Lt. William Brockenbrough Newton, Hanover Light Dragoons, 30th Virginia Cavalry, On the Campaign

14 05 2016

Centreville, July 22d 1861

My Dearest Wife,

For the last four days we have never been longer in one place than two hours – have slept every night upon the ground in good weather and bad, eaten nothing but hard crackers and fried bacon, and rested little at any time. For all of which privations, and a thousand others, we have been more than compensated – thanks to the just God who governs the courses of history, and decrees the destiny of nations – in the glorious results of yesterday. My last was from Fairfax Court House.

On the morning of the 17th we had received reliable information that the enemy were advancing, over 50,000 strong, and were not surprised at 5 o’clock in the morning to hear the fire of our pickets who were slowly retiring before the advancing foe. The order was given to pack – in ten minutes baggage was packed, tents struck, and the wagons driven to the rear, and the whole command formed in line of battle. In a few moments the glittering bayonets of the enemy lined the neighboring hills. From the heavy signal guns being fired at intervals along our line commencing at Germantown, and stretching along to Fairfax Court House, it was evident that the enemy were endeavoring to surround our little band. But our “little Trump,” as the men call Beauregard, was not to be taken by any such game.

Every preparation was made to deceive the enemy by inducing him to believe that we meditated a vigorous resistance – meantime our column defiled through a densely wooded road, and was for on the road to Centreville when the enemy discovered his mistake. He followed on very cautiously. Our troop, with Kemper’s battery, was assigned to post of honour, and charged with the duty of covering the retreat. We were the last to leave the village, and as we went out at one end of the street, his column appeared at the other. We halted at this place (Centreville) about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, again made show of battle, slept until 12 o’clock at the heads of our horses, and silently left the place, the enemy’s pickets being within talking distance of ours.

At daybreak we were across Bull Run, having marched very slowly to keep pace with the infantry. We found beds of leaves in the woods, wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and slept for an hour or two, until roused by the roar of the enemy’s guns, as he opened his batteries upon our lines. For two mortal hours, shot and shell flew thick along our whole line. This day’s work was evidently intended only to draw the fire of our artillery and show where our batteries were. In consequence of which, our gunners were ordered not to fire a single shot until within point blank range. After thus opening the ball, two dense masses of infantry were seen to defile to the right and left, to make two separate attacks. It was indeed a beautiful sight, as they came down in perfect order, and with the steady step of veterans. They came nearer and yet nearer, and yet no shot from our guns. Men began to mutter and say that we were preparing for another retreat. But, in a few moments, the appointed time arrived, a single shot from the Washington Artillery gave the signal of death, and for half an hour there was nothing but a continuous sheet of flame along the right of our line. The enemy fell back, rallied and charged again with a like result; again they rested and rushed forward; but old Virginia was true to herself, and the gallant 1st and 17th regiments met them, though twice their numbers, charged them with the bayonet, and drove them back in utter confusion.

The cavalry were held in reserved, and although within range of the artillery and continually experiencing the sensations which men may be supposed to indulge, who know there is a hidden danger hovering in the air, without knowing where it is to light, took no part in the action. Our time came yesterday, however. Our troop was for four hours in the hottest of the fight, and every man in it won the applause and approbation of the whole camp.

The action commenced at 8 o’clock of a sweet Sabbath morning. The enemy commenced with quite a heavy cannonade upon our right, which proved to be a mere feint to distract our attention, as his main attack was directed to our left wing. At ten o’clock the enemy had crossed the river on our left, and the fight commenced in earnest. From the hill on which we stood, we could see the smoke and dust, although at the distance of several miles from the fight waged on our left. Some thought our men had fallen back; others, that the enemy were retreating. It was an hour of painful interest.

At eleven o’clock, and aid-de-camp rode up in a gallop, and said our men were retiring, and the cavalry was ordered to the left. We were temporarily attached to Radford’s regiment. Ours was the first company, and mine the front platoon. On we dashed at a gallop. As we passed within range of a battery of rifled cannon, a ball was fired at us, and passed just between W___ and myself, knocking up clouds of dust. Without wavering in their ranks, the men and horses dashed forward at a gallop. As we reached the scene of action, the sight was discouraging in the extreme. The enemy had a first the advantage of every attacking party. He had concentrated all his forces for an attack upon one point. The 1st Louisiana regiment and the 4th Alabama were assailed in flank and center by 30,000 men, and literally cut to pieces. They refused to surrender but retired slowly, disputing every inch of the ground. As we rode up, we met parts of companies which had literally been overwhelmed, the men wounded, heir arms broken, while some of them were carrying off their dead in blankets. Every thing looked like retreat.

We were ordered up to within 500 yards of the enemies artillery, behind a hill which afforded some protection against their destructive fire. For an hour the firing raged with incessant fury, a ball passed over the hill and through our ranks, grazing one of our men; a shell exploded right under Radford’s horse, and every moment shot and shell were continually whistling by us. I can give you no conception of that awful hour. Not a man shrank from his post; two of our men were taken deadly sick, one fainting from heat and excitement; such calmness and composure I never witnessed. To make the matter worse, despondency, if not despair was fast writing itself on every face. The fire was evidently approaching us, and our friends were retiring, and the whispered rumour passed from lip to lip that our artillery ammunition was running low.

