J. J. F., 69th New York State Militia, On the Battle

14 11 2017

Letters from Members of the Sixty-ninth.


What the Men had to Eat – Effect of the Enemy’s Batteries – Fatal Mistake of the Wisconsin Regiment – Strange Incident – The Retreat.

Washington, July 22, 1861.

Dear – : I suppose you have full accounts of the battle that was fought yesterday around Bull’s Run. I received your last letter just as we were about to start for that place, and the nature of its contents made me answer it immediately with what means I had at hand. I had, as you may imagine, but little time and less materials then, and I sent it by a Priest who had come all the way from Washington to assist our own Chaplain in his duties that evening, and who was to return when the regiment started. The battle was fearful, and the Sixty ninth did its duty to the last moment. I have come back to Washington this 2 P. M., to recruit a little from the great fatigue I suffered, and you will see by this that my ideas are yet a little confused. We did not move from our camping ground, after all, until 2 A. M. of yesterday, and by daylight we came in sight of the rebel batteries, when we were halted, and disposed to the best advantage for the battle. We were now in the rear of the batteries which were unsuccessfully attacked last Thursday, on the line of a road which led directly to them. The first cannon was fired exactly at half past six which was continued without an answer from the rebels until half-past eight, when the fight began in earnest. At eight o’clock we were marched out of the woods where we had laid hidden, to protect our own guns from a charge, and sallied out into the open field, up a steep hill, where a fierce contest was raging between our forces and the rebel infantry. The enemy’s guns played on us at the moment we broke cover, and we did not reach the desired spot until after a sharp contest; we drove a lot of the enemy out of a wood which we had to pass. Again we were attacked by a small party of skirmishers hidden in an orchard right on the edge of the battle-field, and there we lost three or four men including Captain Haggerty of Company A, who was at the time acting as Lieutenant Colonel in place of Nugent, who had not sufficiently recovered from the accident he met with to accompany us. When the enemy saw us coming to reinforce our men, they retired to their batteries, which we were then ordered to storm. We had to run over half a mile, with three or four of the batteries throwing shell and grape shot at us, until we got under the hill on which the one that we were to attack was erected. Without a moment’s breathing space, we mounted the hill, and, being formed, we marched up to the trenches, and blazed away at the enemy. The fire we there received was terrific, and laid many of our brave boys low. The whole ramparts were every few moments a sheet of flame, and I never expected to see you again in this world.

Twice we were repulsed, and at the third charge the Second Regiment, Wisconsin, which was sent to our aid, fired into us from the rear, mistaking us through the smoke to be the enemy. That, and a charge of rebel cavalry, threw our ranks into confusion, and we were compelled for the third and last time to retire, leaving I should think some four hundred of our comrades dead and wounded on the field. We were engaged from eight A. M. until five P. M., or thereabouts, having had nothing but coffee and crackers the evening before, so you may form some idea of our fatigue. The regiments which had attacked the batteries were nearly all cut up and scattered, and sought shelter in every hole and ravine, from the terrible fire of masked batteries, which then seemed to have sprung up in every clump of bushes. The scene was desperate. Men who ha bravely marched to the cannon’s mouth, were now seized with panic, and fled in every direction, vainly striving to get out of range of the enemy’s guns, which now threw shell and grape in every direction. How I came through it all without a wound could only be by, I might almost say, the direct interposition of the Almighty.

