Everyone Has an Angle

15 07 2008

A friend passed on this article by Lt. Col. Robert Bateman.  A good look at what historians do, how their job differs from that of a journalist (ideally, anyway), and how their opinions are just as biased as anyone else’s.  In summary:

In other words, while journalists may write the first draft of history, among historians there is no such thing as a “last draft.” There is only the most current, and the one certain thing within history is that it will change again soon enough. – R. Bateman

Check it out.





Unknown, 5th South Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

5 08 2020

LETTER FROM THE BATTLE FIELDS.

A lady in this town who has a cousin in the 1st South Carolina Regiment* at Manassas, having received from him a letter about the battles in that vicinity, has kindly permitted us to extract from it the following:

Manassas Junction, July 24th, 1861.

My Dear Cousin:

* * * * * *

“I have often seen battles fought in poetry, and it all seemed very grand; but I never had the faintest idea of the reality until Thursday and Sunday last. – On Thursday there was an attack made on us which lasted from 12 to 3 ½ o’clock. It was a desperate fight and resulted in a victory for us. Our loss was about forty killed and wounded; the killed and wounded of the enemy, as near as we could ascertain, was about 500. The cowardly scoundrels ran and left behind their dead and wounded, and we had to bury what we could of their slain. They lay all the next day on the field.

On Saturday night, I and one of General Jones’ aids were sent out to reconnoiter. We reached the ground assigned us about dusk. The moon was shining brightly. We climbed a tall tree on a hill, near the road by which the enemy were expected to pass; and we could see them passing, and hear them singing, rattling [?], cursing, and cheering, as regiment after regiment joined them. They approached within about one mile of the Creek (Bull Run,) and camped, and planted their batteries. About 7 o’clock, Sunday morning, they commenced the firing; and in an hour afterwards, the whole creek for the distance of 3 or 4 miles was in a perfect blaze, from the fire of cannon, bursting shells and musketry.

{Here follows an account of the part taken in the fight by the troops to which the writer belonged – too long for our columns, at present.}

“We had but three killed – one by a shell, one by the fire of the Mississippians, and one in some other way, unknown. There were about 20 wounded. I got a scratch from a ball which did not do more than cut the skin. There were tens of thousands of balls flying around me, but my kind, merciful Father, in whom I trust, did not permit me to be harmed; and the first thing I did after I got off the field, was to return my heartfelt thanks for his kind preservation. I visited the field the next day, and then, horror of horrors! There lay the yankees, mangled in every possible form. And this morning I went around to see the wounded; they have been brought in after lying there on the field from Sunday afternoon – day and night – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. – They were broken and mangled in every way. Oh! my cousin, it makes my heart-sick when I think of it!

“They shot at our hospital – with yellow flag over it – all day, while their own wounded were there with ours. They also raised our state flag, Confederate and white flag; when we would march up, would pour a deadly volley into us. The poor deluded fellows – the wounded – told me that Scott had ordered the Adjutants of each regiment to read out that they (the yankees) had possession of Richmond, and had only to pass this way to get there, when they would pay them off and disband them.

“Our killed dwindled down to 350; wounded, 900; but near two-thirds of them are like me, just scratched. IT was the most complete victory ever won.”

(Salisbury, NC) Carolina Watchman, 8/5/1861

Clipping Image

*The 1st S. C. Regiment was not present. From the letter’s contents, it appears the regiment in question was the 5th S. C., in Brigadier General David R. Jones’s Brigade. Jones’s report estimated the 5th S. C. loss at 3 killed, 23 wounded, which also generally conforms to the contents of the letter.





Unknown, Albemarle Light Horse (Co. K, 30th Virginia Volunteers), On the Pursuit

8 07 2020

The Pursuit at Manassas.

We are permitted to publish the following letter from a member of the Albemarle Light Horse, (Capt. Eugene Davis,) which was engaged in the battle at Manassas Plains:

Manassas Junction, July 24.

Amid your rejoicings over the glorious victory of the 21st, I have thought it probable you would not object to hearing of the exploits of the Albemarle Light Horse, more in detail than can be found in the usual accounts of the battle. Our company returned from Occoquan on Friday before the great fight and were immediately sent to meet General Holmes’ Brigade, which was advancing from Fredericksburg. We met the General and returned with him on Saturday and continued under his command. On Sunday, shortly after our dinner, the order came for the Brigade to advance to the scene of action. We were soon mounted and ready to start, under the command of Major John Scott. After a most furious gallop of about two miles, we entered a grassy field, and were about ascending a high hill, when we were met by Col. Lay and directed to file around it, as the enemy’s flank battery was playing upon it. We did so promptly, and thus the balls passed, sone entirely over our heads and others into the earth near the top of the hill, making the dirt fly, but hurting nobody. On we went until ordered to halt and form into line, under cover of the hill upon which Lewis’ house stands. – Here we were subjected to a most demoralizing influence. Many of the companies which had been engaged were relieved by new companies and returning in a confused condition, leading and carrying their bleeding comrades, and giving awful accounts of the way in which their companies had been cut to pieces. One fellow made it his business to walk down the line and refresh us by telling how the Monticello and Holcombe Guards had been almost demolished. Major Scott seemed to see the effect of this upon his men, and sharply ordered the next fellow to be cut down who opened his mouth upon such a topic, and after that we heard nothing more, but still the line of bleeding wounded dragged its slow length along and still there came over us a sickening impression that the day had gone against us. – Everybody’s face looked elongated; but presently a shout was heard behind us, and on looking back we saw Capt. L. Walker’s battery which we had passed on the way advancing. He rode up in a cheerful mood and asked how things were going: “Hip and tug,” responded our officer; “Hip and tug is it,” said Lindsay, then le me get up on that hill with my little derringers.” And up he went with his “little derringers,” as he called his refle cannon, and commenced a succession of rapid firings, all of which were said to have ploughed ar road through horses, artillery and Yankees.

A squad of officers, who had collected on horseback, scattered over the fences and into the wood like a covey of partridges. In a few moments, we heard the joyful sound that the enemy were off in full retreat. Major Scott rode up to General Holmes, and reported for orders. “Go on, sir,” was the laconic response. And on we did go, without knowing, we must acknowledge, exactly where we were going to or what we were going after. But we were all too high strung to care much now, and there was only a general impression, that it was a sort of fox chase on a very expanded scale. At the Stone Bridge across Bull’s Run, (where the fight commenced in the morning,) we overtook Kershaw’s Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, and attached ourselves to his command.

In a few moments orders came to send a platoon forward to act as skirmishers in a body of woods through which the road passed. Lieut. Geiger dispatched for this service, Major Scott accompanying him. Passing in front of the regiment, Geiger left the Major six men to keep the main body on the road, while he scattered the rest on either side, and the boys had fine sport gathering up the prisoners, with which the woods were filled. Riding on, Major Scott, with his six men, found a house upon the turnpike filled with Yankees. Without knowing how many there were, he made a charge upon it, and the cowardly devils surrendered at once. Upon being emptied, the house was found to have contained thirty-five Yankees and three Georgians, whom they had in custody. At this point, the Major remained until joined by Lieut. Geiger, with his platoon, and finally by Capt. Davis, (with the rest of the company,) who had also been subsequently sent in advance of Kershaw to reconnoitre, and had captured several prisoners.

We had scarcely got together before it was announced that the enemy were rallying and planting a battery in the road just in front of us. At this news we scampered into the woods to wait for the regiment and Kemper’s Artillery, which was coming, and here we sent four of our men, with our doctor, to attend to Capt. Radford, who had fallen a short distance off, and died soon after the boys reached him. He had kind, sympathizing hearts around him in his last moments, and soft, youthful hands to close his eyes.