In a moment, however, a cloud of dust in our rear showed the approach of our wagons coming up at a dashing rate with a fresh supply. Our reinforcements now commenced pouring in. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi swept by in their glittering array with the calm light of battle on their faces, and their bayonets gleaming in the quiet Sabbath sunshine. No man faltered, no man lagged behind. Neither the groans of the dying, nor the shrieks of the wounded, as they passed to the rear in crowded ambulances, seemed to produce any impression, except to fix the determination upon the countenance of all – to win or die upon the field.

The tide now seemed to ebb just enough to keep us from despair. The firing did not advance, although the explosion of their shell was terrific in the extreme. A gleam of hope, too, gradually broke in upon us when Kemper’s battery, which had been posted in our centre, galloped up and opened a destructive fire upon our extreme left. The advance was evidently checked, when a loud cheer in the front told us that something unusual had happened. What was it? Was it the triumph of our enemies over our stricken friends, or was it some advantage gained in defence of right? The suspense was awful. Men stood straight in their stirrups and stretched their eyes as if they would pierce the rugged bosom of the barren hill which raised its sc[?]rred front before them.

An aid passes up – his message is written on his face, and, before he speaks a word, a wild shout breaks from the throats of thousands. When he speaks, another, and another, and another round of cheers told the story of our hitherto sinking hearts. The 4th Virginia regiment had taken Sprague’s Rhode Island battery of six pieces at the point of the bayonet. Scarcely had the echo of our cheers died upon the air, when again the noise of shouting broke upon us. What was it? Had the enemy rallied and retaken the guns? Fear struggled with hope. But, no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[?]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in Sherman’s battery. The firing of musketry and the rattling of bayonets was now terrific beyond description. For an hour there was an incessant crackling of rifles, without a single moment’s pause. The enemy were evidently retiring, and, unless reinforced from their left and centre, the day was ours.

To prevent this, our field telegraph had already given the signal for movement upon our own right, and a heavy fire of musketry and artillery told us that Bonham’s brigade, to which we had been attached in the morning, had crossed the run and were pouring it into the enemy’s centre. The South Carolina boys dashed up the hill, in the face of a murderous fire, bayoneted the gunners, and took quiet possession of their centre battery. It was now 3 o’clock, and the day was ours. The Washington Artillery galloped up the hill on which we were posted and opened a perfect Vesuvius of shot and shell upon the receding foe.

Colonel Lay now galloped up and told us the time for us to act had arrived – our whole force of cavalry – now rushed like the wind to the front. It was indeed a brilliant spectacle, as with slackened reins and sabres drawn, the whole command dashed past. The whole line resounded with continued cheering. The force was divided into different detachments. Col. Radford, with six companies, was ordered to cross a short distance below the enemy’s extreme right, and intercept his column; our company was in front, ,and I was riding in front of my platoon – when after crossing the swamp we came suddenly upon a detachment of the enemy concealed in the bushes, with their pieces levelled. The Colonel ordered the charge, and our boys dashed on. (1)

Poor E. F. was at my side when we rode over two of them, and they grounded their arms to E. W. just in our rear. We galloped on in pursuit of the rest, who retreated across a field toward the road on which the enemy was retreating. F. was just behind me; Saunders, a fine young fellow, just 24, and splendidly mounted, rushed past us. The enemy had concealed themselves behind a fence. We rode up and I demanded their surrender. They made no reply. I ordered Saunders to fire. Before he levelled his carbine, the whole squad poured in a volley. Saunders fell dead at my feet, and Fontaine reeled in his saddle, and exclaimed, “save me, boys, I am killed.” He was caught in the arms of his cousin, who was in the rear. Three of my platoon fired, and the two who had shot Saunders and Fontaine fell dead in their tracks. (2)

We were now in full view of the enemy’s line, passing in rapid and disordered retreat along the road, with two pieces of artillery, a large number of baggage wagons and some officers’ carriages. – Col. Radford, who is a soldier of experience, knew the strength of the enemy, and ordered a halt, commanding the men to form; but such a thing as forming was utterly impossible. The men seemed perfectly delirious with excitement, and with a wild shout of the guns, the guns,” our whole company rushed on pell-mell upon the battery, which proved to be another detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery. Such a scene of wild excitement I never witnessed.

My platoon had become detached from the company, and the company from the regiment. There were two caissons and two guns; the guns behind the caissons. My platoon, which was furthest down the road, rushed upon the men who guarded them – one fellow, standing upon the caisson, whipping the horses to make them run. They had become so much alarmed that they stood perfectly still and trembled. I made a blow at him with my sabre, knocked him off the caisson, and he was shot twice by our men before he hit the ground.