After the regiment was reduced to a few men, I left that scene of carnage, escaped the cavalry, and reached a road, on which hundreds were flying away. I was fatigued almost to death; but still all hurried along to where they hardly knew. At last we struck upon the Centerville road, which was distant probably eight or nine miles, and having reached there, pushed on to Fairfax, fifteen miles or so more. We travelled all night to three A. M., when we reached Falls Church village, where I supposed the rebels could not pursue us; and, at any rate, I could go no further, as I was almost raving with fatigue and thirst, and, throwing myself down on the grass by the roadside along with a comrade, I lay in a sort of a half dreamy state until daylight when, not being able to hire a horse or wagon, we were again compelled to take the road, and reached the fort about ten or eleven A. M. to-day. The distance travelled was between thirty-five and forty miles, and after what I went through that day, you will agree with me that I require a little rest. When I arrived at the fort, I found it garrisoned b the Twenty-fifth Albany Regiment, and full of soldiers who had reached there during the night. Colonel Corcoran had not been heard from; it was thought he had been taken prisoner, until word reached just before I left that he was in Willard’s Hotel wounded in the knee.

My first thought after arriving was to telegraph you of my safety; but I found the greatest difficulty in getting across the bridge, double guards being stationed there, and it was only by discovering that the officer of the guard (who was a Dutchman) did not know that Colonel Corcoran was absent that I succeeded, by presenting a pass from him (the Colonel), so that it was between two and three o’clock before I reached the telegraph office and sent you the dispatch, which I trust you have received. I saw Peter Daly in the fort all safe. One of the young men who came with me from Mrs. K—‘s was wounded and taken prisoner, or killed, I have reason to fear, after we left the field.

Before going into the fight we were ordered to throw down our blankets and haversacks, which, of course, are all lost. There was nothing of value in the haversack but a revolver, and I can get another one without any trouble. Tell your mother that during the fight I lost both the gold dollar and the cross which F— gave me, but how I cannot tell; the chain I found cut and the hook broken, so that it may have been a stray ball, as they whistled all around when we were attacking the battery. I thought I would have had that dollar as long as I lived, but now it is gone, and the cross also. I have a good notion to make Uncle Sam pay for both, only I don’t think he is rich enough to pay at present. Perhaps I may yet come across some rebel wearing it, and then there will be a row. I had a good many curiosities for you which I picked up along the march, but lost all save these three papers which I took out of a secessionist’s house in Centerville after it was set on fire by our troops contrary to orders.

Yours, &c.,

J. J. F.

Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, “A Catholic Family Newspaper,” 8/3/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

69th NYSM Roster

Gen. R. E. Lee Congratulates Gen. J. E. Johnston on His Victory

10 11 2017

Richmond 24 July 1861

My dearest Genl

I almost wept for joy at the glorious victory achieved by our brave troops on the 21st, & the feelings of my heart Could hardly be expressed on learning the brilliant share you had in its achievement.

I expected nothing else & am truly grateful for your safety. Make my warm Congratulations to all the officers, for the proud feelings they must experience in having so nobly done their duty.

I Sorrow not for the brave dead, they are at rest, but deeply lament their loss & grieve for ourselves

Truly yours

R E Lee

Transcription by Lee Family Archive

Scan of original letter, The Papers of Robert E. Lee, 1830-1870, University of Virginia Special Collections Library, Charlottesville

Lee Congratulates Johnston

8 11 2017


Check out Robert E. Lee’s congratulatory note to Joseph E. Johnston three days after his victory at Bull Run here. Hat tip to John Hennessy.

Ballou Balloon Burst?

12 09 2017

Horatio Rogers, Jr.

The entire Robert Grandchamp America’s Civil War magazine article, “‘O Sarah!’ Did Sullivan Ballou’s Famed Letter Come From Another’s Pen?” can be found right here.

Go here for a link to an interview with Mr. Grandchamp.

Caption to photo in America’s Civil War magazine:

Was It Rogers? Some suspect Horatio Rogers Jr., not Ballou, wrote the famous letter, perhaps as a way of eulogizing his dear friend. (The Robert Grandchamp Collection)

Charles H. Pierce, Co. D, Marine Battalion, On the Eve of the Battle

7 09 2017

Encampment of U. S. Marine Battalion
14 miles north of Manassas Junction, Virginia
Saturday July 20, 1861


We crossed the Potomac last Tuesday and joined the advancing army. We marched all day & encamped at night near Fairfax Court House where the enemy were located in numbers to the amount of 10,000. Next morning we took the town after a short contest. The Southern Troops under General Beauregard fell back to a place two miles from where we now are.

