Capt. John C. Tidball, Co. A, 2nd U. S. Artillery, On Battle and Retreat

6 02 2021

As previously stated I was with Blenker’s brigade of Miles’s division, the duty of which was to guard Blackburn’s and other fords. Early on the forenoon of the 21st (July) I took post on a prominent knoll overlooking the valley of Bull Run. Here I remained in readiness to move my battery quickly to any point where its service might be required. Stretched out before me was a beautiful prospect. To the south, directly in front of me, distance about five miles, was Manassas Junction, where we could perceive trains arriving and departing. Those coming from the direction of Manassas were carrying Johnston’s troops from the Shenandoah. Around towards our right was the Sudley Springs country, nearing which the turning column now was. All the country in that direction appeared from our point of view, to be a dense forest, and a good of it was in woods, the foliage and buildings only were discernible. Among these were the Robinson and Henry houses, and the fields upon the plateau soon to become famous in history as the scene of deadly strife. Still further around to our right and rear, distant about a mile was Centreville, a mere village of the “Old Virginny” type. Through it ran the old dilapidated turnpike from Alexandria to Warrenton. By this road soon commenced to arrive a throng of sightseers from Washington. They came in all manner of ways, some in stylish carriages, others in city hacks, and still others in buggies, on horseback and even on foot. Apparently everything in the shape of vehicles in and around Washington had been pressed into service for the occasion. It was Sunday and everybody seemed to have taken a general holiday; that is all the male population, for I saw none of the other sex there, except a few huxter women who had driven out in carts loaded wit pies and other edibles. All manner of people were represented in this crowd, from most grave and noble senators to hotel waiters. As they approached the projecting knoll on which I was posted seemed to them an eligible point of view, and to it they came in throngs, leaving their carriages along side of the road with the horses hitched to the worm fence at either side, When all available space along the road was occupied they drove into the vacant fields behind me and hitched their horses to the bushes with which it was in a measure overgrown. As a rule, they made directly for my battery, eagerly scanning the country before them from which now came the roar of artillery and from which could occasionally be heard the faint rattle of musketry. White smoke rising here and there showing distinctly against the dark green foliage, indicated the spot where the battle was in progress. I was plied with questions innumerably. To those with whom I thought it worth while I explained, so far as I could, the plan of the operation then in progress. But invariably I was asked why I was posted where I was, and why I was not around where the fighting was going on. To all of which I could only reply that the plan of the battle required that we should guard the left until the proper time came for us to engage. To make my explanation more lucid I said if the enemy were allowed freedom to break through here where would you all be. Most of the sightseers were evidently disappointed at that they saw, or rather did not see. They no doubt expected to see a battle as represented in pictures; the opposing lines drawn up as on parade with horsemen galloping hither and thither, and probably expecting to see something of the sort by a nearer view of the field they hurried on in the direction of the sound of battle, leaving their carriages by the roadside or in the fields. These were the people that made such a panic at the Cub Run bridge.

Among those who thus halted a little while with me were several that I knew. One party in particular attracted my attention. This was Dr. Nichols, then in charge of the government Insane Asylum; Senator Wilson from Massachusetts, Chairman of the Senate Military Committee; “Old Ben” Wade, Senator from Ohio, and a wheel horse of the Republican part; and “Old Jim” Lane, senator from Kansas, and another political war horse. All of these were full of the “On to Richmond” fever, and were impatient to see more of the battle. I endeavored to dissuade them from proceeding further, that if they would only remain awhile they would probably see as much of it as they would care to see. But Old Jim was firey, he said he must have a hand in it himself. His friends not wishing to go so far as that tried to convince him that he could do no good in the fight without a gun. “O never mind that,” he said, “I can easily find a musket on the field. I have been there before and know that guns are easily found where fighting is going on. I have been there before and know what it is.” He had been colonel of an Indiana regimt during the Mexican ware, and this was the old war fire sparkling out again. Nothing could hold him back and off the parted started down the slope and over the fields in the direction of the firing. I saw nothing more of them until late in the afternoon.

About 4. P. M. an aid (Major Wadsworth) came hurredly to me with instructions from General McDowell, to hasten with my battery down the turnpike towards the Stone Bridge. I supposed this was simply in accordance with the developments of the battle, and that the turning movemt had now progressed so far that we could now cross over and take part in it. To get on the turnpike I had to go through Centreville, where I saw Colonel Miles, our division commander, airing himself on the porch of the village inn. By this time the road was pretty well crowded with ambulances carrying the wounded, and other vehicles, all hurredly pressing to the rear. Miles, evidently in ignorance of what was transpiring at the front, asked me what was up. I could only answer that I had been ordered to proceed down towards the Stone Bridge; and then I proceeded, but the farther I proceeded the thicker the throng because of wagons, ambulances and other vehicles. The road being cut on the side of a hill had a steep bank up on its left and a steep bank down on the left, so that I could not take to the fields on either side. My horses were scraped and jammed by the vehicles struggling to pass me in the opposite direction. As far as I could see ahead the road was crowded in like manner. Finally it became impossible for me to gain another inch, and while standing waiting for a thinning out of the struggling mass, a man came riding up towards me, inquiring excitedly, “whose battery is this.” I told him that I commanded it. “Reverse it immediately and get out of here, I have orders from General McDowell to clear this road” and added that the army had been ignominiously and was now retreating. He was curious, wild looking individual. Although the day was oppressively hot he had on an overcoat – evidently a soldier’s overcoat dyed a brownish black. On his head he wore a soft felt hat the broad brim of which flopped up and down at each of his energetic motions. But notwithstanding the broadness of the brim it did not protect his face from sunburn, and his nose was red and peeling from the effects of it. He had no signs of an officer about him and I would have taken him for an orderly had he not had with him a handsome young officer whom I subsequently came well acquainted with, as Lieutenant afterwards Colonel Audenried. Seeing this young officer was acquainted with my lieutenant, afterwards General Webb, of Gettysburg game, I sidled up to them and inquired of him who the stranger was giving me such peremptory orders. He told me that he was Colonel Sherman, to whom I now turned and begged him pardon for not recognizing him before. I told him what my orders were, but he said it made no difference, the road must be cleared, and added that I could do no good if I were up at the Stone Bridge. I then reversed my battery by unlimbering the carriages, and after proceeding a short distance to the rear, where the bank was less steep, turned out into the field, where I put my guns in position on a knoll overlooking the valley towards Cun Run. In the distance I could see a line of skirmishers from which proceeded occasional puffs of smoke. This was Sykes’ battalion of regulars covering the rear.

I had not been in this position long before I saw three of my friends of the forenoon, Wilson, Wade and Lane, hurrying through the field up the slope toward me. Dr. Nichols was not now part of the party. Being younger and more active than the others he had probably outstripped them in the race. Lane was the first to pass me; he was mounted horsebacked on an old flea-bitten gray horse with rusty harness on, taken probably from some of the huxter wagons that had crowded to the front. Across the harness lay his coat, and on it was a musket which, sure enough, he had found, and for ought I know may have done valorous deeds with it before starting back in the panic. He was long, slender and hay-seed looking. His long legs kept kicking far back to the rear to urge his old beast to greater speed. And so he sped on.

Next came Wilson, hot and red in the face from exertion. When young he had been of athletic shape but was now rather stout for up-hill running. He too was in his shirt sleeves, carrying his coat on his arm. When he reached my battery he halted for a moment, looked back and mopping the perspiration from his face exclaimed, “Cowards! Why don’t they turn and beat back the scoundrels?” I tried to get from him some points of what had taken place across the Run, but he was too short of breath to say much, Seeing Wade was toiling wearily up the hill he halloed to him, “Hurry up, Ben, hurry up”, and then without waiting for “Old Ben” he hurried on with a pace renewed by the few moments of breathing spell he had enjoyed.

