’clock A.M. on Thursday the 18th inst. were commanded to wake up the men (who were still in the cars) and have them ready to march by 4 o’clock. Shortly after daylight we took up our line of march, and after marching four miles were halted and placed in the reserves. I will not attempt a description of our feelings and thoughts on that march, but leave you to imagine them. I will only say that events crowded each other so rapidly that we did not find much time for reflection, and marching to a battle field is not near so serious a thing as represented by some. The battle commenced about 12 o’clock and about 10 o’clock were ordered to take our position on the left flank, where we remained during he remainder of the engagement. The fight was chiefly confined to the right front and center, and we did not become generally engaged, altho’ occasionally a cannon ball or bomb shell would whistle past and strike before us to keep us on the alert, and be ready for an attack at any moment. Our men were all remarkably cool during the whole day, and when it was announced that the enemy had retreated seemed to be disappointed that they had not had an opportunity to try their muskets on some Yankee targets. I have often, when reading of battles wished that I could be placed in some position to see one, but then had no idea that wishes would be so soon realized. Carrie, I assure you that it is magnificently grand to hear the continued rattle of musketry, the clash of bayonets, the shouts of exultation rending the air when any point is attained, mingled with the booming of the field pieces, and no one can adequately realize it, unless by actual experience. After the battle we marched and took our position on the center (where we have been ever since). On Friday and Saturday we were busily engaged in strengthening our entrenchments, and were kept on the alert both night and day by constant alarms of the approach of the enemy. We were within sight, and by means of glasses could see the Yankees passing to and fro. On Saturday night, the same night you wrote, we slept in the trenches on our arms, but were not alarmed until about daybreak when we commenced preparations for the coming struggle. We breakfasted as early as possible. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny Sabbath morn, and Dame Nature seemed to have donned her best attire to witness the signal defeat of our enemies.

The first shot was fired about 6 o’clock and a brisk cannonading was kept up. Between 9 and 10 o’clock the enemy made an attack upon our left flank, and a bloody contest ensued lasting for several hours. The evident design was to attack both flanks, and then make a combined effort on the center, but they met with such stout resistance at those two places and had to reinforce so much that they had very few left to make the attack on the center. I heard it remarked yesterday that one of the Yankee prisoners said that they (the Yankees) had taken one of our pickets prisoner a day or two before the battle and had extorted from him the facts that the center was stronger than any other part, and the North Carolina men were in the center, whereupon they said ‘they would not encounter N.C. troops at all, but if they were compelled they would pit off to the last.’ Be that as it may, they did not advance upon us but kept up a constant cannonade upon us, which of course we could not resist, but had to keep well concealed behind our entrenchments. The battle was very bloody, and the victory dear as we lost some very good men, but our loss is not near so heavy as that of the enemy. The regulars and Zouaves are the men who did the hard fighting against us, and they are the ones who suffered the most. I am told that almost all of Ellsworth’s petlambs were left on the field. This was undoubtedly intended as a decisive battle on the part of the enemy. We are informed that a great many ladies and gentlemen, among them Congressmen with their wives and daughters accompanied the army as far as Centerville (three miles north of this), with the intention of going on to Richmond with the army, but in the evening of that great day suddenly concluded to postpone their visit to that city for the present. But I am digressing.

The battle continued with unabated fury until about 4 o’clock P.M. when the firing ceased and shortly afterwards we were told that the enemy were in full retreat, and were ordered to follow immediately. It was very gratifying to see the promptness with which our men leaped from their places, and in a few moments were in hot pursuit and with glistening bayonets and shouts of triumph rending the air. We passed right through the enemy’s camp and saw vast quantities of knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, blankets, uniforms, bread, beef, guns &c, that they had left behind in their haste, and continued the pursuit for several miles, when night came on us and we returned to our camp.

It is impossible for me to say anything correctly about the loss on either side. I know the whole of the next day was occupied in bringing in the booty and prisoners. We took a large number of baggage wagons and fine horses, all of Sherman’s battery besides a good many guns and other articles of war. On the day after the battle some five or six hundred prisoners were sent on to Richmond, including 30 or 40 officers, and there were, and are now a great many more to go on. It was decidedly the most signal victory that has ever been achieved on the American continent and several more lessons of the same sort will I hope have a good effect on Lincoln and his cohorts. But I declare, here comes the end of the paper and I must stop.

Write soon to Your cousin,

Alf.
Direct 11th Regt. N.C. Volunteers Manassas Junction. Va.

You doubtless heard of the death of Col. Charles Fisher. His remains were sent home.

Yours,
Alf.

Contributed by Charles R. Knight

Transcription from North Carolina Museum of History

Original letter at State Archives of NC

Alfred Horatio Belo at Ancestry

Alfred Horatio Belo at Fold3

Alfred Horatio Belo at FindAGrave

Alfred Horatio Belo at Wikipedia


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