Meantime W., (who, by the way, performed admirably,) with the main body, crossed the road higher up and when the main body of the regiment came up, our company, with some of the Alexandria cavalry, had killed and wounded every man at the guns and driven their infantry supports into rapid retreat. When we left, we expected to be supported by infantry and artillery, and you may imagine our astonishment when, with not quite 300 men, we found that we had merely cut into the enemy’s column, and upon looking one hundred yards down the road, we found them preparing to open upon us with two guns, supported by six regiments of infantry. The Colonel at once ordered a retreat, so we shot the horses to the caissons, so as to block up the road, and retreated, not, however, before they had poured in upon us four rounds of grape and canister at 150 yards distance. How we escaped a perfect massacre I cannot say. Had they not been so close to us, the slaughter would have been terrible. Four of our men were killed, and Captain Radford, brother of the Colonel, was literally blown to pieces, I escaped without a scratch (as did all the rest of the officers), excepting quite a severe bruise, caused by my horse’s pressing my leg against the wheel of the gun carriage. We brought off several prisoners, a great many pistols, and several horses. (3)

Just ahead of the guns was an open carriage, very handsome; as soon as they saw us – such a rush you never saw. It is suspected, or rather hoped, that Wilson, of Massachusetts (who was, it is known, on the field,) was in it; for one of our men, Lindsay by name, took it into his head that Scott was in it, pursued and overtook it, and, at the distance of thirty steps, fired his musketoon, with eighteen buckshot, into the back window. (4)

As we returned to camp, a melancholy mistake occurred. B (our Second Lieutenant,) who was carrying poor F. to the hospital, with one or two others, met with a detachment of four of the Appomattox Cavalry, who hailed him. It is said that, instead of giving the signal agreed upon in our camp, by raising the hand to the top of the head, he took them for the enemy, and answered, Federal troops – they fired and he fell dead. (5)

Our company received, upon its return, the congratulations of every officer in General Bonham’s staff, to whom Colonel Radford had spoken of the conduct of our men.

To-day it has been raining all day. Our column pushed on this morning to this place. Our company was assigned the advanced guard; and this morning at 10 o’clock, I had the honor, with eight mounted men, of “occupying” the city of Centreville. The citizens tell us, that about 12 o’clock last night, the cry passed throughout the camp that the d—-d Virginia horsemen were upon them, when they left in utter confusion.

Our triumph has been complete. In two days our noble army has driven them back to Alexandria, captured 42 guns, many colors, and taken how many prisoners I will not venture to say. After we reached here we were ordered to explore the surrounding country in quest of fugitives. We took eighteen prisoners, and got back just at night, very wet. Such a collection of property left in their flight, you never saw. Hundreds of muskets, wagons, horses, gun carriages, thousands of knapsacks, oil-cloths, blankets, hogsheads of sugar, barrels of pork, beans – in short, everything you can conceive. We found to-day over five hundred splendid army over-coats in one pile, at one of their deserted camps, besides many tents, not struck. I helped myself to a magnificent officer’s blanket and oi-cloth to fit over the head, and the men all got over-coats.

The men are amusing themselves to-night with reading their letters, of which there are thousands left on the road. Many of them were directed to Mr. So-and so, expected at Manassas Junction. Some asked for a piece of the floor of the house on which Ellsworth was killed, with blood on it; others confidently express the belief that Beauregard’s scalp will be taken to Washington. When I tell you that we supped to-night on Yankee crackers – Yankee coffee, and nice beef tongue, actually left on the hearth of one of the officers quarters, in a kettle, ready to set on the fire – that this is written in pencil given me by one of the men, upon paper taken from their baggage wagons, that I am sitting on a Yankee camp stool, writing by a Yankee candle, you can form some idea of their utter route.

I send K a pincushion, picked up on the field, and L a needlecase. Tell W I have a nice sword for him, taken from one of the Vermont volunteers. I came very near taking a drum for him, of which we found six yesterday, but thought of the noise, and declined. (6)

Our troops occupy Fairfax Court House, to-night. – Good night; God bless and protect you, as I feel he has protected me in the last few days, in answer to your prayers. I hope I feel sufficiently grateful for my preservation.

Your husband,

W. B. N.

I had secured a beautiful Enfield rifle for uncle William, but it was paced in charge of one of the men, who has lost it. I will endeavor to procure another for him. Bowyer Brockenbrough, in command of a part of Pendleton’s battery, was knocked off his horse by a fragment of a shell, and slightly wounded. Raleigh Colston, who was a captain on one of the Berkely companies, had his pants perforated, and his leg grazed by a ball while advancing on Sherman’s battery. Willoughby Brockenbrough escaped untouched.

———————————

Richmond Daily Whig, July 29, 1861

From transcription in Civil War Times magazine, July 2007, Used with Permission. The letter was annotated by Joseph Pierro, who identified some of the lesser known or cryptically referenced individuals described by Newton, and they are listed below:

1 – Col. George W. Lay, Bonham’s AAG
2 – E. F. – Sgt. Maj. Edmond Fontaine, Jr.; Saunders – Pvt. Richard W. Saunders
3 – Captain Radford – Edmund W. Radford
4 – Wilson, of Massachusetts – Sen. Henry Wilson.
5 – B – Boldman H. Bowles
6 – K, L, & W – Newton’s children, Kate (3), Lucy (4), and Willoughby (7)





Pvt. Green Berry Samuels, Co. F, 10th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle

4 11 2015

Fairfax Station July 26th, 1861

My Dear Sister,

I wrote you such a hurried and confused letter the other day owing to the short time that was allowed me. Though I have concluded to write you another. I have been quite unwell the last few days but fortunately for now I am very comfortably quartered in my in my cousin’s tent and hope to be entirely well in a few days. No doubt you have heard by this time the full particulars of our splendid victory on last Sunday, but like all new soldiers I cannot help but say my say about it.