Then came Wade who, considerably the senior of his comrades, had fallen some distance behind. The heat and fatigue he was undergoing brought palor to his countenance instead of color as in the case of Wilson. He was trailing his coat on the ground as though too much exhausted to carry it. As he approached me I thought I had never beheld so sorrowful a countenance. His face, naturally long, was still more lengthened by the weight of his heavy under-jaws, so heavy that it seemed to overtax his exhausted strength to keep his mouth shut, I advised him to rest himself for a few minutes, and gave him a drink of whiskey from a remnant I was saving for an emergency. Refreshed by this he pushed on. Of these three Senators two, Wade and Wilson, became Vice Presidents of the United States, while the third, Lane, committed suicide, ad did also, before him, his brother, an officer in the army, who in Florida, threw himself on the point of his sword in the Roman fashion. One of the statesmen who had come out to see the sights, a Mr [Ely], a Representative in Congress from [New York], was captured and held in [duress?] vile as a hostage to force the liberation of certain Confederates then held by the United States governmt.

Among the notables who passed through my battery was W. H. Russell, L.L.D. the war correspondent of the London Times. He was considered an expert on war matters through his reports to the Times during the Crimean war and subsequently from India during the Sepoy mutiny. Of average stature he was in build the exact image of the caricatures which we see of John Bull – short of legs and stout of body, with a round chubby face flanked on either side with the muttin chop whiskers. His, like all others, was dusty and sweaty but, notwithstanding, was making good time, yet no so fast that his quick eye failed to note my battery, which he described in his report as looking cool and unexcited. He bounded on like a young steer – as John Bull he was, but while clambering over an old worm fence in his path the top rail broke, pitching him among the brambles and bushes on the farther side. His report of the battle was graphic and full, but so uncomplimentary to the volunteers that they dubbed him Bull Run Russell.

Each of the picknickers as they got back to where the carriages had been left took the first one at hand, or the last if he had his wits about him enough to make a choice. This jumping into the carriages, off they drove so fast as lash and oaths could make their horses go. Carriages collided tearing away wheels or stuck fast upon saplings by the road-side. Then the horses were cut loose and used for saddle purposes, but without the saddles. A rumor was rife that the enemy had a body of savage horsemen, known as the Black Horse Cavalry, which every man now thought was at their heels; and with this terrible vision before them of these men in buckram behind them they made the best possible speed to put the broad Potomac between themselves and their supposed pursuers.

Learning that McDowell had arrived from the field and was endeavoring to form a line of troops left at Centreville (and which were in good condition) upon which the disorganized troops could be rallied, I moved my battery over to the left where I found Richardson had formed his brigade into a large hollow square. A few months later on I don’t think he would have done so silly a thing. McDowell was present and so was Miles, who was giving some orders to Richardson. For some reason these orders were displeasing to Richardson, and hot words ensued between him and Miles, ending, finally, in Richardson saying “I will not obey your orders sir. You are drunk sir.” The scene, to say the least of it, was an unpleasant one, occurring as it when we expected to be attacked at any moment by the exultant enemy. Miles turned pitifully to McDowell as though he expected him to rebuke Richardson, but as McDOwell said nothing he rode away crestfallen and silent.

Miles did look a little curious and probably did have a we dropie in the eye, but his chief queerness arose from the fact that he wore two hats – straw hats, on over the other. This custom, not an uncommon one in very hot climates he had probably acquired when serving in Arizona, and certainly the weather of this campaign was hot enough to justify the adoption of any custom. The moral of all this is that people going to the war should not indulge in the luxury of two hats.

What Richardson expected to accomplish with his hollow square was beyond my military knowledge. He affected to be something of a tactician and this was probably only and effervescence of this affectation. Looking alternately at the hollow square and the two hats it would have been difficult for any unprejudiced person to decide which was the strongest evidence of tipsiness. A court of inquiry subsequently held upon the matter was unable to decide the question.

Richardson, formerly an officer of the 3d. infantry of the “Old” army, was a gallant fighter. He was mortally wounded at Antietam. Miles was killed at Harper’s Ferry the day before Antietam, and his name had gone into history loaded with opprobrium because of few minutes before his death he caused the white flag of surrender to be hung out. He was neither a coward nor a traitor, but too strict a constructionist of one of General Halleck’s silly orders.

Miles’s division together with Richardson’s brigade, and Sykes battalion of regulars, and four regular batteries and sever fragments of batteries made a strong nucleus for a new line on the heights of Centreville, but the demoralized troops drifted by as though they had no more interest in the campaign. And as there were again no rations it became necessary for even the troops not yet demoralized to withdraw.

A rear guard was formed of Richardson’s and Blenker’s brigade with Hunt’s and my batteries, which, after seeing the field clear of stragglers, took up the line of march at about two o’clock of the morning of July 22d, (1861) The march back was without incident so far as being pursued was concerned. For some distance the road was blocked with wrecked carriages, and wagons from which the horses had been taken. These obstructions had to be cleared away, and it was not until sometime after daylight that we reached Fairfax Court House. This village the hungry soldiers had ransacked for provisions, and as we came up some cavalrymen were making merry over the contents of a store. Seizing the loose end of a bolt of calico or other stuff they rode off at full speed allowing it to unroll and flow behind as a long stream.

The Fire Zouaves were into all the deviltry going on; they had been educated to it in New York. The showiness of their uniforms made them conspicuous as they swarmed over the county, and although less than a thousand strong they seemed three times that number, so ubiquitous were they. Although they had not been very terrifying to the enemy on the battlefield they proved themselves a terror to th citizens of Washington when they arrived there.

The first of the fugitives reached Long Bridge about daybreak on the 22d. Including the turning march around by Sudley Spring and back again this made a march of 45 miles in 36 hours, besides heavy fighting from about 10 A.M. until 4 P.M. on that hot July day – certainly a very good showing for unseasoned men, proving that they had endurance and only lacked the magic of discipline to make of them excellent soldiers. Many of them upon starting out on the campaign had left their camps standing, and thither they repaired as to a temporary home where they could refresh themselves with rations, rest and a change of clothing. This was a temptation that even more seasoned soldiers could scarcely have withstood. It was a misfortune that the battle had to take place so near Washington. More than anything else this was the reason why the demoralized troops could not be rallied at Centreville.

John C. Tidball Papers, U. S. Military Academy

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Contributed by John J. Hennessy

John C. Tidball at Wikipedia

John C. Tidball at Fold3

John C. Tidball at FindAGrave





T. H. C., On the 2nd Vermont Infantry In the Battle

14 05 2020

Correspondence of the Journal
The Second Vermont Regiment.

“T. H. C.” writing from Washington, July 24, to the Burlington Times, furnishes additional particulars respecting the Vermont Regiment, from which it will be seen that they were not furnished with the new Enfield guns which were promised, but went into the battle with their old “smooth bores.” Some luck regiment undoubtedly had the nice rifled guns which we understand were offered to Vermont by parties in Canada, but refused. – The War Department had given no authority to purchase them, and of course it could not be done! We give the principal portion of the letter as follows:

Our men, wearied and fatigued by the long march in the sun, without breakfast and water, and being attacked at once upon their arrival, it will be seen they fought at great disadvantages. In fact it seems almost incredible that they could have endured it half the time they did. – The Vermont regiment was the first in the brigade, as I am informed, to commence the action, and were kept in the hottest of the battle most of the time, and were the last to leave the field, and never during the whole engagement did they exhibit any dissatisfaction, until the order came to retreat. With this they were very much displeased.