We remained all day at Fairfax & next morning marched to attack Beauregard. We were repulsed and had to fall back. The 69th New York Regiment, it is said, had 40 men killed. We are now encamped in an old field by the side of the road, awaiting guns to come up from Washington, before we make another attack. They will be here tomorrow. We should take Manassas Junction next week and then push on to Richmond. I have suffered dreadfully since I have been on the march. The roads are hot & dusty, water is scarce, & I have often wished I could get shot to get clear of the intolerable thirst. My feet are all blistered & sore. We have to rest at night & every morning I feel almost unable to get up off the ground upon which we all have to sleep. I am writing this letter on my knee sitting in the shade under a tree. Write as soon as you get this and direct the letter as follows:

Company D Marine Battalion
Near Manassas Junction, Virginia

Tell me what the papers say about us. I mean what accounts do they give of our intentions.

We are within five miles of the enemy who are very numerous and strong, entrenched (they say but no one knows anything about their strength.)

Charles H. Pierce

I do not have an idea that I shall get shot. But I do not believe I can stand the hardships of the march much longer. You may consider this a letter from the battlefield, for mighty is war going on between our advanced guards & the enemy at a place called Centreville.

Museum Quality Americana auction site, Sept. 2017

Letter image and transcription

Contributed by John Hennessy

2nd Lt. Fred W. Shipman, Co. F, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

5 09 2017


The writer of the subjoined gives a graphic picture of what came under his observation in the battle of Bull Run:

Heintzelman’s division, in their move from Centreville to Bull Run, experienced one of the most sever marches known in modern times. I say this and it will appear palpable to all, when it is considered that the heat was intense, the distance twelve miles, the men loaded with their guns, blankets, canteens, forty rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes, and nearly all the regiments wearing heavy blue jackets, and yet making it in about three hours and a half. Any one following in the rear of the division would find it hard to believe that it was advancing on the foe, but would rather incline to the opinion than an army in full retreat had passed over the road. Blankets and jackets were cast off as the heat grew more intense. Some of the men gave out and despairingly threw themselves down, lamenting their utter inability to proceed farther. Two miles this side of the enemy’s batteries, Wilcox’s brigade, with whom your correspondent is connected, were allowed a ten minutes halt to strip themselves of everything that would encumber them, and at the same time filled their canteens with water from a creek. They were then marched from the road across lots for about a mile, over fences, up hill, and at double-quick the whole way, until they found themselves in the presence of the enemy. At this time the men were so thoroughly used up that it seems impossible that the same men in five minutes from that time were fighting with all the desperation and valor of experienced veterans.

The scene at this point was most exciting. The brigade took its positions upon the field – the Zouaves to the right, the 38th regiment, Scott Life Guard, upon the left, and the Michigan regiment marching along the road and forming, ready to support any movement that might be made. About a mile directly in front we saw what appeared to be a volcano vomiting forth smoke and flame, while the rifle cannon ball and round shot fell thickly among us, as we were drawn up in line of battle. Towards the left, as we came within its range, another battery opened with shell upon us, changing now and then to round shot. Our own batteries were upon the field. Green’s being behind us throwing over our heads, while Arnold’s was to the right preparing to take position on the hill. Two others, consisting of light brass guns, were in position firing, but with little effect, the distance being too great. When the line was formed, Capt. Arnold received an order to take position upon the brow of the hill with his battery, and the Scott Life Guard was ordered forward to support him. When the enemy perceived the advance about being made they fired with redoubled energy, but our men moved steadily forward, crossing fences and coming in proper order upon the instant. They at last arrived at their proper place, just below the top of the hill, and were ordered to lay down, when Arnold’s battery took position on top and opened fire upon the enemy.

