Capt. William H. Murray, Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry, On the Battle

31 10 2022

Fairfax, C.H. July 26th 1861

My dear Cousin – Being on the Sick list to day, from rhumatism in the left arm. I shall employ my right to the grateful task of thanking you for your timely present, which strange to say only reached us yesterday. You could not have thought of any thing more appropriate than the housewifery, for I was reduced to my last button, and looked more like one of Fat Jack Falstaff’s regiment than an old City Guard I trust your good council and good book, may be half as serviceable to my spiritual welfare as the buttons to my wardrobe.

Long before you get this you will have heard of the battle of Bull’s Run, and our glorious victory, with all its particulars. And I know you will rejoice to know that it was won principly by our Brigade. Our timely arrival, rapid march, and desperate attack turned the right flank of their grand army and put them to flight and I honestly believe some of them are running yet. When we get home we can tell you all about it, for it would take a large volume to note the incidents of that terrible Sunday.

Although nearly all of us had never seen battle before we stood their fire like veterans. At one time without being able to return it, we for ten or fifteen minutes stood a perfect tempest of balls, shell, & grape, which plowed the ground all round us with the loss of but two killed and 8 wounded. Billy’s Comp any did not lose a man. We had two dangerously wounded & it was hard to march by and leave them in their blood. But when our turn came and our Col gave the word forward! double quick march! with a shout of vengeance for dear old Balto that we heard for a mile down the line we went at them in a run and swept them from field. They hardly turned round to fire but dropt every thing they had and away with us after them, whilst our artillery mowed them down by hundreds. We cut some of their regiments all to pieces. The celebrated Elsworth Fire Zouaves lost over 700 the 71 79 & 12 N.Y. Regts more than one half, and the few of the Maine men left must have gone into Washington naked for we have every thing they could have had, clothes- arms knapsack provisions, tents- even their medicines and pocket books daguerreotypes and love letters. Some of their letters are rich of which we have cart loads. I will try and save some for you. You may depend we are proud of our victory and the Balto Boys are on every ones lips- They don’t seem here to know how to take us, and as we work cheerfully and never complain, we have nearly all the hard work to do. By the way Beauregard told our Col he was Blucher of the day and made him a Brigadier Gen on the spot You ought to have heard our cheer as he and Gen Beauregard rode down our line in a gallop waving their hats- and crying boys we have whipt them. But oh Bet – the dead and wounded.

God grant our country may never see such another field. They lay some in heaps- piled up in gullies where their friends had thrown them- some in long rows where the grape and round shot had plowed them down- dead & dying all together. Some lay on their faces biting the sod and clutching the grass. Some on their backs as calm as though they had fallen to sleep with their hands folded on their breast, and their glass eyes turned up to the quiet sky that seemed to smile down upon them- and some stone dead in the position they had sat down leaning upon their hands, with chins upon their breasts. I saw 6 horses and 8 dead men under one little tree besides the wounded.

But I must stop for I have used up my last bit of paper will write again by 1st opportunity Boys all well. Love to all. Tell Aunt Mary to be proud of her boys.

Yr aff cousin WH Murray

From SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, Maryland State Archives. (Murrays of Woodstock Farm, West River Collection of Family Papers), Letter, William H. Murray, 1st MD Infantry (CS), 26 July 1861, Fairfax Court House to My dear Cousin. MSA SC2301-2-66: Maryland State Archives. See here.

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Pvt. Robert Alonzo Friend, Co. B, 2nd Maine Infantry, On the Battle

28 10 2022

Army Correspondence.


Fort Corcoran, Aug. 1st, 1861.
2nd Maine Regiment, Co. B.

Dear Brother Will: – I received your letter yesterday desiring a description of the late battle, yet you did not know then as I could give you one, but I am alive and will try.

