Cry Havoc!

28 02 2007

cryhavoc.jpgI’ve been agonizing over the writing of two book “reviews” for over a week.  It’s been difficult because I really liked both books, but I’m concerned that my criticisms may overwhelm those assessments.  So let me preface this recap of the first book, Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 by Nelson D. Lankford, by saying I give it a thumbs up.  Also note that I have no delusions about the potential influence of my comments, as I am just a guy who likes to read about the period.

Cry Havoc!, as the full title implies, is primarily concerned with the period between the formation of the Confederacy by the “lower south” and the moments of decision affecting the remaining “upper south” states.  The prologue covers John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, and Chapter 1 picks up with Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861.  As such, the causes of secession are not explored in depth.  Lankford correctly identifies the central issue as slavery, and the word “tariff” happily does not even appear in the index.  The book focuses on the struggle for the at-heart loyal upper south, the prize sought by both the Federal government and that of the new Confederacy.

The book’s strengths are substantial.  Lankford has a nice style, and the story is an easy read which in and of itself is a rarity in Civil War literature.  He does a good job of telling what happened when and, generally, why.  Various primary accounts, mostly newspapers, are mixed in with many of the standard secondary sources.  These strengths outweigh what to me are some flaws.

Where the book falls short is in the execution of its “hook”.  Each chapter identifies various turning points at which, if things had been handled differently, events might have been profoundly affected.  The problem is that the alternative choices are seldom specific, and the alternative outcomes are rarely identified.  Think of the 1927 World Series, which pitted the Pittsburgh Pirates against what was arguably the greatest team ever to take any baseball field, the New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row (though I think a good case can be made for the ’29 A’s).  The Bucs lost in 4 games.  Would things have been different had they won Game 1?  Sure.  But how could they have won that game, and how could the series have turned out differently as a result?  That’s the hard part.

Another problem is the failure of the author to recognize that the fundamental difference between the Union and the seceded states were their mutually exclusive objectives – Union or Disunion.  The failure of most peace at any cost arguments is a refusal to recognize the costs.  The corollary to peace at any cost is that every man, or every ideal, can be bought.  In the case of mutually exclusive basic requirements, there can be no compromise, only capitulation.  Either the Federal objective (Union) or the Confederate (Disunion or Independence) would be achieved.  There was no middle ground, no compromise.  To suggest that there was is, to me, either naïve or willfully ignorant.  Lankford does eventually address the conundrum on page 229 of a 241 page book by saying that Jefferson Davis’s April 29 statement that “All we ask it to be let alone” was “irretrievably at odds with Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union whole”.  But this had been the case since secession and the formation of the Confederacy.  On that one issue, Union, the Civil War turned.  Those states were not coming back, and Lankford never suggests that they could be so coaxed.  At the same time he seems to indicate that the only way to “save” the upper south for the Union was by “letting the wayward sisters go”, as Winfield Scott once said.  So, where is the compromise?

The author identifies Lincoln’s reaction to the attack on Ft. Sumter, the call-up of 75,000 volunteers, as the straw that broke the camel’s back for upper south.  This very well may have been the real or rhetorical reason for the decision of some of them to bolt, but the author’s suggestion that Lincoln could have used more “restraint” ignores the reality of the situation.  The lower south Confederacy had already authorized a 100,000 man army.  Lincoln’s call for 75,000 could hardly be considered sufficient to crush the rebellion, and would simply put the Federal forces at a level similar to that of what the chief executive had to assume was a hostile presence.  Lincoln’s call was nothing if not restrained.

Lankford also notes that Lincoln faced “a dilemma that every wartime president of the republic to follow him would confront.  He believed he had to curtail some civil liberties in order to preserve the greater good.”  While it is true that Lincoln believed this, and acted on it (as did and would Davis in a similar fashion), Lincoln was hardly the first president to do so as suggested by Lankford.  One of Lincoln’s predecessors wrote:

A strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen; but it is not the highest.  The laws of necessity, of self preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation.  To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself with life, liberty, property, and all those who are enjoying them with us, thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.

Such were the thoughts of our third president, Thomas Jefferson.  He would invoke the legal maxim inter arma silent leges – laws fall silent when guns speak.

I know that this review, for lack of a better term, sounds like an indictment of Cry Havoc!, but I really do think this book contributes to the literature as a concise overview of the period between the secession of the lower south and the ultimate decisions of the remaining slave states.  I think Lankford’s contribution could have been greater if he had provided more specifics in his turning point analyses, but I also doubt the existence of viable alternatives in many cases, and am not a big fan of “what-ifs” or “counter-factuals” anyway.  As I’ve said before, I don’t advocate throwing babies out with the bathwater.  Read the book.





Getting Right with Lincoln – Part I

31 08 2008

The phrase “Getting Right with Lincoln”  was coined by David Donald in this article from 1956, and it has over the years been used to describe attempts to manipulate the record of Abraham Lincoln to justify the correctness of one’s actions or beliefs.  But I’m using it here to describe my ever-evolving image of the man who many, including myself, consider our greatest president.  But like that big mole on his face, the man had warts that were equally apparent but often ignored.  For instance, it’s been asserted by some who praise AL’s management style that he never let how an individual treated him affect his decision making process.  While I’ve got many and bigger problems with anyone extolling the virtues of Lincoln’s management style (I’ve worked for people who managed like him – CHAOS!), I think people like Winfield Scott would take issue with this particular assertion.  So from time to time here I’ll use this heading to discuss my developing understanding of POTUS16.