The enemy at this point raised quite a shout, but the South Carolina boys had come and only gave way to the right to allow Kemper to open on them from the road, and again we were formed in rear of the regiment. The sun was just sinking behind the horizon when the battery opened, and of all the singing shots you ever heard, these were the most musical. Our horses actually danced at every crack, and at every crack the road was cleared in front. This was too much, and away they went again. A large body of Cavalry had entered the field and were standing some distance in our rear when an officer rode up and asked for two squadrons to follow and capture the baggage train and artillery. For some reason there was no response, except from Major Scott, who replied, that he had one company at his service. The officer accepted the offer and directed us to the left of the turnpike, warning the Major to be cautious. The very thing the Major did not seem disposed to be, for away we went again across the field towards the left, and heard from several as we passed, the pleasant expression “there goes a doomed body of men.” But we were too much elated to mind that, and in our excitement had forgotten all about the wounded men on the hill where we first formed.

After proceeding a short distance we captured a prisoner, from whom Major Scott extorted the confession that the most important part of the train had passed straight down the turnpike. So over the fence we went into the turnpike again, and at a breakneck speed forward, until we spied the train descending a hill at Cub Run. We charged with such a terrible clatter that we suppose the attendants thought we numbered thousands instead of about fifty, and (at the first fire) off they scampered, leaving artillery, wounded men, baggage and everything. The Major, accompanied by Lieut. Geiger and fifteen men, dashed across the stream in pursuit of the fugitives, and had captured several of them, when they discovered a body of 200 Zouaves, and at once demanded their surrender. This was pushing things rather too far, and so the gallant Yankee who commanded actually had the hardihood, instead of surrendering his two hundred men, as our men thought he would do, to fifteen, to ask by what right his surrender was demanded, and to prevent all reply by following up his querry by a rapid pop, pop, pop, all along the line. A “right about,” and rapid abandonment of prisoners, and a hasty retreat to the rest of the company, was effected without injury to anybody. I believe one of our horses did get a few buckshot in the leg.

During the absence of this party, Captain Davis began to discover the nature and value of the prize, and proceeded to disengage and send back the cannon. Seeing how very important it was to secure it all, and reflecting that we numbered not over fifty, and were far in advance of our own men, and a very short distance from the enemy, Capt. Davis sent Lieut. Randolph back for reinforcements, and he returned with a body of cavalry and some infantry, with whose assistance we were able. By about 1 o’clock, to get everything disentangles, and on its road to Manassas. There were sixteen cannon, among them one Armstrong gun, said to be worth ten thousand dollars, caissons, ammunition, wagons, ambulances, about one hundred horses, &c., &c., &c. A nice little two-horse carriage was found elegantly fixed up, with oil-cloth coats, bottles of cologne, a fine guitar, and all the other fixings of some calico exquisite, who was no doubt anticipating an elegant campaign in Virginia, and much chagrined at the way in which he got himself bedraggled running through Cub Run and the adjoining swamp and thicket. Another carriage seemed to belong to a more substantial character, as it was fount to contain hermetically sealed meats, vegetable soup, and oh! a box of elegant liquor – whiskey, brandy, champagne, and other wines. We could not help feeling some respect for this fellow. He was certainly a fine judge of spirits, and treated us in style. We actually drank to his health and reformation. The boys loaded themselves with coats, oil-cloths, splendid canteens, &c.

Such a rout you cannot conceive of, the whole road, and for a distance on either side for miles, was literally covered with all manner of blankets, hats, guns, swords, dead men and horses, wagons and wheels. I noticed several wagons loaded with timber, ready hewed, for the purpose of making bridges across Bull Run. But few men in that army will ever tread the soil of Virginia again without terrible trepidation and rapid looking from one side to the other, and crooking of the legs in a position to be ready for a right about. The abject servile behavior of the prisoners lowered even our opinions of our miserable foes, and you know it was very low before.

We reached our camp at daybreak Monday morning, and after a short nap got up to talk over the doings of the day and receive the congratulations of our friends and commendations of the General and others in high command. We certainly had a glorious day of it. It would have done you good to see how the boys rode. We will be in Alexandria next week.

Richmond (VA) Dispatch, 7/29/1861

Clipping Image

Albemarle Light Horse was Co. K of the 30th Virginia Volunteer Regiment and would become Co. K, 2nd Virginia Cavalry

Brief sketch of the Albemarle Light Horse 





Interview: Somerville, “Bull Run to Boer War”

12 03 2020

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Michael Somerville is an English military historian whose doctoral thesis at the University of Buckingham looked at the influence of the American Civil War on the Victorian British Army. The end result of that work has been published by Helion & Company as Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army. Michael has been good enough to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

MS: I graduated with a First Class degree in History from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University, but at the time I didn’t want to continue academic study and made what was as the time perhaps a rather unusual decision to go into a career in IT. I spent nearly forty years as a programmer, consultant and project manager before retiring in 2018. Alongside my professional career though I always remained interested in history and particularly military history. I live in Wimbledon, south-west London with my wife, Gillian. She did her degree in American Studies, so interest in the Civil War period is something we share, though mine are primarily military and hers in the social aspects.

When I was working overseas for a year Gillian suggested that I do an MA course in military history to keep me occupied in the evenings! This was not practical for many reasons, but the following year I signed up for the MA course at the University of Buckingham, and with the centennial of the First World War coming up in 2014, the idea of researching the idea of looking at how one conflict had influenced the other was an obvious. In 2017 I was awarded a doctorate by the University of Buckingham for my thesis on the influence of the Civil War on the Victorian British Army.

I’m a member of the American Civil War Round Table UK, who appointed me their President this year. I’ve written a number of articles for our society journal (which publishes some excellent scholarship), mostly on British observers to the war, but Bull Run to Boer War is my first externally published work.

BR: I’m curious – as an Englishman, what got you in the American Civil War? Who/what were your early influences, for both your interest in the Civil War and Military History?

MS: I had always been interested in military history as a boy, but it was initially about the Second World War, like many of my generation I think. I did read a little on the American Civil War at University, but only briefly. In the 1980s I became quite a serious wargamer – figures, not re-enactment – and the period covering the American Civil War and contemporary European and British wars became my main focus. The historical side of the hobby was always as important to me as the gaming aspect, and I did a lot of reading and research in order to set up games and competitions that I felt challenged the players with the problems and choices that the generals had to make at the time.

In 2011, Gillian was working in the BBC on a series of radio programmes to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and she was put in touch with the American Civil War Round Table (United Kingdom) who were organizing a number of events around the country. We went to their conference and I was hugely impressed with the level of collective knowledge that the group had, and with the welcome we received, we joined the group on the spot. Although the war is a minority interest here in the UK, it is a small but important part of the heritage of some places such as Liverpool. Many of our members visit the USA regularly to tour the battlefields, and we also have many people who trace the stories of the many British-born soldiers and sailors who served on both sides. Attending the Conferences and hearing the many excellent speakers also made me want to build on such knowledge as I had to do more academic research into the American Civil War, prompting me to sign on for the MA.

BR: I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the use of the term “military history.” I think it gets misused and abused here in the U. S., and means something deeper and broader than simply researching or writing about people, places, and events of a military nature. How do you define “military history” and “military historian?”

MS: The book could almost be classified as ‘pure’ military history. It looks at how a military event (the American Civil War) was studied by a military organization (the British Army), and how that influenced its military equipment, tactics, and thought. It is not a narrative about the war, or about the army, but tries to analyze the influence of one on the other. That potentially limits its appeal to those interested in purely military matters, and put off those who are drawn to military history by depictions of battle and by personal stories. I was very conscious when writing the book that I needed to make it accessible to the non-specialist where possible. But I believe that military history needs to be more than a narrative of a battle or a series of vignettes of soldiers’ personal experiences – it needs to have an element of analysis, to explain how and why people acted and things happened the way they did, and with what consequences. I am also fascinated by parallels and comparisons between different military periods and armies, and how armies function as institutions, an understanding of which I think is essential to a military historian.

