Unknown, 32nd New York Infantry, On the Battle

7 12 2016

The Battle at Bull’s Run.
———-
[Correspondence of the Journal]
———-  

Camp McDougal, near Alexandria, Va.,
Wednesday, July 24, 1861.

Dear Sir: – Yours of the 19th of July has just been received and read with pleasure. Our Regiment reached our old camp at Alexandria the forenoon of Monday last, on our retreat from the battle of Bull’s Run, and Manassas, of the day before. – We had been encamped near Bull’s Run, and within two miles of the masked batteries of the Rebels for the two last days previous, making, as I supposed, every preparation for a great battle and certain victory, and I to-day firmly believe that the victory was as certainly won and that but for the cowardice, knavery or imbecility of our acting Generals the federal troops would to-day occupy those important points instead of being as they are, repulsed, under the disgrace of retreat, and in the camps they occupied a week ago, or further back even in Washington.

We went forth to battle on the morning of the 21st of July. We reposed much confidence in our strength, and we were strong and the day would have been ours, but for the lack of some one to lead or direct our movements, having the necessary skill and qualifications to entitle him to be styled General of the New York State army. But this was not our case. The left of the line where our Brigade was stationed as a support of the batteries planted at that end of the line, our General seemed either crazy, badly scared or drunk, and our regiment (I understand it was so with others) was moving from place to place continually, to what end or for what purpose nobody seemed to know. Our artillery (two batteries on the left) blazed away all day at the enemy or their masked batteries – (those doing such fearful work among our men but a few days before) – without receiving a single shot from the enemy in return during the whole day, newspaper reports to the contrary notwithstanding. The only fight on the left of the line where our regiment was stationed, was the cannonade of our guns unanswered by the rebels, and the occasional exchange of shots between our skirmishers and theirs, whereby less than half a dozen men were killed and wounded, except that just at dark a body of rebel infantry marched from the woods on the left and fired upon the gunners killing one of the Lieutenants and for the time driving them from their guns. They rallied again, however, and poured into the rebels successive doses of shot and shell that sent them flying and enabled our men to take away their guns before they could rally again.

It was at this time that the 32nd Regiment was for the first time called upon to do active duty, although we had been constantly on the field and ready at all times. When the attack was made upon our battery on the left our Regiment was ordered down to resist it and cover the retreat of the artillery. When we reached the ground the artillery was already retreating, having previously poured into the rebels such a volley of grape and canister, that before they could rally the horses had been harnessed to the guns and they were safely drawn from the field, which we then occupied, covering the retreat. The rebels did not again show themselves; we were not fired into, nor did we fire a shot during the day.

We were soon after ordered to fall back to Centreville, where several regiments were forming to resist the imagined attack from thousands of rebel cavalry, supposed to be in pursuit of our now retreating army. As we took our position in line, some acting General, probably drunk or half scared to death, shouted out in a very loud, excited voice: “The cavalry are upon us; we shall all be cut to pieces; for God Almighty’s sake move out here, or we shall all be cut to pieces!” And then addressing himself to the artillerymen he commanded, “Why in h—l don’t you fire?” And they did, and away went the cavalry, which was to cut us all to pieces, and which consisted, as near as I could see, of some few dozen horsemen just emerged from the woods we had left, and certainly were not so formidable as to call out an expression of fear or terror made use of by our acting General, and which, I have no doubt did much towards unnerving many who could not of themselves see that what their General told them was untrue, and added materially to the general confusion that followed in our horrid retreat shortly afterwards. As we were not molested during the evening by the enemy of any sort, we were allowed to lay down on our arms in line of battle, ready to resist an attack at a moment’s warning, on the damp, cold ground (for the dew had commended to fall, and all the nights are quite cold in Virginia,) to rest and sleep. I know not how it was with my comrades, but I never slept more soundly in my life than I did there in the open air upon the battle-field, where our General would have us believe we were liable to be attacked and utterly cut to pieces at any moment. I could not realize that we were in any such great danger; and to-day, after looking the ground all over, I cannot bring myself to believe there was the least danger imagined; and when at eleven o’clock we were aroused up and ordered to fall back to Fairfax Court House, and finally to Alexandria, it seemed to me that orders were being issued by secessionists, who were having the thing all their own way by merely ordering it so, and, I am sorry to say, this belief has not entirely left me yet. Our Regiment reached our old camp ground at noon of the next day, nearly used up from excessive travel, but not a man had received a scratch from the hands of the rebels. Most of the fighting was done at the right of the line and not in our vicinity. A few wounded men, skirmishers, were carried off the field on the left, and but a few; and in addition to these, the first sight that met our eyes, when we went to the relief of the artillery, was the almost lifeless body of a dying lieutenant of the artillery company, who was mortally wounded by a musket ball at the first attack upon the battery.