Colonel Elzey’s brigade of which I have the honor of being a member left Piedmont on the Manassas cars early in the morning and after landing at the Junction we ran some 5 miles to the field of battle and arrived just in time to change defeat into a glorious victory. We sustained 5 volleys of musketry within the small loss of 6 killed and 14 wounded in our regiment. The ground sheltered us and connected with our throwing ourselves flat on the ground no doubt saved many a gallant soldier’s life. I cannot describe my feelings as I came into battle and heard the shrill singing of the rifle cannon shell and the whistling of the Minnie balls. I was not afraid and I am proud to say that I think none in the company were frightened although many a pulse beat faster at the sight of death and the sound of the death dealing balls.

The hardest trial to one’s nerves is the sight of the wounded and the dead; in many cases the agony of the wounded was awful and their pitying cries for water heart-rending. As for the dead, some had died with their hands folded across their breasts with their eyes wide open looking up to Heaven with a sweet smile upon the face, some had evidently died in awful agony, with distorted faces, glaring eyes and clenched hands. I will write no more of this awful scene; it makes me sick to think of it. Would to God, Lincoln could have seen the horrors of last Sunday; we would have peace today instead of war. Our county, I understand, has lost some 20 killed, which has carried mourning into many a now fatherless home. Poor Milton Moore was engaged to be married; what must be the feelings of the young lady? The regiment to which your brother belongs, I believe, is stationed some three or four miles from Manassas; at least it was on the day of battle and the succeeding ones. I hope they will still be left at Manassas when we move on, so that your mother may not be so much concerned about his safety.

Our Brigade is stationed as you may see by the heading of my letter some 10 miles from Manassas. Whether we will move on soon or not I cannot say. Please answer my letters as soon as you receive them and direct to me at Fairfax Station…. You need feel no uneasiness about my sickness as I will certainly be well in a few days. I wish you could see us out here in the woods. We have such nice pleasant quarters with plenty of water and cool shade. I will send you a photograph of Colonel Ellsworth taken on the field of battle, please keep it safely as it will be a reminiscence for me in my old age should I live. Do not fail to keep it safely…

Yours devotedly,

G. B. Samuels

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana, October 2015

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Green B. Samuels at Ancestry.com

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Lt. William Willis Blackford, AAG, 1st Virginia Cavalry, On the Battle

4 11 2015

Aug. 6th, 1861
Headquarters Fairfax C.H.

Dear Uncle John,

I have been intending to write to you for several days but have been kept very busy by my new duties as Adjutant of our Regiment. We have been here now since the second day after the battle of Manassas and from present appearances we will be here for some time longer. We had a hard time of it for two days before and two days after the battle. We made a march of about 80 miles during Friday and Saturday, from near Winchester to the battlefield, starting about the middle of the day and reaching Piedmont at eleven o’clock that night. We bivouacked in an orchard, gave our horses ½ doz. ears of corn, and ourselves nothing to eat; started at three the next morning in a hard rain, wet, cold & hungry and halted to [find] & breakfast at nine. Reached the battlefield at sundown, and had a good nights rest in the broom sedge under clumps of pine branches. The morning of the 21st we were up bright and early and scouted in advance of the lines for one hour or two, ran into an infantry scouting party of the enemy who ran away from us, and we from them – hearing the firing on our left becoming hot we fell back to the rear, where we listened with purest interest to the engagement as it thickened towards nine o’clock. Here we remained until about the middle of the day when an aid came at full gallop towards us with orders for ½ of the regiment to go to the right & ½ to the left. Our Col. (J. E. B. Stuart) went to the left with ½ of the men & I with him. This proved to be the main point of attack – not long after taking our position in rear of this hottest part of the fighting we were ordered to the front to charge the N.Y. Fire Zouaves who were about taking one of our batteries. We dashed through a skirt of woods and came upon their flanks as they were marching in column by fours, and before they could form and present bayonets we were into them like lightning. We were in column by fours in passing through the woods and they were about 100 yds. beyond as soon as the head of our column emerged from the woods the Colonel brought the rear around front into line so we went through like a wedge shooting them armed with our pistols. Those in front of us we swept off in a few seconds. Hot times on right & left poured a terrific fire upon our flanks, we lost in about one minute 9 men killed, 24 wounded & 20 horses killed. The horses were so thick on the ground, I could hardly keep my horse from falling over their bodies. It was very dangerous to attempt to leap over them as they were floundering like chickens when their heads are cut off, and it was very hard to avoid them. As we wheeled to return, a battery opened on us with grape and killed some of the horses some distance in the woods. [In writing I and my horse wasn’t hurt at all.] I was detached by the Col. in the afternoon, where we were in the pursuit with 10 men & captured 80 men and a four horse wagon & team loaded with ammunition, every man of them, with the exception of perhaps a dozen I found around a house full of wounded, had his musket in his hand and many of them side arms. I got ten pistols and any quantity of Bowie knives from them two of the pistols, large sized Navy, I have now & will keep and have my name engraved on when I get home, with the date & leave them to Wyndham in my will. There is a P.O. here now. Please write to me. Love to all cousin Meats Family.