When I first got to Alexandria I was too tired to write anything. First we started at s o’clock and marched near to Bull Run where the rest of our brigade was, halted and the other troops went by us leaving a reserve in sight of 1100 men. The roads were cleared and the cannon were hauled up where they could play on the woods. They fired and fired, but could get no answer. A few men could be seen near where we supposed the batteries were, and then four regiments were ordered to charge on them. They had to go over a small hill and make a circuit of some distance to ford the stream, then the rebels opened their fire on our troops; our artillery men could then see where to shoot and they silenced the battery before the troops got there. I was not in sight of this all of the time, but was on the ground soon, for we marched double quick for 1 1-2 miles, the rebels running without giving us much of a chance to shoot, although as they left their batteries our boys poured in a little cold lead. We could see them run and some fall – this was in the woods. Soon not a man was left under the hill, and we were ordered to the top of the hill, our regiment on the left of the right wing. We went over the plain in haste, for we exposed ourselves to the hill which was so full of men that we could not see the awful cannon shot come sweeping past like something you never saw. Still on we went and clear from those shot, for not a man was killed in our regiment. We then climbed up the side of the mountain where the rebels supposed none were able to and passed half to their rear, and halted in another hollow – the place is full of hills and runs – then we took a rest having run in all 2 1-2 miles – Some of our men were at them in their batteries when out rushed a Georgetown regiment to charge on us. We let them come near enough to distinguish them then fired “pell mell.” To tell you how I felt then is more than I know how. If you ever had a horse on the point of jumping on you and crushing you to the earth then you can begin to guess how we felt. They did not stop long, only let us get one shot at them, then left for their batteries and we after them, came close up to them and halted. – Not any of our company killed yet at this juncture. General Keyes came to Col. Jameson and said, “Will you storm that battery?” Jameson answered, “What! alone?” The General repeated, “will you storm that battery?” “Yes,” said Jameson, ”storm h—l if you say so.” And then, “boys, forward, double quick.” There were some who might well tremble. We advanced about 30 rods when they opened an awful fire upon us, killing and wounding many. Three of our boys fell there. Then we laid down on the ground, loaded our guns and rose to shoot. One of the three, John Dealing was on the point of firing when he was hit through the breast. He gasped but twice and died. We were ordered to fall back to the point of woods and fence, which we did, keeping up a fire as we could see them. They thought we were whipped and sent a company of cavalry on us, but we beat them off killing them like birds. I saw over 30 of their horses run from the field riderless, and more horses killed than riders. They were attacked by three other regiments and we all drove them from their works. One more of our boys fell at this time, Eben F. Perkins of Brooksville. The ball did not kill him dead, and he lived to be carried from the ground and soon died. When they ran we gave them some awful shots; they killed but few of us compared to what we did of them. We went to the top of the hill and fired into the other batteries. Company B. was sent to carry off the wounded left where we charged on the batteries. I was one and at that time the shot and shell were coming over and killing many of the strong men on the field. We were so near them that we were overshot by most of their rifles and cannon. Well, it was dreadful to see, yet we could walk among the dead and dying and not be moved – the shot flying thick, none moved and faster or slower – lost all fear. Soon it was rumored that Patterson was coming and our boys “halloed right out.” But alas! it was Johnston the rebel, and we fought them ihardi about 40 minutes, when the left wing broke and retreated, then the right gave away slowly at first. At that time I was at the stone Hospital carrying up the wounded – George Hall was with me. As our regiment passed he left me. I was fixing a bier to carry off some of my friends, all wishing to be carried off or killed, to save the rebels the opportunity of performing the horrid work. While I was thus engaged the cry came, “the cavalry! the cavalry!” Now, Will, that struck terror to us all, there was a large body of them to flank us – it was fight or die, no other alternative. I felt then as good as done for. About 500 of us boys, with the wounded, half armed, no head or tail, but there were no cowards now for they had left, and I left friends for foes. The fire began left, right and canter; it was deadly too, and I got four shots at them. A boy from Ohio who stood along side of me killed two at one shot. I took good aim and fired at one about 80 yards but would not say I killed him, yet some were killed – the last fire over 20 fell. About that time one of our men said that 60 fell on the ground, but I am not one who see things so sure as to the number. They were shelling us all the time from their batteries – now all ran for their lives to overtake the big crowd. As I ran with a New York boy a shell came whizzing – we dodged – it struck my friend’s head scattering his brains and blood all over me. I passed on; he was the only man that I know of being killed in the retreat. We were chased and harassed some distance, and I never was so tired before in my life as when I got to Centreville; then we were stationed to guard a park of artillery. At about 10 or a little later, we took up a march for Alexandria. Now we find our regimental loss of killed and missing to be 88 and 26 wounded, we have with us making in all 114. I took pains this morning to find out the exact number let the papers say what they will and that is so. We lost in all at the battle, one battery of 6 guns and a part of another, in all 10, a large number of small arms, and about 1000 fell and 500 taken prisoners. This is as near that matter as we can come, perhaps it is less, but a doubt if it is much, we do not miss them in regard to number. As a general thing they are getting over it every day, but my health is poor, weight 129, not quite 160. Tell Capt. Forhen I did what I could towards killing a Southerner for myself and him too.

Hoping to see you again, I am your brother
R. A. Friend

Ellsworth (ME) American, 8/23/1861

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Pvt. George William Thomas, Co. C, 4th Maine Infantry, On the Battle

27 10 2022



The following letter is from a soldier in the 4th Regiment. His residence is in Blue Hill.


Alexandria, July 23d, 1861.

Dear Parents: – I received your kind letter this morning, and it came in good season I can assure you, it was just what I wanted after the events of the past few days.

No doubt you will hear before you get this of the great battle at Bull Run on the 21st inst., and I hasten to relieve you of any anxiety on my behalf. I was one of the thousands that fought on that ever to be remembered day, and although we were placed in one of the most dangerous parts of the field I came off unscathed, without so much as a scratch. It was one of the hardest fought battles on record, but after all we had to retreat. Our regiment rallied on the enemy three times, and every man seemed to do the best that he could; but our ammunition for our cannon gave out and there was no alternative for us but to be cut to pieces or retreat.

We were stationed on the extreme right of all, on an elevation facing towards a piece of woods, where was a masked battery, and commanded to fire; at first we could see nothing but the woods to fire at, as every thing was completely hid – at the same time the balls of the enemy were flying about as thick as hail stones. After firing for some time, almost at random, we began to unmask them and were able to direct our fire with great precision and effect. At last we drove them from the woods. Just at this time our ammunition for our cannon failed us; as soon as the enemy learned the fact, they planted their field pieces on our right and opened on us a most destructive fire, throwing shell and shot, and raking us fore and aft. They came thick and fast you had better believe. Any quantity of them struck within a few feet of me, but they were overruled by a higher power than man and I was saved. Strange as it may seem, I did not feel afraid, but felt just as calm as ever in my life throughout the entire fight, although I saw my comrades falling all around me, one who was near me had both his legs shot off, another by me was shot through his breast. I did not see a single man who manifested the least fear, and I have yet to learn of the first Maine man who flinched or faltered in the least. – Every man marched with a bold front and a firm, determined step to his post and obstinately maintained it until the order was given from the General to fall back.