The enemy used the best rifled cannon, mostly, bringing their infantry and cavalry into action only when necessary to make a charge. It must be evident to every one that under these circumstances, armed as our regiment was with the poorest arms, they could not do great execution against an enemy thus protected, however brave and determined they might be. I have seen every captain and officer of our regiment since the engagement, and received from each their statement as to their particular commands, and the wonder is that they were not completely annihilated, and I have yet to see the first soldier who was not cool and fearless during the whole time, and who is not dissatisfied that they were called away. – The Battleboro Company, Captain Todd, being the Company carrying the flag, received the most injury, their captain receiving a ball through the throat in the early part of the action and was carried from the field.

While some companies were in worse positions than others and of course were called upon to do more, still there were none of them but what fought desperately and until the last moment.

Probably the Bennington Company, Capt. Walbridge, did more execution than the others, from the fact that they were the only company to have Minnie muskets or rifles. In every instance, Capt. W. told me, whenever he came into fair action with a company of rebels, he silenced them after four rounds. The other companies fought at a great disadvantage, their muskets being a poor weapon to contend with the rifles of the enemy. – Every Captain gives his men much credit for their obedience to orders and bravery during the whole action, and our whole regiment came from the field to Centreville in perfect order. Lieut. Col. Stannard, (although not well when he came on to the field) and Major Joyce behaved most nobly, gallantly and bravely – being at their posts in the midst of a perfect shower of balls and shot, rallying their men, and issuing their orders with coolness and dispatch. The men are universal in their expressions of praise and admiration of the conduct of these officers, as well as that of Adjutant Ladd, who passed from company to company in the midst of the thickest fight. Assistant Surgeon Carpenter remained at the Hospital, some two miles from the battle field to take care of the sick and wounded as they were brought in, and so remained in active discharge of his duties until the general rout, when the hospital was fired into by the rebels and destroyed – the sick escaping in every possible way they could – Surgeon Carpenter was the last to leave it, and not until every man was away. No man upon the field was more cool in the performance of his duties than Surgeon Ballou. He took upon himself the duty of going upon the field with the ambulances, to pick up the wounded and take them to the hospital, which proved to be the most dangerous part of all.

The enemy firing on the ambulances, in a short time every one which Dr. Ballou had was shot to pieces, with the wounded in them, he narrowly escaping many times, and finally, when he came in with the last one, it was struck by a ball, separating it from the horses, and about the same time a charge was made by the Black Horse cavalry, of Alexandria, which created a stampede, when the Doctor, mounting one of the horses, left the field. – This was after the whole army was in retreat, and there was general consternation. He soon found a wounded soldier, whom he put on the horse, and being separated from the regiment, made his way back to Alexandria walking through the woods 30 miles.

I regret to say that there is dissatisfaction with Col. Whiting, whether justly or unjustly in not for me to say. If all reports are correct it is due to him, and to the brave sons of Vermont who have fought so gallantly, that the matter should be investigated. Every soldier who survived is ready and anxious to march to the battle-field again; but under their present impression respecting the Col. they will enter a battle with little confidence.

Col. Bowdish, Wm. G. Shaw, John B. Page, F. Chaffee and myself spent Friday and Saturday last with the army at Centreville, and left about six hours before they were ordered to prepare for battle. Yesterday Col. B. and myself spent at Alexandria, gathering a list of the missing, which as near as we can ascertain up to the hour of writing, is as follows:

Company A, Capt. Walbridge, Bennington.

Andrew J. Noyes – Flesh wound below hip, was in ambulance coming from the field.
Wm. E. Murphy – Left on the field to take care of Noyes.
Thomas Morissey – Sick before the battle and supposed to be a prisoner.

Company B, Capt. Hope, Castleton.

Warren Gifford, Danby – Wounded in the hand, left camp at Centreville.
Jeremiah Bolton, Hydeville – Flesh wound in thigh, last seen at hospital near field.
H. L. Breckensaid, Rutland – Killed.

Company C, Capt. Todd, Brattleboro’.

This is the only company which we have not full returns. The Capt. is at the National Hotel in this city and will soon be out. He says that about a dozen of his company are missing.

iCo. D, Capt. Dillingham, Waterbury.i

P. F. Flaherty – gave out on the field.
John Gwoing – wounded in the foot – last seen on the field.
John H. Murray, Duxbury, seen on field.
Dan. K. Stickey, Berling, seen on field.
These are supposed to be prisoners.

Co. E, Capt. Smith, Tunbridge.

Harrison Dewey, Royalton – last seen at Centreville, weary.
S. L. D. Goodale – last seen on retreat.
Edson Wiggins, Chelsea – last seen on retreat.
George A. Martin fell out before reaching the field.
A. Waldo, Royalton – left in the hospital at Centreville sick.

Co. F, Capt. Randall, Montpelier.

Victory Goodrich, Roxbury – Killed.
Benj. Taylor, Montpelier – last seen on the field.

Co. G, Capt. Drew, Burlington.

Capt. J.T. Drew was sick Saturday and when they were ordered to march insisted on going, and was last seen by Sergeant Bliss of Bennington Co. about 2 miles from the field at the hospital, probably prisoner.
Sergeant Geo. W. Woodward, Westford – last seen on retreat before the cavalry attack.
H. W. Conroe, South Hero – last seen on retreat before the cavalry attack.
Benj. Martin, South Hero – last seen on retreat before the cavalry attack.
John Redmond – last seen on field.
L. M. Wilson stopped at his fathers in Fairfax and probably Woodward may be with him.

Co. H, Capt. Burham, Fletcher.

Sergeant Woodbury, arm shot off and amputated, left the hospital near the field.
Geo. Streeter, Milton – wounded below knee pan in both legs, in Stone Church at Centreville.
Jehiel S. Bailey, Bakersfield – last seen on the field.
N. B. Lathrop, Cambridge – last seen on the field.
A. Paris, Fairfax – last seen on the field.
Eugene C. Sleeper, Fairfax – last seen on the field.

Co. I, Capt. Fullam, Ludlow.

John A. Leonard, Shrewsbury – wounded I the arm, last seen o the field.
Geo. H. Lewis, fifer, not seen since he went into the field.

Co. K, Capt. Eaton, Vergennes.

Henry Huntly, seen on retreat.

From this it will be seen there are but about 46 missing and but 8 known to be dead. Soldiers are constantly coming in, and as it is about 30 miles from the Potomac to the field of battle, and the country intervening being covered more or less with woods it will take some time for them to come in. I have no doubt the missing will be reduced to 20. I may ot be correct in all my account but have given from the best authority I could get.

Walton’s Daily Journal (Montpelier, VT), 7/29/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Unknown, On Why Congressman Ely Went to the Battlefield

15 04 2020

Before the Battle – Reasons why Mr. Ely went to the Battle Field.
[Extract from a Private Letter.]

Washington, July 21st, 1861.

A member of the 13th came to the city yesterday and said that he had been in a battle, in which the whole regiment was employed, and had taken a masked battery, with the loss of thirteen, and a large number wounded. The man was somewhat intoxicated, but told a very plausible story, which was generally believed. It created a great deal of excitement, especially among the large delegation from Rochester. Mr. Ely had concluded to telegraph to Rochester such facts as he could glean from critical examination of the man, and had prepared a dispatch, when a Judge somebody came from the field, and contradicted the story in toto.

