Pvt. Walter Chambers, 1st Company Washington Artillery, On the Campaign

4 11 2022

[The following interesting letter was written by a nephew of Rev. P. Stout to his little brother, a member of brother Stout’s family. The writer is a member of the New Orleans Washington Artillery. Though written for the eyes of friends alone, it is so descriptive we do well to give it to the public:}

Camp Lou’a., near Manassas Junction,
July 30th, 1861.

My dear Frank: your letter of the 1st inst, was received and should have been answered ere this, but we have been moving about so much for the last few weeks that we have scarcely had time to cook our victuals, much less write letters. You have seen in the papers accounts of our battles of the 18th and 21st. Hugh and I were in the hottest part of both of them. Charlies was in the first, but was not with us on the 21st. Our Battalion of 13 pieces was split up and stationed at different points, and only five pieces were at the “Stone Bridge.” We went on the field about 10 o’clock, and Hugh’s and my pieces (rifled cannon) were ordered immediately to a position about 1500 yards from the famed “Sherman’s Battery” which was playing on 3 pieces of our “Staunton Artillery.” As soon as we shewed ourselves on the brow of the hill, the whole of the enemy’s fire was directed on us. We unlimbered and came into Battery as quick as possible, and in a few minutes had the satisfaction of seeing our shot strike one of their pieces, killing 3 horses and disabling the piece; the next moment a Battery of 4 more pieces was seen coming down the hill, their horses at a full gallop, they approached 300 or 400 yards neared than the first an commenced throwing shell at us, the other Battery had fired only round shot, and although they struck in front and around us none of our men or horses had been hurt. The “Staunton” on our left had not fared so well, for they lost 3 men and 5 horses. About this time we heard firing on our right, and saw our Infantry who had been stationed in a thick wood to protect us, falling back cut to pieces, and the next moment a tremendous column of the enemy filed down the hillside on the left to outflank us. (The battle ground was a large, narrow wheat field, and we could see each others movements distinctly.) I began to think that we were gone, but at that moment orders came for us to retreat, and if ever you saw fellows limber up and put over the hill, quickly, we did; when we got over the other side and were protected from the enemy, we halted and there saw about 6,000 of our men lying on their faces on the ground, protected by the hill from the shot that had been fired at us; – as soon as we halted the order was given them to “Forward double quick,” and then such a yell arose as you never heard before. They rushed through the woods, and then the battle began in earnest; we could hear the firing, but could see nothing; – in a few moments they began to bring in the wounded, and as the poor fellows were carried past to the hospital (a large framed house about three-fourths of a mile off,) it made us feel very sad. – About 2 o’clock a remnant of a Virginia Regiment passed us in perfect disorder, and reported our men cut to pieces and the enemy advancing. Our hearts sank, for we knew that their cavalry would soon be upon us, and there would be no chance to escape; each man examined his pistol, resolving to die on our posts around the pieces. Then I felt glad that Charlie was not with us. At this moment our gallant General Beauregard rode up and said, “Artillery, if you can hold a position on that hill (near where we were in the morning,) for an hour, the day is ours.” Then it was our turn to shout, – our horses were rested, and up the hill we went as fast as they could run, the shot and shell falling like hail around us. I can hardly recollect what happened after that, much less describe it. The roar of our 5 guns and 3 of another battery on our right, soon made us so deaf that our commands had to be given by signs. General Beauregard had his horse shot under him by my side, and took the horse of my Seargent. After firing some time, one of our drivers who was mounted and could see down the hill side, called out to the gunner of the piece on the extreme left, that the Infantry were coming up the hill, and the next moment a shower of minnie balls rained around us, cutting the leaves from the trees and killing one of our men, the only one we lost; the gunner immediately depressed his range, loaded with canister and gave them three rounds which caused them to fall back, and immediately our Infantry charged and drove them off the field, capturing the whole Battery and completely routing the whole army. The Regiment that charged us was the “New York Fire Zouaves”: they had been held in reserve all day for the express purpose, and their orders (so we learn from the prisoners) were to take the “Washington Artillery, and give no quarters.” Out of 900 men they marched against us, only 230 left the field. – After this we went up to a high hill in front of the hospital, about two miles from, and overlooking the Centreville road, along which they were retreating, and with one of our rifled guns gave them a shot whenever they appeared in sufficiently large numbers to afford an aim; with our glasses we could see them at every fire throw down their arms and scatter like black birds. Our cavalry pursued them that night, killing and taking prisoners.