After the order to retreat was given the third time, I and a chum of mine lost our regiment in the confusion that prevailed, but kept our was as best we could. After we had retreated about six miles we fell in with two others of our company and laid down in the woods for the night, glad enough to do so although we were in sight of the enemy. We saw them when they set their pickets, so we lay as secretly and still as possible, expecting every moment to be taken. In the morning we took and early start and cut across the woods and got out of their way. We came through Fairfax and Centreville arriving here (21 miles) last night glad to get into camp again. I never saw men and boys appear mor rejoiced to meet with others, than our comrades were to see us come in. They thought we were taken prisoners.

But to-day. (Tuesday) I feel nearly as well as usual, excepting a little stiffness in my legs.

We all feel very anxious about the missing and are hoping for the return of most of them ere long. It was a hard fought battle and long will it be remembered by the 4th Maine regiment. It was a long and wearisome march for us Sabbath day and Monday, leaving out the fight. We turned out about 12 o’clock Sabbath morning and breakfasted on stewed beans and coffee. We then marched about 2 miles, halted, and waited until 6 o’clock for the other Brigades to come up; we then resumed our march and marched, part of the way at double quick time, 15 miles (more or less, I think more) before we came to the battle field. We went immediately on to the field as soon as we got there, and engaged in the fight weary and worn as we were.

We feel sad at the remembrance that we have probably left 25 or 30 of our regiment who will never return; they were brave, noble fellows who laid down their lives for their country. More are wounded and some are taken prisoners. As near as we can tell at this time, four have been killed in our company, and several are missing; none of our mess were killed that we know of, one man is missing, he started with us but was lame and did not get into the fight.

Yes, we had a hard fight and been defeated, but we are not discouraged; we feel it was an ihonorablei defeat as far as the men were concerned, to say the least. The enemy had every advantage both in numbers and position, but we have left our mark upon them by which they will have occasion long to remember us. If we meet them again I think it will not be with the odds so much against us and we shall whip them you had better believe.

But goodby, I must not stop to write more now. We shall not probably have another fight for some time.

I cannot give you the particulars now, but if I can get a paper which has a reliable account of the battle, I will send it to you.

My health is first rate, if it had not been so I could not have endured what I have passed through the last three days.

Write soon and direct to Washington, D. C., as before.

Your affectionate Son,
Geo. W. Thomas.

Ellsworth (ME) American, 8/16/1861

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Lt. Nathaniel Rollins, Co. H, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, On the Battle

26 10 2022





(Correspondence of the State Journal)

Arlington Heights, Va.,
Near Washington, July 15, 1861.

I have just received your paper of the 22d, and do not feel justified in allowing the grossly false accounts of the battle of Bull’s Run, given in your telegraphic dispatches, to go uncontradicted. I wish to give a sufficient explanation of the battle to let our friends know that it was not cowardice of the men that caused the defeat.