BR: Bull Run to Boer War looks at how the American Civil War “predicted the way in which later wars such as the Boer War and the First World War would be fought.” Can you summarize this premise, and give a brief overview of your findings?

MS: The Civil War and the First World War hold similar places in the American and British national consciousness – they are the bloodiest conflicts that the two nations have respectively fought, and they are each portrayed to some extent as being unnecessary, incompetently fought, or both. Many histories of warfare point to technical and tactical innovations in the Civil War – the machine-gun or trenches for example – and how these were then features of the First World War. The inference is that the men in charge of the armies in 1914 should have seen what was going to happen, and therefore have avoided it. The British come in for particularly severe criticism – partly because they were one of the few European armies to actually fight significant actions in the closing years of the nineteenth century. For example, some websites on the Boer War perpetuate the idea that the British expected to fight it using almost Napoleonic tactics, whereas if only they had studied the Civil War properly they would have realized the errors of their ways.

My basic premise is that this is twenty-twenty hindsight, and even then mostly inaccurate. If you trace the history of this view, it really derives from British critics of the Army’s performance in 1914-18 which were written in the 1930s. But the British Army of the nineteenth century was responding to the challenges and demands of the day, which did not include planning for a four-year global war involving every Great Power. The tactics and technologies of the Civil War were not as novel or unprecedented as they are sometimes depicted, so when the British went to America in 1861-65 – and many more officers did than the few who are usually mentioned – they did not see dramatic change in the nature of warfare, because none had yet occurred. Also the geography of America at the time was not at all like most of Europe with its highly developed agricultural and transport systems. The Civil War was Napoleonic in the scale of its armies but most individual campaigns were fought over sparsely populated wilderness. Attributing some aspects of the way that the Civil War was fought (such as the way the Americans used cavalry) to these local factors, was not a misunderstanding of what was seen, it was in fact quite perceptive. And the conditions in South Africa, with wide open plains and steep bare hills, were nothing at all like the mostly forested battlefields of the Civil War.

Conversely, the British did not subsequently ignore what they had seen in America. The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of great technical change in the military. To give just one example, the British infantryman used at least five different standard small arms between 1850 and 1900 – ranging from the smooth-bore musket with a range of about 100 yards and firing twice per minute to the Lee-Metford magazine rifle, with twenty times the range and seven or eight times the rate of fire. With such weapons, to plan to fight the next European war in the same manner as Waterloo – or even Gettysburg – would indeed have been suicidal. But they did not. The infantry understood the need to entrench and to use open formations. The cavalry knew it could not charge machine guns and magazine rifles frontally, and looked to use its mobility to beat its opponents by maneuver, surprise, and dismounted firepower. And there are descriptions of preparing defensive positions written in the 1870s that refer to the use of trenches, wire entanglements, explosive mines and machine guns – not a bad prediction of what would be seen over forty years later.]

The Boer War provided the British with a new and important set of lessons – which is why I decided to close my book in 1900. But since these descriptions and recommendations appear in manuals, books, and articles written before 1900, they cannot be ascribed to lessons from the Boer War or the early twentieth century – they derive from the study of earlier conflicts, in which the American Civil War featured prominently.

BR:Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

MS: The book originated in 2012 as a dissertation for a MA in Military History at the University of Buckingham, which was meant to last one year. At the end of that time, I realized that I had far more material than I could fit into a 25,000 word dissertation, and my supervisor suggested that rather than submit it I expand it into a doctorate thesis. I was still doing a full-time job, so it was around four years before I was in a position to submit, and then about another year of reviews and amendments to finally get the thesis accepted in 2017. During that final year I was already thinking that maybe I would like to publish it in some form, as I felt that the subject matter had been left unresearched for many years and the material which I was uncovering was of significant importance to the history of military thought.

I thought it would be relatively easy to turn the thesis into a book, but my publisher warned me that it would take some time; in the event around two years! Some of that was the immensely tedious business of revising things like footnotes to meet a different editing standard. Rather less soul-destroying was the need to make the book comprehensible to the non-specialist reader. I knew it was a subject that could interest readers on both side of the Atlantic, but a lot of British would not be familiar with Civil War people and events, while most Americans probably don’t know much about British operations in Africa, India and elsewhere. Getting the balance between accessibility, readability, and brevity was a challenge.

Mostly my research supported my initial belief that the British Army had been over-criticized for its indifference to the Civil War. In fact I was surprised when I discovered just how early some changes were initiated. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866 is traditionally supposed to have made European armies wake up to the potential of the breech-loading rifle and the railways, but the British Army adopted the former in 1864 (nine months before the US Army!) and set up a railway board in 1865. Far from ignoring the machine-gun the British were keen adopters of the technology, even though early weapons had not performed well in field, because it could compensate for their relatively low numbers of troops. The use of barbed wire was mentioned in books published twenty years before the First World War. I don’t conclude that the Army was perfect – both the organization and individuals made lots of mistakes. But we should not judge them by twentieth century standards.

I started the process rather skeptical of the idea that the American Civil War predicted the First World War. I would still argue that is true in the field of technology – there is no comparison between the artillery, machine guns, and rifles of the Civil War and those of 1914. And as a result the tactics of most of the better known battles have more in common with the Crimean War than the Western Front. But I now think that by 1865 there were aspects that could be said to have been more comparable to the two World Wars at an operational and strategic level, such as the mobilization of most of the countries human and physical resources for war. Unfortunately these were the lessons that it was most difficult for a democratic country, like Britain or America, to prepare for in time of peace, so they had to be relearnt and reapplied.

My test audience is my long-suffering wife, who has read almost every version of every chapter. She is keen on history but not so much on the military side, so can tell me where I need to explain or clarify things for the non-specialist. If she told me a bit of the book was interesting or good I could feel confident it was about ready.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

MS: As a former Project Manager I have a tendency to set plans and targets, so although there is sometimes some tension between ‘academic’ and ‘amateur’ historians, I rather appreciate the rigor which the academic process enforces. Because it started out as an academic thesis, I had to produce a detailed work plan up front, with a core research question and a series of subsidiary questions that the thesis intended to answer. The next stage was to read any secondary works already written on the subject. In one respect I was fortunate that there is only really one work that covers it directly – Jay Luvaas’ Military Legacy of the Civil War, which was ground-breaking for its time but sixty years old. I discovered that most books describing the military impact of the Civil War on Europe, if it was mentioned at all, simply referenced Luvaas’ research. I determined to read all of Luvaas’ primary sources, and see whether I agreed with his interpretations and conclusions, trying to look at everything from a nineteenth century rather than a twentieth century perspective.

That meant going through large numbers of old military books and journals. Some of these are available online, and I was able to borrow some from the RUSI library in London, but for many it meant long hours taking notes in the British Library – at weekends or in the evening after work. As well as articles about the Civil War, reading other articles and books on tactics and weapons revealed several less obvious evidence that people were taking note of what had happened in America. I also looked at military manuals of the period – both official and unofficial – and found it was mostly untrue that tactics did not change during the period. I had already decided that I would adopt a thematic rather than a chronological structure, and this research largely formed the basis for the chapters on the infantry and cavalry in particular, by identifying what soldiers saw as being the military issues of the day and analyzing what they thought the solutions were.

Being able to download electronic versions of much of the out of copyright material from sites such as archive.org meant that I could view them on my laptop at home and on holidays. Having online search engines was immensely useful, and generated some surprising leads. Even in the British Library, browsing their online catalogue with various search terms and date ranges revealed an interesting but long-forgotten pamphlet by a British general written in 1865, proposing how to fight a war with the United States. A Google search for British observers came up with a bookseller who had a report written by [William T.] Sherman and dedicated by him to Sir Bruce Hamley, a prominent British military writer, and pointed me to a set of letters between them contained in Hamley’s biography. I would probably never have found this otherwise. Another Google search came up with a copy of the Guards Brigade’s Journal for 1863 and an article describing a visit to Meade’s army after Gettysburg – another source I don’t think has been previously identified. I also used family history sites to research the background of the different observers in 1861-65. It turned out one young Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers who visited the Confederate lines at Petersburg in 1864 was a nephew of Robert E. Lee – which was both unexpected and perhaps gives some insight how he managed to travel through Virginia at the time. .