I must confess that when I again reached camp I felt somewhat rheumatic, as well as a good deal used up. For a whole week we had lived upon the hardest kind of fare, and often too little of that. At night we slept upon the ground, without the least shelter, no matter though the rain fell, as it did occasionally, and lucky was the man who had both his rubber and blanket. As for myself, by chance I had no blanket or overcoat, but as the boys were some of them very kind to me, I managed to get along very well, and in a fe days I shall be ready, under a new leadership, to march again to the scene of action with, I trust, a different result. One of our Generals told me on our return that our probable loss was from four to six thousand, but this is all nonsense; straggling soldiers have not yet ceased coming in, and already the reliable estimated loss is reduced to some six hundred.

I really believe that if we had maintained our ground at Centreville the enemy would have retreated much faster towards Richmond the next morning than we did towards Alexandria. But as it is it may all be for the best.

You will please say to the citizens of Tompkins through our papers, that not a man of our two Ithaca companies as yet has been harmed by a secessionist bullet.

Ever truly yours,

——

Ithaca [N. Y.] Journal and Advertiser, 7/31/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Projecting

5 12 2016

I’m getting around to outlining my thoughts on Irvin McDowell’s plan for the campaign on Manassas. If you’ve been following along, you know that I am firmly of the opinion that McDowell’s intentions and expectations for the campaign have been grossly misrepresented over the years, with resulting, understandable effects on the analysis of the failure of his plans (keeping in mind that reasons for the failure of plans and reasons for defeat are two very, very different things). While I think I’m no longer completely alone in that opinion, and may never have been, I’m still pretty sure I’m in a very small minority.

anteffcoverIn the meantime, I’m reading a very interesting book by Bradley Graham, The Antietam Effect. I’ve heard rumblings about this book over the past few years (self published in 2012), but never saw it until stumbling over it in the Fredericksburg Battlefield visitor’s center. This is a collection of essays dealing with various topics of the campaign. It’s wide-ranging, even eclectic. The titles listed in the footnotes may leave you scratching your head at first glance but, trust me, there’s a point to everything (and yes, you have to read the notes). I don’t necessarily agree with all the author’s conclusions, but I love his approach and find it very similar to my own, on a basic level.

One passage I found particularly intriguing, and applicable with some bending to my own experience with the historiography of First Bull Run, can be found on page 175:

To make their views more compelling, some authors enlist the unspoken opinions of key players…They engage in a species of psychological projection – projecting their own internalized impressions onto important historical characters. This cognitive bias tends to shape analysis, and good scholarship devolves into advocacy for the favored view, and the ascription of the author’s opinions onto those who did not espouse them.

It seems to me that, when it comes to McDowell’s intentions and expectations, authors have developed impressions of what they must have been or should have been, and in the absence of confirming evidence projected those impressions as being those of the man himself. The strange thing to me is how consistently this has been done over the years, so that those impressions have become generally accepted. When the legend becomes fact…





Maj. Buel Palmer, 16th New York Infantry, On the Battle

29 11 2016

We are permitted to make the followin extracts from a letter from Maj. Buel Palmer, 16th Regt. To his wife, dated.

Camp near Alexandria, July 22.

My Dear Wife: You will see by the heading of this short note that I am again back at the old Camp. All of the 16th Regiment are safe, only one wounded. Lieut. Hopkins was shot in the foot, a slight wound; he will be about again in a few days. * * *