I recently finished reading Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell McClintock, which I found a much more useful analysis of the period than Nelson Lankford’s look at 1861,  Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 (reviewed here).  McClintock’s book reveals a Lincoln who was, first and foremost, a party politician.  He was keenly aware of his dependence on his fellow Republicans, and his moves were governed with this dependence in mind.  As a party new to power, it took awhile for things to develop, during which time Lincoln’s administration, both before and after the inauguration, adopted a policy not dissimilar to that of its predecessor, described as “masterly inactivity”.  While I’ve always thought of Lincoln as a product of the machine – and at the same time as one who helped design and build it – I haven’t always considered how Party considerations influenced his decision making.  It’s something I’m going to try to keep in the front part of my brain from now on, or at least until I’m shown the error of my ways.





Giving Thanks

27 02 2007

Just a quick note of appreciation to two noted Civil War historians and authors for taking the time to answer emails.  Thanks to Pete Carmichael for tracking down some info on a Bull Run personality, and to Lesley Gordon for offering to share information on a regiment I am researching.  A couple of writing assignments will benefit greatly from their friendly assistance.  I am repeatedly amazed at how ready and willing are the big-shots to help out us regular folks!

I am in the middle of writing up my notes on Cry Havoc!, and have a reasonable expectation of posting my thoughts later tonight.





Later This Week (I Hope)…

19 02 2007

There are a few things I hope to get to later this week.  I’ve finished the Lankford book Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861, and will give my thoughts on it, for what they’re worth.  In brief, I found it a highly readable, very informative, deeply flawed book.  And I’ve started reading a biography of Samuel P. Heintzelman – I’ll give some preliminary thoughts on that one as well.

I didn’t post any pictures from my personal collection this past Friday.  I’ve selected two from a trip to North Carolina a couple of years ago which I think you’ll find interesting, if not at all related to Bull Run.

I’ll discuss some new writing assignments, and I’ll comment on the effect of hit counts on the fragile psyche of this blogger.  So check back over the next few days.





Scooped…

22 01 2007

…so it appears, on that new book I bought about the lead-up to the war.  It seems blogger Kevin Levin has read it (or is reading it) and gives it a thumbs up!  Check out what he has to say here.

To replace that bit (and I have to, since it takes me quite awhile to read a book, and Cry Havoc! is not at the top of my list), I have tweaked the Union Order of Battle, and am working on the Confederate.  WordPress is a little maddening: I’m having real problems copying from Word to the blog.  But at the end of the day, I think I’ll be happier with the appearance than I was.

Also, I’ll explore a Bull Run/Super Bowl XLI connection, which has a lot to do with everybody’s favorite Colt.





2nd Lieut. Charles E. Palmer, Co. F*, 2nd Connecticut Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

24 01 2017

OUR CORRESPONDENCE.
———-
From the Volunteers.
———-

Camp Keyes, Washington, D. C.,
July 27, 1861.

When I wrote you last, we were in the full tide of victory. The ebb was more sudden and overwhelming than the flow, and we have been thrown back in two short days to a point from which it will require weeks to regain our former position. We are now lying much in the same way we were at Camp Welles – waiting for orders. The enemy, meanwhile, are encamped on our old ground at Falls Church, and doubtless are as vigilant in their picket guard in our direction as we were in the other; and our side is as active in felling trees and obstructing roads on Arlington Heights, as the secessionists were a few weeks since in the roads to Fairfax. But such is the fortune of war, and it is not for me to criticise the actions of those who are responsible, – but will be content with giving the experience of the Connecticut regiments in the great battle of Bull’s Run, last Sunday.