There are a number of reports in the old War Office records at The National Archive in Kew, London, that show how American technology was being studied both during and after the war. This ranges from artillery, fortifications, to coastal obstructions and mines. And a friend at the ACWRT pointed me to the leave records held there for the British troops stationed in North America, from which it is possible to check when many of the known observers visited. I did further analysis to spot patterns in the leave records which enabled me to suggest how many undocumented visits might have been made, and by who and when. Almost all of this is new research on previously untapped sources.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

MS: There has been a significant amount of interest from several military journals, although I have not yet seen any reviews published. The few people who I have had feedback from have said that they have found it both interesting and convincing in its argument. One acquaintance from the Round Table has authored several successful historic novels about the Civil War, and I was especially pleased that he found the book very readable as well as informative. I have given a couple of informal lectures to small groups in the UK, and it generates a lot of discussion. I am visiting America in the summer and have one talk planned in Charleston SC, I hope to do a few others. This will be interesting, as I expect to get different challenges and questions from an American audience compared to a British one.

A few friends have said that they thought I have been rather hard on Jay Luvaas. This was not my intent, his original work was a classic of its time and the foundation to my research, but it did not tell the whole story. Like mine it originated as a dissertation, was expanded into a thesis and then became his first book. Unfortunately I never met him, but I would like to think that he would have approved.

BR: What’s next for you?

MS: My next project is very different. My father served in the Second World War, but like the majority of veterans from that conflict he rarely talked about it, even to me. A few years ago I decided to get his military record, and that led me to thinking that most history about that war is written about famous battles and elite units. I want to try and write the story of an ordinary infantry battalion. Unlike Bull Run to Boer War it will be a narrative history, but through the narrative trying to understand what it was like to be one of the millions of ordinary men serving in the war – who they were, why they joined up, how they trained, what happened to them in combat, plus all of the mundane aspects of military life that often get forgotten.

I’ve chosen the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, my father’s unit, as the subject for obvious personal reasons – but it is effectively a random selection, as British conscripts of whom my father was one got relatively little choice which unit they joined. They were not at Alamein, or Anzio, or Normandy or Arnhem, so most of the battles in which they fought have had very little written about them. I also want to try and visit as many of the locations as possible to understand why the battles were fought as they were and with the results that they had. It is likely to be a three or four year project. I hope will appeal to both dedicated military historians and to a wider audience who want to understand more about their father’s or grandfathers’ experience of the war.

Michael will be speaking at the Ft. Sumter Civil War Round Table in Charleston, SC in August, 2020 (this is the same venue hosting me in May).





Lt. William Mack Robbins, Co. G, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle

25 11 2018

With Generals Bee and Jackson at the First Battle of Manassas

On the afternoon of July 18, 1861, the army of [Brigadier General Joseph E.] Johnston – about ten-thousand strong – which had been for some weeks manoeuvering up and down the [Shenandoah] Valley in front of [Major General Robert] Patterson and was then lying around Winchester, was hastily put in motion and marched off southeastwardly, going we knew not whither. Most of the men belonged to the class which may be described as “young bloods,” sons of planters, reared in ease and affluence – intelligent, merry hearted, high spirited, full of romance and enthusiasm. They had volunteered at the first call, not only from devotion to the cause, but love of adventure, and there was nothing they were so eager for as to get into battle, being somewhat tinctured with the idea that they “could whip at least three Yankees apiece,” and were rather afraid that the war might come to an end before they got the chance to prove it. In spite of their confidence in their general, they had been a good deal chagrined and disgusted at what they deemed his overwary strategy in not delivering battle to the enemy under Patterson. They were therefore greatly delighted to hear the general order which General Johnston caused to be read to each regiment as soon as we got well out of Winchester that summer evening. That order was about in these words: “Beauregard is attacked by overwhelming odds at Manassas. Your commanding general has full confidence in your zeal and devotion and asks every man to step out lively. You are going on a forced march over the mountains to reinforce your companions in arms and save the country.” Loud cheers welcomed the tidings. The prospect of an early encounter with the enemy loomed up ahead and stimulated the impatient spirits of the men to their best exertions. Heat, dust, and night-fall soon made the rapid march disagreeable enough, but it was pushed without a check till we reached the Shenandoah. This river, about waist deep, was waded at dawn of July 19, amidst songs, jokes, and general hilarity. The Blue Ridge was passed at Ashby’s Gap, and at evening of the same day the head of the column arrived at Piedmont Station on the Manassas Gap Railroad, whence Johnston’s forces were sent forward in detachments by rail as fast as transportation could be furnished.

So much has been said about Johnston’s troops appearing on the field in the nick of time after the battle had been long ranging that the impression extensively prevails that none of them were there at its beginning. This is a great mistake. Three brigades – [Brigadier General Thomas J.] Jackson’s, [Col.] F. S. Bartow’s and nearly all of [Brigadier General Barnard E.] Bee’s – were at hand when the battle opened and bore an important part in it all day. The Fourth Alabama and other regiments of Bee’s Brigade reached the Junction at noon of the twentieth and were among the very earliest in the conflict the next day. It was only the comparatively minor number of Johnston’s men under [Brigadier General Edmund] Kirby Smith and [Colonel Arnold] Elzey that leaped from the train when they heard the battle in progress, and, hastening down the Warrenton Pike, came in so luckily on the right rear of the Federals and caused the panic which gave the victory to the Confederates.

I have spoken of the eagerness of our inexperienced but enthusiastic soldiers to see and participate in the battle. The feeling did not diminish, but rather grew in intensity on this occasion, up to the time of actual engagement, and how much longer I cannot say; but one thing is certain – all of us by the time the day was over felt sufficiently amused. Thousands of soldiers on both sides know all about the experience of a first battle, and anything said on the subject would be but an old tale to them; but those who never took a hand, and especially young who have come up since the war would no doubt like to know how a battle looks and seems to a new soldier – its thrill, its thunder, its grandeur, its horror, and no lees its odd, absurd, and even grotesque features. I do not feel competent to paint an adequate picture and description of these things. I doubt if any pen can fitly paint them. A few hints about how this battle opened and proceeded – as the writer saw it – must suffice. The Fourth Alabama were busy with breakfast near the junction when the sudden boom of a gun in the direction of the railroad bridge over Bull Run drew our eyes that way and we saw for the first time the little dense round sphere of white vapor, high up in the air, produced by the bursting of a shell. This was quickly followed by others, the design of the Federals being to draw all attention to that part of the line while they were executing their shrewd flanking movement on our left. However, our regiment, with others of Bee’s Brigade, was at once moved at double-quick towards the Confederate left, to a position that had been allotted to us at one of the upper fords. But we had scarcely reached the designated point when we were again ordered to go at a rapid run for about two miles still further up the stream to meet the Federals – our commanders having just at that moment discovered that they had crossed the stream at Sudley’s Ford, entirely beyond the Confederate left, and were pouring down in heavy force on that flank. All depended on presenting a quick front to this unexpected movement. So we went  – a few battalions only – across the fields at out highest speed, and soon reached the plateau of the Henry House, around which the battle was afterward mainly fought. But Bee did not permit us to stop there. He marked that as the most favorable position for the Confederate line to form its new front on, but he knew his brigade alone could not hold it and he also saw that the enemy would reach it, unless checked and delayed by some means before an adequate force of Confederates could get there to oppose them. To gain the needed time it was necessary to risk the sacrifice of the two and a half regiments then with him by a bold movement still further to the front. He could not hesitate. So he ordered the Fourth Alabama, Second Mississippi, and Eleventh Mississippi (two companies) to move half a mile further forward to the next ridge to engage the enemy and delay them as long as possible. Down the slope we rushed, panting, breathless, but still eager because ignorant of the desperate crisis which had doomed us to probably destruction to save the whole army. As we passed the little rivulet below the Stone House, the duel of the artillery began and the shells of friend and foe shrieked wildly above our heads. Mounting the hill and entering the copse of timber north of the Stone House, we began to hear a sharp cracking of musketry ahead of us – a collision  between the Federals and some small bodies of Confederates we had not known were there before, among them [Major C. R.] Wheat’s Louisiana Tigers, wearing the zouave uniform.