The Fire Zouaves in the meantime had received orders to advance and take position along the edge of the wood, on the right of Arnold’s battery. The fire came so heavy here that our battery had not been in position five minutes before one of the gunners had his legs shot off, four horses were killed, and every shot of the enemy was aimed in such an accurate manner, that it was useless for our battery to remain in such a position. They accordingly drew their pieces a little way down the hillside and left them. Upon this a furious charge was made upon the Zouaves by the enemy’s cavalry issuing from the wood. They were received by a volley from the regiment that emptied many a saddle, and sent the survivors to the right about in short order. Another charge was then made upon them by cavalry upon their right flank, and infantry in front, when they broke and ran down the hill in disorder. Col. Ward, of the Thirty-eighth, then gave his regiment orders to charge, when, with a cheer, the men dashed forward, driving the enemy into the woods, and covering the ground with the dead and wounded. A concealed battery on the right opened fire on the Thirty-eighth at this time, killing some thirty men and driving the regiment down hill again; but the officers rallied them and led again to the attack, and it was not until several of the officers and many of the men had fallen, that the Thirty-eighth Scott Life Guard, finding the odds too great to be combatted with, retreated to the road. That they retreated in good order, may be seen from the fact that they stopped, uncoiled the cannon ropes, and dragged Arnold’s battery away with them, thereby preventing its falling into the hands of the enemy.

In the meantime the Zouaves had formed again, marched to the extreme right of the wood and again beat off the Black Horsemen, making many a rider bite the dust. But valor was useless against such odds and strength of position, and they as well as the other regiments walked sadly from the field. Col. Wilcox had fallen early in the engagement while leading a party to the attack in the woods. About one mile from the field of battle a large stone building was used for a hospital, the scene around this place was truly harrowing, mutilated men, some without legs, or only one, arms torn off at the shoulder, deep and ghastly body wounds, some exposing the intestines, and in fact every kind of wound that could be inflicted by gunpowder, iron or steel. Most of the men were carried to the hospital seated upon a musket, one man seizing it by the stock, another by the barrel, the wounded being supported upon it by a third man walking behind,

Upon the retreat of the last regiments who went to the assault, the Sixty-ninth, Second Rhode Island, and the Sixty-ninth, a charge was made by the enemy in the direction of the Hospital, when a perfect stampeded took place; those who were carrying the wounded dropped them by the road side and consulted their own safety, the drivers of the ambulance wagons drove forward unloaded, men cast aside their guns, while the artillerymen drove headlong through the crowd. A scattered firing from men of different regiments at last drove the enemy back and the march was resumed at a pace more fitting for weary and dispirited men.

Nine o’clock p. m. brought them to their camp around Centerville. By 10 o’clock the different regiments were pretty well together; the men had built fires, and expressed the desire to make a stand, having confidence they could beat the enemy in the open field. In four hours an order came to retreat on Washington, and the weary march was resumed – some of the men crying with disappointment at our giving up without one more rally. Too much credit cannot be given the men, not only for their courage, but for their endurance under adverse circumstances. Lieut. Col. Farnsworth, of the Thirty-eighth N.Y.S.V., had been confined to his bed for over a week before the battle, was carried to field in an ambulance, and yet, sword in hand, mingled in the thickest of the fray. Fourteen wounded men of the same regiment walked the whole way from the field of battle to Shuter’s Hill; seven of them will probably die. Many of the wounded were brought in in common baggage wagons, which must have produced intense agony to the poor sufferers, the roads being in bad condition and very stony; others came upon horseback, supported by comrades sitting behind them; scores sat down by the roadside, bidding their friends good bye, as they could stand it no longer. But amid all this, the men looked forward to the time when they could again meet the foe, and may were the firmly-expressed resolves to thrash them yet.