We fell in at 3 o’clock P.M., on Saturday, expecting to march immediately, as the advance guard of Col. Hunter’s column. When we were ready to move, the order was countermanded, and we were instructed to be in readiness at 2 in the morning. At the time we were awakened by a succession of long rolls and bugle calls from the various regiments bivouacked near, and in a few moments the shining camp fires, the glittering bayonets and the multitudes of men as they moved about in confused masses, in all directions, as far as the eye could see, revealed the fact of a general movement. Order soon came out of this chaos, and directly the crowd was transformed into straight black columns, who stood in silence, awaiting the order to march. This was soon given, and with no other music than the tinkle of the soldiers’ canteen and cup, we marched on up the hill, and down through the little village of Centerville toward Manassas, and, as then we fondly hoped, to victory. Our position in column had been changed during the night, and most of the regiments that had been posted in advance of us – the 69th and 79th N. Y., and several others, were already ahead. After proceeding about two miles, the Connecticut brigade was halted, and the whole division filed past, and, with a regiment of regulars, we took the position of rear guard. – The narrow road (the roads in Virginia all seem to be scooped out to the width of one carriage,) did not allow any other style of marching than four abreast, and it was nearly 10 before the last regiment had passed, and the baggage wagons and ambulances began to make their appearance. We took our position, and had moved on nearly a mile, when off to our left, in the direction of the battle of Thursday, we heard the boom of a single cannon, which was soon followed by several others, apparently further to the left, a mile or so in advance of the first. As we had understood that other columns had advanced in that direction, we were not surprised, and as we had become accustomed from our Thursday’s experience to the distant roar of battle we were not startled, and marched on. There was considerable firing in that direction for half an hour, when on a sudden our division was halted, and in a few minutes the jar of Sherman’s 32 pounder at the front, announced to us that we had the enemy at bay, and that the battle had commenced. The firing soon became incessant, but that on the left ceased entirely. Our brigade was drawn into a piece of woods at the side of the road, and the men were soon seated at their ease in the shade, eating their dinners, and filling their canteens, awaiting their turn in the contest, which was then hotly raging in front. About noon and aid-de-camp came galloping down the road, with orders for our advance. From a quickstep with which we started, our pace soon changed to a double-quick, as we neared the scene of action, and the sharp rattle of musketry became audible in the intervals between the discharges of artillery. We soon came to the top of a hill, here stood a small white church, and one or two houses, and from which the battle could be distinctly seen. For a distance of perhaps three miles, there was a succession of hills, thickets and ravines, while at our feet lay the stream, small in size but great in historical importance, of Bull Run. Close at hand, in a piece of woods on our right, lay one of our batteries of rifled, cannon, which was playing on one of those of the enemy, located on a hill about half a mile off, which was answering, gun for gun, with great spirit. In the distance could be seen an ominous cloud of dust, which I noticed more than one general closely scrutinize with his glass, then consult with another, who in turn would take a long gaze in the same direction. Their anxious looks convinced me that the dust was not caused by the approach of Gen. Patterson’s division, as was generally given out among the soldiers, and the event proved the correctness of my surmise – that it was a reinforcement for the enemy from Manassas.

As we came in front of the church, the enthusiasm of the crowd of soldiers and civilians collected around, was without bounds. Every tree had its occupant, who shouted out each movement of the enemy to the spectators below, whose range of view was more limited. – One fellow cried out as we passed – “Hurry up, boys; we’ve got ‘em! They’re surrounded on three sides, and are running like the devil!. – You won’t get a chance at ‘em if you don’t look out!” Sure enough, the enemy could be seen – a hill full of them – running up its side toward some woods, with headlong speed. – the heat was excessive, but our men quickened their step, unslinging their blankets and throwing them one side, and some even throwing away their coats and haversacks as useless impediments to their progress. The enemy had got a view of us also, as was seen by a shell which exploded near, but fortunately doing no damage save covering us with dust. A change in the position of one of our own guns, threw us between it and the enemy, and we were obliged to file round to its rear, thus losing some fifteen minutes. We rushed on, however, and were soon on what had been the battle ground at the beginning of the fight, and from which the enemy had been driven. The desperate character of the action was now to be seen at every step. Dead, wounded, and sun struck men were scattered all along, sometimes singly, but oftener in groups, showing where a shell had exploded, or the ground of some desperate charge. “We won’t get a pop at ‘em.” was constantly heard along our lines, and our step increased from a double-quick into a run. We were soon close on to their left flank, and separated from them by a piece of woods, though which rifle, musket, and cannon balls were whistling constantly. The 1st Connecticut regiment was on the brow of a hill in front, at right angles with our line, and exchanging a fire of musketry with a line of the infantry of the enemy. Further on, the gallant 69th (Irish,) and 79th (Scotch,) New York regiments were engaged, while at our left the Fire Zouaves were at work, now charging some battery, now repelling a charge, but in all cases fighting desperately, and with tiger-like ferocity. Each of them had loose powder in his pocket, with which he besmeared his face, and as they rushed on with their peculiar Zouave cheer and Fireman’s tig a a-h, they seemed more like demons than men. No wonder their ranks were so thinned – as each one seemed to fight as though the whole issue of the day rested with him along.

The enemy soon retreated from this part of the field, and we filed off to the left down into a ravine where Gen. Keyes purposed to concentrate on his forces, make a charge on one of the enemy’s principal batteries, take it at the point of the bayonet, turn the guns upon them and thus decide the day. An order was given to an aid to bring the 2d Maine and 3d Conn. In for this purpose, but on his arriving where they were, found them under the direction of Gen. Tyler, charging on another battery. – This caused a delay, and before they could be brought around where we were, the enemy had planted three or four guns in such a position that the contemplated charge of Gen. K. was impossible, without subjecting us to a raging cross-fire which would have inevitably cut us to pieces before we could have accomplished our object. We moved cautiously up to reconnoiter, and finally pushed boldly through the woods into a notch of open field, to the support of the 14th New York, who were here engaging a force of twice their number. Hardly had our whole regiment got out, when a battery of rifled cannon at less than two hundred yards distance, and which had not before been seen, commenced pouring grape and canister into our ranks. The first fire was fortunately aimed so low that but one man, in Company I, was killed, and several wounded. The next was aimed as much too high as the first was too low, and passed harmlessly over our heads. We were under cover of the woods before the next fire, which was as ineffectual as the two first. The situation of ourselves and the 1st Connecticut was now very critical: The artillery and cavalry were evidently working around to cut us off from the rest of the army. Gen. Keyes held a consultation with Tyler, and it was decided to retreat, and, as we supposed, by a flank movement unite with other regiments and continue the battle. What was our surprise to find on filing back over our old ground, that a general movement of our forces was taking place in the same direction, and that amid a shower of shot and shell from the enemy, who seemed rapidly approaching. – Most of us then supposed that we were being withdrawn to commence some new movement, or at most to bivouac near, and renew the engagement in the morning.