Mr. Ely knowing what an excitement his dispatch would create, and not wishing to frighten those who have friends in the 13th, did not send it, but made arrangements for personally ascertaining what truth there was in the report. He left this A. M. at 4 o’clock for the encampment at Bull’s Run. Mr. Ely’s friends tried to persuade him not to go, as it was a very dangerous undertaking, the road being infested with rebel scouts, but he replied it was a duty he owed to those of his friends in the 13th, and to those surviving in the ranks, and he would go.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/25/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Preview – Croon (Ed), “The War Outside My Window”

17 04 2018

9781611213881This is a little different for Bull Runnings. The good folks at Savas Beatie sent me a digital, advance unedited galley of a unique diary, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon. The story of this diary, which I’ll describe below, has been bouncing around for quite some time – here’s a WaPo article from 2012.

I’ve read snippets of LeRoy’s diary, and enough of other online sources which you can find yourself to get a good idea of his back story (note this is a preview, not a review.) Here’s the gist – he was a very bright, well-read, and articulate young man, living in Macon, GA. He suffered from a disease resulting from a severe injury to his leg – when the diary opens, he’s already an invalid and would need to be pulled about in a wagon of sorts. Unlike the reader LeRoy was of course unaware that his condition was mortal, and he would barely outlive the war that understandably occupied so much of his thoughts. Our knowledge of his impending doom makes his daily writings, spanning the whole conflict and very much of and in the moment, all the more poignant in their innocence, ignorance, and wit. You’ll feel for the kid.

Here’s young Gresham’s entry for July 22, 1861, with the early news of the fighting at Manassas:

Macon July 22 1861: Another great battle at Manassas! Sherman’s Battery taken! Terrible Slaughter on both sides! The enemy retired from the field. The Fight commenced 4 oclock this morning and continued until about seven. The battle raged with terrible force and a heavy loss on both sides. There has evidently been a signal Victory at Bulls Run. President Davis’ message is out. It is not only well written, but beautiful in contrast to the boorish effort of Doctor Lincoln, Chief magistrate of United States. Raining very slightly before breakfast this morning. Sad news Gen. F. S. Bartow is killed. Macon Gaurds in the fight. President Davis commanded in person; Beauregarde + Johnson’s army both engaged 40 000 to 70 000 on a side. Beauregarde’s horse shot from under him. It will be sometime before we can get the truth of it. Dressed my back this morning and its healing though very slowly. General Wise has also gained a signal Victory in western Virginia, killing 150 federals and losing few of his men. Julia Ann is up and about again. Very heavy shower this afternoon. Uncle John, Deo Volente [God willing], leaves for Athens tomorrow. Father comes home but there are no more reliable dispatches. The battles undoubtedly sends a thrill of Anguish to many an anxious heart in the newborn Confederacy. Ave Maria Jose [goodbye].

Undoubtedly, some will latch on to the undeniable fact that LeRoy was a youth of privilege and wealth, a member of a slaveholding family with personal servants, and may argue that these are the most important, or even the only, aspects of his life with which we should concern ourselves, to the exclusion of all others. To the contrary, young Gresham’s story and personal observations give great insight into the mind of someone raised in the reality of the times, and should provide a tool for historians to interpret those times in context as opposed to retrospect. I mean, that’s their job, after all. It’s not everyone’s job. But it is that of the historian.

It’s hard to tell you what you’ll get with the final product. Of course you get the diary and detailed annotations in bottom of page footnotes; illustrations including a few of actual diary pages with what we refer to today as “metadata” (doodling, sweat stains, etc.); Hal Jesperson maps; extensive dramatis personae; and appendices related to LeRoy’s medical condition. A lot of detective work went into this.

I am perhaps dying ebook[7587][Dennis Rasbach, MD, has written an e-book (not yet available), I Am Perhaps Dying: The Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham and the Medical Backstory of his Private Battle with Tuberculosis During the Civil War. Keep on the lookout for that.]

The War Outside My Window is scheduled to drop in June, with national coverage and a feature in the Sunday Parade magazine. Advance orders or signed copies are being taken at the Savas Beatie site linked above. I think this will be an important work, and well worth your time.





Gettysburg’s Jacob Weikert Farm

20 02 2018

[A shortened version of this article ran in the February, 2011 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated. I wrote about it back then here. In that post you can see some photos of the farm and farmhouse.]

Medical staffs of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac descended on the farm of Jacob Weikert on the Taneytown Road south of the town of Gettysburg like a twister on July 2, 1863. Elements of the corps were fighting just to the west of the farm, which bordered on Little Round Top in that direction. By the time the last wounded soldier was evacuated to other treatment facilities, or buried on the premises, somewhere between 750 and 950 had been treated on the farm, including some Confederates. Weikert’s family sacrificed much in material goods and performed vital services during this time, but they are possibly best remembered for a story frequently used to illustrate the greed and selfishness of the local civilian population.

Jacob Weikert (b. 1797), a carpenter by trade, married Sarah Ikes (b. 1805), in 1824: their union produced thirteen children between 1825 and 1849. In 1840 Jacob acquired a farm of 190 acres with a large, L-shaped two-story house of nearly 2,200 square feet, for a total purchase price of $3,973.16. The dwelling was situated hard-by the Taneytown Road, sturdily built with stone walls nearly two feet thick. By 1863 Jacob had sold off several tracts of land leaving him with 115 acres, on which he grew wheat, oats, corn, and timber.

At the time of the battle, two minor children, Rebecca (Beckie) and David, as well as an adult son and his family lived with Jacob and Sarah Weikert. Another daughter, Henrietta (Hettie), had married in 1855 and lived in town, where she and her husband George Schriver operated a saloon and bowling alley in their home on Baltimore Street. At the time of the battle, George was serving with Cole’s Maryland Cavalry (he would die in Andersonville prison in 1864).

About noon on July 1st, as fighting raged to the northwest, Hettie Schriver determined that with her husband away, it would be best to take her two children to the relative safety of her parents’ home to the south. She invited her neighbor’s daughter, fifteen year-old Matilda (Tillie) Pierce, to accompany her, and Mrs. Pierce “readily consented”. It is through Tillie’s memoir “At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle” that we know much of what occurred at the Weikert farm in the following days.

After a harrowing journey, upon arrival at the Weikert house Tillie immediately took up the task of carrying water from the spring on the north side of the house to the passing columns of Federal soldiers. She and others repeated this maneuver until the spring was dry – they then drew water from the pump on the south side of the house until nightfall put an end to the operation.

July 2nd saw the arrival of the medical staffs. Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Clinton Wagner had selected the Weikert farm as the hospital for the 5th Corps’ 2nd Division that afternoon. Dr. John Shaw Billings was first to arrive, finding the place deserted but with a fire blazing, dough mixed and pans ready for bread baking. Dr. Cyrus Bacon “ransacked” the house for operating tables and linens for dressings, including a “neatly worked ladies chemise” that he surrendered to one of the women of the house, but not before she provided something to take its place. Ambulances and medical supplies arrived and all was put in order as casualties began to pour in.

That same morning Tillie picked up where she had left off the evening before, carrying water to soldiers moving on the Taneytown Rd. One of the men she served that day was none other than General Meade. The Weikert women spent the afternoon baking bread. Soldiers were being struck down where they stood on the west side of the house. Artillery fire began to pick up, and the family evacuated the house for a brief time, only to return upon reaching their destination, determining it was more dangerous there. This was probably the period during which Dr. Billings arrived.

