2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, On Traveling to the Field and the Battle (Part 1)

20 09 2017

I left West Point on the 18th of July for Washington, delaying a few hours that afternoon on my arrival in New York to enable me to purchase, of the well-known military firm of Horstman’s, my lieutenant’s outfit of sabre, revolver, sash, spurs, etc. Taking the evening train for Washington, I found the cars crowded with troops, officers, and men hastening to the capital.

At each station we passed on the road at which a halt was made, crowds of citizens were assembled provided bountifully with refreshments, which they distributed in the most lavish manner among the troops. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds, they received us with cheers and cheered us in parting. It was no unusual sight, on leaving a station surrounded by these loyal people, to see matrons and maidens embracing and kissing with patriotic fervor the men, entire strangers to them, whom they saw hastening to the defense of the nation.

Arriving at Washington soon after daylight, Saturday morning, the 20th of July, I made my way to the Ebbit House, where I expected to meet some of my classmates domiciled. Among others I found there was Parker, appointed from Missouri, who had been my room- and tent-mate at West Point for years. He was one of the few members of my class who, while sympathizing with the south, had remained at the Academy long enough to graduate and secure a diploma. Proceeding to his room without going through the formality of announcing my arrival by sending a card, I found him at that early hour still in bed. Briefly he responded to my anxious inquiry for news, that McDowell’s army was confronting Beauregard’s, and a general engagement was expected hourly. My next inquiry was as to his future plans and intentions, remembering his Southern sympathies. To this he replied by asking me to take from a table near by and read an official order to which he pointed.

Upon opening the document referred to, I found it to be an order from the War Department dismissing from the roles of the army Second Lieutenant James P. Parker, for having tendered his resignation in the face of the enemy. The names of two others of my classmates appeared in the same order. After an hour or more of discussing the dark probabilities of the future as particularly affected by the clouds of impending war, I bade a fond farewell to my former friend and classmate, with whom I had lived on terms of closer intimacy than with any other being. We had eaten day by day at the same table, had struggled together in the effort to master the same problems of study; we had marched by each other’s side year after year, elbow to elbow, when engaged in the duties of drill, parade, etc., and had shared our blankets with each other when learning the requirements of camp life. Henceforth this was all to be thrust from our memory as far as possible, and our paths and aims in life were to run counter to each other in the future.

We separated; he to make his way, as he did immediately, to the seat of the Confederate Government, and accept a commission under a flag raised in rebellion against the government that had educated him, and that he had sworn to defend; I to proceed to the office of the Adjutant General of the Army and report for such duty as might be assigned me in the great work which was then dearest and uppermost in the mind of every loyal citizen of the country.

It was not until after two o’clock in the morning that I obtained an audience with the Adjutant General of the Army and reported to him formally for orders, as my instructions directed me to do. I was greatly impressed by the number of officials I saw and the numerous messengers to be seen flitting from room to room, bearing immense numbers of huge-looking envelopes. The entire department had an air of busy occupation which, taken in connection with the important military events then daily transpiring and hourly expected, and contrasted with the humdrum life I had but lately led as a cadet, added to the bewilderment I naturally felt.

Presenting my order of instructions to the officer who seemed to be in charge of the office, he glanced at it, and was about to give some directions to a subordinate nearby to write out an order assigning me to some duty when, turning to me, he said, “Perhaps you would like to be presented to General Scott, Mr. Custer?” To which I of course joyfully assented.

I had often beheld the towering form of the venerable chieftain during his summer visits to West Point, but that was the extent of my personal acquaintance with him. So strict was the discipline at that Academy that the gulf which separated cadets from commissioned officers seemed greater in practice thant that which separated enlisted men from them. Hence it was rare indeed that a cadet ever had an opportunity to address or be addressed by officers, and it was still more rare to be brought into personal conversation with an officer above the grade of lieutenant or captain, if we except the superintendent of the Academy and the commandant of the corps of cadets. The sight of a general officer, let alone the privilege of speaking to one, was an event to be recounted to one’s friends. In those days the title of general was not so familiar as to be encountered on every hotel register. Besides, the renown of a long lifetime of gallantry in his country’s service had gradually but justly placed General Scott far above all contemporary chieftains in the admiration and hero worship of his fellow countrymen; and in the youthful minds of the West Point cadets of those days Scott was looked up to as a leader whose military abilities were scarcely second to those of a Napoleon, and whose patriotism rivaled that of Washington.

Following the lead of the officers to whom I had reported, I was conducted to the room in which General Scott received his official visitors. I found him seated at a table over which were spread maps and other documents which plainly showed their military character. In the room, and seated near the table, were several members of Congress, of whom I remember Senator Grimes of Iowa.

The topic of conversation was the approaching battle in which General McDowell’s forces were about to engage. General Scott seemed to be explaining to the congressmen the position, as shown by the map, of the contending armies. The adjutant general called General Scott’s attention to me by saying, “General, this is Lieutenant Custer of the Second Cavalry; he has just reported from West Point and I did not know but that you might have some special orders for him.”

Looking at me for a moment, the general shook me cordially by the hand, saying, “Well, my young friend, I am glad to welcome you to the service at this critical time. Our country has need of the strong arms of all her loyal sons in this emergency.” Then, turning to the adjutant general, he inquired to what company I had been assigned. “To Company G, Second Cavalry, now under Major Innis Palmer, with General McDowell,” was the reply. Then, addressing me, the general said, “We have had the assistance of quite a number of you young men from the Academy, drilling volunteers, etc. Now what can I do for you? Would you prefer to be ordered to report to General Mansfield to aid in this work, or is your desire for something more active?”