We left camp near this place, on Tuesday afternoon, and proceeded by way of Vienna and Germantown to Centreville, the rebels retreating before us. About one mile beyond Centreville we encamped in an open field, without tents; and while in this vicinity we had the battle of Thursday, in which a few were killed, and of which your readers have doubtless heard. On Saturday we received orders to march at 6 P. M., but near evening this order was changed to march at 2:30 A. M., on Sunday. The next morning, at 2 o’clock, we got up, prepared in light marching order, formed a column, and advanced towards Bull’s Run, directly west, marching left in front. Our column was under Maj. Gen. Tyler. To the north of us advanced a column under Gen. Hunter; to the south of us advanced a column under Col. Richardson, and another under Gen. Schenck, all moving westerly, to attack the rebels at different points. We proceeded about three miles, when our column filed to the north, into the woods, made a turn in the woods, and came back to the road, so that our left rested on the east and west road, and our line extended north. The other regiments were formed at different points, covering batteries. – Carlisle’s battery was placed in front of us, and the 32 pound rifled cannon, of which we had one, instead of eight, as stated in your report, was stationed in the road. These movements were all made very quietly. At precisely 6 o’clock the performance was opened by a shot from the 32 pounder. It was instantly answered by a gun from the north-west, probably from Hunter. Again all was quiet as a Sabbath morning in a country village. By dressing our line forward, we advanced by the front through the woods, near to the open fields, where we found our batteries had been placed ready for action. Here we halted and sat down in line. The regiment was behind a rise of ground and about fifteen rods from our battery. We shortly heard from Richardson’s guns at the south of us, near where the battle of Thursday had been fought. Very soon our guns opened fire across the open field in front of us. The field here is about one hundred rods wide, skirted on the west by thick bushes and farther on and up the next hills by heavy woods. The firing continued from this position for about one or two hours. A few shots were returned but they fell short. Many of our officers went up near the guns to see the sport which we watched with much interest. After the fire had continued perhaps an hour we saw the line of Hunter’s column moving rapidly forward on the road north of us, and bending to the south, evidently coming in to the rear of the rebels. He was discovered by them shortly after he was by us, and they at once began to change the direction of their forces to meet him. His column soon emerged from the woods on to a large elevated plain, where they encountered the rebel army in considerable force. This plain is about one and one half mile from the position occupied by us and across Bull’s Run. The fighting that ensued there was of the sharpest kind. In a few minutes that field was covered by a dense cloud of smoke, through which we could see the blaze of Hunter’s cannon as he advanced and drove the rebels into the woods to the south west of the plain. They soon appeared to be reinforced and rushed from the woods and renewed the fight. But Hunter was too much for them still and again drove them back. This much of the fighting had been in plain sight of our position. Still the heavy cannonading continued at the south of us, near the battle ground of Thursday. Hunter’s condition becoming critical by the continued reinforcements of the enemy, our brigade was ordered across Bull’s Run to reinforce Hunter. We flanked to the right and moved rapidly off to his assistance. We passed round over a high ridge of land to the north west of our former position and before descending the hill to cross the run, we halted and relieved the men of their blankets and then proceeded at double quick time down the hill, then about one half mile to the run. Here we were halted and filed on the right into line of battle along the north-east bank of the Run. Sherman’s Battery came down, but being unable to cross the Run there, returned up the hill. When they returned our Brigade flanked to the right and filed across the Run and up the rugged bank on the opposite side and hastened on to the high ground. When we reached the upper plain several regiments were already there and the rebels had retreated. On the north-west side of this plain is timber from which Hunter emerged. On the south-west side is the timber in which the rebels first retreated. This high plain contains several large farms. To the east the ground descends about one hundred and sixty rods. The high ridge extends around to the south in a circle forming a basin of about one mile in diameter with an outlet to the north-east toward Bull Run. We now occupied the high ground on the west side of the basin. The rebels occupied the east side, where they had a strong battery or fort that had already opened a fire upon us of cannon balls and shells. Our batteries of flying artillery now began to come up the hill. Several regiments of infantry were now formed fronting the enemy’s battery, and we began to move down the hill to the east. Some regiments were in advance of us and some following. The plain in the rear of us showed signs of hard fighting. Many dead and wounded men were lying on the ground, although most of them had been carried into the edge of the woods. This battery of the rebels with several others near it, was masked by thick woods, and from our position we could see nothing of it except the smoke from their guns. As we moved down the hill the balls and shells plowed up the ground all around us, frequently throwing dirt all over the men. The bottom of the ravine is not smooth, but the water from the high land around had cut it into numerous smaller ravines. When we had got to the foot of the western slope of the basin, we were ordered to halt and lie down. Here we laid for some minutes. The most of our line by lying close to the ground were a foot or two below the range of their sot, which flew over us thick and fast. While lying here, some things occurred worthy of note.

Our 32 pounder had been brought across the run and planted at our left on the high ground, and opened a sharp fire on the enemy’s battery on the hill. Most of our other batteries had been brought across and planted on the high ground in our rear, when all (six batteries, I think) commenced fire on the same battery of the rebels. This firing continued from one to two hours with perfect fury. While lying here I was a regiment coming down the hill behind us in column of companies. A cannon ball aimed at the column hit their color bearer, cut his head off, and broke the flag staff. The colors were caught by one of the color guard before it struck the ground, was raised to its place. The companies closed in, and in less than a minute the column was moving on again at quick time as if nothing had happened.