We had nearly reached the little church – now used as a hospital for the wounded – and were moving off in good order through the woods, wondering where we should stop for the night – for at that time it was generally supposed that we were to do no more fighting that day – when all of a sudden there appeared to be a general movement of teams down the road, and immediately after, two pieces of our light artillery came dashing through the crowd, breaking up the ranks of several regiments that were between us and the road. These were followed by a body of the Black Horse cavalry, the sharp volley of whose carbines and crack of whose sabres could now be heard. The fire was answered with spirit from our side, and they were retreating with two-thirds of the number killed, when the cry arose, – “For God’s sake, hold on! You are firing on your own men!” The confusion was now at its height. Some cried one thing and some another, but all had something to say. The numerous regiments at our right, breaking through our ranks, and the stampeded of some few cowardly spirits, who, I am ashamed to say were in the Connecticut regiments, temporarily disorganized us, but through the efficiency of our leading officers our regiments were soon marching away in good order. We shortly crossed a small stream, and stood on the brow of a hill on the other side. At this point, some field officer, I did not understand what regiment, was vainly endeavoring to rally the broken masses, and form a line to command the retreat from more cavalry, which it was understood was rapidly approaching, accompanied by a piece of artillery. A shell which struck in our immediate vicinity made this almost certain, but all the effect it produced on the men was to make them run the faster. Our regiments wheeled into line on each side of the cannon, placed to cover the road where were the retreating soldiers and teams. The approaching cavalry was successful only in taking many of the stragglers to the rear, and attendants in the hospitals, prisoners. If our line had not commanded the rear, the havoc made by a charge of dragoons must have been tremendous. If it had been followed by a piece of artillery, as we are assured one was drawn up for that purpose, it is impossible to tell where it would have ended. Our whole army would have been at their mercy. Thus, if the Connecticut brigade cannot boast of having been in the hottest of the fight, it certainly was instrumental more than any other in saving our retreat from becoming an utter rout.

THE RETREAT.

One does not know his capability of enduring fatigue until he has been forced to a trial. Our men, when they left the field, seemed utterly prostrated. Owing to the intense heat of the day, and the peculiar thirst which is experienced nowhere but on the battle-field, caused by the sulphurous smell of powder, all seemed ready to drop in their tracks from sheer exhaustion, and when they arrived at Centreville, four miles back, and were marched on to our old place of bivouac, as we supposed to stop for the night, we lay down at once, supperless, to sleep. In less than fifteen minutes, however, we were again on the march, and at sunrise next morning we were at Falls Church – having marched thirty-one miles during the night, without stopping but once for rest, and then only a few minutes! There were no baggage-wagons or ambulances to pick up those who fainted by the way, they having either gone ahead, or been smashed by the mob, or the horses cut from them and mounted by the teamsters, in some cases leaving wounded men inside; and however foot-sore or weary one might become, he was obliged to keep up or fall by the road-side, and run his risk of being picked up by the cavalry who were hovering in the rear. One man who was wounded so as to be unable to stand alone, was supported by two men throughout the entire march, and reached Washington safely. Many fell out, however, most who came up in the morning, but some were undoubtedly captured.

We reached Falls Church, as before stated, about sunrise. The camp guard left at that place, had some coffee prepared, – but out rest was not to be there. We were the rear guard. Tents were struck, and everything packed for transportation, but there were no wagons. To obtain these according to the red-tape system we were to go through with the form of a requisition – receipt, and counter-check – and there we stood all that rainy day, with fixed bayonets, in momentary expectation of a charge of cavalry, reports of whose approach were brought us from time to time. – After dark we had the satisfaction of seeing pretty much all our camp equipage under way, and we started through mud, ankle deep, toward Ball Cross-roads, where the deserted Ohio and 2d New York camps were located. – The First and Third stopped at that occupied by the Ohio, and the Second pushed on half a mile further to that of the 2d New York. Wet to the skin as we were, yet all could sleep, and the night was passed without alarm. It took till the next night to get the camps we occupied cleared up and on our baggage-wagons, and we slept that night under the guns of Fort Corcoran, fagged out, but with the satisfactory thoughts of being the last regiment to leave an advanced position, and of being the means of saving the Federal Government at least $100,000 in stores and camp equipage. The next night we encamped on Meridian Hill, Washington, where we now are. We have named our encampment Camp Keyes, after our acting Brigadier General, who is beloved by us all, and to whom, more than anyone else, is due the credit of extricating us in safety from the clutches of the enemy.