Although overwhelmed by such condescension upon the part of one so superior in rank to any officer with whom I had been brought in immediate contact, I ventured to stammer out that I earnestly desired to be ordered to at once join my company, then with General McDowell, as I was anxious to see active service. “A very commendable resolution, young man,” was the reply; then, turning to the adjutant general, he added, “Make out ;lieutenant Custer’s orders directing him to proceed to his company at once”; then, as if a different project had presented itself, he inquired of me if I had been able to provided myself with a mount for the field. I relpied that I had not, but would set myself about doing so at once.

“I fear you have a difficult task before you, because, if rumor is correct, every serviceable horse in the city has been bought, borrowed, or begged by citizens who have gone or are going as spectators to witness the battle. Beauregard may capture some of them and teach them a lesson. However, I what I desire to say to you is, go and provide yourself with a horse if possible, and call here at seven o’clock this evening. I desire to send some dispatches to General McDowell, and you can be the bearer of them. You are not afraid of a night ride, are you?”

Exchanging salutations, I left the presence of the general-in-chief, delighted at the prospect of being at once thrown into active service, perhaps participating in the great battle which everyone there knew was on the eve of occurring; but more than this my pride as a soldier was not a little heightened by the fact that almost upon my first entering the service I was to be the bearer of important official dispatches from the general-in-chief to the general commanding the principal army in the field.

I had yet a difficult task before me in procuring a mount. I visited all the prominent livery stables, but received almost the same answer from each, the substance of which was that I was too late; all the serviceable horses had been let or engaged. I was almost in despair of the idea that I was not to be able to take advantage of the splendid opportunity for distinction opened before me, and was at a loss what to do, or to whom to apply for advice, when I met on Pennsylvania Avenue a soldier in uniform, whom I at once recognizes as one of the detachment formerly stationed at West Point, who left with those ordered suddenly to the defense of Washington at the time of Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, when it was feared attempts would be made to assassinate the president-elect.

Glad to encounter anyone I had ever seen before, I approached and asked him what he was doing in Washington. He answered that he belonged to Griffin’s battery, which was then with McDowell’s forces at the front, and had returned to Washington by Captain Griffin’s order, to obtain and take back with him an extra horse left by the battery on its departure from the capital. Here then was my opportunity, and I at once availed myself of it. It was the intention of this man to set out on his return at once; but at my earnest solicitation he consented to defer his departure until after seven o’clock, agreeing also to have the extra horse saddled and in readiness for me.

Promptly at seven o’clock I reported at the adjutant general’s office, obtaining my dispatches, and with no baggage or extra clothing to weigh down my horse, save what I carried on my person, I repaired to the point at which I was to find my horse and companion for the night. Upon arriving there I was both surprised and delighted to discover that the horse which accident seemed to have provided for me was a favorite one ridden by me often when learning the cavalry exercises at West Point. Those who were cadets just before the war will probably recall him to mind when I give the name “Wellington,” by which he was then known.

Crossing Long Bridge about nightfall, and taking the Fairfax Court House road for Centreville, the hours of night flew quickly past, engrossed as my mind was with the excitement and serious novelty of the occasion as well as occasionally diverted by the conversation of my companion. I was particularly interested with his description, given as we rode in the silent darkness, of a skirmish days before at Blackburn’s Ford, between the forces of the enemy stationed there and a reconnoitering detachment sent from General McDowell’s army; especially when I learned that my company had borne an honorable part of the battle.

It was between two and three o’clock in the morning when we reached the army near Centreville. The men had already breakfasted, and many of the regiments had been formed in column in the roads ready to resume the march; but owing to delays in starting, most of the men were lying on the ground, endeavoring to catch a few minutes more of sleep; others were sitting or standing in small groups smoking and chatting.

So filled did I find the road with soldiers that it was with difficulty my horse could pick his way among the sleeping bodies without disturbing them. But for my companion I should have had considerable difficulty in finding my way to headquarters, but he seemed familiar with the localities even in the darkness, and soon conducted me to a group of tents near which a large log fire was blazing, throwing a bright light over the entire scene for some distance around.

As I approached, the sound of my horse’s hoofs brought an officer from one of the tents nearest to where I halted. Advancing toward me, he inquired who I wanted to see. I informed him I was the bearer of dispatches from General Scott to General McDowell. “I will relieve you of them,” was his reply, but seeing me hesitate to deliver them, he added, “I am Major Wadsworth of McDowell’s staff.”

While I had hoped from ambitious pride to have an opportunity to deliver the dispatches in person to General McDowell, I could not decline longer, so placed the documents in Major Wadsworth’s hands, who took them to a tent a few paces distant, where, through half-open folds, I saw him hand them to a large, portly officer, whom I at once recognized to be General McDowell. Then, returning to where I still sat my horse, Major Wadsworth…asked me of the latest news in the capital, and when I replied that every person at Washington was looking to the army for news, he added, “Well, I guess they will not have to wait much longer. The entire army is under arms, and moving to attack the enemy today.” After inquiring at what hour I left Washington, and remarking that I must be tired, Major Wadsworth asked me to dismount and have some breakfast, as it would be difficult to say when another opportunity would occur.

I was very hungry, and rest would not have been unacceptable, but in my inexperience I partly imagined, particularly while in the presence of the white-haired officer who gave the invitation, that hunger and fatigue were conditions of feeling which a soldier, especially a young one, should not acknowledge. Therefore, with an appetite almost craving, I declined the kind proffer of the major. But when he suggested that I dismount and allow my horse to be fed I gladly assented.

While Major Wadsworth was kindly interesting himself in the welfare of my horse, I had the good fortune to discover in an officer at headquarters one of my recent West Point friends, Lieutenant Kingsbury, aide-de-camp to General McDowell. He repeated the invitation just given by Major Wadsworth in regard to breakfast, but I did not have the perseverance to again refuse.

Near the log fire already mentioned were some servants busily engaged in removing the remains of breakfast. A word from Kingsbury, and they soon prepared me a cup of coffee, a steak, and some Virginia corn bread, to which I did ample justice. Had I known, however, that I was not to have an opportunity to taste food during the next thirty hours, I should have appreciated the opportunity I then enjoyed even more highly.