F. W. S.*, Co. F, 38th Reg’t N.Y.S.V.

Washington Star, 8/1/1861

Clipping Image

*Likely 2nd Lt. Fred W. Shipman

38th New York Infantry roster 

Fred W. Shipman at Ancestry.com

Fred W. Shipman at Fold3

Contributed by John Hennessy

Corporal Benjamin Freeman Smart, Co. D, 2nd Maine, on The Battle

10 07 2017

Alexandria, Virginia – July 23, 1861 (Tuesday, 7 AM)

Dear Father;

After fighting one of the hardest battles that we ever fought in America, your son was not hurt in any way. It is true that we are defeated, and our army routed, but it was not the soldiers’ fault, for never did the soldiers fight harder, or bolder than those engaged in that battle. I think I tell the truth when I lay it to poor Generalship. I am sorry to say anything about or against our General Tyler, but I believe, and it is the belief of many, that he worked for the interest of the South instead of the North. That is a hard saying, but I feel so. If McClellan had conducted that noble army, I believe we would have routed them, although their number was greater than ours. I will say for the Maine boys, that they did nobly. The enemy were entrenched and behind the strongest batteries that could be made, and that stronghold which is just this side of Manassas was what we endeavored to take. I feel proud to think that I am a soldier of the Maine 2nd Regiment. They fought like tigers, and made one of the boldest and most daring charges that was ever made. They were twenty rods nearer the battery than any other Regiment.

Now for a very short detail of our operations. At 1 o’clock Sunday morning we left our encampment at Centerville and moved on. We then halted and let every Brigade pass us. Our Brigade consisted of three Connecticut and the Maine 2nd under Colonel Keyes, a U.S. Officer. But soon the order came to advance without any load except cartridges and belts. We stripped for the fight, and marched onward. We soon came into Sherman’s battery which was throwing ball and shell at a rapid rate. We then moved onward “Double Quick” for two miles. It was at that moment that we ascertained why we were kept in the rear. It was to be fresh for the boldest attack. We came within a short distance of the battery when we formed in the line of battle under a small hill. Maine boys attacked the front, and the Connecticut – each wing, and one Connecticut at reserve. The order came to forward march. Then came the order from our noble Colonel to forward guide center double quick march, Then came the tug of war.

One howl passed along the line, and the bold boys of the 2nd Maine dashed forward like lightning, firing as fast as possible. Our men began to fall like hail stones, but that did not discourage them. They rushed onward and were led by the most gallant officer that ever fought. We were quite near the battery, from which came ball, shell, grape & chain shot, also rifle and musket. Balls flew like hail stones among us, with every volley taking its number of bold men, but still unflinchingly the Maine boys dashed onward, showing neither fear nor cowardice. But our Brigadier General soon saw that the enemy was too strong for us. He rode to the left wing and gave the order to fall back to the woods on our left. This was our third charge, he gave the order twice before our heroic Major gave it to his men. I was on the right of the left wing, but when they turned toward the woods, I looked about. I beheld the Stars and Stripes and my beloved Colonel on the right. I said to myself – I never will leave that flag unprotected. I rushed for it, leaving my company there. I found our Colonel cheering his men he himself in advance of them all. Oh, Father, words are inadequate to express my love for the Patriotic hero, he deserves the praise of every living being in Maine, oh yes, and the U.S.