Most of the stragglers who were put down as missing when our rolls were first called, have turned up since our arrival here. There are a few, however, who are without doubt in the hands of the enemy. Among these, we fear, is the Rev. Hiram Eddy. He was at the hospital with the wounded all day, and has not been seen since the last charge of cavalry. One of the best men in Company F is also missing, – Samuel A. Cooper, of West Winsted. He had been promoted to the post of General’s Orderly, and was not with the company during the action. The last seen of him was at the hospital, whither he had been sent on some errand by Gen. Keyes, just before the stampede. Both are probably prisoners, and ere this at Richmond. The loss of the army in this way will probably reach 1,000.

All the three months troops are to be mustered out at once, and our turn will probably come some time this week. All are a little loth to leave at this juncture, and many will re-enlist at once, or after a few week of furlough. There seems to be a general feeling as if our army had been disgraced, and a determination to retrieve our honor. U. S. soldiers will not run again.

INCIDENTS.

An instance of cool courage occurred in our Co. (Co. F). James Woodruff on our retreat dropped out of the ranks at Vienna, and lay down at the foot of a tree for a little rest, thinking to regain his company in the morning. He had not lain long, before a party of the enemy came up and made him prisoner. They took away his rifle and left two of their number to guard him, while the remainder of the company went on after more captives. One of the guard after a time left, charging the other to take good care “that the d—-d Yankee did not get away.” Jimmy had a pistol under his haversack which in disarming him was not discovered, and watching his opportunity he sent a ball whistling through the skull of his captor and made the best of his way on to Falls Church.

All agree that the “Boyd pistol” which you will recollect was to be presented to the bravest man in the company, is due to A. H. Conklin, of Mill River, Mass. From the effect of new boots his feet were so sore as to render it impossible for him to wear them. The second day of our march he went barefoot, and, determined not to be cheated out of his fight, on the day we went to battle, he wrapped them in a pair of coat sleeves, which he tied on with a string, and thus hobbled about all day, and at night marched with us to Falls Church, without a word of complaint. I venture to say that he is the only man in the regiment who would have done it.

Lieut. Morse of Co. K. was wounded early in the action by a cannon ball striking a rail fence and throwing a piece with violence against his back. Some one stopped to pick him up, but he told them to win the battle first, pick him up afterwards. He afterward got into a baggage wagon and was carried to Alexandria, and is now with his company.

Sergeant Major Jared B. Lewis of our regiment, who had but just donned the triangular chevron, was so frightened that he did not stop retreating until he arrived at New Haven. He was reduced to the ranks yesterday and the Grays to which company he belongs voted him out of the ranks. The best of it was that he was not on the field at all, and only got near enough to participate in the retreat. He spins a long yarn which I notice is published in the N. H. papers.

C. E. P.

Winsted [CT] Herald, 7/26/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

2nd Ct Roster 

*Alonzo H. Conklin mentioned herein was found in the roster under Rifle Company E, as was 2nd Lt. Charles E. Palmer, likely the author, C. E. P., of this letter. Rifle Company E appears to have also been known as Company F.

Charles E. Palmer at Ancestry.com 

Charles E. Palmer at Find-a-Grave 





1st Sgt. John Tobin, Co. E, 6th Louisiana, On the Retreat from Fairfax Station, Blackburn’s Ford, and the Battle

6 06 2012

Battle of Bull’s Run and Manassas

————

Letter from One of the Mercer Guard, 6th Louisiana Volunteers

————

We have been favored with the following letter from a private of Col. Seymour’s Regiment, Mr. John Tobin, of this city, belonging to the Mercer Guard, who was promoted from the ranks to a lieutenant for his gallantry. The letter was written in pencil to a friend, with all the freshness and frankness of the true soldier, and will be found highly interesting, as everything must be to us at this time on this subject:

Union Mills, Va., July 31, 1861.

Dear Friend — We are now encamped at this point, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, five miles from Manassas Junction and five miles from Fairfax Station.

We have passed through many scenes and since I last wrote you, and have seen as hard duty as is common to volunteers. We have, for a week at a time, slept on the bare ground, without any shelter or covering except what the heavens saw fit to bestow upon us. We have been on duty during heavy rains, all night and day, unable to change our wet uniforms for clothing more dry and comfortable, for the simple reason that we were without a change of wearing apparel – our baggage having been transported to some place unknown to high privates and subalterns. Such is the life of a soldier; his toils, trials, and privations are our every-day experience.

At 2 o’clock on the morning of July 17, while encamped at Fairfax station, we were aroused from our peaceful dreams by the morning reveille. We were taken unawares by this unthought for alarm; however, we willingly performed the first duty of a soldier, (to obey orders,) and took our respective places in line to receive orders. Tents were struck, and baggage of all kinds, cooking utensils, &c., packed in double-quick time, and ’twas then we understood that the enemy were advancing on our position, and ’twas our intention to give them a warm reception. Our baggage, and every moveable and cumbersome article being packed into our camp wagons, our men proceeded to take their position behind the breastworks they had a few days before erected.

Our company (Mercer Guard) and Calhoun Guard composed the reserve, and were detached from our regiment, and entrusted with the honorable position of covering the retreat. We were expecting the attack every moment, when Brig. Gen. Ewell, commanding this brigade, (6th Louisiana and 5th Alabama Regiments,) ordered a retreat; the enemy were then within a few minutes’ march of our late encampment, and had we remained to give them battle we would have been completely cut to pieces, or compelled to surrender.