As I sat on the ground sipping my coffee, and heartily enjoying my first breakfast inn the field, Kingsbury (afterward Colonel Kingsbury, killed at the Battle of Antietam) informed me of the general movement then begun by the army, and of the attack which was to be made on Beauregard’s forces that day.

Three days before, I had quitted school at West Point. I was about to witness the first grand struggle in open battle between the union and secession armies; a struggle which, fortunately for the nation, the Union forces were to suffer defeat, while the cause for which they fought was to derive from it renewed strength and encouragement.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), Custer’s First Stand, Vol. XXXVII, No. 6, December, 1998

Part 2
Part 3

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Pvt. Rufus H. Peck, Co. C, Botetourt Dragoons, Attached to 30th Virginia Cavalry*, On the Battle

12 03 2017

We remained at Fairfax C. H. until the 17th of July, and I was sent with fourteen other men, commanded by Serg. Garret, three miles below Fairfax C H. on the Falls Church road to stand picket, and at 9 o’clock a. m. we found that McDowell was moving on Manassas Junction by three roads, viz.: Falls Church road, Little River turnpike, and Flint Hill road. Serg. Garret returned to notify the General of McDowell’s movement, but the Gen. had already learned from other pickets, of his advance, so he ordered the army to retreat immediately. As Serg. Garret did not return to us, Corporal McCue sent me back 3 miles to Fairfax C. H., and when I arrived our Adjt. told me of the retreat and from there I could see Col. Kershaw’s regiment already engaged with the enemy, so I had to return to notify the other pickets to join the command, which we could only do by a flank movement and came very near being cut off entirely by the enemy. When I returned I found that two of our pickets on the Flint Hill road, John Mays and William Mailer had been captured. We continued our retreat to Centerville and remained there until night. Gen. Beauregard’s plan was to throw sky rockets to let us know when to retreat further towards Manassas Junction, and when we called in the last pickets, we were, fired upon by the enemy and two of our horses were killed from under their riders, Edward Hayth and WilHam Walton.

During the night we marched across Bull Run at Mitchel’s Ford and laid down for the remainder of the night in front of the guns at Manassas Junction. We were awakened next morning by the fireing of one of the enemy’s guns called ”Long Tom.” As this was the first big gun I had seen fired, I remember well the appearance of that shell to me. It looked more like a gate-post flying through the air than any thing else I could compare it to. After hissing through the air about a mile it exploded and I told the boys I knew it had blown Manassas Junction to “kingdom come” and she would need no more protection. It wasn’t many days after this though, until we became more accustomed to the big guns, so we didn’t jump at such hasty conclusions and the fireing wasn’t so exciting or terrifying. I hadn’t seen much of the infantry until that day and when they began double quicking and crossing Bull’s Run at Mitchel’s Ford in order to meet the enemy, I imagined we had men enough to whip the North right there.

At 9 o’clock on the 18th, the two armies met and for two hours a raging battle followed and when the Southerners made a charge ‘all along the line, they drove the enemy back with considerable slaughter, into the timber back of the lowlands, where the battle was fought, and they remained there until Sunday, with ”Long Tom” occasionally saluting us. Our line of battle extended from Blackburn’s Ford up nearly to Stone Bridge, a distance of 10 miles.

Sunday morning at about 8 o’clock Long Tom began fireing and we all thought the enemy meant to renew the attack, but about 9 o’clock we heard fireing at Stone Bridge about six miles above Manassas Junction.

The cavalry was immediately ordered to make a force march to Stone Bridge and when we got their we found that the 8th Georgia Regiment, commanded by Col. Huntington, in trying to hold the ford had lost nearly all their men and their commander. The 2nd Va. Regiment arrived to go to their rescue, but failed on account of the thick pines. About this time Jackson came in and with Gen. Bee and others, turned defeat into victory. Gen. Bee rushed to Jackson and said ‘General they are beating us back,” and Jackson said “we will give them the bayonet.” Gen. Bee encouraged by Jackson’s response shouted to his men: “Look! there is Jackson and his men standing like a stone wall.” He was ever afterward called “Stonewall Jackson.”

Gen. Bee was killed in a few minutes after making the remark to his men. The enemy, under McDowell’s command, was driven back with dreadful slaughter to Washington.

As we of the 2nd Va. regiment were unable to get to Stone Bridge to aid in the battle there and were in a dangerous position, being between the fires of both armies. Gen. Beauregaurd ordered us to the rear. Just at that time Gen. Jos. E. Johnson, coming in from the valley, rode up to Beauregaurd’s head-quarters and took command, he being a senior officer. He immediately sent a courier to Col. Radford to halt the 2nd Va Cavalry. Col. Radford told the courier to go to the D – – that he was acting under Beauregaurd’s orders. We were not aware of Johnston being near, but as soon as Johnston saw we didn’t halt he galloped down and shouted : “In the name of Jos. E. Johnston I command you to halt.” Of course, it wasn’t any trouble for Col. Radford or his men to halt, then.