Your aff. Nephew,

Wm. W. Blackford

P.S. Excuse my making you pay postage but change can’t be had here. (See over)

Direct to Lt. W. W. Blackford

Care of Col. J. E. B. Stuart

1st Regt Va Cavalry

Fairfax CH.

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. Thomas Green, Co. B, 11th Massachusetts Volunteers, On the Battle

17 10 2015

Alexandria Virginia August 4th 1861

Dear Mother I have taken the pen in my hand to let you know that I am doing well. Perhaps you have heard of the late Battle of Manassas Gap or Bulls Run. Well in that battle I had got a wound on the right shoulder. Our regiment was drawn up into line when we got the order to fire I just pulled the trigger and fired and just as I was turning around to load the ball struck me in the shoulder the ball glancing down my arm. Just then we got the order to retreat and everything was thrown into confusion our own cavalry running over our own wounded men. Well we retreated back as far as Centreville where I slept in the hospital all night with a faithful friend of mine who walked with me all the way from the battlefield. The distance from the battlefield to the hospital where I slept was about 15 or 17 miles the way we came and we walked that distance in about two hours without running one single step because I could not run without my shoulder would pain me. When I reached Centreville that Sunday night July 21st the surgeon there could not find the ball and he told me to keep it wet with a cloth all night whitch my friend did for me while I was a sleep. When I woke up next morning I heard our troops moved on to Fairfax Court House during the night. When I learned this I put on my cartridge-box and other accoutrements and we walked on there a distance of seven miles which we walked in about 1 hour and a half. We learned at Fairfax Court House that our men moved on to Alexandria where we are now makeing 21 miles in 5 hours walking all the way. Our camp is on Shuters Hill where the N.Y. fire zouaves built a fort which is called Fort Ellsworth. It is a fort which a hundred thousand rebels could not take and we are building another one like it. The number of men we had in the battle that Sunday was 45 thousand men but half that number did was not in the battle. If you were there you would see some cowards laying down in some ditch afraid of his life where they were no safer than being out on the open field only when they would imagine themselves safer there would come a bomb shell from the Rebels. When we were on the march just before we got into battle they put us on double quick for about three miles with two blankets on our should. and lucky was the man that could get a drink of water and muddy water at that for our canteens were empty. But I shall write more about this another time. While I am here in the hospital our regiment got paid off it was on Saturday July 27th but the Wednesday after Capt Davis came down to the hospital and told me he would give me an order to go over to Washington to get my money when I would get well. I believe our regiment got 16 dollars and 43 cents and when I get paid I will send it home to you only what I want myself I wont want more than a few dolls. My shoulder is almost well or elsie I could not write to you, the ball that was in my shoulder worked out itself and I have got it. It is a carbine ball from the black horse cavalry (the Rebel Cavalry). When we were at Centrevill I wrote a letter the day befor the battle and the day we went into the field I lost it. I write this letter hopeing to fing you all well and write and let me know if Dannie is working yet and who for and write and let me know how much you get from the Releif of the Volunteers families. I have got the Boston Herald, it is the Sunday Herald of July 28th and my name is in it as being wounded. So this is all I will write this time

When you write your letter direct it to Thomas Green Co B. 11th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers

When you direct your letter direct it to Thomas Green Co. B. 11th Regiment Mass Volunteers Shuters Hill Alexandria Va

good bye and remember me to all at home

Excuse my bad writing as my hand is not quite well and write as soon as possible so good bye for the present. Perhap I shall not write again till I get some money

Thos. Greene

Tuesday August the 6th 1861

Mother I received your letter yesterday (Monday the 5th) and you need not think that I am goin to have my shoulder or arm or leg cut off. I am only glad of it I have got the bullet in my pocket now. I go out every day just as though nothing was the matter with me I do not have to carry my arm in a sling so you need not have any more trouble on that account. When that man wrote to you I told him not to say anything about my shoulder. He lives in Cambridge and he is I think a member of Congress. No more at present. T. Greene

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Contributed and transcribed by Damian Shiels

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Lieut. Benjamin Rush Smith, Co. G, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

3 09 2015

A Letter.

The following letter we copy from the Daily Bulletin, by request, and we think it worthy of a perusal:

Headquarters 6th Regt, N.C.
State Troops, Camp Bulls Run,
July 24th, 1861.