The reserve of which we were a part brought up the rear of the retreating party, and halted at Union Mills, where we are now encamped. We retreated along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and took the precaution to burn some four or five bridges between this point and Fairfax Station, to prevent the enemy’s artillery from coming by this road. Twenty minutes after our retreat the enemy, consisting of some 20,000 men, were upon our late camp ground. They rent the air with their shouts of exultation, and were so elated with their victory that they immediately took up their march, expecting to overtake and slaughter us. To our regiment is due the honor of decoying and misleading the enemy, and drawing them on to Bulls Run, where they suffered so inglorious a defeat. Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon the officers commanding our regiment. I would make mention of Col. Seymour, but he is too well known a soldier to receive any praise from my pen, either for bravery or capacity.

On the night of the 17th, both armies slept on their arms, being stationed about one mile from each other. On the morning of the 18th, the enemy advanced towards Bull’s Run, and attempted to cross at Mitchell’s Ford, and as you know ere this reaches you, with what success. Our company, on the night of the 19th, were posted as picket guard for two miles along Bull’s Run, it rained incessantly all night, and we were compelled to lay flat on the ground to prevent the enemy seeing our position, and most important of all to keep our powder and muskets dry. Occasionally you could hear the sharp report of a musket, then probably a volley, and you might bet your life that every report told its tale of death, and the returning echo seemed to answer that every shot had accomplished its purpose. On the morning of the 20th, we were relieved from picket guard by another company, and went to our quarters to take whatever rest the wet ground afforded us. Nothing eventful occurred until the morning of the 21st, the day was beautiful, the sun shone in all its splendor, and to make our cause more holy, it was Sunday, and the battle of Stone Bridge, the greatest battle ever fought on this continent was enacted. On the morning of the 21st, at sunrise, the battle was opened by the enemy’s artillery; it is impossible for me to give you anything like a correct idea of this well contested battle, but will confine myself to such facts as I know to be true.

Neither party had any advantage up till 3 o’clock, P.M., when the battle looked very gloomy for our side. Our troops at one time were panic stricken, and we would have lost the day had not the reserve taken their position so as to receive the enemy’s fire, and cover our retreating forces. Our troops were reformed and again led on. They were ordered to charge bayonet, and with one yell they charged, and great God! what havoc and butchery there ensued! The enemy were formed thirteen deep around their batteries, but had they been ten times that they could never have withstood that charge. Our forces came down upon them like a thunderbolt, and with one cry of despair the enemy broke and ran – the day was ours. The sun, which had been concealed by dark clouds a few hours before, now peeped forth upon this scene of carnage and death. The dying looked upon its radiant brightness, and felt its healing influences for the last time. The groans of the dying and wounded could be heard on every side, the living too eager for the fray to be of any service to their dying comrades. So much for a soldier’s experience. Let us drop the curtain on this appalling picture, and return to something more interesting.

The enemy retreated towards Centreville, closely pursued by our forces; they were pursued with great slaughter as far as Alexandria. All of their artillery, consisting of 67 pieces, were captured. Among them were several Armstrong guns and Sherman’s crack battery. The battle-ground covers a space of some ten miles along Bull’s Run. The loss on both sides must have been immense. We took almost 1000 prisoners, and some 500 cavalry horses, and captured about 10,000 stand of arms – truly, a great victory.

Our regiment arrived just as the enemy were retreating. President Jeff. Davis was on the ground in time to see the enemy disappear from sight.

Such was the glorious victory achieved by our forces at Stone Bridge, July 21, 1861.

I would not attempt to give the strength of either party; it is currently stated here that their force was 60,000, and ours 35,000. I give you this for what it is worth. It is true that they were the best equipped army that ever went into the battle field; they were clad from top to bottom in the best — all the money in Christendom could not have given them a more complete outfit.

It will soon be dress parade, and I must bring this long episode to an end.

New Orleans Times Picayune, 8/7/1861

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John Tobin on Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





H. J. E., 5th Maine, On the Battle

15 02 2012

Army Correspondence of the Advertiser.

Fifth Regiment Maine V. M.

Alexandria, Va., July 26th, 1861.

Of the battle of Sunday, and its immediate results, your readers are doubtless well aware; but perhaps the movements of separate regiments may possess elements of particular interest to many.

On Sunday morning, at half past 1 o’clock, the 5th and the other Maine Regiments, at Centreville, together with the 2d Vermont, started in “light marching order” for the Bull Run fortifications. Among many necessary delays we did not get into the main road until daylight. – After a somewhat tiresome march we reached the point where it was intended for us to turn into the woods, in order to attack the batteries in the rear. Here we were halted for two or three hours, and then were suddenly started on a double quick, which, with but few exceptions, was kept up until we reached the scene of action, at [?] o’clock P. M. This injudicious running, in the heat of the day, told with fearful effect on our men, and for the last two miles of our advance the road was literally filled with the weary and faint, who had been compelled from sheer exhaustion to drop from the ranks; it was all in vain that our Colonel sent request after request to the acting Brigadier General (Col. Howard) to spare his men and let them have at least one short rest. When we reached the field of action, our numbers were reduced at least one half.