Thursday we took up our line of march for Centreville where Gen. McDowell’s army was to concentrate before any further advance on the rebels. Our Regiment arrived there about noon on Thursday last, and bivouaced in an open tract of country around and about Centreville, together with about 35,000 other troops. We remained there until yesterday morning when the army took up its line of march. The 1st Division left about 2 o’clock A. M. Our Division being the 5th and last, did not get under way before 7 o’clock A. M. We marched to the ground where Gen. Tyler two days before had a hard brush with the rebels. Here we planted our battery and immediately opened fire on the masked batteries of the rebels just below us; a ravine called the Bull’s Run. They did not return the fire, still we kept up ours occasionally stopping for a short time. The battle soon became general all along the Bull’s Run for 3 or 4 miles from us to the right. The most of the battle was fought on our right, the rebels trying to flank us, that is trying to get around our right wing; but did not succeed. — News came to us about 3 o’clock that the rebels were in retreat which at one time was actually the case, but owing to some blundering our victory was turned into a defeat or retreat back to Centreville. Of this our Division knew nothing until about 6 o’clock, when our Reg’t was attacked by about 3000 rebel Infantry and some Horse. We had at the time a battery of 4 guns, brass, and 2 iron, the 16th and 31st Regts. We supposed that the rebels were in retreat all the time. The first intimation we had to the contrary was by seeing a long line of bright bayonets glittering in the sun; they were on our left and were right on us. We immediately changed the position of our battery, formed our infantry in line of battle, the right wing of the 16th on the right of the battery, the left wing on the left and the 31st on the left of our left wing. Lt. Col. Marsh, in command of the right wing, I in command of the left wing of the 16th, and Col. Pratt in command of the 31st. As soon as formed our battery opened upon them & must have done dreadful execution, as they scattered and ran in every direction. They soon reformed and advanced again; and again our batteries let them have it; our ammunition gave out, but the battery still stood in position. The enemy came up at last through a dense thicket of underbrush. In the mean time we had ordered our men flat on their faces so when their volley came it generally passed over our heads, some fell short; it was a perfect hail storm of bullets. We could see them tear up the turf on all sides of us, but providentially none of our boys were hurt. – A Lieut of the battery was killed, a ball struck him in the forehead and killed him almost instantly. The artillery and the 31st at last withdrew from the field, leaving our right alone. We fell back about ten rods still keeping our line of battle perfect. This movement was made in hopes that the rebels would leave their cover so that we could get a chance to pepper them, but they still kept behind the trees and in the bushes. We remained in this position until Col. Davies sent peremptory orders by his aid to leave the field and fall behind the battery that was in the woods in our rear and right. – When we received this order, we formed in two ranks and marched off the field in common time, our Reg’t being in the rear. We then marched up on the hill near Centreville and remained there until near 11 o’clock at night when Gen. McDowell ordered us to fall back on Fairfax and thence to our old Camp. The 16th and 31st were the rear guard of the Grand Army and arrived in camp this morning about 9 o’clock. The reason of our falling back is a mystery to me. I think our troops should have stayed at Centreville; still all the Divisions except ours were very badly disorganized and much cut up.

Plattsburgh Republican, 7/27/1861

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From Bull Run to Chancellorsville: The Story of the Sixteenth New York Infantry together with Personal Reminiscences

Contributed by John Hennessy





Unknown, 71st New York State Militia, On the Battle

28 11 2016

Letters from the Army and Navy.

The Bull Run Battle.

The following letter was written by a gentleman, a member of the 71st Regiment, N. Y. S. M., who took an active part in the great battle at Bull Run on the 21st inst., to a relative in this village, and handed us for publication:

Washington, Navy Yard, July 23, 1861

I have no doubt you have heard of my safe arrival from the battle; it was a terrible one, one of the greatest ever fought in this country. After we had marched between 9 and 10 hours, starting 1 o’clock A. M. Sunday, and a good part of the distance was made in a double quick, we arrived on the battle ground. We were immediately drawn up in line of battle and marched up to within fifty rods of the enemy, in as good order as we ever did on a parade. All the time the enemy was firing into us, but doing little damage. The enemy was just over a hill and we had to march up to the top in order to get at them. As fast as we advanced the enemy retreated. We gained the top of the hill before they reached the woods and made sad havoc among them, killing about 100. After they reached the woods, they stood and kept up a brisk fire, most of the time their shots going over our heads. After we stood up at the top of the hill firing very sharp, the rebels raised an American flag; our officers gave us word to cease firing, saying we were fighting with our own men. We ceased, but the enemy did not; we raised our flag, and at that moment a whole volley was sent at us, riddling our flag terribly. Our men, without orders, blazed at them fiercely, completely driving them out of the woods, and as they went out they were exposed to us; we again opened on them and you could see dozens fall at a time. The 1st and 2d Rhode Island regiments and the 71st ‘New York were the first to open the battle. After we had driven them away from those woods we were ordered to fall back from the top of the hill, all the time their batteries were playing upon us. We could hear their balls pass our heads, it seemed as if it was hailing only there was more noise. While I was in the act of capping my musket a shell struck it and shattered it in a thousand pieces, one piece killing a man a few feet from me. I immediately ran and picked up his piece and fired with that the balance of the time. My haversack was also cut off my back, and strange to say I never received a wound. We were intended to be the reserve, but instead of that we were the advance, and opened the fire. We were upon a masked battery before we knew it and they opened upon us killing and wounding about eight. We fired on them silencing it and killed all in it, about 30 or 40 in all. If we had a re-enforcement in time we would have carried everything before us. We were doing so until the rebels were re-enforced by about forty or fifty thousand men, that number being too great for ours (about 20,000). The enemy’s whole force was upwards of ninety thousand strong.