Dear Parents: – Once more I have an opportunity of writing you all, and that after having been exposed for nine hours on a battle field, strongly contested on each side. we achieved a glorious but dear bought victory on last Sunday (July 21st) about 5 miles from the Junction on Bulls Run Creek. Our whole force on the field amounted to near 60,000, while that of the enemy was not less than 80,000, though we only had about 15,000 engaged – the enemy 35,000. The contest began at 6 A. M. and continued with unabated vigor until 4 1/2 P. M., when I saw the enemy flying across the hills with rapid strides. It was the most beautiful sight that one ever beheld to see them retreating with their banners unfurled, and to hear the cheers and huzzas that went up from our ranks. We pursued them for several miles, and that night I slept in the camp that the Yankees occupied Saturday night. Only four Companies in our Regiment were in the chase, (my Company one of them,) the rest being cut off in the early part of the engagement. – We were at Winchester when we received orders to come to Manassas. We arrived here Sunday morning about 6 A. M. I heard the cannonading as soon as I left the cars. A fellow told me that the “Ball” was open, and that we would “get there in time to dance at least one set.” I must say I felt a little queer at first, but fear left me as soon as I got into it. We were immediately marched to the “Ball Room,” and formed into line of battle at 7 1/2 A. M. When we had formed a rifled cannon ball came whistling through my company and passed in between me and the 3rd Serg’t of our company. It was a 12 pounder. We saw it before it got to us and dodged it. You ought to have seen us all squat. It was the first that had been fired at us. I have it now lying by me and will send it home if I can. We were placed in a position where two Regiments had been cut to pieces. The enemy had possession of a hill and we had to advance up a ravine with 2 pieces of Sherman’s battery placed at the mouth of it. We however advanced and silenced the battery in short time. Our Regiment there lost 18 killed and 47 wounded and one prisoner. My company lost of that number 7 killed and 6 wounded, (all privates,) being in the hottest of the fight. After taking possession of it, Col. Fisher advanced beyond the battery some 30 yards, and it was there that he fell pierced with a rifle ball through the head. All the other Officers escaped in our Regiment except Lieut. Mangum, who was wounded; Captain Avery, and Lieut. Col. Lightfoot, slightly. Our Brigadier General (Bee,) was killed. Just before going into battle I put up the most earnest prayer that I ever did, and I know that it was answered, for the balls came by ma as thick as hail stones and the bomb shells bursted all around me, and none but the hand of God could have saved me. I got several trophies off the battle field, and will send some home the first opportunity. It is impossible to give a description of the field after the battle. For 7 miles it was strewed with the dead and dying. You couldn’t advance a step without seeing them; many times I had to step over them. I never thought I could stand such scenes, but it has little effect on me now. I cut a button off a dead Lieutenant (Yankee) Hitchcock’s coat and took his likeness out of his pocket. I got a great many guns but could not carry them. The boy that waits on me got a splendid shot gun and sword off the battle field. This sheet of paper came out of a dead Yankees pocket; it came in very good time as I am almost out. Our cavalry chased them through Centreville and Fairfax also our artillery killing them all the way. I was told this morning that the road from here to Alexandria where they went is lined with those killed on the way, and the wounded and dead they attempted to take from the battle field. Their loss was about 3,000 killed and wounded, and ours was not more than 800. We have taken about 1,500 of them prisoners and they are still coming in. Since I have commenced this letter a Yankee Officer had been brought by, taken this morning a short distance from our camp. We are now encamped on the very spot where we formed our line of battle.

When we left Winchester (July 18th,) we were so hurried that we couldn’t bring our tents, and have been sleeping without them ever since, though last night I had a very good tend made of yankee blankets that they had left on the battle field. Besides the prisoners we took we captured 62 pieces of artillery, 300 wagons, and knapsacks and canteens by the thousand. Our Regiment has the honor of taking two pieces of Shermans battery, the pride of the North. The whole army went to Alexandria with only two pieces of Artillery, the rest being in our possession, and many of the pieces rifled. I think that peace will soon be made now since this important victory. I talked with some of the prisoners, most of them told me that it was not their will to fight against the South; that they had been forced into it, and that they had intended to go home as soon as their time was out. Some said that their time would have been out 1st of August, though I found many who were enlisted for 3 years. We had certainly the flower of the Northern army to contend against; many of them being of the regular U. S. Army, commanded by Generals Scott, McDowell and Patterson. Scott was not on the field himself the day of the battle, but one of the wounded Yankees told me that he reconnoitered the day before, and that he told the soldiers to fight like men and on next Tuesday he would insure them a dinner in Richmond; that he intended to make that place his headquarters. Well he told the truth, for 1,500 will eat there but only as prisoners. We are under orders to march this evening for parts unknown to myself, though I think it very probable it is towards Alexandria.

Jeff Davis now commands the army in person. I saw him the evening after the battle; he made us a short speech.

It was remarked in camp this morning that a flag of truce had been sent by Scott to Davis proposing to treat of peace although it may only be a rumor. I hope it is not for I never want to see such another slaughter as was on last Sunday.

Our Colonel being killed Lieut. Colonel Lightfoot will take his place.

We buried our dead Monday evening on the battle field. The Yankees have been lying there till to day when part of them were buried, though there are now hundreds of them lying where they fell, and a great many horses.

Your affectionate son,

B. Rush Smith

[Charlotte] North Carolina Whig, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

B. R. Smith in 6th NC Roster

B. R. Smith brief sketch here, and more detail here.





Unknown, 5th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

31 08 2015

Col. McRae’s Regiment at Manassas.

We regret very much that a sprained ankle kept our friend McRae from the field at Manassas, for we know he would have been willing to risk his life a thousand times to have participated in that day’s work. But the Regiment was there and did noble work as will be seen from the following account.