There he stood like one that knew not fear. He dashed on with the remainder of the Regiment, and went very near the battery. Had we been reinforced at that moment, the battery would have been ours, but was then impossible. I rushed to the Colonel’s side. He said: “Has the left wing of my Regiment fled?” I then told him how bravely they fought, and how they received orders twice from Colonel Keys before they fell back. A smile then lit up his countenance. He then drew his men together and fell back to the road which formed a breastwork for us. Our brigade was divided about 200 rods apart. All of the Connecticut Regiment, and the left wing of ours on the left, and the right wing of ours on the right, and not an officer of either part knew where the other was. The Colonel came to me and asked if I knew anything about the remainder, and it happened that I was the only one there that did know. He asked me if I could go and deliver a message to Colonel Keys. I knew what a dangerous undertaking, but of course your son said yes, and while the others lay concealed, I seized my gun, and rushed by the very cannon’s mouth for 100 rods without any shelter. When I came to the middle of the field, the cannon and musket balls flew all around me. I don’t see what saved me. Three cannon balls struck within three feet of me, and the rifle balls whizzed by me like a swarm of bees. It seemed to me that they saw me, and knew my errand. I neither paused, nor looked around, but dashed forward ’till I came to the left wing. The boys all cheered me as I went by. The Connecticut officers ordered me to lie down. They said I was exposing their whole Regiment. I said to them, “I know my business, and shall perform my duty.” I dashed along to the left of their line. There I found the Commanding officer, and delivered my message. He cheered me, and gave me orders for Colonel Jameson, but would not let me go back as I came, but told me to go down a ravine and through a piece of woods. I asked him twice to let me go as I came, but he wouldn’t consent for he said he didn’t want me to get killed. I soon found the Colonel who was watching for me. He waved his hand when I came in sight. I sprang forward, and was soon at his side. I felt proud to think that I had done him a little good. The officers rushed to me as if I was a lion. The Colonel then ordered his men to follow him, and me to act as a guide. I led them around through the same ravine. Many of them said I must be going wrong, but the Colonel ordered them to follow. I ran ahead ’till I came to the main body of our Brigade. I then jumped up on a fence and waved my cap until they came to me. Then they found that I had led them just right. I then reported myself to the General. He ordered me to fall back and rest, for he saw that I was nearly exhausted. I asked him if I should not act my pleasure, and he said yes. Well, said I, I will be in the ranks in ten minutes. He smiled, and I turned away. I got some water, and wet my head and drank a little, seized my gun, and fell in my place. I feel that I did my whole duty, and my officers give me praise.

Our Regiment was cut up badly. I think half or more of those noble boys are gone. There appear to be but a handful of them left. Our Regiment retreated in fair order, but this whole Army was broken up. There were too many for us, as we were led by our General. But we will wipe them out yet. In retreat we marched 32 miles, and I am very weary, but I stand it finely. I am ready to try them again any moment. “By the eternal” I will fight them until they recognize the Constitution of the U.S.

Our Regiment is so broken up that it will take some time to recruit. Our Captain was injured, while crossing a bridge in the retreat, across the chest. I led him along until I found a baggage wagon. Then I put him into it, and stuck by him all night. He was very grateful to me for my kindness. When morning came, I secured a horse for him, and guarded him until he was safely landed in this place.

One of our Corporals is probably dead, and another wounded, and about half of our Company are gone. It is hard, but then it is honorable to die for one’s country. All of our Field Officers are living. One or two Captains and several Lieutenants were killed or wounded. Some taken prisoners. I think our Chaplain and Surgeon are in the hands of the enemy, besides many others. I had no fear at any time. I was greatly excited and willing to do anything. I do not think there was a coward in the whole Regiment. We brought off all our flags in good shape. The bearer of the largest one was the first man shot.

I saw Major Nickerson yesterday, also Colonel Marshall and Captain Cunningham. They are all well, and send their regards to you. Captain Bean and Lieutenant Bird of the Brook Company were slightly wounded. Captain Sherwood was wounded in the arm, may lose it. Lieutenant Walker is all right. He behaved nobly, so say his men. I am going to see him soon. Mark Dodge and Daniel Nickerson are both well. Our Officers all behaved like patriotic heroes, and deserve the praise of all of Maine. Maine need not feel ashamed of her officers or men, for no others fought more bravely but the 2nd Regiment is ahead of all the others. No man behaved more heroic that Lieutenant Garnsey of our Company. I have not time to write more. Excuse the composition, spelling and writing, for I am so hasty that I think I have left out about half.

Yours in haste, from your son, B. F. Smart

Source (this site includes more information and writings of Smart)

Contributed by John Hennessy