He commanded us to cross Bull Run and go toward Cub Run Bridge to intersect the enemy’s line as it passed on retreat, and to shoot all the horses drawing the artillery and wagons. There being 1,000 of us. we held the road for nearly a mile, coming on their right flank and being so near before they knew jt that we succeeded in capturing 24 pieces of artillery and the men commanding same. The road was lined with dead horses for nearly a mile, a sight no one would want to witness again, but we were only carrying out orders

Our captain ordered the fences to be pulled down and 3 other men and I dismounted and tore them down on both sides. When we mounted we happened to look to our left and saw a house with a crowd of men standing around a well. I proposed to these three comrades that we could go up and fill our canteens as it was such a hot day. When we arrived, there were 60 or 70 of the finest looking men I ever saw. about middle-aged and finely dressed. More gold-headed canes, gold glasses and gold teeth than I had ever seen before on that number of men. We asked them to fill our canteens, which they did and just as they filled the last canteen, one of the men said to us that our command was retreating and I road around the house to where I could see our line and it had passed nearly out of sight. Just then two guns that we hadn’t captured with the other 24 pieces of artillery, and a regiment of infantry also, opened fire on our regiment, and Capt. Radford of 2nd Va. regiment and Serg. Ervin were killed and several others wounded

Just as we four men arrived to recross the road, a cannister of grape shot passed down the road striking two of our horses. We rode on about a half mile under a heavy fire, but they were over shooting us, just stripping the leaves from the trees, when one of the horses fell dead from his wound and the other one was still running on three legs. I took the saddle from the dead horse and carried it on my horse that was called the “Flying Artillery” and wouldn’t carry two men, and another comrade took the rider of the horse that was killed.

We overtook our regiment just as they were ready to recross Bull Run, and were held in readiness the remainder of the day, but no order for action was given and near night fall marched back to our camp ground of the proceeding night.

Just after dark a heavy rain began and continued all night and about half the next day, so we were thoroughly drenched by this time. Shortly after day break we started toward Centerville and our skirmish line captured several prisoners on the way. We moved very cautiously through the woods in the downpour of rain, thinking the enemy was at Centerville. But instead of the enemy being at Centerville, we found the homes deserted. Tables were set with the most delicious victuals, fine drinks, etc , having been prepared for a general jubilee after the supposed victory. Some of the houses were locked, but the majority were so that we could easily enter and some of the owners soon returned, so we enjoyed a bountiful repast that was intended for the northern soldiers. After the victory at Stone Bridge and the capture of the artillery at Cub Run Bridge, as they were retreating, the enemy rushed on to Washington panic-stricken. Had we realized the condition of the enemy then, as we afterward knew it to be, we could have pursued them and easily captured them, but we didn’t know the conditions.

Reminiscences of a Confederate Soldier of Co. C, 2nd VA. Cavalry, by R. H. Peck

*The 2nd Virginia Cavalry, while formed in May of 1861, was known as the 30th Regiment Virginia Volunteers until the end of October, 1861.

R. H. Peck at Fold3

R. H. Peck at Ancestry.com 





Unknown, Col. Radford’s Squadron, Co. G, Radford Rangers, Attached to 30th Virginia Cavalry*, On the Battle

7 03 2017

WITH THE SECOND VIRGINIA CAVALRY AT BULL RUN – RECOLLECTIONS OF A FIGHTER WHO WAS IN THE EARLY BATTLE.

WRITTEN FOR SUNDAY REPUBLIC

I have never seen a more beautiful sunrise than that which occurred on the 21st day of July, 1861.

The approach of the “King of Day” on a midsummer morning, is hardly announced by [?] beautiful blushes on the eastern horizon, before his bright rays begin to dart through the trees and convert the dew-drops on the grass into sparkling diamonds. The limp dress of nature has been freshened since she torrid heat of yesterday, and the smiles in inexpressible loveliness at the approach of the morning light. What a pity this beautiful panorama is of so short duration! But the sun climbs so rapidly toward the meridian that we soon are panting again for breath. I can never forget this particular sunrise.

We left our camp at Fairfax Court House early on the morning of the 17th, marched slowly up the grade through Germantown on the Warrenton Pike. We were green and raw in military matters and threw away our ham and bread to lighten the load of our horses. How we wished got them before the long day’s march was over! But dewberries were ripe and, during the frequent halt, we found means of appeasing the urgent demands of our appetite. We passed Centerville in the early evening, and late at night crossed the since famous “Bull Run.” As we passed up the long hill on the south of the stream a weird sight was presented by the silent ranks of Bonham’s South Carolina Brigade stationed near the foot of the hill. A little higher up the hill was a battery of artillery, the pieces all unlimbered and pointing toward Mitchell’s Ford which we had crossed in our march from Centreville. The ropes at the end of the rods (linstocks**) were ignited and ready to “light off” the cannon, should the enemy attempt to cross the ford during the night.

We proceeded to the summit of the hill and bivouacked on the open plateau of the crest. Our position commanded a full view of the heights on the north side of the stream and as we were not on duty, we spent the next day watching for the approach of the Army of the North. It was several miles from our position to the top of the hill on the other side. In the afternoon of the 18th, we could discern the enemy debouching from the road where it came into open view from the woods.

In a short time a puff of smoke was seen and in a few moments a cannon ball hissed past, high up over our heads, and struck in the open plateau behind us. Again, another hissed past and then another. Under the circumstances, it was difficult for them to estimate how far their balls overshot our position. But we were soon called to the woods below the road where soon we could not be exposed to the view of the artillerists. Pretty soon the booming of cannon from both armies was heard and not long after, volleys of musketry were added to the display of war at the fort below use (Blackburn’s) * * * All was quiet the next day, which was spent in restless lounging by our men. It was hard to get a drink of fresh water. There was a very faint stream, or, rather, ooze of water from the side of the hill, and it required a deal of patience to wait until a small excavation in the mud should be sufficiently filled with muddy water to enable us to dip up a cupful to drink. Captain Radford spent the day apart from us all. He had a presentiment that he would be killed in the approaching battle and wrote letters and papers most of the time.

On the 20th we were sent to do picket duty for General Cooke at the ford above us. So, Sunday morning, July 21, found J. Pleasant Dawson and myself stationed under a large water oak in the edge of a green meadow that skirted “Flat Run” near where it entered the “Bull Run.” It was hard for us to resist the temptation to dismount and loll on the carpet of green verdure spread so temptingly beneath our feet.