The Fifth Infantry, North Carolina State Troops, forms a part of Brigadier General Longstreet’s command, and although crippled in its efficiency by the sickness of two of its field officers, nobly performed its part in the battle at Manassas, on the right wing, under the gallant lead of its Lieutenant Colonel, who was in sole command during the entire engagement.

Early in the morning the cannonading commenced from two batteries on the right flank of the position occupied by this regiment, supported by a full brigade of the enemy. Col. Jones, determined to ascertain the position of their batteries and the force of the enemy, detailed a small reconoitering force under the command of the Rev. James Sinclair, Chaplain of the Regiment, who had volunteered his services for the day. – This force crossed the Run, and attempted to penetrate the wood on the left of the enemy’s position, but was recalled in order to charge the batteries up the ravine on the right, the scouts having brought in the necessary information. – The Virginia Seventeenth was at the same time ordered to support the North Carolina fifth, which duty it gallantly discharged. General Longstreet, with characteristic valor, undertook now a movement which if the orders were understood generally, would have carried the day with a still greater lustre, if not a more complete victory.

Col. Jones was ordered to send four companies up the hill as skirmishers, and to draw the fire of the batteries, while Brigadier General Jones from our right was to flank the enemy on his left. The reserve companies of the 5th, supported by the 17th Virginia, was to attack the right. The skirmishers of the North Carolina 5th, headed by the Chaplain, charged up the hill, in the face of a storm of grape and canister which killed two and wounded five of his men. On the summit of that hill these man lay for two hours, receiving the enemy’s fire without flinching, while on every side the hoary monarches of the forest were being mown down like grass before the mower’s scythe. The brave commander himself seemed to be ubiquitous here, there and everywhere exposing himself in the hottest of the fire. It is hard for men to remain still and receive the fire of the enemy, without being permitted to return it; and this precisely was the condition of the North Carolina 5th on the 21st inst. Long and eagerly did those brave men watch for the signal of the attack upon the right, in order to advance and give the Northern hounds a tuch of the Southern steel.

After remaining on the hill for two hours, and losing in killed and wounded seven men, this gody received orders to retire to the ravine, which was done in good order.

But the tide of battle again rolled down the hill, and once more four companies of the 5th N. S. State troops were ordered to occupy the summit, and await orders to advance with the bayonet on the battery on the right of the enemy’s position. This was accomplished without any loss to the North Carolinians and although they were not privileged to advance upon the battery, we think the North Carolina Fifth Infantry has given good earnest that at no distant day she will carve for herself a name in the military annals of the Southern Confederacy. Had Col. Jones the other field officers of the Regiment with him, there would have probably been another bright spot in the glories of the 21st of July, 1861. But Bravely did he perform his duty, though his Lieutenant Colonel was a preacher, taking his first lesson in the art of war, and imparting the same to the enemy in the most impressive manner possible.

Gen. Longstreet, in token of his appreciation of Mr. Sinclair’s services on the occasion, presented him with one of the sabres captured from the enemy, and expressed his desire that he should go on his staff.

[New Bern, NC] Weekly Progress, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Rev. James Sinclair info Findagrave, post war Congressional testimony, defends his reputation in 1864 – all in all, an interesting fellow.

Joseph P. Jones resigned 10/24/1861





Captain Richard Watt York* (4), Co. I, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

27 08 2015

The Battle of Manassas.

The North Carolina Standard (extra) has a letter from an officer of the late Col. Fisher’s Regiment giving an account of the participation of the Sixth North Carolina Regiment in the battle, and relating some interesting incidents of the engagement. He says

The battle commenced in the morning, with heavy cannonading on the right and centre, both sides maintaining their positions. The dull booming of the cannon was distinctly heard by us as we were disembarking from the cars; and, as soon as that was done, our Regiment was formed and moved off in quick time, notwithstanding our weary march from Winchester; and, though tired and apparently exhausted, yet, the terrible cannonading in the centre and on the right nerved every arm, brightened every eye and quickened every step. On we went through the dust that rose in clouds, until we reached a point when we filed to the left to a spring, where our canteens were filled with fresh water by companies; and, as each company received its water, were marched to the shade, and allowed to lied down and rest.

After the watering operation was finished, we proceeded, and were halted under cover of a hill in rear of one of our batteries, and ordered to load and rest, and immediately we loaded and laid our weary limbs upon the grass, and many fell into a doze, notwithstanding the battle was raging around us; but men who had not slept for three nights on a forced march could sleep anywhere. This was about seven o’clock, and the sun shone brightly, and the cannonading became more intense, dense clouds of smoke rose from the opposite hills, the earth shook with the awful thunder, and continued to wax hotter and hotter, when almost instantaneously the men cried out, “Colonel Fisher, we’re ready.” He replied: “I know that.” Suddenly his clear voice rang out, “Attention!” when every man spring with new life to his place in the ranks, shouldered his musket, and at the command “Forward, march,” we moved briskly up the hill, and formed a line of battle in rear of one of our batteries, where we could see distinctly the columns of smoke rising up from the enemy’s batteries on the opposite hills, while the balls were whistling around us.

