Unknown Captain*, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle

4 01 2022

‘Interesting from the Battle-Field’

We have been kindly permitted to favor our readers with the following extracts from a private letter of a gallant officer, in the Fourth Alabama Regiment, to a lady friend, giving an interesting account of his regiment’s participation in the ever memorable battle near the Stone Bridge, in which, his comrades say, he bore a distinguished part:

Battle-Field, In Camp,
Six Miles from Manassas,
July 24, 1861,

“While at Winchester there came an order to purge my Company of all men who could not stand a long, hard, forced march, which order being thrice repeated, we received the order to march at sunset on the 18th. We marched all that night and the next day, and arrived at Piedmont after night of the 19th, broken down and starved. Throwing ourselves down on the ground, we promised ourselves a soldier’s sweet sleep of a few hours, unlulled except by sweet memories, and unrocked except by dire fatigue. I fell down at the head of my company as soon as I gave orders to stack arms and break, and, after thinking a moment of the dear ones, fell into a dead sleep. In an hour, the rain came down in torrents, but all too weak to awaken me. After I was floating off, some of my men pulled me up, and I got under a rude shed which they had made of rails and straw, and slept until 1 A. M. of the 20th, when we took the cars. As soon as we were on board, and my men seated, I lay down on the floor of the car and slept again. Don’t you think I was sleepy?

“We arrived at the Junction, nearly dead with rain and hunger, at about 10 o’clock of that day, and marched out about two miles into the woods, where we spent the day and night, having received some food and a little more rain. Of course, we had no tents. You may imagine that we were not very sprightly. I was ill with fever and other camp diseases, my tongue furred, etc., and hardly able to walk. But, on the 21st, we received the order that all who were able to march, should fall into ranks. I was no longer sick, mu company numbered, rank and file, about seventy, and we started in double quick time, and marched, God knows how far, some eight or ten miles, until, at last we got near where we are now encamped, when we were told to load as we went, and that the enemy were right before us. We marched up a hill in an open field, and, just at the brow, were ordered to lie down, fire and load, fire and load, etc.

“The enemy were entrenched right before us, not more than 100 yards off, and the battle begun. There were opposed to our regiment, as Kirby Smith informed me, yesterday, (thank God! Smith is not dead, nor likely, in my opinion to die, thought shot through the upper portion of his breast with a grape shot – he said he would go to Lynchburg to-day,) nearly the entire force of the enemy. Our brigade was on the extreme left, and there the battle raged hottest. For an hour and three-quarters, we stayed there in that open field, exposed to fire from front and the right flank, and I may say to you, I hope, without fear of misapprehension, that I did my devoir. I stood up in the front rank, rallying my men when the troops were lying down. I saw man after man of my company fall dead by my side, and others wounded. Our position was a most hazardous one, but well did we maintain it. At last, we were flanked on the left, and then, from three sides came the murderous fire. We fell back, our men falling as we retired.

“Poor (Col.) Jones, who sat upon his horse as calm as a statue, during the whole fire, until the horse was shot under him, fell as we retired from the field, shot twice, once through each thigh. I did not hear of it, until we rallied about half a mile back, when I called for volunteers to bring his body off, to which a portion of my command responded. Not having strength enough to bring Jones off, after going sever hundred yards back with my little corps, and not being joined by others, I desisted, and proceeded to rejoin the regiment, which , under galling and tremendous fire from the left, had again fallen back.

“As I was bringing up the rear, our Major, Scott, (Charley Scott, of California,) fell right before me, shot through the leg. With the assistance of Spragins and one or two others, we brought him out of the fire, but were compelled to leave him in a wood nearby. Our Lieut. Colonel, Law, was then shot, and his arm broken, and he was compelled to leave the field, and the regiment, or the fragment that remained unkilled, unwounded, or undispersed, were left like sheep without a shepherd.

“The whole was terrible, the dead men, the wounded, the flying, the roaring of cannon and rattling of musketry, the bursting of bombshells among us, all combined to make a scene wild and grand. The most excruciating torture was the intolerable, insatiable, and burning thirst for water. On all sides, from wounded and unwounded, the cry went up, ‘water, water, water.’

“It would be impossible to describe the events of the day in detail. Gen. Bee fell, mortally wounded, leading our regiment [which was his pet and pride], the balance of his brigade being dispersed. Our regimental loss, in killed and sounded, was about 200, out of 650 in the action.”

“We got Jones and Scott after the battle. Thank God! There is a good prospect of the recovery of the first – the recovery of the latter is hardly doubtful.

“We have won a glorious victory, and the Fourth Alabama Regiment has won a name.”

The (Huntsville, AL) Democrat, 8/7/1861

Clipping Image

*Elias C. Spraggins, mentioned above, was a 2nd Lt. in Co. I. Captain of Co. I (raised in Huntsville) was Edward Dorr Tracy, so he is possibly the author. However, Capt. Thomas Jefferson Goldsby of Co. A was the senior captain who assumed command of the regiment and filed the after-action report. In that report, he used the term “calm as a statue” to describe Col. Jones as he sat astride his horse, which the author also used in this letter.

Edward Dorr Tracy at Wikipedia

Edward Dorr Tracy at Ancestry

Edward Dorr Tracy at Fold3

Edward Dorr Tracy at FindAGrave

Thomas Jefferson Goldsby at Ancestry

Thomas Jefferson Goldsby at Fold3

Thomas Jefferson Goldsby at FindAGrave