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

Samuel L. West at FindAGrave



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