Casualties arrived at the hospital all during the day and night at an alarming rate, while the surgeons busily operated in and around the house. Limbs amputated in the improvised operating room in the southeast corner of the ground floor of the house were deposited out the south window. Later that day, the mortally wounded Brigadier General Stephen Weed was brought into the house and placed in a room in the basement. He would die there before morning. The bodies of Col. Patrick O’Rorke and Lt. Charles Hazlett were also reportedly brought to the house and laid on the porch on the evening of the 2nd. The Weikert’s cooked bread and soup and served the medical staff and wounded until late in the evening.

Early on July 3rd, in anticipation of renewed action nearby the hospital was relocated further east toward the Baltimore Pike, and the evacuation of the wounded commenced. The transfer was reportedly complete by that evening. The family had left the farm that morning for the area of Two Taverns, returning again in the late afternoon to scenes of carnage. Wounded filled the house, barn, and carriage house. Amputated limbs sat in piles. For days after, soldiers too seriously injured to be moved to the relocated hospital were treated at the farm.

Tillie Pierce returned to her home in Gettysburg on July 7. She left the Weikert farm in a distressed state, linens and clothing torn up for bandages, furniture and kitchenware broken up, walls and floors bloodstained, crops and fence rails used up.

Jacob Weikert, despite what Tillie Pierce describes as the significant hardships suffered and humanitarian efforts made by his family during those trying times, is perhaps best known as a villain. In a tale used to illustrate what has been called by one historian “the greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness of many of the citizens who lived in the vicinity of the battlefield”, Lt. Ziba Graham of the 16th Michigan claimed that on July 3rd:

“On my way back to rejoin the regiment I called at a large house for a drink of water; I saw that the well crank had been removed. I turned to a rebel captain who was lying on the grass and asked him if he knew where it had gone to; he said that but a few moments before the owner of the house had taken it off, declaring he was not going to have his well pumped dry by rebel soldiers, and that they wasted the water. This captain begged that I might get it again. There were some fifty rebel wounded in the yard, besides a few of our own men. The surgeons who had been with them, and who had partly gone around in their first examination, had cleared out and left them on the commencement of the firing, and with the fever of their gunshot wounds they were thirsting for water. I went into the house, found this man, a mean Dutchman, buried in the bosom of his family, and his family buried in the bowels of the cellar, they having taken safe refuge from the hail of iron which was bursting in every direction. I ordered him to give up the well crank. He first refused. Just at that time a shell struck his chimney, and the noise and rattle of the falling brick nearly frightened him to death. I threatened to shoot him if he did not give me the crank; this brought it out of its hiding place back of the stairway. I went out, watered the boys, put two of the least wounded in charge of it and then left, receiving the thanks of all.”

We know from Tillie Pierce that the Weikert’s had been more than generous with their water in the preceding days; that in fact their spring had been drained by thirsty soldiers. And we know from the owners of the house today that the well, now used as a supplemental water source, is nearly dry by the Fourth of July – while the overall water level in the well may certainly have depleted in the intervening 147 years, the relative annual levels are likely similar. Assuming Graham’s story is not apocryphal, was Weikert’s removal of the pump crank an act of “greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness” or a practical act of survival in the coming days for his family and for any remaining Union casualties on his property?

Sarah Weikert died in 1877. Jacob followed her in 1878, suffering a stroke in an apple orchard near the house. Jacob made three claims to the War Department for damages incurred in 1863, including the use of his house and carriage house, damages to the house and bedding, hay, wheat, oats, corn, rails, timber, damages to the land and stone walls, clothing, and furniture. The three claims were for $186, $1,277, and $2,756. Some of the same items were listed on each claim. In the end, he received a total of $45 in payment for the loss of three tons of hay.

Today the Weikert farm sits outside NPS boundaries and is a private residence. While an antique store is operated out of the barn, please respect the privacy of the homeowners.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Weikert farm owners Gerry and Beth Hoffmann, the staff of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and to the Adams County Historical Society for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Sources:





S. A., Personal Secretary to Secretary of the Senate, On Washington After the Battle

21 01 2018

Very Interesting Letters from Washington — Description of the Scene after the Battle of Bull Run.

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[We have been favored with the following copy of a highly interesting and descriptive letter from the private Secretary of Col. Forney, Secretary of the Senate, relative to the scenes which occurred at Washington during and after the battle at Bull Run. The letter was addressed to a personal friend of the writer, in a neighboring town, who has kindly placed it at our service. It will be read with deep interest. – Editor Am]

“Do you see, dear friend, where I am? Bodily here in my room, writing, near midnight, at the same little table. Mentally, trying to keep abreast of the grandest movement the world ever saw. The moral progress the Nation has made in the last six months is amazing.

Day before yesterday the Senate passed a bill setting free all slaves whom the rebels may use in any way for the furtherance of the war. On the 1st of January last the man would have been deemed crazy who should have said the Senate would pass such a bill in six years, even.

God is working in ways we never have dreamed of. I find no time here to read much but the papers – the new Atlantic is just out, and I must manage to edge that in somehow. My duty at the Senate commences at 9 o’clock and ends at 4. My dinner hour is 4 ½ — my breakfast hour is 8. I have but two meals daily.

What shall I tell you about the sad disaster of Sunday. You will get a history of it from the papers. The movement was unquestionably made before Gen. Scott was fully ready. Why, is one of the questions no one can answer. The day was also unquestionably ours up to about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Our force in the battle was not over 25,000 men; yet though the rebels had the advantage of nearly double our number of men, added to that of an entrenched and strongly fortified position, we drove them from the field and won the day. Just in the moment of victory that strange panic sprung up and we lost all. It was utterly causeless –- no one can account for it. Our loss of artillery is not over twenty pieces. We saved nearly all of our army wagons and baggage. We threw away considerable ammunition, and some guns. Our loss of life is as yet impossible to tell. Each day reduces the general supposition, for men are constantly coming in. Tonight some 2,000 are unaccounted for and set down as killed, wounded and missing. I think 500 of them will yet report at camp – thus putting our killed and wounded at only 1500. I shall not be surprised if it is finally reduced to 1200. So far as we can judge, the loss of the enemy is at least double ours. We took 25 or 30 prisoners who have been brought here, and I judge the enemy did not get many of our men. Better than ours no men ever did on the field of battle.

Wednesday morning. Of course Sunday was a sad day here. Probably 200 people went out to the battle ground. I wanted very much to go, but my room-mate was sick and I did not try to get away. Sunday afternoon I went to service in the House by the chaplain of the Senate. At 6 in the evening I went to vespers in the Catholic Church. By 9 in the evening couriers began to arrive from the field of battle – and they kept coming in every half hour till after midnight. The general tone of the report was good – “severe fighting, but our men were gradually driving the rebels from the field.” Soon after midnight came in a rider who left a 5 o’clock. He brought report that “the day was ours – the firing had about ceased – the enemy was driven back some three miles.” You may be sure there was excitement. I us up town so cannot speak more in detail. Then everybody, generally, went home to sleep and pleasant dreams. The news of the disaster did not reach here till 2 o’clock. It was too awful, and no one placed the least credence, in the report. Half an hour more, and more messengers came in. Soon the panic stricken civilians and officers began to arrive. A newspaper reported tore up the avenue for the telegraph office – his horse badly wounded and gory with blood. Then soon came another who reported having a man shot from behind him on his own horse. The few people about the hotels were thunder-struck. At a quarter before 3 somebody called beneath my window. I recognized the voice as that of Col. Forney, Secretary of the Senate. Getting out of bed I went to the window when he struck me dumb with these words: “I am just in from Bull Run. We have been defeated. Our army is all retreating. We have lost nearly everything. Our killed and wounded are counted by the thousand. Some apprehensions are felt at the War Department that the city may be stormed before morning. Our men fought nobly, but it was of no use. They are awfully cut up. Col. Cameron is killed. Col. Burnside is wounded. Col. Hunter, is also wounded – his lower jaw is shot away – I have just left him. Our army is all in retreat in the most disordered manner.” Three hours before, I went to sleep with news of victory. What a tale to tell a man just roused from sound sleep! There was Col. Young, who rooms next door – it was his voice, and it was him. He was not wild or incoherent – he spoke calmly, but could it be true? Was I awake? O God, was it not all a fantasy of the brain! Before I could collect my senses – Col. Forney had passed into his room. There I stood with head stretched out the window. I remember looking to see if there was not a glare in the sky – it might be the enemy’s guns were already at work. By this time we were all awake – my room-mate and the gentlemen in the other rooms. The family were also astir. I could not speak – I lay down. But spoke my chum, “Sid, are we awake?” Surely, it was terrible. Presently he said, “It is awful!” repeating the three words every moment or two for sometime. First I thought of the ten-thousand homes in which there would be mourning on the morrow for the chosen one of the household. The great wail of wo swept over me like a thick tempest. Then came the full voice crying, “Vengeance!” and my thoughts sprung to the long line of a hundred thousand new men ready to die for Liberty and Law. But before one of them could get here the cannon would probably be upon us. Thousands of men must arm here to defend the city, to fight to the death if need be.

