“Our Corporal”, 5th South Carolina Infantry, On the Campaign

28 03 2022

EDITORIAL CORRESPONDENCE.

Fairfax Station, Fairfax County, Va.
Tuesday Evening, July 23, 1861.

Dear Enquirer: – Last Sabbath, the 21st, was perhaps the most solemn, stirring and eventful day ever witnessed on the American continent. We have fought a long and hotly, even desperately contested battle; and won a great and signal victory, by the stout arms of our soldiery, the towering genius of Johnston, Davis and Beauregard, and the gracious blessing of Heaven. Though thousands of tender hearts must bleed at the South, yet a thrill of joy at the success of our arms will pervade millions. We pray that it may teach our enemies the utter folly of their bloody designs, and lead them to the paths of peace.

To give you a just conception of the “stupendous whole,” we must begin with the beginning. On Wednesday morning the contending hosts began to “mobilize,” in order to make and resist the onset. About 10 o’clock on that morning, the 5th Regiment received orders to march forward: and by 1 o’clock, leaving knapsack, clothing and every impediment behind, except a single blanket and three days provisions, crossed Bull’s Run, where the 17th and 18th Mississippi Regiments, constituting the remainder of Gen. Jones’ brigade, encamped for the night. Our regiment filed up Rocky Run, a small stream that flows down among rugged hills from the northward, and two miles farther on lay all night on their arms in an ambush, in expectation of the advancing enemy. They failed, however, to reach us during the night; but were so close upon us next morning that some of our rear guard came very near being picked off, as we retreated to the Mississippi Regiments on the Run.

I may as well here, by way of episode, tell you, that McDowell’s plan was to make a false and a real attack; and that the field of the two extended from McLane’s ford, where our brigade was posted, up to the Stone bridge, a distance of from 5 to 7 miles upon a rough estimate. About a ¼ mile above McLane’s ford is Blackburn’s, where the fight occurred on the afternoon of the 18th; above that, say 1 mile, is Mitchell’s ford, where Col. Williams’ Regiment lay nearly all day Sunday under cover of their entrenchments, receiving at intervals a heavy cannonading, without being near enough to use musketry. The next crossing place of any importance, is the Stone Bridge itself, some 3 or 4 miles above Mitchell’s ford.

The first design of the enemy seems to have been to force a passage at Blackburn’s ford, which they attempted on Thursday evening, with every advantage of numbers, position and artillery. The first gun was fired precisely at 12 o’clock, and a sharp artillery fight was kept up on both sides till near one, when the infantry began to participate on both sides. As we were only a very short distance from the field, and expecting a flank attempt upon our ford every moment, we lay still under cover of bushes at the foot of the hills, bordering upon the south side of the Run, and had every opportunity to take notes of the engagement. The first volley of musketry made an impression which will never be eradicated from memory. It was sublime and inspiring beyond description. Volley after volley was poured by each into the other for ½ or ¾ of an hour with astonishing rapidity. The enemy was repulsed, but rallied again; and had succeeded in crossing the Run, when the 18th Virginia regiment came at double quick upon the field, drove them back and won the day. The loss on our side was 15 or 20 killed – and more; some say 12, some 7 – and from 40 to 60 wounded; the loss on the side of the enemy being not less, perhaps more, than 100 killed, and 200 or 300 wounded. The honor of the victory is due to Gen. Longstreet’s brigade, and 4 pieces of the Washington artillery under Lieut. Garnett. The number engaged was about 3,000 on our, and from 7,000 to 10,000 on their side. The firing lasted 4 ½ hours.