As we emerged from the little wood we caught sight of these Tigers, utterly overwhelmed and flying pell-mell, most of them running off to our right and toward the stream (Bull Run). This and their zouave uniform, which we had never before seen, but had heard some of the enemy wore, for a minute caused us to mistake these “Tigers” for Federals and as they were flying in disorder, some of our men set up a loud yell and shout of victory, supposing the enemy were already routed and retreating, whereupon one ardent fellow of the Fourth Alabama, with his finger on the trigger and anxious to pull down on somebody before they all got away, burst out with: “Stop your darned hollerin’ or we won’t get a shot!” But the mistake was discovered just in time to prevent our firing on friends. A little way further up the hill beyond the timber and we struck the enemy and no mistake. Their long advancing line, with the Stars and Stripes waving above it (which made some of us feel sorry), began to peer over the crest, eighty yards in our front, and opened a terrific fire, which at first went mostly over us. It is proper to mention that the Mississippians, who had come with us, were halted at the edge of the wood behind us, and so did not get into the hot conflict that ensued, the whole brunt of which thus fell on the Fourth Alabama alone. On receiving the enemy’s first fire we lay down and waited till we could see their bodies to the waist, when we gave them a volley which was very effective, firing uphill. The Federals fell back and disappeared behind the crest. After some interval they advanced another and longer line; but the result was the same as before, only they held on longer this time and their fire hurt us badly. A third time they came on in a line which extended both our flanks, and now the conflict became bloody and terrible to us, their balls coming not only from the front but from the right and left oblique, cutting down our colonel (Egbert Jones) and stretching lifeless many a familiar form so recently full of hope and gayety. Then war began to show us his wrinkled front. But we thought of what they would say at home if we flinched and how ashamed we should feel if after all the big talk about whipping the enemy we let them whip us at the first chance. We could see, too, that they were as awkward at the business and enjoyed it as little as ourselves. Besides, it looked like they could hardly help killing every one of us if we got up and tried to run away. It seemed our safest chance to hug the ground and pepper away at them; and so from sheer desperation, as much as anything, we kept to it, until after awhile, to our great joy, the enemy fell back once more behind the crest, and their fire lulled. Our general, seeing we would be certainly overwhelmed at the next onslaught, gave us the order to retire, which we did before another attack. We had been at it for over an hour and had really rendered great service in gaining time for the Confederate army to change front and form the new line. But nearly one third of the Fourth Alabama had gone down in the effort and were left on the ground, including the colonel, mortally wounded. I should not omit to mention that the Seventh and Eight Georgia, of Bartow’s brigade, also came into our advanced position far to our right during our contest, and had a bloody collision with another column of the Federals, and though these Georgians were recalled some time before we were, they contributed materially to the delay of the Federal advance.

The two Mississippi regiments of our (Bee’s) brigade had also retired before us, so that the Fourth Alabama was going back alone. In this movement a bloody episode occurred to us. Retiring by the same route along which we had come, when we reached the little rivulet running near the stone house, we saw a regiment, in column by companies, marching down the rivulet toward us. Their flag was furled on the staff and so was ours. By the quarter we had just come from they thought us probably Federals, but were not sure. As for us, we felt the enemy had got so far around in rear of the place of our recent fight; their uniform also resembled that of the Sixth North Carolina, belonging to our brigade, and we hastily took them for that regiment coming to our aid. Thus encouraged we halted, faced about and reformed our line, intending with this supposed reinforcement to take another tilt with the enemy we had been fighting if they should pursue us as we expected. The unknown regiment also halted and deployed into line of battle at right angles with ours and less than 100 yards from our left flank. Their colonel signaled us with his handkerchief for the purpose of communicating  and learning who we were as it afterward appeared; but we never dreamed this was his purpose and made no haste to respond, feeling confident we knew him, and thinking of course he knew us. All this took place in a few moments. Having quickly rearranged our line, our flag was than unfurled and displayed – the Stars and Bars! Instantly a blaze of fire flashed along the line of our supposed friends (a New York regiment it really was), and an enfilading hailstorm of bullets tore through the Fourth Alabama from left to right, killing many and disabling more, among the rest Lieutenant Colonel [Evander M.] Law and Major Scott, leaving our regiment without field officers.

What does the reader suppose we did? We did not stay there. The position was too bad and the surprise too sudden. True, the enemy’s fire was once returned with considerable effect; but it is only frank to say that we resumed, without delay, our movement back to the main Confederate line, whither Bee had intended us to go when he first ordered us to retire. Having arrived there, even after all they had suffered, the Fourth Alabama still had pride enough left to rally again, and under the command of a captain fell in on the right of the line and fought to the end of the terrible day. I will not now attempt to detail all the incidents that befell the regiment in these later hours of the battle. I will give one, however, which will always be of special historic interest.

The position of our regiment being now on the right of the Confederate line as drawn on the plateau of the Henry House, and the leading design of the Federals during the entire day being to turn the Confederate left, the heaviest fighting gradually veered toward that flank. No one who was there can ever forget how the Federal musketry crashed and rolled in fresh outbursts as new troops poured in against the center and left. Farther and farther round its awful thunder seemed to encroach, as if it would never be stayed till it should rend and tear that part of our line to atoms. Our brigade comrades of the Sixth North Carolina, separated from us in the manouevres of the day, had rushed in single-handed and attempted to check it, but had been smitten as with fire by its overwhelming power and their gallant Colonel [C. F.] Fisher, with many of his men, were no more. Jackson, with brigade, was struggling desperately, and at length successfully, to arrest the Federal columns; but immovable as Jackson and his men stood, the surging tides of the enemy beating upon him with such a mighty momentum that it seemed as if he must give way. Just then the battle had entirely lulled in our front on the right. Our Brigadier, General Barnard E. Bee, at this moment came galloping to the Fourth Alabama and said: “My brigade is scattered over the field and you are all of it I can now find. Men, can you make a charge of bayonets?” Those poor battered and bloody-nosed fellows, inspired by the lion-like bearing of that historic officer, responded promptly: “Yes, general, we will go wherever you lead and do whatever you say.” Be then said, pointing toward where Jackson and his brigade were so desperately battling: “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall! Let us go to his assistance.” Saying that Bee dismounted and led the Fourth Alabama (what remained of them) to Jackson’s position and joined them on the right of his brigade. Some other reinforcements coming up a vigorous charge was made, pressing the Federals back. In this charge Bee fell mortally wounded. Bartow fell nearly at the same time and within a stone’s throw of the same spot. Before the Federals recovered from the impression made by this partial repulse they saw Kirby Smith’s men advancing down the Warrenton Pike upon their right rear, as before stated, and his unexpected appearance in that quarter struck them with an overpowering panic and caused their precipitate retreat from the field. The battle ended so suddenly that the Confederates could not understand and could scarcely believe it. When afterwards the doings of the day were recounted among is the above expression, uttered General Bee concerning Jackson, was repeated from mouth to mouth throughout the Confederate army, and that is how he came to be known everywhere as Stonewall Jackson.