During this cannonading one battery after another of ours was silenced by the guns of the rebels. Still the enemy’s fire was as fierce and effective as ever. The air seemed to be full of balls and bursting shells. During the firing, we got up, flanked to the left, and filed over the hill side down further into the ravine, and immediately to the bottom of the hill on which the enemy’s large battery was located. Before we left our first position, the fire from our batteries had nearly ceased, and while lying there (which was by order of the General) we saw the New York Fire Zouaves, Ellsworth’s regiment, charge on the hill. They were repulsed and driven back after a terrible resistance, by a large body of infantry and cavalry. The fight between the Zouaves and the rebels became so hot that all lines and forms were broken up, and they were entirely overpowered by numbers; their retreat was of course a confused mass. We afterwards learned that this was the point at which the rebels had just been reinforced by twenty thousand fresh troops under Johnston. When the rebel cavalry charged on the Zouaves, they turned on the rebels and swept their men and horses like chaff. By this time all our cannon except one or two were silenced, and the enemy’s battery appeared to work as briskly as at first. As the Zouaves began to fall back, the battery opened on them such a fire of grape shot and bullets as we have never seen before. Under this fire it was absolutely impossible for men to form and rally, but before they had got fairly to retreating down the hill, another regiment of infantry was ordered to charge in the same place. Our cannon was now silent, demolished, ruined. We were ordered forward. We had come from our first position to the foot of the last hill, during the charge of the Zouaves and two or three other regiments. A narrow road is cut into the hill on the south side leading up to near the battery. On the North side of the road, next to the battery the bank is some three to five feet high. On this side of the road the water had cut a ditch one or two feet deep. Here the road, and especially the ditch was crowded full of dead and wounded men. By getting close to the bank they were partially protected from the enemy’s fire, and here the poor fellows had crowded in, and crawled one upon another, filling the ditch in some places three or four deep. I will not sicken your readers by a description of this road. By this time the ground on the lower side of the road was covered with men from different regiments, who had charged up to that battery and been overpowered by the superior numbers, and fallen back. – They were already in such a confused mass that they could not be reorganized without much trouble, even if they had not been exposed to a fire, much less could they do it when the air was literally full of grape shot and rifle bullets. Under these circumstances the 2d Wisconsin Regiment were moved forward along this road and halted. The smoke prevented us from seeing the length of our line, and the noise from hearing commands, even if any were given. By a sort of mutual consent we rushed over the dead men, climbed up the bank, over the fence, and up the hill to the rebels’ guns. Here the rebels displayed a Union flag, when a part of our officers cried out, “They are friends, don’t fire.” By means of this delusion they gained an advantage over us, when down went the Union flag, and up went the emblem of treason. This piratical warfare is a favorite game of theirs. We had rushed up too near to be much effected by cannon, when our men commenced the wickedest kind of a fire ever known. The woods in front of us was full of men firing on us. The fort now plainly seen was full of men, and its embankments lined with the fire of musketry aimed at us. Under this fire they stood some minutes returning it steadily but with terrible effect, when they fell back three or four rods toward the road, firing all the time, here they stopped retreating and rallying again rushed back to the rebels and poured three or four rounds into them. On their side ten guns were fired to our one. The bullets whistled all kinds of tunes, but mostly in quick time. As we fell back a little toward the road again, the New York 69th, about which there has been so much gas, fired a full volley into us from the rear. Our men after standing such a fire from the rebels, and then a rear fire from a set of fools from our own side, retreated to the road, and there got mixed with other regiments, and as was an inevitable consequence retreated down the hill in confusion. The 69th after firing one or two rounds broke and ran in perfect confusion. As we went down the hill they opened a terrible cross fire from the woods on our left, at the same time the fort in our rear kept up a constant fire of grape shot and shell after the retreating regiments. The regiments had been sent up one at a time, not near enough to render each other any assistance, and still so near as to be in each others way when they were forced back. As the men retreated there were no officers of high rank to stop them and rally them again. No reserve had been prepared to cover our retreat in case of defeat. We went into the battle with not more than thirty thousand to the outside. The rebels had full sixty thousand in the morning and were largely reinforced during the day. Their artillery was better and heavier than ours. They were at home, acquainted with the country, and had been fortifying these hills for months. The result is before the world. The retreat was bad enough, Heaven knows, but I deny positively, that it was through any fault or cowardice of the men. Through the battle Lt. Col. Peck led his regiment as became a soldier. The fault on the field was higher up than the rank of Colonel. But it commenced with certain parties at the North, such as the editors of the New York Tribune, in urging this battle before the army was ready. There is no doubt it was fought, at this time, very much against the wish of Gen. Scott. Northern impatience wanted a battle and they have had it. But let the proper parties father the imp and not charge it upon the men who fought like tigers against every odds and disadvantage. – During the engagement Col. Coon acted as aid to Col. Sherman, (acting Brigadier General.) and did his duty bravely and well. I have made this letter much longer than I had intended. We all hope your next news from us will be more cheering.

N. R.

Wisconsin Daily State Journal, 7/30/1861

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Image: Lt. Nathaniel Rollins, Co. H, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry

26 10 2022
Nathaniel Rollins, Co. H, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry (Civil War Voices)
Nathaniel Rollins, Co. H, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry (Wisconsin Historical Society)

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Lt. Nathaniel Rollins, Co. H, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford

26 10 2022

Extract from a Private Letter from Lt. Rollins of the Second Regiment

Battle Field.
July 18, 1861, 6 P. M.

This forenoon I wrote you a note. – Shortly after I sealed it, a heavy cannonading commenced to the West of us. We waited for a while. At about two P. M. nothing was doing, and I went to the grove after some water. As I returned, the line was forming. Several regiments formed as quick as possible, and pushed forward at double quick time to the scene of action. A sharp musketry fire had been kept up for some time. As we neared the place, we met a number of ambulances and other conveyances bringing wounded and dead men from the field. We pushed on still farther at double quick time, and filed to the right into the line of battle, across the road. All this was in thick woods. Cannon balls whistled through the air, and cut through the trees in all directions. One struck the ground about forty feet ahead of our line and bounded over us about two or three feet above our heads, and directly over mine. We were then ordered to sit down. One ball struck the La Crosse company, and wounded three or four men very badly. – We stayed here about one and a half hours. Rifled cannon balls were flying all the time; most of them too high, but some covering us with dirt. We were then ordered to retreat, as we could be of no use where we were. The rebels are in a ravine, with cannon, where we cannot reach them without very great exposure. Since we have halted by the roadside, several regiments have passed – First and Second Ohio, and some others – towards the field again.

8 o’clock P. M. – When I had got so far in the above, the bugle sounded “to arms,” and we fell in, and started again towards the enemy. We are now encamped for the night in a field, where we are to sleep again by our arms in the open air. The New York Twelfth was cut up this afternoon very badly. We shall most likely try them again in the morning. – Through so much of the battle, Col. COON has acted in the capacity of aid to Gen. SHERMAN, our Brigadier, and behaved very bravely. Lt. Col. PECK appears as cool as on parade.

N. R.

The (WI) State Journal, 7/24/1861

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Corp. Samuel Leitch West, Co. I, 3rd South Carolina Infantry. On the Campaign

25 10 2022


The following letter was written by Samuel L. West, of Co. K*, 3rd S. C. Reg., to his father after the first battle of Manassas and is printed here for its most accurate description of the incidents in connection with that fierce struggle in which it was revealed to the whole world that the South could only be overcome by force and funds. Through the remaining years of the war Mr. West proved himself a good soldier. After the war he returned to his home near West Springs, where he died a few years ago greatly beloved by all who knew him.