Failing so signally in this direct attack, when so confident of success, Gen. McDowell concluded that it was not beneath his genius to employ the “oblique order” – in other words to plan a battle; and for this purpose he consumed Friday and Saturday. His plan was to make a feigned attack upon Blackburn’s ford, ad a real attack somewhere else – higher up as it turned out. But the plat was so badly concealed that it was discovered in our camp as early as an hour by sun, Saturday afternoon. At this hour their drums began to beat in high style, up the ravines around the head of Rocky Run. We were out in company with Capt. Fernandez, an old Texas ranger who fought from ’34 to ’37, through the bloody and stormy days of the “Lone Star,” and was also in the campaign against the Indians on the Texas frontier. We passed beyond our line of picquets, and even heard them shouting and cheering; and it took no time for the Captain, experienced in the wilds and strategies of a more cunning enemy, to discover that all this fuss was mere “gammon.” We climbed a tall tree, and with a marine glass, scoured the open fields beyond the chain of ravines, but saw no foe – the main column evidently debouching beyond the hills below Centreville. In vain do you set a net in sight of the bird; and so it proved in the sequel.

During the night of Saturday, large bodies of the enemy reached the neighborhood of Stone Bridge, and their artillery fell into entrenchments which they were base enough to throw up while there a few days before under a flag of truce, pretending to bury their dead of the previous fight at that place. Sharp shooting began as early as 4 or 5 o’clock between skirmishing parties of the two armies. The first cannon fired was a Parrot gun from an eminence opposite Blackburn’s ford; and this gun, assisted at intervals by two or three others, poured a hot fire into McLane’s, Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords all the day – giving solemn cadence by its leisurely and monotonous thunder, to the terrific and furious uproar of the battle. During the day there could not have been much less than 35,000 or 40,000 on our side; and between 60,000 and 75,000 on the side of the enemy. Gen. Johnson commanded our left wing; and “the glorious Beauregard,” the right wing. Gen. McDowell led on the Yankees. Gen. Scott was on the field at a safe distance – we sit now in a beautiful clovered apple orchard, in full view of the house where he ate his dinner; and Lincoln, a large number of Senators and Congressmen, and two or three hundred Washington ladies, are said to have been ear witnesses of the engagement. Some give the credit of turning the tide of battle to Davis who drove a wedge into the enemy’s centre, and dislodged portion of them; others give it to Beauregard, who arriving on the field in the very niche of time when all seemed lost, rallied his men and headed the charge in person, producing wherever he went a thrill of hope and ardor, that won the smile of heaven and called down victory. Gen. Johnson towered a terror to the foe. To his friends a magnificent attraction, and a beacon star. Each of these great men was equal to the post; and their followers were every whit worthy of their leaders. Nothing less than Spartan valor, Roman firmness and French ardor, guided and sustained by the genius of a Pericles, a Scipio and a Napoleon, won the field. The route was complete; the loss must have been heavy on both sides, but we have no means of telling even the probable number. Gen. Bartow of Georgia, Gen. B. E. Bee of S. C., Lieut. Col. B. J. Johnson of Hamtpon’s legion, and Lieut. Col. Wilkes of Sloan’s Regiment, are the prominent officers slain. A Yankee shot Col. Wilkes while watering his foaming horse, and stole his boots, leaving a pair of dilapidated shoes beside the corpse. Lieut. E. A. Palmer, well known in your town, fell pierced through in two or three places. He was greatly prized in his regiment. None of the S. C. regiments suffered severely. Five, Sloan’s, Kershaw’s, Hampton’s, Williams’ and Jenkins’, were more or less engaged, yet 100 to 150 will cover the killed, and from 300 to 400, the wounded. The Georgia 7th suffered much, and is entitled to the honor of charging and taking six pieces of Sherman’s battery.