In conclusion, as I have set down with an endeavor at entire frankness the achievements, the mistake and the misfortunes that day of the regiment to which I myself belonged (the Fourth Alabama), I may be pardoned for adding a word about how we looked back upon our experience after it was over as a curious illustration of the absurd notions of inexperienced soldiers. Our ideal was that we were to whip whatever we came across – no matter about numbers; many or few, we must put them to flight. To turn the back before any enemy would be disgraceful. Having, therefore, turned our backs to the enemy twice that day, as I have narrated, once under orders and once without, we of the Fourth Alabama, upon the whole, felt humiliated and rather ashamed of ourselves on reviewing what had occurred. It was some days after the battle that to our surprise we began to hear from our comrades if the army and to read in the papers that our regiment was thought to have distinguished itself greatly. Then we began to hold up our heads again and to recall the fact that we had lost more than any other regiment in the army. Finally, we go hold of the Northern newspapers and found where our gallant and generous adversary, [Brigadier General Samuel P.] Heintzelman, giving an account of what he termed our stubborn resistance in that opening conflict, which I have described, had praised us extravagantly, saying: “That Alabama regiment was composed of the most gallant fellows the world ever saw.” This restored our equanimity, and we concluded that if we had not come up to our previous ideas of our invincibility, maybe we had not done so badly after all, and perhaps our sweethearts at home would not scorn us as poltroons. One other profound inpression, however, was left on the minds, at least of some of us, by the events of that day, and especially when we came to gather up the mangled remains of so many of our late merry-hearted and beloved comrades – an impression which was not changed by all we saw in the succeeding four years, or by the lapse of time since, and that was – talk as men about great war-like deeds, heap plaudits on heroes and worship military glory how they will – war is from hell!

Transcribed from Peter Cozzens (ed.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 5, pp. 41-49. Brackets above are the editor’s. Per note therein, the original article first appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly Times, 2/26/1881, under the title First Battle of Bull Run.

William Mack Robbins at Ancestry

William Mack Robbins at Fold3

Interesting article on William Mack Robbins





Sgt. William Sidney Mullins, Adjutant, 8th South Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

16 02 2018

Vienna 6th August, 1861

My dear Sir,

I received yours of the 27th ult day before yesterday: your first also came safely to hand. I had been thinking of writing to you for some time, but our facilities for writing here are very poor, & until to day, I have hardly found time & convenient arrangements for writing a long & detailed account of any thing. Besides for a month all our correspondence has been under military surveillance & they open our letters without scruple: after the war, if some of us do not get killed, there will be some private war on this account. I hold the claim as against S.C. Volunteers to be insulting & infamous & I will shoot any man without scruple whom I have good reason to believe guilty of opening my correspondence, be his position that of President, General, or what not, when my service has ended & I can meet him as an equal. Of this hereafter.

You have by this time doubtless seen Capt. Evans, & read in the papers many accounts of the Battle. I will however give you a brief statement of what I know, & my opinions about what I have heard. There never will be any fair & just statement of the whole battle. No man living ever can make it. There are many conflicting statements here & even as regards our own Regiment there are facts asserted & denied, about which I am entirely in doubt this day. The ground was broken: there was no position from which the whole could be seen & in some cases Regiments were for hours without orders fighting on their own hook. I will give you now what I think to be the most probable story of the affair – as I go along I will tell you the facts that I know. We were not at all engaged in the first battle: they cannonaded us & the balls fell around us occasionally that day, but no body was hurt. Capt. Harrington was on picket in a wood in front of our unit on Saturday night, & between daylight & sunrise he sent in a man to Col. Cash to say that the enemy were retreating: that from one oclock that morning the sound of their artillery & waggons going off had been heard. These sounds were distinctly audible in our Camp. Col. Cash ordered me to report the fact to Bonham & I gallopped there at once. Gen. B. sent back word to Col. C. by me that it was not a retreat, but that the enemy were moving to attack the left & to be on our guard as the attack might begin on own front. By eight oclock they commenced firing all along our lines with their artillery, which we found afterwards to be only four pieces kept behind to deceive us & prevent us from moving up to the left. Between eight & nine heavy cannonading began on our left in the direction of Stone Bridge & soon afterwards very heavy rollings of musquetry & this continued without intermission save for brief intervals all day. We lay in our trenches quietly. Between eleven & twelve Col. Cash sent me with a good glass to a high hill in the rear of the Camp a mile to see if I report any thing of the Battle. I found there Beauregard, Bonham, & their Staff. The sight was magnificent. We could not see the troops but the smoke indicated the position of the batteries & the whole length of the line. I staid there half an hour, & though I could not make out anything myself, a member of the Staff told me that the enemy had turned our flank & that our friends were giving back. I gallopped back to Col. C. & as I arrived an aid came to order, Kershaw, Kemper & Cash to hurry forward to the battle. As I left the hill, Beauregard & Staff gallopped towards the battle – Bonham back to the right where another attack was expected. We immediately started under a terrible sun to the battlefield at the double quick: it was a terrible thing to run four miles at midday. As we started two regiments of cavalry darted on before us & our own drums beat: this informed the enemy exactly of our position & they directed their batteries exactly at us. The balls fell all around us: many within four or five feet of our line, wonderful it was that no one was hurt. Several I assure you fell so close to me that the rushing & hiss seemed to be felt against my cheek. Believe me – it aint a pleasant feeling. The double quick run carried us out of this. Within a mile or perhaps a mile & a half of the battle field we commenced meeting the wounded & the flying. One man wounded accompanied by four or five perfectly unhurt: we met more than a hundred such parties. All told the same tale: the enemy were cutting our friends to pieces. Hamptons legion cut all to pieces Hampton & Johnson & Bartow all killed – Sloans Regiment utterly cut – these statements were repeated us by nearly as many men as both Kershaws & Cash Regiments contained. Besides these cowards there were many along the way side wounded fatally & writhing in agony & uttering cries of agony. The effect of this upon the Regiment was not inspiriting. As we came upon the field – or in sight of it – artillery at once opened fire upon us & soon afterwards musquetry. Asa Evans, Genl. Evans aid told me next day that this was from our own friends & ordered by Beauregard. He mistook us for the enemy flanking & Asa says he said “we shall have to retire from the field.” They soon discovered who we were however – they knew the white Palmetto & an aid of Genl. Johnson dashed up to us to order us to the left of the point where we had first been ordered. And now let me pause from my story of what I saw to tell you the history of what had happened up to this time, as I learn it from others. Genl. George Evans was in command at Stone Bridge with fourteen hundred men, as he states them: Sloans Reg. Wheats Bat. & some companies: he was drawn up on a high hill near Stone Bridge, expecting the attempt to cross there: with only two pieces of artillery, one of which was disabled before the action began. Fifteen hundred men came up on the other side of the stream at the Bridge and commenced a heavy artillery fire: he forbade his piece to open at all but deployed a few skirmishers on the banks of the stream & waited. For more than an hour it went on thus: heavy artillery playing upon him but without effect, & his line silent & waiting: but from the high hill where he was posted, he finally saw emerging from the wood in his rear & on his flank columns with the sunlight on their bayonets a mile & half off: he knew his flank was turned: that the attack in front was but a faint to deceive him & that the battle was to begin in earnest now on a fair field & with no advantage of position on his side. With Maj. Wheat he rode forward to select a position, hastily did so, changed his whole position & the battle began. The enemy in this column were twenty thousand strong at the lowest calculation: fourteen hundred was Evans force, & so the real fight began. The enemy had crossed at an old ford four miles above unknown to Beauregard. If they had known Evans weakness then, I think they would have swept him from the field in an hour & won the field. But they were afraid of masked batteries & opening their artillery, their infantry kept well back. Evans sent to Gen. Cocke for reinforcements: he refused telling Evans to fall back upon him. To do this was to leave the Road to Manassas open & Evans refused & sent a more urgent message to Cocke, but meantime Bee – I know not how – came upon the field. Slowly, cautiously & but steadily the enemy drove us back: the field – the dead – the path of the enemy showed this the next day: more than a mile our side had fallen back. Of what occurred during all this time read the papers & judge for yourself. Each Regiment claims all the glory of holding the field: let history decide: judge for yourself. But I resume my own story now. Soon after two – perhaps a little before two we came upon the field, Kershaw & ourselves formed in one line & advanced obliquely to the left. All day the enemy had played this game flanking continually: whenever the front was engaged new troops spread out beyond, & attempted to take us in flank & in rear: twas thus their numbers told. Our march brought us into a thick wood: Kershaw kept on in old field & thus met the enemy before us & opened fire: he changed his front at once bringing his Regiment at once at right angles to us thus __| [Cash horizontal, Kershaw vertical] the enemy pursuing his game came down Kershaws line to the same wood where we were advancing intending to go round Kershaw but met us & we gave him along our whole line one deadly sheet of fire at at about fifty yards distance before which they broke & ran like the devil. They were the N.Y. Fire Zouaves & Kershaw himself who could see the effect of our fire better than we could ourselves says they fell before us, trees in a hurricane. We gave them another at a greater distance & a part of our line a third, but by this time they had found shelter in another wood & were safe from us. They formed in this wood & came out upon a hill about 350 or 400 yards from us with two Regts of Volunteers & opened upon us a deadly fire: their Minie Rifles & Muskets reached us perfectly: ours were too short of range & Cash at once ordered us to lie down. For fifteen minutes the balls fell around us thicker than hail. Every tree in that wood is struck with balls: many have five or ten & next day the ground was strewn with leaves cut from the trees. Why we did not lose there one or two hundred men is to me incomprehensible. To look at the trees where we lay even now you would hardly believe that we lay there so long & lost so few men. The fire became galling finally & Col. Cash undertook to move us further down to the left thus ___| [Cash horizontal, ? vertical, enemy hypotenuse] Cash desired to go down as I have dotted [left of diagram] but the woods were thick, his orders were misunderstood, our Regiment fell into confusion for a brief while: meantime Kemper, glorious Kemper, was playing upon them with as rapid & deadly fire as ever flashed – what music it was to us! & before we came out on the left their Regulars fled: the Zouaves & Regulars whipped, the volunteers concluded that they had no call to try it further & the day was won. Now in all this part of the field, Kirby Smith nor any one else had any part of the fight, but Kershaw, Cash & Kemper: that they overrated us in in number I am sure: that they fled under a panic, I am sure for the Regulars & Zouaves, outnumbered us then & if they had come boldly upon us we should have been very glad to see some help, but they fled. Jeff Davis came upon the field late that day and there gave us the credit of turning the day. He has changed his opinion since, they tell me. We were at once ordered to pursue & went onward. Kershaw, Cash, & Kemper. Col. Withers Va. Reg was on the road as we went on & was asked to go on with us: he said he was ordered to stop at Stone Bridge & damned if he went on & not a step did he go. But on we went & yet faster before us went five or ten times our number. Finally we came up with the enemy & glorious Kemper opened once more: they staid not to try muskets, but abandoned to us every gun, their waggons & fled in one inglorious rush for safety. Yes! McDowell was there covering the retreat & his prisoners say at the first fire of Kemper led the race although they utterly overwhelmed us in numbers & artillery. We did not know until the cavalry came in what a capture we had made: nearly thirty guns – among them that long ten foot rifled thirty two pounder, drawn by ten horses, & guns, ammunition, etc. We stayed upon the field guarding these things alone – even Kershaws Regt had left – until two oclock & within three miles of us five thousand troops fresh who had not been in the battle, besides the disomfitted hosts who had fled. My dear sir never did whiskey & champagne taste as sweet as the copious draughts of the enemys stores that night. I was sure they had had not time to poison them & I drank freely & joyously. But shall I tell you now of the battlefield? Of the dead hideous in every form of ghastly death: heads off – arms off – abdomen all protruding – every form of wound: low groans: sharp cries: shrieks for water & convulsive agonies as the soul took flight. It is useless to write. I know something of the power of words to paint & I tell you that a man must see all this to conceive it. One soon becomes callous. We were thirsty ourselves: a slight breakfast – a four miles run – the excitement of battle – the roar of artillery & burning thirst – all this hardens the heart & before we left the field our men were gathering Colts Revolvers & Sharps Rifles from dying & wounded men with utter indifference to their bitter cries. Yet we gave them water when we could get it. On an acre square I saw sixty five dead men – near Shermans battery – mostly Zouaves: how many times it was taken & retaken, Heaven knows, but when we came upon the field the Zouaves had it again, although it was not firing. Kershaw drove them from it & as they fell along his left intending to fall upon his flank they met us as I have told you already. I shall enclose you in another envelope Cashs Report, with his consent. Dont publish this, but he says you may give his report to the Southerner, not to publish but to complete a statement from it as from a witness. They may publish that. Do write me often. Tell me what you have heard at home about us all. If I ever live to see you, I will tell you many things I cannot write. But this I say – if it please God, to stop this war, I will unfeignedly thank him. It wasnt the battle, but the next day – in a heavy rain their wounded & our wounded – lying in their agony – without food or care – nobody to help – nothing to eat & drink – this filled my heart with terror. I heard men imploring the passers by to kill them to relieve their agony. I saw the parties who were out to bury discussing whether to bury a man before he was dead. He could not live & some proposed to bury him any how. Says a sergeant set down a minute & he will be dead & we wont have to come back! This is war!