We slept that night near the battle field in a hard rain and without supper, having had nothing since the night before but a hard biscuit and a little piece of fried shoulder. Next morning we went over the battle field and human eyes never witnessed a more awful sight. During the night our wounded men had been brought in, but the dead of both sides, and the wounded of the enemy were still there. It was distressing to hear the poor wretches beg for water. I soon emptied my canteen and then had to turn a deaf ear to their cries. The ground where the Zouaves charged us was most thickly covered and their bright red uniform made their bodies very conspicuous. Here, too, I saw the most awful sights – men wounded by cannon shot, heads completely cut off, one with his face only left. During the time of their retreat, we found the baggage of the whole army thrown away; our men furnished themselves with all they wanted. I got a splendid blanket, india rubber coat, haversack, &c. They were, without doubt, the best equipped troops that ever went into the field, – every thing they had was of the very best, and in their haversacks were more provisions than we had eaten for a week; each man had a little bag of ground coffee, and sugar, things, the taste of which we had almost forgotten. It poured down rain all that day.

We expected the enemy to send in a flag of truce to bury their dead, but none came, so we had to begin the work ourselves. We worked for two days and at the end of that time had to move our camp, there begin so many unburied and the smell making it impossible for us to do more. Every form house in the neighborhood is converted into a hospital, and a large church is used for the same purpose. We have several of their own surgeons attending them.

When the retreat began they threw the wounded who were in their wagons out by the road side so as to go faster. I cannot tell their loss or ours: before this reaches you, you will have seen the official report. We took 73 of their cannon, among them Gov. Sprague’s Rhode Island Battery, the finest in the world.

After the fight, Gen. Beauregard and President Davis made us little speeches. Gen’l. B. rode up to our Major saying: “Major, give me both of your hands; – I cannot thank you for the service you have done to-day.”

On the 28th, after being scattered about for two or three weeks, we were reunited at this camp, our tents were given to us again and we are now resting after our hardships of the last 20 days.

I have given you no account of our fight on the 18th at Blackburn’s Ford, for the reason that we saw nothing but tree tops. We were in a hollow between two hills, and the enemy above us concealed from sight by the bushes; we had to aim by the smoke of their fires, and notwithstanding their advantage of numbers and position, we whipped them badly. We had seven guns, but one of them became disabled early in the fight, so we were actually 6 against 13. We lost one killed and six wounded. One man was wounded on my piece. I was handing him a ball and just as he reached out his hands a shell bursted at our side and struck him in the mouth. I was sure that he was dead from the way he fell, but I could not stop to see; he lay on the ground until we stopped firing, and then we carried him off the field and sent him to Richmond where he is now recovering and will soon be well, though very much disfigured. In that fight there was a little fellow, who was in the office with me in New Orleans. Poor boy, he was wounded early in the fight. I saw him after the battle; he knew his wound was mortal; but said all he minded was, not being able to fire a single shot. He was not in the Artillery, but was under command of the Col. who we were assigned to that day. It will be a severe blow to his family; he was only 18 years old, and they thought him too young to go, but he insisted, and our employers told him that his situation should be kept open and his salary paid, so he came [*].

Your affectionate brother,
Walter ——–.

(Tuskegee, AL) South Western Baptist, 8/22/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

Walter Chambers at Ancestry.com

Walter Chambers at Fold3

*Likely Pvt. John Stacker Brooks, Co. H, 7th Louisiana, who was not yet 18 years old and in the employ of Messrs. W. M. Perkins & Co. See here.