At the hospital, about a mile this side the scene of battle, the fugitives and wounded became quite numerous; to the grand majority it was the first experience of warfare; and yet it did not create the terror I had expected. Our regiment went on without a moment’s hesitation, over the ploughed field where the battle had been commenced in the morning, by the Rhode Island regiments, and from which the rebels had been driven with immense loss, down into the ravine and across the brook where we formed. Our regiment was the third to advance up the hill, being proceeded by the Maine 4th and Vermont, 2d. Scarcely had the two advance regiments begun to move before they were charged by the rebel cavalry (the famous Black Horse Guards). They were broke and retreated to the brook where they were again formed and led up the hill. Our position on the hill was one of terrible danger. A new battery was now unmasked and poured its terrible fire into our ranks, but our men kept their position, and had it been possible to have supported them with artillery the fate of the day might have assumed a different aspect, but this was impossible, as the ammunition for the artillery had given out.

As it was, our men retained their position until ordered to retreat, which was performed with as good order as the circumstances permitted; and had it not been for the general confusion, the Maine regiments might have retreated in good order, as it was there was less confusion in our regiments, and the 5th in particular, than in any of the other regiments. We were the last to leave the field and the last on the retreat.

The retreat was one of the great confusion, the whole army were in complete panic, frightened at their own shadows, and believing every rumor – Ever an anon the cry would arise that the cavalry of the rebels were upon them, and then there would be a general stampede for the woods. They would not obey their officer; they paid no attention to their weak and wounded comrades, but each one hurried on unmindful of all else in the thought of self. The greatest proof of the havoc which must have been made among the rebels is the fact that such a disordered retreat was allowed without interruption, the three guns which were fired at the bridge being the only attack which was made on our disorganized forces. We retreated as far as the encampments, where supper was prepared, and around the camp fires were gathered in the silence of the July evening many an anxious group enquiring of one and another the fate of their comrades. There were many, who from fatigue, did not reach the encampment that night, which caused the reported number of the lost to be greatly exaggerated. At ten o’clock we again commenced our retreat to Fairfax. After a short rest at Fairfax, we again resumed our march towards Alexandria, which we reached at about 4 o’clock P. M., having marched about 40 miles since leaving our camp on Sunday morning.

Since arriving at Alexandria, one after another of our men have come in, which has reduced the number of our lost to a very low figure. Our men are rapidly recruiting, and will soon be prepared to again take the field with renewed courage and improved discipline.

H. J. E.

Portland Daily Advertiser, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





“DeW”, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle (2)

2 10 2011

“DeW”, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle (2)

Correspondence of the Journal.
The Reverse

Camp Sprague, July 24.

After our brigade had been withdrawn to the woods, arms were stacked, and the men sat down to take some refreshments from their haversacks, and compare notes with regard to the battle. I took this opportunity to traverse the scene of conflict. Our own men had been carried off, but in the corn-field I found numbers of the enemy dead or dying. After rendering what assistance we could, I conversed with some not so severely wounded. They belonged to New Orleans and Alabama regiments, and stated that their Colonel was mortally wounded. They said that all that morning troops had been coming as rapidly as possible from Manassas, by rail and on foot; that their force was very strong, though they had no means of ascertaining the numbers; that Beauregard held command in person; and that we should find the batteries very formidable. They seemed grateful for any kindness, and said they were now convinced that we were neither brutes nor cowards, as we had been represented to them. One poor fellow, shot through the hip, begged us to send home the body of his Lieutenant, lying near, as he was “of a wealthy family, who would pay any amount for the service.”

Returning up the hill I found one of the 71st leaning mournfully over the body of a comrade. “Look here!” said he, “that is my chum – we have slept under the same blanket for three months.” I will not describe the sights and sounds of horror which greeted me whichever way I turned. I have seen one battle field – may no stern necessity ever compel me to see another.

Stationing myself upon the summit of the hill, I watched the progress of the conflict, the heat of which was now removed nearly a mile to the east. The 69th New York, the Fire Zouaves and several other fresh regiments were now ordered forward, crossed the hollow, and commenced ascending the opposite hill. Up to this time I think all the shot had come from one battery, which the Zouaves were ordered to storm, Capt. Reynolds meanwhile keeping up a persistent fire upon it. The brave fellows rushed at it on the double quick, and twice, I am told, they gained possession of it, but each time were repulsed by overwhelming numbers, and at the same time two or three new batteries opened fire upon them from the covert of the adjacent woods, making sad havoc in their ranks. Hardly had they recovered from this surprise, when the famous “Black Horse Cavalry” charged upon them, firing their revolvers. In their ranks they bore a small Union flag, by reason of which they were allowed to approach very near, the Colonel of the Zouaves crying out, “Don’t fire, boys! they are our own cavalry!” Can treachery more devilish and double dyed be conceived of than this, twice practiced on that day? When the Zouaves discovered the deceit, they poured in a destructive fire which emptied many saddles and sent the horsemen flying back into the forest. Thus far I had watched the varying fight, but the enemy’s batteries now began to play upon the infantry who were forming in the hollow, doing them but little harm, their aim being much too high, but dropping shot and shell in my vicinity quite too quickly to be pleasant; so securing a ball from a rifled cannon which ploughed up the earth near by, I retired to the piece of woods where our regiments were in waiting.