Was I ready? I am sure I did not hesitate an instant. I only considered, am I ready? Have I my business matters in such condition that a stranger could settle them? Is there any wrong I ought to repair before I go to another world – any farewell I must say? There were farewells to say, but I could say them in the moment of starting for the trenches. I lay and though. I did not see anything that required attention. I am sure I thanked God then that the hour had come when I was really wanted in the world – all these years of my life seemed to have been nurturing me just to carry a gun and use it nobly in the trenches and die for Humanity. Not doubting the full truth of all Col. Forney had said, in an hour I had given myself away. You had not friend – my mother had no son – my sister had no brother. My use and my life were passed over to the great cause, and I had no more concern for myself. God would deal with me as he pleased – in the end all would be well. I hope I may be as true when the real emergency does come, as I was that morning lying upon my bed. Resolving to get up and go down town as soon as I could well see, I turned over and went into a doze. I woke up to find myself saying aloud: I have fought the good fight, I kept the faith.” It was a quarter of 6 when I started up the street – just commencing to rain. Early as it was, the avenue was full of people – as many on the sidewalk as there usually are at 10 in the afternoon. By this time a few of the runaway soldiers were arriving. Each soiled, begrimed, red eyed man was instantly surrounded and made to tell his story. In the length of a square there were often a dozen of these grouped around some here. I didn’t care to hear details – the grand fact of a terrible defeat and of a probable attack upon the city was all I cared for. Having settled the case in my mind I was curious to see how the people felt. I stirred my blood strangely to hear a calm-faced man say, after hearing the story, “I have a wife and four little children – I am going home to put my house in order – I will be back in two hours – put my name down if men are wanted.” There was a hero, though fame may never catch his name. Scores of men would not believe the report of defeat – “it was impossible; these soldiers were deserters, cowards who deserved to be shot.” Here and there traitors appeared – their chuckle marked them. The stern faces of the loyal men promised harsh use of any man who spoke treason. One great man swore out roundly he was glad the government army was routed. In an instant a slight built private of the Massachusetts Sixth, stepped in front of him, and he lay sprawling on the sidewalk. It was done so quick I could hardly see it, but I know the blow was a neat one. The traitor got up and slunk away – the crowd clapped the soldier on the back and said, “Bully!” Good for you.”

At the hotel, men were getting up who had heard nothing of the disaster. First came into their faces a look of incredulous amazement – then every man’s face took on that look of stern determination to never yield. In some faces I saw as plainly as if the house-door had been open before me, all the home circle – wife and children, high hopes, desires, plans, promise of future years, and coming pride and joy. There was a look backward toward these, as it were, but in every eye was that calm decision which boded no good for an enemy who dare attack the city. On old man who appeared to be over sixty, heard the tale and said: “I have two sons in the Rhode Island First, I suppose they are both dead – I know what they were made of – I’m stout enough to handle a gun yet.” A few cowards there were – men ho had urgent business in Ohio or New York or somewhere else. Loyal men would not stay to hear their excuses. Every man was restless; there was not much talking. “Did you know Jim Harris?” said a man to one of the Michigan First. “Yes,” was the answer, he was shot dead.” Not a muscle quivered – “Where?” “In Front.” “That’s right, he was my son.” Before such heroism how mean I felt! I was ashamed of myself. I ought to have been in the field – my body might have stopped the ball which killed the son of such a father.

I am sure I came home to breakfast a better man than I was when I went away.

After breakfast we all went up street. It was the same scene. Every where knots of men around soldiers – the dreary rain pouring down – here a man standing out alone and solemnly and reverently calling God’s vengeance on the rebel fiends who came on the battle field, and bayonetted our wounded – there soldier friends rushing together, each having supposed the other dead – now a choleric old man swearing at himself for being so stiff with rheumatism that he could not march in a rank – elsewhere middle aged men shaking hands with each other, and saying almost gladly, “Now our time has come!” A beardless boy exclaiming, “I shall take Jack’s place in the 71st,” – an old man of seventy chiding one a few years younger for yielding to the fear of panic on the battle field – a coal-black negro touching his hat to me and asking, “Please, mass’sr, d’ye think we darkies can have a chance to fight dis yer day?” = one man swearing at the Tribune for urging on a battle before we were ready – another swearing at Patterson for letting Johnson escape him in the Harper’s Ferry neighborhood – the faint chuckle of some traitor – the faint chuckle of some traitor – the quick word “You are not wanted here, go away or you’ll get hurt” – in nearly every eye that strange light that never before was, which spoke in the same instant of home and friends, and consecration to the Stars and Stripes to the death. At ten I was at my post in the Senate. We could not work – we did only so much as we must. The wildest rumors were running about till near the middle of the afternoon. Every man kept an eye on Arlington Heights across the river if so be he might see the smoke of battle – crowds of soldiers poured into the city – reports of dead and wounded grew upon us – all waited in uneasy expectancy for the roar of cannon. The House was cast down and dispirited – the rain poured down faster and faster – everywhere except in the Senate was gloom – Trumbull of Illinois, Wilson of Massachusetts, Ten Eyck of New Jersey, each spoke a few nervous words in favor of the bill before mentioned, in relation to slaves – Charles Sumner’s responsive “aye!” when his name was called had the ring of an organ in it –old Ben Wade’s answer was as sharp as a sword – and when the vote was announced – “32 for, to 6 against” – the heats of the people in the galleries began to rise. Directly the bugle was heard and past the Capitol wound Sherman’s battery, which everybody supposed lost, only four men missing, and not a gun harmed. Bless me! How the people rushed out in the rain, swinging their hats and cheered! From that time things began to improve. Fact began to take the place of wild rumor – we began to comprehend and understand the great disaster. So the day wore away – rain and darkness everywhere, no booming of cannon, supposed dead men reporting themselves alive, fragments of regiments clustered in all parts of the city, everybody going to look after friends, private houses on every street opening to receive weary and hungry soldiers, stranger men giving soiled privates half dollars with which to get warm dinners. Five o’clock came and we went up town again. Straight to the quarters of the Michigan 2d, and found my friend Lester unhurt. My college mate, his is now assistant surgeon.