Genl. Evans proposed to Beauregard (Evans told me himself) as soon as they left the field to take a Regiment, & a battery & by a short country road dash ahead post him himself in front while the whole army advanced in rear & cut them off. Beauregard said “No! our loss of life is great: I will not risk such soldiers as these.” The feeling was noble but it was a terrible mistake of judgment. If it had been done, not a man of that army would have escaped. Such an utter panic in an army is unknown in the history of two centuries. Our brigade could have driven every soldier of the Federal Army from our side of the Potomac.

Davis is not the man for the next President. Beauregard has implored for weeks & weeks most piteously more troops. He has told them that he was crippled for men & during this very time Davis has rejected Regt. after Regt. because they would not volunteer for the war & because he had not appointed the Field Officers. He has been appealed to overlook his objections – to take things as he could & he has let his temper overrule his judgment & risked all our lives. If they the enemy, I mean, had had a great general, our Regiments would not have brought a man away from Fairfax C. H. on our first retreat. Fifteen thousand men deployed in one hundred & fifty yards of our Regiment alone, & but for a wholesome fear of masked batteries, not one man of us would have ever seen home again.

Again, there has not been any provision made for the sick & wounded that is even decent. The offices of the Surgeons department are crammed with utter incapables. In the volunteers, this is bad enough but in the Regular service it is intolerable. I heard the day before the Battle an officer of intelligence say “Well, whoever is wounded seriously will die. There has not been an army in Christendom during this century, where provisions for the wounded was so entirely neglected.” This was a man of intelligence who knew of what he was speaking.

I might say many other things to you of inefficiency & incapacity: of drunkenness, in high places at critical periods: of blunder & ignorance that would disgust you. But I will not close discouragingly. Let me say this, that with all this our army will win our triumph. They our leaders may foolishly fling away many of our lives: our cause will triumph. The soldiers discriminate between the blunders & follies of our leaders & the cause itself, & by that they will stand. I hope some day to talk these things over with you: till then adieu.

Dont let my scribblings get into the papers. You may show them to any discreet friends you choose, but on no account let any word get to a newspaper. Beauregards orders are stringent & a violation would expose me to trouble & danger. Perhaps you had better not show them at all. My regards to Mr. Millin & your sons if they are with you. Present my respectful remembrances to Mrs. Charles & believe me very truly yours

Will S. Mullins

W.S. Mullins 6 Aug 1861 Report of the Battle of Manassas

Letter image

From South Caroliniana Library

A full annotated transcription can be found at the above site, including biographical information regarding the author and persons mentioned in the letter. The transcription was compared to the letter image prior to posting here – those serve as its basis. Per that transcription, this letter was addressed to Edgar Welles Charles of the Darlington District, South Carolina.