As the sun rose on this beautiful spot, so calm and so peaceful, our thoughts reverted to our homes, our loved ones and our neighbors, then to “Old Trinity” back in Bedford County, the church we had attended for worship all of our lives. We spoke in low and tender tones of our girl friends who would be likely to attend church that day, wishing from the bottom of our hearts that we could be there in person as we were in spirit; and then we grew silent, for our talk had conjured up a multitude of sweet memories of the past on which our hungry hearts silently feasted with delight.

A call to camp put an end to our entrancing reveries – love, peace and beauty must soon give place to the horrors of battle. We had hardly gotten to camp and taken our place in the regiment before the booming of cannon was shaking the earth and balls were tearing and whizzing through the pine woods in which we were concealed. Several hours were spent in ranks, during which it was hard to banish the thought of the terrible havoc one of these deadly missiles would make should it pass from front through to the rear of our column. As the day advanced cannon began to boom northwest of us, and those that annoyed us ceased. We then formed in line in the open field on the crest of the hill.

Ever fresh in memory is the sight of a South Carolina regiment that passed by to take a position in the line in rear of the fort. In their ranks was the tall figure of old Mr. Ruffin, who fired the first shot at Fort Sumpter. His long snow-white locks hung down below the collar of his coat from under the fur (silk) hat so often worn by elderly gentlemen of that day. The regiment passed in silence and the firm and stately tread of the men showed that the spirit that animated every bosom was of the “do-or-die” type.

After we had been in ranks for some time with the noonday sun beating down upon us from the cloudless sky, we were allowed to dismount and stand by our horses. We strained our eyes toward the northwest, where the battle was now fiercely raging, and tried to see some hoped for signs of victory for the noble band of Southrons but there was little to encourage us, although our painful interest in the scene made us forget the intense heat that enveloped us. We had no means of knowing the time of day, but the sun had some time passed the zenith, when the clear ringing voice of Colonel Radford gave forth the cautionary command, “Attention!” Then “Prepare to mount!” and then, “Mount!” We were well-drilled and the simultaneous rattle of sabers showed that we were all in the saddle. “From the right by fours, gallop, march!” In a moment, the whole column of 700 or 800 horsemen shook the earth in their gallop towards the battlefield. The dust was so thick that we could not see our file leaders, but our horses kept us right and we rapidly covered the distance between our camp and the Lewis House. Before we reached that point our gallop had been changed to a trot, so that we could pass the regiments of infantry which were also making their way to the scene of battle. A regiment of Tennessee troops attracted my attention as we passed. They were of the race of “Ana[?],” tall muscular men, with mouth firmly set, nostrils expanded and faces lit up with the light of battle, they gave us a lofty inspiration for the work we expected to be called upon to perform in a few moments. I must not forget to say that in one set of fours a jet-black negro, as large as the white giants with whom he marched, filled his place with all the dignity and determination of a born soldier.

After passing the Lewis House we began to see the effects of battle. The wounded men on the stretchers and in the “ambulances,” with cheerful voices would encourage us. “We are whipping them,” said they, “go on and make the victory a complete rout.” The stragglers, however dirty and dusty, and with down and out and rueful looks, told us their regiment had been cut all to pieces, and they were all that were left.

We rode rapidly forward and halted in column on the north side of Holkum’s Branch in rear of Stonewall Jackson’s command, and under shelter of the intervening hill.

The rising clouds of dust had given our movement and position to the enemy’s batteries and immediately they began to fire on us from the north, from the northeast and from the northwest. Shells burst on our flanks – our left flanks as we stood in column being toward the northwest.

After using shells for some time, they tried to reach us by solid shot in ricochet firing. These would strike the brow of the hill on our left and rebounding over our column would bury themselves with a dull thud in the hill beyond the branch. As we heard the hissing and screaming of the balls and shells, nearly every man would duck his head instinctively down the neck of his horse, which stood with that subdued and resigned look they always have when standing out in a thunderstorm or in the battle’s rage.

It seemed that we stood in that spot for many hours, but I know it could not have been actually much more than half an hour. Then the firing of musketry from Jackson’s line began. It would begin on the right, not in volleys but in succession and sounded as the grinding of coffee – only magnified a thousand times. Before the wave of reports would reach half way to the left flank, it would begin again on the right – the cannon of both armies playing a bass to the tenor of the musketry. Suddenly there was a yell – as unmistakable as the tocsin of the rattlesnake or the vindictive [?] of the bumble-bee as he thrusts his sting into you – and we knew the Rebels were charging the Army of Coercion. The terrible ordeal was soon over and we had to duck our heads no more. In a short time we began to march back toward the Lewis House. As our rear was approaching the top of the hill on the south of Holkum’s Branch, and old or elderly man called out: “General Johnson says ‘the cavalry must halt.’” We stood there some time. At length we were ordered to take position in a kind of natural amphitheater on the west of the Lewis House. While stopping on this hill several of our horses were wounded by bullets from parting shots of the retreating foes.

The tide of battle was now changing rapidly and our spirits were rising correspondingly. Cheer after cheer went up as Adjutant Burks told us that the “Sherman” and “Ricketts” batteries which had just worried us so much, had been captured. Then other and louder cheers when he told us a Virginia regiment had captured them. Presently Lindsay Walker and his “derringers,” as he called them, passed and took position on the hill northeast of the Lewis House, whence they fired with deliberation and regularity. In a short time, we were ordered to charge.