It was a long time before I could find a man of Company “F.” of the Minnesota First; there were not many of them left. At length, “Do you know anything of your First Lieutenant?” Dead.” That was all, then; so went down a rare nature, generous, chivalric, earnest. I saw him here and shook a “good bye” with him when the regiment crossed to Virginia, then days before the battle. His last words wot me were: “You now I’ve always been a Democrat, but I’m in for the war; I never can die in a better cause.” * *

War came home to me that evening as I moved about among the boys of Company “F.” I felt very much humiliated – they all seemed brothers to me, whom I had in some way wronged. Ah me that I could have given them twenty dollars instead of five so that they might all have put away their poor army ration, and had such a good warm meal!

* * * S.A.

Chenango American, 8/22/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

John W. Forney bio

More information on the identity of S. A. will update this post as it becomes available





Wilmer McLean – The Rest of the Story

15 10 2016

fig62We all know how it went. Wilmer McLean owned a farm (Yorkshire Plantation) near Manassas that P. G. T. Beauregard used for his headquarters prior to and during the First Battle of Bull Run. We know that a projectile from a Union cannon struck his chimney, and that it ruined a dinner cooking in the fireplace. We know from Bory’s report that Wilmer helped out the Confederate forces as a guide. We know that later on Wilmer relocated to Appomattox Court House, and that his residence was used for the proceedings of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia in April, 1865. But here are a couple of tidbits I learned, or perhaps was reminded of, in Arwen Bicknell’s Justice and Vengeance: Scandal, Honor, and Murder in 1872 Virginia, which I’m currently reading. Things like why he moved to Appomattox in the first place, and what he did and where he went after the surrender. Since she spent good time writing them, I’ll let her words speak for themselves, with my own emphasis:

McLean, who was too old to fight, made a nice living during the war as a sugar broker supplying the Confederate States Army, and moved his operations Appomattox County, partly because his commercial activities were centered mostly in Southern Virginia and partly to protect his family from a repetition of their combat experience…In 1869, bankruptcy forced the family back to the farm in Manassas, during which time he served as justice of the peace. He secured a job under [President Ulysses S.] Grant working as a tax collector in 1873 and moved his family to Alexandria, transferring to the U. S. Bureau of Customs in 1876 …

A little less romantic than the story of a poor farmer’s failure to avoid the war and being ultimately ruined by it with which many are familiar. But that’s often the case with beloved tales.

The author cites Biography of Wilmer McLean, May 3, 1814 – June 5, 1882, by Frank P. Cauble.

 

 





A. R., CSA Citizen, On the Battle

9 07 2015

Interesting Letter.

We are indebted to the kind courtesy of Governor Letcher for the opportunity of laying the following before our readers. It is an aged gentleman’s account of that glorious victory which is still thrilling the hearts of the aged and the young, and which spreads noble joy over our whole Commonwealth, from the mansion of our Governor to the humblest cabin in the most lonely mountain gorge; and over the whole vast extent of our beloved Confederacy:

Fauquier County, Virginia,

Recotortown, July 25, 1861.

To his Excellency, John Letcher, Gov. of Va.,

Dear Sir – Being an eye-witness to the battle fought at the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run, on the 21st inst. and the battle fought on the same day on Bull Run at the old battle ground, believing it may be interesting to you to get a history of these battles who has known all the ground fought over for the last 50 years, this, together with a rough diagram of the fields of battle, I enclose to you.

The favorable position I occupied during the day with a spy glass, enabled me to see the beginning and end of that day’s fighting. The firing at the old battle ground commenced at 20 minutes after 7 o’clock. A brisk cannonading was kept up until the battle commenced at the Stone Bridge, which lasted until 5 o’clock in the evening, at which time I saw the enemy in full retreat at double-quick time, closely pursued by our forces, the artillery, and cavalry – the artillery pouring their deadly fires into the ranks a every favorable opportunity, and the cavalry charging upon them and mowing them down like a scythe in the grass. In this retreat the enemy for about 3 1/2 miles was miserably slaughtered. The object no doubt of the enemy in opening their batteries at the old battle ground, was to draw our forces to this point. Gen. Beauregard took but little notice of this firing, but in a few minutes after the first fire at this point our forces were in full march for the Stone Bridge. We had only a small force at the ford on Bull Run, where the first battle was fought, but they were well fortified, and these batteries, at the distance they were from our forces, did us no injury during the day. What was the number of their forces at this point, we were unable to judge, because they were concealed in a woods immediately in the rear of their batteries (See diagram.) [Diagram not included.] At about five o’clock, and about the time the enemy made their retreat at the Stone Bridge, a reinforcement of about 10,000 hove in sight, which had, as I understand, been stationed at the Union Mill, to prevent their crossing a ford on Bull Run, near this point. They were travelling in double-quick time, as I supposed; they were aiming to cut off the enemy’s retreat from the Stone Bridge to Centreville. They were too late to effect that object, but not too late to attack and defeat the enemy at the old battle ground. But little has been said of this battle, because of its small importance when compared with the battle at the Stone Bridge. The distance from Camp Pickens to the Stone Bridge is 5 miles. The main battle did not commence at the Stone Bridge, but at least two miles west of it. The enemy, in large force, had moved up Bull Run in the direction of Sudley, and near that point crossed over an marched towards Dogan’s. – The high ground and woods between the Stone Bridge and Dogan’s, concealed them from our view. Dogan’s is on a high ridge, which continues until you get near the Stone Bridge. Near Dogan’s is where the enemy rushed from the woods and made their attack on the left wing of our army in such force that I cannot compare them in numbers to any thing else that a pigeon roost in a forest, when the pigeons are either coming in or going out. Our left wing in numbers could not have numbered one to ten of the enemy. Here our brave heroes sustained their position for one hour, repulsing the enemy whenever they attempted to extend their line to flank them. At this point was our greatest loss. As soon as our reinforcements came to the relief of our noble band, we soon repulsed the enemy. – They soon rallied and a more dearly fire kept up than tongue can express or imagination conceive. The enemy took a firm stand, and well did they maintain it for two hours. At this warmly contested stand the firing of the small arms reminded me of a long train of cars passing speedily over a bridge. I could not conceive how a single man could escape the fire. The enemy could not stand it, and again we repulsed them; but they soon rallied and made a desperate effort. We then gave way, but soon rallied, and the fight seemed to be still more desperate than before, and each party seemed as though it was death or victory on both sides. This state of things continued for two hours or more. Then the enemy gave way. Again they soon rallied and came into the fight as they had before, determined to die or be victorious. They stood the deadly fire of our noble and heroic and brave boys, led on and cheered on by our noble and brave Beauregard and Johnson, who were seen during the day in the thickest of the fight. The Yankees stood this hot and incessant fire until five o’clock, when they took their final leave of us in double-quick time, closely pursued by our artillery and cavalry, for a distance of between three and a half or four miles, to Cub Run. At Cub Run there is a high bridge to cross, and here the cavalry made a desperate charge upon them, capturing the last piece of their cannon, fifty horses and forty wagons, with a number of other valuables. Besides the killing and taking of prisoners, we have taken in cannon in sixty-three pieces, in small arms an immense quantity. – The precise number will never be known, as the country people around in every direction have well supplied themselves with arms to defend their homes, which they were very deficient in before this battle, for arms for the home guard. Now it seems that God, in His kind providence, has provided us with all the material comforts and arms for our defence. – Yes, on the Sabbath of the 21st instant, we received a refreshing shower of blessing; yet it had some hail mixed with it, which cut down many noble sons of the South. In clothing, arm, ammunition and war materials, we are abundantly supplied for the present. I have now closed my observations on the occurrences of the 21st instant. That night we returned to our camp, our bosoms filled to overflowing with joy at the result of the day. We knew that night we had driven the Yankees to Centreville, yet we were restless that night to know what would be the action on to-morrow. On the next day, early in the morning, I found the whole army marching in the direction of Centreville. The army was headed by the cavalry, they followed by the artillery, then the volunteers. Before the last of the volunteers had left camp I saw t first of the volunteers that I had passed returning. All were anxious to know the cause of this move. I was then at the Quartermaster’s department. An officer rode up in great haste, and said they had received a dispatch at headquarters informing them that the Yankees had fled from Centreville, and they had crossed over to Washington. Then all our force, except the cavalry and artillery, were ordered back. – They passed on to Fairfax Court House.