Long Island Farmer & Queens Co. Advertiser, 7/30/1861

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History of the 71st Regiment, N. G, N. Y., American Guards

Contributed by John Hennessy





Image: Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

27 11 2016
2nd-nh-corp-joseph-sawyer-sweatt-2

Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd N. H. Infantry, from The Seventh Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1865, courtesy of David Morin

 

 

 





Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, On the Battle (2)

26 11 2016

Letter from the 2d New Hampshire Regiment.

———-

Washington, D. C. July 25, 1861

Dear Brother: – I yesterday received a letter from you and sister and was very glad to hear from you. I am well, and have helped to fight one of the greatest battles ever fought in this country. I suppose that by this time you have the account of the fight and retreat of the army. We fought hard but in vain. What was the use of 25,000 or 30,000 men against 100,000? We had men enough, but they were not brought in to the field. At every point the enemy had masked batteries, and they would raise the stars and stripes or do anything to deceive out men, and that was one reason so many men were lost. But we did fight the best we could. They were commanded on the right by Johnston, on the left by Beauregard, and at noon Davis came and took command of the center.

I tell you Charley it was an awful day for all of us; men with all kinds of wounds begging for water and to be taken off, but we could do these poor fellows no good, for it was all a man could do to look out for himself. Men were mowed down like grain but we did the best we could as it was. I was under the fence after the regiment left me as you know I told you in Father’s letter, that I gave out and was where the balls came like hail-stones, and the regiment had gone ahead. I was almost asleep, for I was about dead when a cannon ball came and knocked a rail off the fence over my head and sent it across the road; I thought it time to get up; so I got up and went to find my gun; I could not see the regiment and started up the hill but gave out; I got into a wagon and went up the hill; then the retreat commenced. I got a drink of whiskey or I never could have got off the field; for it was men and horses, wagons and cannon rushing all ways, the dead and wounded at every step; It was as much as a man could do to carry his body over 40 miles with nothing to drink or eat; I could have taken a good horse but I thought the forces would not all retreat and the owner might be close by, so I kept on; but I called myself a fool afterwards for not getting a horse, for I never came so near dying as at that time. I had got but three miles, I could neither swallow nor spit; I drank water much blacker than your boots. We had to drink where all above and below were washing their wounds in it, and men going through mud, blood and all. It was good. Every mud hole we came to was at once in a centre of men dying of thirst. But I am alive and that is more than many a poor fellow can say; wounded men and those that gave out were left along the road and were probably killed or taken prisoners. But a man cannot tell much about anything, after a battle, for it is all a whirl, but it did not seem so in battle; I thought I could tell everything, but cannot; I was not scared, but never should have got home if it had not been that life depended on it. I was put among the missing but have returned safe.

J. S. S.*

Concord Independent Democrat, 8/8/1861

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*Likely Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E.

Biographical information provided by reader David Morin

Sweatt, Joseph S. Co. E; b. Boscawen; age 17; res. Boscawen (Fisherville, now Penacook); enl. Apr. 18, ’61, for 3 mos.; not must. in; paid by State; re-enl. May 21, ’61, for 3 yrs.; must. in June 3, ’61, as Corp.; disch. disab. Aug. 1, ’61, Washington, D. C.

Residence Boscawen NH; a 17-year-old Student. Enlisted on 5/21/1861 at Boscawen, NH as a Corporal. On 6/3/1861 he mustered into “E” Co. NH 2nd Infantry. He was discharged for disability on 8/1/1861 at Washington, D.C.