Notwithstanding the glorious rout of the enemy at and below Stone Bridge, the triumph of the day was not complete till their reserve were driven from their rallying point, opposite Blackburn’s ford; and the honor of this daring and hazardous enterprise is emphatically due, and is given by all who know anything about it, to Col. Jenkins’ regiment. The ever vigilant and discerning eye of Beauregard himself, saw both the extreme importance and the extreme danger of this assault; and early in the morning had ordered three brigades, Jones’, Ewell’s and one other, to advance, meet beyond the Run and make the charge, with the reserved purpose, if successful, of flanking the enemy’s left in the general engagement. There can be no doubt that the fight would have ended hours sooner if this plan had succeeded; but it did not. From causes unknown to us, the other brigades failed to meet ours at the appointed rendezvous, and Gen. Jones after lying with his men in the woods for hours, hearing that a large body of cavalry were coming up on our right, and an overwhelming corps of infantry were arriving to cut us off on our left, hastily retreated to Bull’s Run. The boys had scarcely time to munch their dinner of crackers and bacon, however, before they were put upon the march again. This time it had been planned to make the charge with General Longstreet. The day was waning rapidly, and there was not time to lose. We made a forced and circuitous march of some 5 miles, up and down rugged hills, through forests rendered almost impenetrable by dense undergrowth, and over yawning ravines. When we reached the place from which the long and apparently desperate assault was to be made, the men were nearly exhausted from their thirst and fatigue. Nevertheless the untameable spirit which burned in their bosoms, urged them on to deeds of dauntless heroism. The 5th were drawn up in line of battle and crouched at a “ready” on an open hill side; the Mississippi 18th , were drawn up in a ravine behind them; and the Mississippi 17th, were on the left, lower down the ravine. Skirmishers were thrown forward to scour the field, and drive in the outposts of the enemy. No sooner had these received and returned a galling fire, than our Colonel gave the order to advance, when a shout arose from our line, and the men went forward with a rush over the hill.

We crossed an open field in bull blaze of a rapid fire from the enemy’s sharp shooters and artillery. Then came the astonishing part of this almost unprecedented charge. We now had to descend a steep hill side covered very densely with the crooked and serpentine laurel – a place which the bear, panther and wild cat themselves would delight to haunt. This hill-side was from 25 to 50 yards in extent, and took the swiftest of us 5 to 10 minutes to descend it. This had to be done, too, when we could not fire a gun with effect, and when we were in full blaze of a tripple fire – from the enemy’s cannon, their musketry, and a tremendous flank fire from the Mississippians, who, unfortunately, mistook us for the advancing enemy. Yet our men never faltered. They mounted the fence, and in two minutes the whole hill-side was stirring like a bee hive. Being a corporal of the color-guard, and a smaller man than the sergeant, and only having a gun instead of a long flag staff to carry through the jungle, we reached the font of the hill before the colors, and had a moment to turn and survey the scene. You never say a hail storm descend with more relentless and stormy fury. The Yankees used “buck and ball,” and every musket, consequently, discharged four deadly missiles; and their columns, also, now began to open fire upon us. We caught the gleam of our glorious tri-color about half way down the hill; and the groans of the wounded fell harshly upon our ears.

Our regiment crossed the creek at the bottom of the hill, some of them wading the water to almost waist deep, passed the flat, and advanced midway the next ascent; when the Colonel halted us, in order to put a top to the unfortunate fire of the Mississippians, which now increased in fury as they mistook us for the retreating enemy. Our shout in charging, and the promiscuous fire which went up from our whole line, put the foe to a precipitous fight; and General Longstreet came upon the field just in time to see the action close, and possess himself of the guns which they left behind; though he gives all the honor of driving the gunners from them to our regiment.

Our force was from 2,500 to 2,700, with two pieces of the Washington Artillery; which, however, after almost superhuman effort, owing to the utter roughness of the ground, made to themselves, a mortifying failure to get into position. The enemy had, it is thought, at least 5,000 musketeers, two or three companies of sharp shooters, 500 cavalry, a field battery of 3 pieces, and 3 other pieces in a masqued battery. The loss on our side were 3 men killed, and 19 wounded; on that of the enemy about 40 men. General Jones in his official report said that he was happy to report his brigade as contributing “a little” to the general success; General Beaurgard said “not a little, but a great deal,” and President Davis, who was among the Mississippians on Sunday night, says he knows nothing equal to the long and stormy charge in triumphant daring, except the double quacking of the French over the walls of Sebastopol. A friend writing to us from another regiment, says – “Glorious 5th! – worthy sons of King’s Mountain! You have already won enough laurels for a campaign.” The General who was in feeble health and languished on his bed all the night before and consequently could not throw himself body and soul into the fight, and Captain Coward, his aid-de-camp, than whom a more masculine military intellect and spirit, with a gentler heart and more genuine modesty, cannot be found easily, were both, when we returned, bathed in tears. Both the Mississippi regiments had left the field under the overwhelming fire; and they thought we were surrounded and cut to pieces. When we arrived where the other regiments rallied, Captain Coward with a swelling heart rode by, and in tones trembling with generous emotion said: “Thank God, men! I see you safe; I thought you were cut to pieces.” Mark you, if the war continues, he will reach an enviable distinction. When the Mississippians learned what they had done, they bowed their heads, and wept like children.