It was, or ought to have been, very pleasing to all Southerners to witness the cheerfulness of the soldiers in their line of march on Monday Morning for Centreville. It was raining incessantly, as it had been all the morning; the road which they were travelling, was about shoe-deep in mud, yet they looked cheerful, and seemed anxious to pursue the enemy. I must mention, while the volunteers were passing, I discovered in the ranks my old and esteemed friend Philip Pitman[*], of Shenandoah, who has been a member of both branches of the Virginia Legislature, and is still a member. He is about 60 years of age; his head as white as snow. He seemed happy and contented, as if he was on a deer hunt, which sport he very much enjoys. If all the Southern boys were made of such material as Philip Pitman the Yankee boys would not stand up long before us.

A. R.

Richmond Enquirer, 8/5/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*Philip Pitman was a member of Co. F, 10th VA Infantry. He would be discharged for old age and return to the Virginia Legislature. See here.





On the Anniversary of the Surrender at Bennett Place

21 04 2015

This article ran in my Collateral Damage column in Civil War Times back in December, 2010, as Bennett Place, Where the War Really Ended. Click on the thumbnails for larger images I recorded over the years.

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Original road trace

Original road trace

The knock came unexpectedly at just about noon that sunny spring day, April 17, 1865. James Bennett and his wife, Nancy, opened the door to their modest three-room, two-story home and were greeted by Union Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston, along with their staffs and escorts, several hundred soldiers in all. Johnston thought the farm which he had passed earlier looked like an appropriate place for them to sit down and talk and Sherman had deferred to his judgment. The Bennetts left their guests and repaired to their detached kitchen, leaving the two men in possession of the main room, which was described as “scrupulously neat, the floors scrubbed to a milky whiteness, the bed in one room very neatly made up, and the few articles of furniture in the room arranged with neatness and taste”. What followed was the first of three meetings between the army group commanders; three meetings that would end – after no little drama – with the surrender on April 26th of nearly 90,000 Confederate soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

353James Bennett (he would change the spelling from “Bennitt” after 1860: to avoid confusion the later spelling will be used here) was born in Chatham County, NC on July 11, 1806. In the 1820s he moved to Orange County, and on May 23, 1834 he married Nancy Leigh Pearson. The union produced three children: son Lorenzo in 1832, daughter Eliza Ann in 1834, and son Alphonzo in 1836. After years of struggling financially, in 1846 James was finally able to borrow $400 and purchase a 325 acre farm with an existing cabin along the Hillsboro Road outside Durham, NC, in eastern Orange County. They added siding to the cabin, and by 1854 James was able to pay off the loan, later selling 133 acres for $250.

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

James had several sources of income. He did some contract hauling; sold food, liquor and lodging to travelers on the Hillsboro Road; and made and sold shoes and clothing. But the family’s primary business was agriculture, and they grew corn which they both consumed and sold. The Bennett farm also produced cantaloupe, watermelon, oats, wheat, and sweet potatoes. Bennett owned no slaves, but hired helpers, including slaves, when he was able.

The war was hard on the Bennetts. Lorenzo, who had enlisted in the 27th NC, fell sick and died in a Winchester, VA army hospital in October 1862. Alfonso died that same year, though it isn’t clear if he died in military service. In August 1864 Eliza’s husband Robert Duke – a brother of Washington Duke for whom Duke University is named – of the 46th NC died of illness in a hospital in Lynchburg, VA. Soon after, Eliza returned to live at Bennett Place with her and Robert’s son, James.

Interior of reconstructed farm house

Interior of reconstructed farm house

When the “Terms of a Military Convention” were signed by Sherman and Johnston on April 26th, James Bennett was invited to join the generals and their staffs in a celebratory toast. Afterwards, a Union private offered to purchase the table cover on which the agreement had been signed, but Bennett refused. One reporter wrote that relic hunters were so thorough that there would soon be little left to indicate where the house stood.

Two days later, a detail from Kilpatrick’s cavalry division arrived and made Bennett an offer of $10 and a horse for the signing table and cover, with the caveat that they were under orders to take them if he declined the offer. Not surprisingly, he accepted, but despite turning over the table the payment never materialized. In 1870, after learning that the table had subsequently sold for $3,000, Bennett wrote to the governor of North Carolina seeking compensation for it and other items taken from his home, but to no effect. In 1873 he filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission, but was denied restitution because he had supported the Confederacy.

While his land was spared the ravages of fighting, after the war the productivity of Bennett’s farm dropped off significantly. By 1875 sales of various parcels of his land left him with 175 acres, all of which he sharecropped out in early 1876. James Bennett died in 1879, followed not long after by his wife. By 1889 Eliza’s daughter Roberta Shields was the sole owner of the farm: she sold 35 acres including the house to Brodie L. Duke, a black-sheep son of Washington Duke, in 1890.

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

By the early 1900’s the farm was reported as deserted, the house in a state of severe 359disrepair. A protective structure was erected around the house in the latter half of the first decade of the 20th century. Richmond businessman Samuel T. Morgan purchased 31 acres and the house around 1908, but he died in 1920 before anything was done to preserve the structure. In 1921, the Surrender site burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. All that remained was the stone chimney.

"Unity"

“Unity”

In 1923 a 3 ½ acre plot including the Surrender site and a new monument (Unity) was donated to a non-profit organization, The Bennett Place Memorial Commission, by the Morgan family in return for its promise to maintain the site in perpetuity. But while small improvements were made in the first decade, the site was relatively unvisited for more than 20 years. In 1961, Bennett Place became an official NC State Historic Site. The reconstructed house, kitchen, smokehouse and split rail fence lining the historic Hillsboro Road trace were dedicated, and Bennett Place’s life as a public historic landmark began. Today the site also includes a visitor center with theater, museum, and gift shop, the Everett-Thissen Research Library, and a bandstand.

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Thanks to Tonia Smith for her assistance in the preparation of this article. See Arthur C. Menius, James Bennitt: Portrait of an Antebellum Yeoman in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1981 and the same author, The Bennett Place, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, July 1979





Thornberry House

21 11 2014

This past Saturday I paid a visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park. One of the spots we hit was the north end of the park, the area of the Thornberry House and Sudley Church. The Thornberry children were used by photographers Barnard and Gibson in many of their March 1862 photos of the battlefield, and the house was used as a hospital in both battles of Manassas. It was near this house that Sullivan Ballou’s body was buried and subsequently dug up, mutilated, and burned (see here, here, and here.) Laura Thornberry later recorded her recollections of the battle. And here are some images of the house and surroundings I recorded earlier. Below are the images from Saturday, November 15, 2014. Click for much larger images.

Interpretive Marker

Interpretive Marker

House from west

House from west

House from south

House from south

Looking south down Sudley Road trace, west of Thornberry house

Looking south down Sudley Road trace, west of Thornberry house

Thornberry House 1862

Thornberry House 1862