As we reached the top of the hill at the Lewis House and galloped down to the Lewis Ford, we could see the road to Centerville lined with the retreating enemy, whose pace was rapidly hastening to a run by the balls from Walker and the other batteries. The exultation of the moment reached the utmost limit of human endurance. Our men yelled and cheered as they galloped and the horses shared in the enthusiasm of their riders. As we came to the Warrenton pike a few scattering enemy were seen scampering about, and our men began to fire their shotguns, some at random into the air and some taking aim. The men so nearly beside themselves that I had to watch those behind me, to prevent being shot myself. Many men left the ranks to ride down those who were trying to escape. While I gazed on the confusion around me, I asked myself mentally, “Why all of our drilling and study of the ‘Manual’ if we were to do this way in battle?” Suddenly before I could make reply, in clear and clarion tones, the command was given by our Colonel, to “form and charge that battery.” About thirty men promptly took their position in line – the rest were too much occupied in chasing the fugitives. They did not hear the command. I looked up the road toward Stone Bridge and saw several pieces unlimbered. One or two were pointed toward us; the others down the pike toward Centerville. We were within a hundred yards, and they overshot our little knot of men. A terrific report like the noise of a train of cars passing over our heads almost deafened us and we left in full gallop. A run of half a mile brought me to the squadrons under our Lieutenant Colonel Munford, who was to strike the pike farther east. I took my place at the rear of his column and we advanced but the enemy finding that our cavalry had cut them off became panic-stricken and were scattered to the four winds [?] so we did not find any more of them in ranks. I captured a tall, lean and lank Irishman of a New York regiment and ended the day escorting him back to the provost guard. It was raining as I went back to camp the next morning. My “mess” were glad to see me for I had been reported killed. I learned with sorrow, that our noble captain Winston Radford, and our Color Sergeant the manly Edley Irvine were among the slain. Painful, indeed, was the loss of those princely spirits which went out with our first triumphant shouts of victory. But, “Their glory dies not and the grief is past.”

St. Louis Sunday Republic, 1900

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* Unit designation determined by the narrative, which identifies the colonel as Radford, and the captain as Winston Radford. The 2nd Virginia Cavalry, while formed in May of 1861, was known as the 30th Regiment Virginia Volunteers until the end of October, 1861.

** Linstocks are rods, the ends of which can be fitted with lighted fuses, used to fire a cannon when friction primers were not available or otherwise not used. While we imagine their use in artillery of an earlier time, linstocks were part of standard U. S. artillery equipage as late as 1890. Hat tip to Craig Swain.





Pvt. George W. Bagby, 11th Virginia Infantry, Aide to Col. Thomas Jordan, AAG to Beauregard, On Camp and the Battle

26 02 2017

I believe that Garland found Captain Lay with a part of the Powhatan Troop at Manassas – certainly the place had been picketed for a few weeks – but that was all. Its strategic importance seemed to have been overlooked. On my arrival I found the boys comfortably quartered in tents and enjoying the contents of boxes of good things, which already had begun coming from home. In a little store at the station they had discovered a lot of delicious cherry brandy, which they were dispatching with thoughtless haste. Rigid military rule was not yet enforced, and the boys had a good time. I saw no fun in it. The battalion drill bore heavily upon me; Garland constantly forgot to give the order to shift our guns from a shoulder to a support. This gave me great pain, made me very mad, and threw me into a perspiration, which, owing to my feeble circulation, was easily checked by the cold breeze from the Bull Run Mountain, and thereby put me in jeopardy of pneumonia. Moreover, I longed for my night-shirt and the clean bed at Gordonsville. The situation was another source of trouble to me. After brooding over it a good while I got my friend Latham to write, at my dictation, a letter to John M. Daniel’s paper, the Richmond Examiner. The letter was not printed, but handed to General Lee, and additional troops began to come rapidly – one or two South Carolina regiments, the First Virginia Regiment, Captain Shields’s company of Richmond Howitzers, Latham’s Lynchburg Battery, in all of which, except the regiments from South Carolina, we had hosts of friends. The more men the sicker I got, and the further removed from that solitude which was the delight of my life. I made up my mind not to desert, but to get killed at the first opportunity. I might get a clean shirt, and would certainly get, in the grave, all the solitude I wanted.

Beauregard soon took command. This was a comfort to us all. We felt safe. About this time, too, the wives and sisters of a number of officers came from Lynchburg on a visit to the camp. That was great joy to us all. Lieutenant Latham’s little son, barely two years old, and dressed in full Rifle Grey uniform, was the lion of the hour. The ladies looked lovely. Such a relief after a surfeit of men; our eyes fairly feasted on them. Other ladies put in an appearance from time to time. Returning from Bristoe, where I had gone to bathe, my eyes fell on three of the most beautiful human beings they had ever beheld. Beautiful at any time and place, they were now inexpressibly so by reason of the fact that women were such a rarity in camp. They were bright figures on a background of many thousand dingy, not to say dirty, men. If I go to heaven – I hope I may – the angels themselves will hardly look more lovely than those young ladies did that solitary afternoon. I was most anxious to know their names. They were the Misses Carey – Hetty and Jennie Carey, of Baltimore, and Constance, their cousin, of Alexandria. No man can form an idea of the rapture which the sight of a woman will bring him until he absents himself from the sex for a long time. He can then perfectly understand the story about the ecstatic dance in which some California miners indulged when they unexpectedly came upon an old straw bonnet in the road. Pretty women head the list of earthly delights.

Over and over I heard the order read at dress parade, all closing with the formula, “By command of General Beauregard, Thomas Jordan, A. A. G.” This went on for some weeks without attracting any special attention on my part. At last some one said in my hearing: “Beauregard’s adjutant is a Virginian.” I pricked up my ears. “Wonder if he can be the Captain Jordan I knew in Washington? I’ll go and see,” I said to myself. Colonel, afterward General, Jordan received me most cordially, dirty private though I was. He was, as usual, very busy. “Sit down a minute. I want presently to have a little talk with you.” My prophetic soul told me something good was coming, and, when, after some preliminary talk about unimportant matters, he said: “So you are a ‘high private in the rear rank?'”

“Yes,” was my reply.

“Aren’t you tired of drilling?”

“Tired to death.”

“Well, you are the very man I want. Certain letters and papers have to be written in this office which ought to be done by a man of literary training, and you are just that person. I’ll have you detailed at once, and you must report here in the morning. Excuse me now, I am very busy.” Indeed, he was the busiest man I almost ever saw, and to-day in the office of the Mining Record, of New York, he is as busy as ever. A more indefatigable worker than General Thomas Jordan it would be hard, if not impossible, to find.