Nothing can exceed the devoted love and enthusiastic confidence with which our gallant Colonel inspired his men by his collected, intrepid, prudent and manly conduct during this hour to try his capacity. No colonel ever had a severer trial of his strength, in his “maiden effort;” and none, we believe, ever acquitted himself more handsomely. Col. Jenkins has proven himself an intrepid, yet a rapidly thinking leader, whose presence of mind and ability to guide forsake him not un the most trying emergency. – And too great praise cannot be given to his men. They have shown themselves more than willing to go anywhere duty calls.

Gov. McWillie, of Mississippi, lost a son in this encounter, and President Davis a nephew. H. A. McCrary of the Spartan Rifles, William Little, of Captain Carpenter’s Company, and T. W. Fowler, of Captain Glenn’s Company, were killed in our regiment. Of the Spartan Rifles, Leander Noland was wounded in the right arm; S. L. Lands, a flesh wound in the thigh; and Rev. J. E. Watson, in the left wrist. Of Captain Carpenter’s Company, Geo. Bomar received a severe but not dangerous contusion in the thigh from a spent ball; R. S. Webb, grazed along the back and wounded through the humerus muscle of the right arm; and O. C. Sarrat had a ball to pass sheer over his head, cutting out a lock from forehead to crown without touching the skin. A. S. Spears of Captain Glenn’s company, received a slight ball-cut on the side of the head – not at all dangerous. In Capt. Giles’ company, Thomas C. Wilson, had his left hand shot off; Thomas Elson both arms broken and slightly wounded in the breast; and Samuel Parker, a severe flesh sound in the thigh. C. B. Mintz, of Capt. Jackson’s company, lost the middle finger of the left hand. The Catawba’s had no one injured in the least. The Jasper’s lost no one killed, but suffered pretty severely. Our Orderly Sergeant, James Mason, was shot in the right shoulder, and the ball lodged somewhere about the shoulder joint. Felix Mullinax lost the forefinger of his left hand. W. F. Davidson was shot so severely through the right wrist, that his hand had to be amputated. W. B. Enloe, very early in the engagement, was shot through the left foot; yet he went on with his company, and was deployed with them as skirmishers, in a woods on the summit of the last hill. J. T. McKnight was slightly cut by a ball along the back of the neck. There were remarkable and hair-breadth escapes, too numerous to mention, in the engagement.

This great victory will go far to bring peace. Rev. Mr. Leftwich, who left Alexandria after the retreat of the foe, says that such a rout was never known. They rushed on through Alexandria to the boat landing, filled very boat present till they began to sink; and then the rush from behind was so great, that a number of the foremost were pushed into the Potomac and drowned. The draw-bridge opposite Georgetown was drawn up to prevent the column from passing, which retreated in that direction. It is said that those which reached Washington did not stop even there; but pushed through the city, took the cars, and went home. About fifty pieces of cannon, every piece the enemy had on this side of the Potomac, except one – a large quantity of guns and ammunition, and a perfectly enormous amount of baggage of every description, were taken.

Pray excuse our prodigious prolixity. We have written in sheer exhaustion, after a week of such fatigue, exposure and hardships, as we never experienced before; and we could not for the life of us, pack up our bundle of ideas closely.

Please say to your readers that Rev. J. H. Bryson, of Tennessee, is with our brigade, and will remain for an indefinite period of time. He has many personal friends among them.

Our Post Office is Manassas still – or properly, Tudor Hall, Prince William County, Virginia.

With the hope that we have given you a little light on the great battle and victory of Sunday, we close,

Gladly,
OUR CORPORAL.

Yorkville (SC) Enquirer, 8/1/1861

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