Camp at Vienna, Va., Aug. 8, 1861

Dear Father: I received yours and Sallie’s (Miss Sallie West, sister of the writer) most welcome letters yesterday with a thankful heart. It always affords me a great deal of pleasure to hear from home, and what grieves me most is that I do not hear as often as I wish to.

You stated in your letter that you wished me to give you a detailed account of the late battle (First Manassas or Bull Run). I shall proceed to do so in a brief manner, although no doubt you have heard as much or more possibly more concerning the battle than I have. Yet what I have to say is certainly true; and it may be relied on as being authentic in every respect.


On the morning of the 17th of July I arose from my tent, after having a good night’s sleep, and went outside. I was surprised to see a wagon and horses standing in our street, ready to receive our baggage. Upon making proper inquiries, I found that we were expecting an attack from the enemy, which information did not cause me to feel the least uneasiness from the fact that we had several false alarms before, and we had slept on our arms a good many nights previous to this in expectation of an attack.

Time wore along, the sun had risen about two hours high when suddenly the report of a volley of musketry fell on my ears. It was the advance guard of the enemy, which had fired on Kershaw’s pickets, who were stationed on the Falls Church road. The firing was done for a two-fold purpose. It was done to kill the pickets; and also to let the enemy know their position. The advancing body of the enemy were coming along by the Alexandria road on which our regiment was stationed. Everything was in a stir as soon as the firing was heard. All our tents were struck immediately and put in the wagon together with all our camp equipage, and started off with the rest of the wagons (each company has its own wagon) to Bull Run. We thought that the wagons had been sent off in order to have our baggage a safe distance from the enemy in case we were defeated, for we were expecting to have to fight in a few minutes as the Yankees were not more than a mile off at this time. So soon as our wagons were all started off we were formed as though we were going on a dress parade, with the exception of its being done in a more hurried manner. As soon as the parade was formed, Col. Williams rode to the front of the regiment and raising his cap, said: “Fellow soldiers, let us remember what we have come here to do; let us remember where we are from, and let ‘victory or death’ be our motto.” That was all he said. When he had finished we raised out hats and gave such a shout that no doubt it was heard in the ranks of the enemy.

We were then marched off in double quick time to take our place in the line of battle which was already forming some two hundred yards from the court house building and west of it, on front of the long extended lines of the Yankee troops which could be distinctly seen about a half mile off with their bright bayonets glistening in the sun. We stood in front of the Yankees for about 15 minutes, when for some reason which I never could understand, our position was changed. A Virginia regiment was marched out from behind a breastwork, and made to take its place in the open field.; and we were marched from off the field and made to occupy the breastworks. We had not more than stationed ourselves behind the works, and I had laid my musket down on top of the breastwork for a rest, and took sight along the barrel to see if my place as a good one for bringing a Yankee down every shot, for I was determined to take aim and make my shots tell, when in looking around me I saw a courier coming on a horse all covered with foam and sweat. He came up to General Bonham and gave him an order from General Beauregard, who is our commander-in-chief. As soon as Bonham read the order, he extended it to the officers of his command, and in a few minutes we were going toward Centerville in double quick time.

Here permit me to digress in order to give you the positions of the opposing armies. The Federal army was composed of 45,000 men who were disposed in three different columns of 15,000 men each. The first was to attack us on the east, or front; the second was to attack us on the north, or left flank; the third was to fall in our rear and cut off our retreat. All these troops were under the command of General McDowell. Our troops, which were the only ones to oppose the Federal forces at Fairfax, consisted of two brigades, viz; General Bonham’s, which was made up of Kershaw’s Williams’ Bacon’s and Cash’s regiments of South Carolina volunteers, and General Boone’s two Alabama, one Louisiana and one Virginia regiment, making in all about 7,000 men.


It was General Beauregard’s intention for us to engage the enemy at Fairfax, but his keen perceptive eye finding out the superior generalship they displayed, and the overwhelming numbers they were bringing against us, thought it prudent not to risk an engagement for fear of being cut off and made prisoners. Hence the retreat to Centerville, which many of us, not knowing the cause of our flight, thought that we Carolinians whose names were synonymous with that of the brave, would be forever disgraced; and all the bright hopes of laurels which were expected to be won by many a gallant heart on the soil of Virginia, were about to be vanquished. We set out for Centerville about 9 o’clock in the morning, and as I stated before in double quick time. The day was extremely hot. Many of our men fell down by the roadside perfectly exhausted. One of Kershaw’s men was so overheated and wearied by the fatigues of the march that he died, the same evening. Poor fellow, he died a long way from home without the soothing had of a mother to administer to his wants or the kind words of a sister to alleviate the sufferings of his sinking nature. However, he died a martyr to his country, surrounded by warm-hearted brothers in arms who dropped a soldiers’ tear over his grave. Soon after his death we buried him there at Centerville by digging a grave and lowering his body in without any coffin.

We arrived at Centerville at 2 o’clock in the afternoon after having run a distance of eight miles without resting more than long enough at a time to get breath. Many of our men, who gave out on the road, were picked up by the cavalry and artillery wagons that covered our retreat. Those who were not picked up came in after resting an hour or so. Happily, none of them fell into the hands of the enemy, who were in pursuit. It was Beauregard’s intention for us to stay all night at Centerville and make a stand next morning to hold the enemy until 10 o’clock, at which time he expected re-inforcements to arrive, which would enable us to meet the Federals with no so much odds against us. It was also his determination to fight at Bull Run, let the consequences be what they might.