My duties at first were very light. I ate and slept in camp as before, reported at my leisure every morning at head-quarters, and did any writing that was required of me, General Jordan’s clerks being fully competent to do the great bulk of the work in his office. The principal of these clerks was quite a young man, seventeen or eighteen, perhaps, and was named Smith – Clifton Smith, of Alexandria, Va. – and a most assiduous and faithful youth he was. He is now a prosperous broker in New York. After midnight Jordan was a perfect owl; there were always papers and letters of a particular character, in the preparation of which I could be of service. We got through with them generally by one A.m., then had a little chat, sometimes, though not often, a glass of whiskey and water, and then I went back to camp, a quarter of a mile off, not without risking my life at the hands of a succession of untrained pickets. At camp things were comparatively comfortable. The weather was so warm that most of the men preferred to sleep out-doors on the ground. I often had a tent to myself. Troops continued to come. Many went by to Johnston (who, to our dismay, had fallen back from Harper’s Ferry), but many stayed. Water began to fail, wells in profusion were dug, but without much avail, and water had to be brought by rail. Excellent it was. Boxes of provisions continued to come in diminishing numbers, but upon the whole we lived tolerably well. The Eleventh Virginia, its quota now filled, had gone out on one or two little expeditions without material results. It formed part of Longstreet’s Brigade, and made a fine appearance and most favorable impression in the first brigade drill that took place. How thankful I was that I was not in it!

During these days when the camp of the Eleventh Virginia was comparatively deserted, the men being detailed at various duties, there occurred an episode which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Coming down from head-quarters about one o’clock to get my dinner, I became aware as soon as I drew nigh our tents that something unusual was “toward,” as Carlyle would say. Sure enough there was. In addition to the ladies from Lynchburg, heretofore mentioned, we had been visited by quite a number of the leading men of that city, who came to look after their sons and wards. Several ministers, among them the Rev. Jacob D. Mitchell, had come to preach for us. But now there was a visitor of a different stripe. The moment I got within hailing distance of the captain’s tent I heard a loud hearty voice call me by my first name.

“Hello! George, what’ll you have? Free bar. Got every liquor you can name. Call for what you please.”

Looking up, I beheld the bulky form, the duskyred cheeks and sparkling black eyes of Major Daniel Warwick, a Baltimore merchant, formerly of Lynchburg, who had come to share the fortune, good or ill, of his native State. He was the prince of good fellows, a bon vivant in the fullest sense of the term, a Falstaff in form and in love of fun. What he said was literally true, or nearly so; he had all sorts of liquors. In order to test him I called for a bottle of London stout.

“Sam, you scoundrel! fetch out that stout.

How’ll you have it – plain? Better let me make you a porteree this hot day.”

“Very good; make it a porteree.”

He was standing behind an improvised bar of barrels and planks, set forth with decanters, bottles, glasses, lemons, oranges, and pineapples, with his boy Sam as his assistant. The porteree, which was but one of many that I enjoyed during the major’s stay, was followed by a royal dinner, contributed almost wholly by the major. This was kept up for a week or ten days, officers and men of the Lynchburg companies and invited guests, some of them quite distinguished, all joining in the prolonged feast, which must have cost the major many hundreds of dollars.

The major’s inexhaustible wit and humor, his quaint observations on everything he saw, his sanguine predictions about the war, and his odd behavior throughout, were as much of a feast as his eatables and drinkables. He was the greatest favorite imaginable. Everything was done to please him and make him comfortable, including a tent fitted up for him. Being much fatigued by his first day’s experience as an open barkeeper, he went to bed early, the boys all keeping quiet to insure his sleeping. Within twenty minutes they heard him snoring, and the next thing they knew the tent burst wide open and out rushed the corpulent major, clad only in his shirt, and as he came he shouted at the pitch of his stentorian voice: “Gi’ me a’r, gi’ me a’r! For God’s sake, gi’ me a’r!” Of course there was a universal burst of laughter, which the major bore with perfect good nature. Thenceforth he slept on a blanket under the canopy of heaven, enjoying it as much, he declared, as a deer hunt in the wilds of western Virginia. He carried with him, when he left, the Godspeed of hundreds of hearts grateful for the abundant and unexpected happiness he had brought them.

This was that same major who cut up such pranks in New York City a few months after the war ended – picking up a strong negro on the street and forcing him to eat breakfast with him at the Prescott House, imperiously ordering the white waiters to attend to his every want, then walking arm in arm with the negro down Broadway, each having in his mouth the longest cigar that could be bought, and puffing away at a great rate, to the intense disgust of the passers-by. Of this freak I was myself eye-witness. In the restaurants he would burst out with a lot of Confederate songs, and keep them up till scowls and oaths gave him to understand that it would be dangerous to continue, when he would suddenly whip off into some intensely loyal air, leaving his auditors in doubt whether he was Union or secesh, or simply a crank. In the street-cars and omnibuses he would ostentatiously stand up for negro women as they entered, deposit their fare, gallantly help them in and out, taking off his hat as he did, and bitterly inveighing against those who refused to follow his example. So pointed were his insults that his huge size alone saved him from many a knockdown. He lived too merrily to live long, and died in Baltimore in 1867, I believe.

Ever since the fall of Sumter Beauregard’s star had been in the ascendant. His poetical name seemed to carry a magical charm with it. Jordan had implicit faith in him. Many others looked upon him as likely to be the foremost military figure of the war, and were prepared to attach themselves to his fortunes. Keeping my place as a private detailed for duty in the adjutant’s office, I contented myself with a simple introduction to the general, and did not presume to enter into conversation with him – a privilege most editors would have claimed. (I was then editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.) But I availed myself of my opportunity to study this prominent character in the pending struggle. His athletic figure, the leonine formation of his head, his large, dark-brown eyes and his broad, low forehead indicated courage and capacity. Of his mental caliber I could not judge, but others spoke highly of it. He indefatigably studied the country around Manassas, riding out every day with the engineer officers and members of his staff. He was eminently polite, patient, and good-natured. I never knew him to lose his temper but once, and then the occasion was ludicrous in the extreme.