William Sidney Mullins at Ancestry

William Sidney Mullins at FindAGrave

E. B. C. Cash’s report, which mentions Mullins and the capture of Congressman Alfred Ely.





Pvt. Delos Payne, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

1 01 2018

The Gallant 27th — Letters from our Volunteers.

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Much praise is awarded the 27th Regiment of N. Y. State Volunteers for their heroic conduct on the field at Bull Run. While our citizens will feel a thrill of patriotic pride as they rehearse the noble deeds of all those fighting in their country’s cause, they will look with peculiar interest upon the doings of the particular regiment in which most of those who have left this vicinity have enrolled. The three Companies formed at Binghamton, and in which several residents of this and adjoining towns enlisted, are in the 27th regiment. This regiment was one of the last to leave Elmira for the seat of war, and they had scarcely formed camp at Washington before they were ordered to proceed with the grand army towards Manassas. They were the first in the field on the battle of Sunday, having marched 15 miles, (the last mile and a half in double-quick time.) They had no breakfast, and while weary and faint, were ordered under fire. They went gallantly into action, and performed wondrous deeds of valor, fighting constantly throughout the day, and being among the last to leave the field when the retreat took place. Their Colonel, Slocum, was wounded, and the whole regiment terribly cut up. Their fighting was harder and their loss greater than any other regiment except the 69th and the Fire Zouaves. The following are among the killed in this regiment: Norman S. Miller, (Chenango Forks;) Wesley Randall and Asa Parks, (Binghamton;) Frank Spencer, (Coventry;) Col. Slocum, and Lieut. Col. Chambers.

There may be other names familiar in this vicinity but we have learned of none. Sergt. A. G. Northrup, (formerly of this village,) reported missing, has turned up. He fell asleep from exhaustion, during the retreat, and was two days getting into camp.

There have been several letters received from the seat of war by the friends of our volunteers. We have been furnished with two, from which we make copious extracts. The first is from Delos Payne, of this village, a member of Company D, Capt. Rogers, 27th regiment, to his wife.

Washington, July 27, 1861

* * * I am well and safe after the great battle at Bull’s Run. The march and retreat has made my knee worse. [He injured his knee while on a visit home from Elmira – Ed.] We have not got a correct account of the killed and wounded. Men fell to the right and left of me. We drove two regiments into the woods, and they opened a masked battery on us. Our Colonel (Slocum) was shot in the thigh. He was not two feet from me. I carried him off the field. There are twelve killed and missing in our company. I have just heard that there are 94 killed in the regiment. There are about 150 who are not able to drill, from wounds, or sickness.

It was a horrible sight to see men with their legs shot off, their faces mangled, and wounded in all different ways. They shot very careless. I asked one man who lay down beside me, why he did not get up and use his gun, and before the words were out of my mouth he was shot dead, while I escaped. When I left the field I carried one fellow off on my back who was wounded in the knee. After that I got three canteens of water, and returned and gave it to those who were wounded. Their only call was for water. The balls whistled around my head all the time I was doing it. I did not mind it any more than if they were pop-guns. The fear was all gone. * * * When any one fell we were all faster than ever. I shall live to come home yet, all right. I shall not be able to do any more service until my knee gets well. We have not got our pay yet. When I do I shall send it all home. * * *

Yours,

DELOS PAYNE

The prediction that Payne would not shrink from performing his whole duty seems to be verified. The act of going back to the field alone, under the fire of the rebels, to give water to the wounded, is characteristic and highly commendable.

Chenango American, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Delos Payne at Fold3

Five Months in Rebeldom, or Notes from the Diary of a Bull Run Prisoner, at Richmond

History of the 27th Regiment N.Y. Vols





Preview: Rossino, “Six Days in September”

11 08 2017

9781611213454_2Just in from Savas Beatie is the unedited galley proof of Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862, by Alexander B. Rossino. (It appears that this is a new edition of the work previously published in 2015.) Novels are problematic subjects for a preview, since the typical features of notes, bibliography, maps, prefaces, and conclusions aren’t present. The subject matter is self-explanatory, thanks again to the post-colon subtitle. A flip-through reveals that this story is focused on the Confederate angle, and focuses on familiar “real life” players with a smattering of what I’m guessing are narrative-propelling, representative fictional characters.

The book is impressively blurbed, with James McPherson calling it a “page turner” that “provides the most vivid description…of the desperate plight of Southern forces” during these events; Scott Hartwig notes that it “provides the best that historical fiction has to offer”; and Tom Clemens calls it “an insightful look” and “a great read!”

Alexander B. Rossino is a resident of Boonsboro, MD. He is the author of Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity. 





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

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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 





Pvt. Charles Winters, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

15 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.

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[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Washington, July 23, 1861.

* * * The last time I wrote to you I believe I was in Fairfax C. H., near Centerville. Since then I have witnesses as terrible and bloody a battle as American history can boast of. We were routed up Sunday morning at two o’clock and marched towards Bull’s Run, a distance of about fifteen miles, where we arrived at twelve o’clock. The battle immediately commenced by cannonading on both sides. But this was too slow work, and we were marched up in musket distance. The first regiment we met we were going to fire into, but they told us not to fire into our own men, so we shouldered our muskets and had hardly done so when they poured into us with a whole volley of musketry, cutting down several of our men. They use all manner of stratagem, which was very effectual at first. They would send out little squads of men to get our men to chase them, and as soon as we got near enough, there would a whole regiment rise from behind some embankment and pour into us. Some would hoist the Stars and Stripes to make us think they were Union men. But these things finally played out. One regiment of cavalry tried to play this game on the New York Fire Zouaves. They allowed themselves to be fooled till a good opportunity presented itself, when they poured in upon them cutting them all to pieces. The report is that there were but six left. Bully for the New York boys – The rebels were very strongly fortified. They had embankments all around them, and a thick wood behind them where they could retreat and be in perfect safety. In short they had every advantage, but we made them retreat once and should have probably gained the day had they not been reinforced by a brigade from S. C. This was worse than we could stand so we had to retreat. They gained the day, but whether they gain the morrow is another thing. They have got to be routed out of there and Manassas Junction, their cake is dough*. There only hope of salvation is to keep these two places.

I never should or never could have suspected a people reared as they have been under the blessings of Christianity and civilization, to be possessed of such inhuman cruelty. I have often shuddered, and had my blood run cold when reading of the [?] of Indian wars, but I don’t know as I ever read of anything more cruel than to deliberately pull wounded men out of the wagons and cut their throats. I did not see this done, but there are boys in our company that did. Every wounded man they came across on the battle field, they would either cut his throat or run him through with the bayonet.

Our retreat march, before we could get in any kind of safety, was back to our old camp fifteen miles, and in this the rebel cavalry tried to outflank us, and they came very near doing so – Some ten or twelve of us stopped at a mudpuddle to get a drink, when we heard a great noise. On looking up to ascertain the cause we saw the rebel cavalry coming down a lane at right angles with the path we had to take. The boys scattered in every direction. I stopped half a second to see what to do, and finally ran for the woods. We came to a creek about the time the rebels got to a bridge where the creek crosses the main road. Our only chance was to jump in and wade through which we did in double quick time. They fired at us as we were crossing but did not hit us. After we had crossed, all the boys but myself ran for the woods. I suspected that part of the rebels had gone that way so I kept along the edge – Three or four balls were fired at me but without effect. We finally got to our camps where we stayed about two hours, when we were ordered to march, for it was not safe for us there. We came back to Washington where we arrived last night at four P. M., making almost forty eight hours without sleep, nothing to eat but sea crackers, a march of sixty miles, and a battle of five or six hours, You may judge for yourselves whether we were tired or not.

Charles Winters.

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*”Their cake is hoe” – One’s actions have failed or not led to the desired outcome. The phrase appears in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Charles Winters roster bio 

Charles Winters at Fold3