We were to have left Centerville for Bull Run the next day at 10 o’clock, but after the sun had gone down and darkness had covered the earth, a low rumbling sound was heard in the direction of the lower road leading from Fairfax to Manassas. It was easily accounted for; the rumbling was artillery wheels going over the turnpike road, the roaring was the tramp, tramp of an army, who was aware of a stand being made at Centerville by our troops. The enemy had sent a division around to endeavor to again cut us off.

General Bonham, in the darkness of the night, with a command not above a whisper, had his brigade formed with a deathlike stillness and set out in the same manner for Bull Run, where we arrived about 3 o’clock in the morning. At daylight McDowell closed his divisions on Centerville, where we expected to find and crush us. Bonham’s shrewdness though had evaded this move, and consequently they were again sadly disappointed.

About 10 o’clock McDowell appeared in front of our lines and displayed his columns to the right and left of the road. He began to move forward to the attack at 10:30 o’clock no doubt believing that we would do as we had been in the habit of doing before – run. Poor fellow, he did not understand the game at all, he little thought that the very ground he occupied was to be the scene of his disaster and defeat, and that out maneuvres were the means of drawing him to the place where Beauregard wished him to give us battle.

It was McDowell’s intention at first to move on our right wing and centre, but an old lady who lived on top of the hill in our front told him as he was moving forward of the strong position we occupied and the vast amount of cannon we laid at the ford. Having received this information regarding our position, he changed his plan of moving on our centre and began to marshal his forces entirely on our right wing.

Sherman’s battery moved in front and opened on our right at 11 o’clock with a heavy fire of grape and canister. Captain Kemper advanced from our centre to the support of the right wing with two pieces of his battery, and returned the fire briskly, doing terrible damage, mowing down whole ranks of the enemy at every fire. The destructive cannonade was kept up for about one hour, when, by this time, the Federal infantry had marched up within musket shot of our lines and opened fire.

The firing on our side was simultaneous with theirs. Such a roaring of artillery and musketry at this time, is beyond description. It was one continual thunder upon thunder until the earth seemed to shake to its very foundations. The battle raged with great fury for three hours after this. Our brave boys drove them back three times in succession at the point of the bayonet. The last time the enemy retired, leaving us in full possession of the field.

The regiments engaged on our side were the 1st Virginia, one Alabama, and one Louisiana, with several scattering men from other regiments of the line, make in all around 3,000 men. Our loss was thirty killed and some forty or fifty wounded. (Above statement refers to the number of men under General Beauregard). The enemy’s force engaged was between 7,000 and 10,000 men. Their loss was 1,000 killed and 1,500 wounded.

I should have stated in the outset that our company (Co. I, 3rd Reg., S. C. V.) received the first fire. We wee on picket duty at the commencement of the battle, or rather sent forward in front of our line of battle to watch the movements of the enemy more than anything else. After the enemy had planted its battery and had fired two shots at our right wing, they discovered our position, which was about a mile from our line and three-quarters of a mile from the enemy’s battery. They only fired at us twice. The first was a round shot, which came within about forty feet of us. The second shot was grape, which flew thick around us. Happily none of us were touched. We retired back to our place in the line, for it would have been the height of folly for us to have remained and been cut to pieces without being able to fire a musket, for we were out of musket shot distance, while they were in good grape shot range and could have shot is to pieces in a little while. We were not in musket shot distance all the day, but had to stand and endure a fire of shot and shell from the enemy all the time without the privilege of returning the compliment. Through the providence of the god of battles, to whom the glory and praise forever, none of us were harmed.

Toward night, after the guns had hushed their thunder and the drama lay in silence, every man was ordered to throw down his arms and gather the entrenching tools and get to work. Although the Yankees were soundly thrashed, yet we were aware that all their forces had not been engaged and that they intended to try us again. We worked all night and till the middle of the next day, when by that time we had finished a strong breastwork of solid earth. We remained the balance of the day, which was the day after the battle, in our trenches with muskets in hand, but there was no sign of an attack. We slept on our arms in the trenches that night. The day following was Saturday. Nothing new turned up. McDowell was evidently awaiting reinforcements. Beauregard became aware of it and showed that that was a game two could play at. He sent immediately to Winchester for Johnston, who arrived that same evening with his command. That night we slept on our arms again in the trenches.

Next day was Sunday – memorable day – I will always remember it as the greatest day of my life. Early in the morning the enemy commenced playing its batteries on our right, centre and left wing as though they were going to attack our entire line. The firing commenced at 7 o’clock, but gradually died away on our right, while it was kept up furiously on our centre, and began to strengthen and grow more alarming on the left wing. It was soon ascertained that the enemy intended to outflank us if it was in their power, for this purpose, they directed their whole force against our left flank. Johnston’s forces were stationed in our rear, as a reserve, but when it was found out that we were about to be outflanked, he was sent immediately to the left to prevent it. Being the senior officer on the left, he was given full command of the left wing. Beauregard commanded the right wing, and President Davis the centre. This was our order of battle when the enemy poured forth his legions like so many thunderbolts on our gallant left wing. As I said before, the cannonading commenced at 7 o’clock and was kept up till 10:30 o’clock, doing great damage on both sides, but a great deal more on the side of the enemy as our gunners seemed to understand their business better than the Yankees.