On 9/4/1862 he mustered into “G” Co. RI 7th Infantry. He died of disease on 3/6/1863 at Boscawen, N.H. (Enlisted at Woonsockett, R.I. Died of typhoid fever.) He was listed as:

Wounded 12/13/1862 Fredericksburg, VA

Hospitalized 12/15/1862 Windmill Point, VA

Promotions: 1st Sergt 9/4/1862 (As of Co. G 7th RI Infantry)

Other Information: born 10/28/1843 in Boscawen, NH

(Parents: Ira & Mary S. Sweatt)

Sources; used by Historical Data Systems, Inc.

JOSEPH S. SWEATT.

Sergeant Joseph Sawyer Sweatt, eldest son of Ira and Mary S. Sweatt, was born in the town of Boscawen, N. H., Oct. 28, 1843. He was fitted in the schools of that town and of Fisherville (now Pena cook) for the Tilton (N. H.) Seminary, which he left for the purpose of enlisting in the Second New Hampshire, a three months’ regiment. He was thus present at the First Bull Run. During the retreat he was one of the many who were lost from their regiment and was reported killed, but, at length, he found his way back to his command. Upon his muster out he immediately joined the Second New Hampshire (three years) Volunteers, but soon after was taken sick, discharged, and sent home.

A little later he went to “Woonsocket, R. I., where an uncle resided, the late Enoch Sweatt, railroad contractor, and was by him employed as an assistant civil engineer. When the call came for “three hundred thousand more,” he enlisted as an orderly sergeant in the Seventh Rhode Island. He was wounded at Fredericksburg Dec. 13, 1862, and was taken to Windmill Point Hospital, Md. There his father visited him, and, after fourteen days, was able to remove him to Washington. After a brief rest he took him home to New Hampshire, but he lived only ten days after his arrival. Yet he was very thankful to gaze once more upon familiar scenes, and to die among his friends. His final and fatal illness was typhoid fever, to which he succumbed March 6, 1863. Three older sisters survive.

Source: The Seventh Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Hopkins, William Palmer, 1845-; Peck, George Bacheler, 1843-1934, ed

A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry

Contributed by John Hennessy





Review: Arwen Bicknell, “Justice and Vengeance”

25 11 2016

justice_and_vengeance_with_coinI received Justice and Vengeance: Scandal, Honor, and Murder in 1872 Virginia from author Arwen Bicknell a while back, and intended on writing a brief preview. However, I was intrigued enough by the very limited details provided on the back cover (including a good blurb from John Hennessy) and website to read the whole thing. I don’t usually do this, but want to get the synopsis from Amazon out of the way so I can discuss the cooler parts of this book:

In Justice and Vengeance, Arwen Bicknell offers the first full account of the events leading up to the shooting of James Clark by Lucien Fewell and the sensational, headline-grabbing murder trial that followed. Set against the backdrop of Reconstruction, tumultuous Virginia politics, and the presidential election of 1872 featuring Ulysses Grant, Horace Greeley, and protofeminist Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, Bicknell paints a vivid picture of the evolving South as she traces the families and fortunes of Lucien Fewell, a hellraiser with a passion for drink and for abusing Yankees and scalawags, and James Clark, a rising legal and political star with a wife, a daughter, and a baby on the way.

A marvelous work of historical re-creation, Justice and Vengeance is sure to fascinate anyone interested in crime drama, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of Virginia and the politics of the American South.

OK, so why would anyone interested in the First Battle of Bull Run be interested in this 51vvmjvwiel-_sx311_bo1204203200_work, concerning a murder and trial which occur a decade after the battle? First of all, the bulk of the story takes place in the general Manassas vicinity, and particularly in Brentsville, and in the Brentsville jail house which you can visit today. Second, two fairly prominent Confederate participants in First Bull Run, Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia Infantry and Billy Payne of the Black Horse Troop, play very prominent roles as attorneys for the defense of the accused, Confederate veteran Lucien Fewell, who openly shot and mortally wounded Confederate veteran James Clark. Former Virginia governor Henry Wise assisted the prosecution.

But what is particularly fun is how the author pulls strings, albeit sometimes tenuously connected, to weave a wide ranging tapestry of the times in which these local events took place. It’s difficult to describe, which I imagine is why I found available summaries so dissatisfying.

Regardless, I recommend you give this book a tumble, if post-war politics, gender roles, legal proceedings, and general roller-coasterly good times flip your switch.