Suddenly we shifter position further to the left in a road running by a thick wood, and still the balls were whistling over us. A slug from a rifled cannon passed through our ranks, but there was no wavering, but intent on the attack, you could read on every brow the stern resolve to conquer or die. Here we stood resting on our arms, with the wounded lying around us, and ever and anon some one would breathe his last; when again rang the clarion voice, and led by our gallant Colonel, we filed through the dense tangled undergrowth, and sped onward until we struck a ravine which led directly up to Sherman’s Battery**, and were halted with the two right flank companies, under Capts. Freeland and York, within forty yards of the guns and a Regiment of the United States army supporting them, when the command of fire was given, when we silenced the battery at the first fire. Capts. Kirkland and Avery led the men around the point of woods and charged the battery and drove every man from the pieces. About this time some officer cried out to cease firing, as we were firing into our own men.

Exposed to a raking fire from the enemy, and fired into by our friends, Colonel Fisher ordered us to retreat, which was done in some disorder, owing to the cry that we were firing into friends; and it was here that the gallant Colonel Fisher fell in front of the battery, leading on his men to the charge. He was shot through the head with a ball. May he rest in the soldier’s Heaven; for a nobler, braver, more gallant man never led a column to victory.

That portion of the Regiment rallied by the gallant Lightfoot and Webb pitched into the hottest of the fight and joined in the final charge, when the enemy were pit to a precipitate flight, and joined in the pursuit for several miles. No more gallant spirits strode over that field than Lieutenant Colonel Lightfoot and Major Webb. The remainder of the Regiment, under different officers, fell in with other Regiments and fought to the last. No Regiment behaved with more bravery and gallantry than the North Carolina Sixth Infantry on that memorable field. Led up into the hottest of the fight, within a few yards of a battery that was raking our army, they delivered their fire with the deadliest precision. Our loss was about sixty killed and wounded. Among the officers, our gallant Colonel Fisher fell early in the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Lightfoot was wounded in the calf of the leg, but never stopped, although on foot, as were all our field officers. Captain Avery was shot in the leg, but, like a brave man as he is, never left the field. Lieut. W. P. Mangum was severely wounded in the left side. The report that Major Webb was killed is untrue; though exposed to a most terrible fire, he escaped uninjured.

Several regiments claim the honor of silencing and taking this battery. It was taken by the 6th Infantry N. C. State Troops. The regiment, as I have stated, was led up within 40 yards of it, and their fire silenced it, and Col. Lightfoot, Maj. Webb, Captains Kirkland, Avery, and Lieutenants Avery and Mangum, marched right up to it with their men, and passed beyond it, and received a galling fire from the left, when they were ordered to cease firing and fall back. Maj. Webb was resting on one of the pieces, facing the fire, and our men retreated in good order, all the while delivering their fire.

About sunset, the enemy were charged by our army, and put in disorder, and ran like turkeys, pursued by our infantry, cavalry and artillery for several miles, until darkness stopped them. Our Regiment was in the charge, under Col. Lightfoot and Major Webb.

“To the victors belong the spoils,” and in this case they were enormous. Sixty-odd pieces of cannon, every piece they had but two, a large amount of small arms, a church full of knapsacks, blankets, ammunition, haversacks, &c., &c., with which our men are abundantly supplied.

Some twelve or fifteen hundred prisoners were taken, and a large number of officers.

Our loss was considerable, though I do not know how many we had killed and wounded – though very considerable; for it could not have been otherwise, fighting from sunrise until dark. Though our loss is not near so great as we at first supposed. The loss of the enemy is enormous; for they received our deadly shots with a bravery worthy of a better cause.

I visited the field after the battle, and it was indeed a sickening, heart-rending sight. The enemy lay piled in heaps, and horses strewn all along. I counted forty horses in a distance of fifty yards. Around Sherman’s batteries, where our Regiment fired, every horse and cannoneer was killed, and lay in one indiscriminate heap. All overt the battle field were strewed the dead and dying. Some had placed their arms under their heads as they went to their last sleep. Others folded their arms across their breasts, some with features distorted with fists clenched as they wrestled in the agonies of death; others wore the calm, placid smile which should grace the face of a soldier dying in a glorious cause. In the little clump of cedars the wounded had crawled and died, and lay there in ghastly heaps.

Our dead were buried with the honours due them and our wounded removed to different places in the interior, where they will be properly attended to .

Richmond Examiner, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* While the author is not identified in this article, the passage regarding the taking of “Sherman’s Battery” is identical to that authored by Capt. York and printed in the 8/6/1861 Fayetteville, North Carolina Observer and transcribed here.

** Sherman’s (Ayres’s) Battery (Co. E, 3rd US) was nowhere near the 6th NC, and in fact did not cross Bull Run. The author is here referring to a section of Griffin’s West Point Battery (Co. D, 5th US.) Sherman’s Battery was from the time of the Mexican War a very well-known battery, and was reported in many areas of the field by both Confederate and Union participants, nearly always in error. This battery is sometimes also referred to by historians as William. T. Sherman’s battery and, while it was attached to that colonel’s brigade, it derived it’s title not from him but from past commander Thomas. W. Sherman.

R. W. York at Ancestry.com 








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