The Retreat.

We had perhaps been here half an hour, when there was an energetic call from some one, I think Gov. Sprague, “Rhode Island, stand to your arms! Our troops are falling back on us!” and presently emerged from a cloud of dust half a dozen ammunition wagons, driving furiously, followed by a confused crowd of soldiers of different regiments, walking and running, crying out as they passed, “Save yourselves, boys! we are whipped, and the enemy is close behind us!” There was some delay in forming our men , caused, not by fear, but actually by the men hunting over the stacks to get the muskets with their own particular number on it. We marched a short distance, and halted in a field, while Col. Burnside rode back to reconnoitre. Meanwhile, in three or four different streams the fugitives were pouring by us from the battle field, exhausted and dispirited. After a while the Colonel came back and told us to go to the brook half a mile back and fill our canteens, which we did in perfect order. All this I supposed to be preparatory to a rally by our regiments and the 71st, and a return to the battle field. But I presume Col. Burnside, Gen. McDowell  became convinced that no effort would avail with some of the regiments who had been brought into the field on the run for four miles, without water, and were quite used up. Then, therefore, our canteens were filled, we were told to march on. Then, for the first time, the appalling truth burst upon me that we were defeated, and had nothing left for us but a mortifying and painful retreat. We kept together very well for six miles, till coming upon an open plain, two musket shots sounded ominously in the wood to our left. In three minutes more artillery was heard on the main road, which we were now approaching again, and the iron missiles came singing over our heads and crashing through the trees. The column hurried into the woods, and I think none were killed at this point. But a few hundred yards brought us into the road leading to the bridge, which we had passed in the morning. As we crowded towards it the enemy’s artillery was plainly visible on a hill to the west, supported by cavalry, while the crowded masses in the road made a target which they could hardly miss.

The Flight.

A discharge of musketry from an ambuscade in the bushes completed our confusion, and the retreat became a complete rout, everybody struggled to gain the bridge. But when on reaching it we found it barricaded, and our own artillery piled up pell mell, with wheels broken and horses gone, our ambulances filled with wounded drawn up to the side of the road, their occupants resigning themselves to their fate, the enemy’s guns sending round shot and shells, crashing and tearing through the panic-stricken crowd all the while, our misery was complete. I do not think a man of us really expected to escape.

Some climbed over the barricade. Most, like myself, dashed through the river, waist deep. Many fell down. losing their arms in the water. – When we got through, our clothes were so weighed down with water that we could with difficulty climb up the farther bank. One poor fellow near me lost his shoes, and walked twenty miles in his stocking feet. When we got clear of the stream we scattered into the woods to escape the deadly storm of balls, and after another mile could breathe freer. It was dark when we reached Centreville, but we kept on to our old camp, when we flung ourselves upon the ground, hoping to rest awhile. But there was no rest for us. We had hardly begun to dry ourselves by the fires hastily kindled, when the word was passed: “Fall in, boys, we must march to Washington!” twenty miles more. We staggered into the road again, and commenced our weary march.

I have no very definite idea of the subsequent events of that dismal night. We stumbled along through the hours of darkness, gradually becoming scattered, as the strong ones outwalked the weak, eagerly dipping our canteens in the muddy pools through which the cavalry and wagons had passed, welcoming the drizzling rain which came towards daylight, watching the dull sunrise over the endless road, till at last the blue haze of the Potomac, see through half shut eyelids, revived us a little, and somehow or other, I shall never be able exactly to tell how, most of us got inside Fort Runyon, on the Arlington side of Long Bridge. Here we were detained an hour or two, and treated to breakfast, and a wash. After this the regiments were reformed, and marched over the bridge to camp. A sorry show we made, passing through the city, with feet that flinched from every stone, and a sad assemblage watched us from the windows and sidewalks. A fat Irishwoman looked at us a moment as we passed, then stuck her knuckles in her eyes and blubbered outright.

Ever since we got here, stragglers have been coming in, and some now missing may yet appear. Our loss is not large. You will have the official report before this reaches you. Of the causes of our defeat, I say nothing. It becomes us to be grateful to the merciful Providence that saved so many of us, through that day and night of horror.

It takes the stories of several different men to make the true story of a battle. You have mine.

One word more. All that we won that day, and all that we did not lose, that is, our lives, we owe, under God, to Col. Burnside.

DeW.

Providence Journal 7/27/1861

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Some Stuff I’m Working On

19 01 2007

I’m a little tied up putting the finishing touches on a PowerPoint presentation for a continuing ed class I’m teaching tomorrow.  I have some posts in the pipeline and will get to them after the weekend (or maybe on Sunday).  These include: a look at the color red and the confusion it has caused in accounts of the First Battle of Bull Run; some annoying devices employed by the author of the Tidball biography; a hat tip to USAMHI; and a just purchased new book that covers the outbreak of the war.