When the infantry on both sides opened with such a terrific fire, it seemed to me as though the heavens and the earth were coming together. For six long hours I could hear nothing but the thunder of musketry and artillery. The opposing armies, it seemed, would fight for about a half an hour every moment growing more fierce in the work of death, when suddenly they would almost stop, as if to get breath; a few occasional shots could only be heard, then again the firing would commence from rank to rank and resume its thunder for another period. Thus it was from 10:30 o’clock till sundown, when the enemy, fully convinced that we could not be whipped, broke and fled like so many scared rabbits.

The only part we played in this fight was to charge the enemy’s batteries in front of the centre. We were stationed at Mitchell’s Ford on the road leading directly from Manassas to Fairfax Court House. This was looked upon as being the most important post in our line, and it is regarded by our regiment as a great compliment to have been assigned to so important a position. But back to the charge I spoke of. The charging column was made up of our regiment, Bacon’s, Kelly’s, and one from Louisiana. We set out in double quick time, with a shout at every step, and went up to the ground where the enemy’s guns had been planted and from where they had been shooting at us all day, but they had made good their escape with the exception of a few poor fellows who, I suppose, were too scared to run. We took them prisoners. They told ys that their pickets came running in as soon as they heard us shout on the charge and told them to run for their lives as the Rebels were coming like so many bloodhounds.

This was about sundown, and the flight of the enemy was general from our centre to the extreme left wing. They ran helter-skelter, through the woods and over each other. A great many of their own men were killed by the artillery wagons and cavalrymen running over them. We pursued them for three miles and the cavalry pursued them father, killing some and taking a large number of prisoners. By this time it was very dark, and we stopped our pursuit and went back to Bull Run, where we slept on our arms the balance of the night. Next morning it was raining but we set out to gather the fruits of the victory. We were all day in gathering up that the enemy had left. The spoils consisted of provisions of all kinds for the army, a large amount of guns of improved pattern, four excellent brass cannon and thousands of oilcloths and blankets. To the last mentioned articles we helped ourselves to the best we could find, and left the rest for those who might chance to find them. What I speak of as being taken was by our fellows. The army took in all about 20,000 stand of arms, 61 pieces of cannon, a great deal of provisions and other things that space will not permit me to mention. I have heard men, experienced in military affairs, say that the Yankee army was the best equipped army that was ever raised on this continent. They were fully prepared for a three years’ campaign. But, thank God, they were hurled back from Virginia’s fair land almost as soon as they had polluted it by their presence. Their loss in the battle was from five to eight thousand killed, with an innumerable number of wounded. Out total loss was somewhere about 500 killed and 15,000 wounded.

The Yankees evidently expected a great victory, as their congress adjourned the day previous. Many of the members, together with a great many ladies from Washington, came out to see us whipped and carried back with them in chains. One of One of their number was taken prisoner by Capt. Carrington, of Cash’s regiment.

The stampede among the ladies and members of congress was as great as it was among the soldiers. It is said that the screams of the ladies was frightful indeed, for so eager were the men to get off that they ran and left the ladies to shift for themselves. But they were borne along in some way by the resisltess throng of fugitives, who were making their way to Washington.

After we had done gathering up the fruits of the victory, we marched to this place, where we have been staying ever since. Our regiment has the measles in it now. A great many men are beginning to take them. It is thought that our brigade will be moved back from our advanced position till we get through the measles.

I might speak a great deal more about the battle, giving account of the actions of prominent characters, but time and space will not permit.

You must excuse my hurried writing. Tell Sallie I will write soon.


Write soon. Give my respects to all,


Confederate Veterans Edition of the Spartanburg (SC) Herald, 8/17/1910

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Records and letter text indicate that West was a member of Co. I.

Samuel L. West at

Samuel L. West at Fold3

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Barbara Tuchman on the Ever-Changing Nature of History

22 10 2022

I finally got around to reading Barbara Tuchman’s classic The Guns of August, which traces the outbreak of the First World War and it’s first month, up to the Battle of the Marne. I’ve had it for years. Needless to say, it lived up to its reputation, and I recommend it.

But to the point of this rare non-resource post. In the notes on the sources at the end, Tuchman makes an observation. I’ll just leave it here, since it speaks for itself, and is equally applicable to the study and interpretation of the American Civil War.

Men who had taken part at the command level, political and military, felt driven to explain their decisions and actions. Men who had fallen from high command, whether for cause or as scapegoats – and these included most of the commanders of August – wrote their private justifications. As each account appeared, inevitably shifting responsibility or blame to someone else, another was provoked. Private feuds became public; public controversies expanded. Men who would otherwise have remained mute were stung to publish…Books proliferated. Whole schools of partisans…produced libraries of controversy.

Through this forest of special pleading the historian gropes his way, trying to recapture the truth of past events and find out “what really happened.” He discovers that truth is subjective and separate, made up of little bits seen, experienced, and recorded by different people. It is like a design seen through a kaleidoscope; when the cylinder is shaken the countless colored fragments form a new picture. Yet they are the same fragments that made a different picture a moment earlier. This is the problem inherent in the records left by the actors in past events. The famous goal, “wie es wirklich war,*” is never wholly within our grasp.

*How it really was; what really happened.

Image: Lt. Stephen Newton McCraw, Co. C, 4th Alabama Infantry

21 10 2022
Stephen Newton McCraw, Co. C, 4th Alabama Infantry (Courtesy of Alabama Confederate Images)

Stephen Newton McCraw at Ancestry

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Image: Pvt. George Calvin Nettles, Co. C, 5th Alabama Infantry

21 10 2022

George Calvin Nettles at Ancestry

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