Just before the battle of Manassas the militia of all the adjoining counties were called out in utmost haste to swell our numbers. A colonel of one of the militia regiments, arrayed in old-style cocked hat and big epaulets, came up a morning or two before the battle and asked to see the general. When General Beauregard appeared, he said with utmost sincerity:

“General Beauregard, my men are mostly men of families. They left home in a hurry, without enough coffee-pots, frying-pans, and blankets, and they would like, sir, to go back for a few days to get these things and to compose their minds, which is oneasy about their families, their craps, and many other things.”

Beauregard’s eyes flashed fire.

“Do you see that sun, sir?” pointing to it.

“Yes, sir,” said the colonel, in wondering timidity.

“Well, sir, I might as well attempt to pull down that sun from heaven as to allow your men to return home at a critical moment like this. Go tell your men to prepare for battle at any instant. There is no telling when it may come.”

The colonel retreated in confusion.

Beauregard’s high qualities as an engineer—most signally proved by his subsequent defence of Charleston, compared with which the reduction of Sumter was a trifle—were acknowledged on all hands. What he would be at the head of an army in the open field remained to be seen. It was a trying time for him; but if he were nervous no one discovered it.

His staff was composed mostly of young South Carolinians of good family, and he had in addition a number of volunteer aids, all of them men of distinction. Ex-Governor James Chestnut was one, I think. William Porcher Miles, an accomplished scholar and elegant gentleman, I am sure was. So was that grand specimen of manhood, Colonel John S. Preston; also, Ex-Governor Manning, a most charming and agreeable companion. His juleps, made of his own dark brandy and served at mid-day in a large bucket, in lieu of something better, greatly endeared him to us all. One day all these distinguished gentlemen suddenly disappeared. Colonel Jordan simply said they had gone to Richmond; but evidently something was in the wind. What could it be? On their return, after a week’s absence, as well as I remember, there was an ominous hush about the whole proceeding. Nobody had anything to say, but there was a graver, less happy atmosphere at head-quarters. Gradually it leaked out that Mr. Davis had rejected Beauregard’s proposal that Johnston should suddenly join him and the two should attack McDowell unawares and unprepared. The mere refusal could not have caused so much feeling at head-quarters. There must have been aggravating circumstances, but what they were I never learned. All I could get from Colonel Jordan was a lifting of the eyebrows, and “Mr. Davis is a peculiar man. He thinks he knows more than everybody else combined.”

What! want of confidence in our president, at this early stage of the game? Impossible! A vague alarm filled me. I had been the first – the very first, I believe – to nominate Mr. Davis for the presidency; had violated the traditions of the oldest Southern literary journal in doing so. I had no personal knowledge of his fitness for the position. No. But his record as a soldier in Mexico, his experience as minister of war, and his fame as a statesman seemed to point him out as the man ordained by Providence to be our leader. And now so soon distrusted! I tried to dismiss the whole thing from my mind, it distressed me so. But it would not down at my bidding. Many prominent men came to look after the troops of their respective States, sometimes in an official capacity, sometimes of their own accord. Among them was Thomas L. Clingman, of North Carolina, with whom I had a slight acquaintance. How it came about I quite forget, but we took a walk, one afternoon, down the Warrenton road, and fell to talking about the subject uppermost in my thoughts—Mr. Davis. Clingman seemed to know his character thoroughly, and fortified his opinions by facts of recent date at Montgomery and Richmond. Particulars need not be given, if, indeed, I could recall them; but the upshot of it all was, that in the opinion of many wise men the choice of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States was a profound, perhaps a fatal, mistake. Unable to controvert a single position taken by Clingman, my heart sank low, and never fully rallied, for the sufficient reason that Mr. Davis’s career confirmed all that Clingman had said—all and more.

As the plot thickened, so did occurrences in and around head-quarters. Beauregard kept open house, as it were, many people dropping in to the several meals, some by invitation, others not. The fare was plain, wholesome, and abundant, rice cooked in South Carolina style being a favorite dish for breakfast as well as dinner. The new brigadiers also dropped in upon us from time to time. One of them was my old school-mate, Robert E. Rodes, a Lynchburger by birth, but now in command of Alabama troops. In him Beauregard had special confidence, giving him the front as McDowell approached. Rodes was killed in the valley in 1864, a general of division, full of promise, a man of ability, a first-rate soldier. Lynchburg has reason to be proud of two such men as Garland and Rodes. Soldiers continued to arrive. As fast as they came they were sent toward Bull Run, that being our line of defence. Some regiments excited general admiration by their fine personal appearance, their excellent equipment and soldierly bearing. None surpassed the First Virginia Regiment in neatness or in drill— in truth, few approached it. The poorest set as to size, looks, and dress were some of the South Carolinians. Louisiana sent a fine body of men. But by odds the best of our troops were the Texans. Gamer men never trod the earth. In their eyes and in their every movement they showed fight, and their career from first to last demonstrated the truth, in their case at least, of the old Latin adage, “Vidlus index est animi” — the face tells the character. I verily believe that fifty thousand Texans such as those who came to Virginia, properly handled, could whip any army the North could muster.

But as a whole our men did not compare with the Union soldiery. They were not so large of limb, so deep in the chest, or so firm-set, and in arms and clothing the comparison was still more damaging to the South. A friend of mine, who lingered in Washington till he could linger no longer, halted a day at Manassas on his way to his old home in Culpeper County. With great pride I called his attention to Hays’s magnificent Louisiana regiment, one thousand four hundred strong, drawn out full length at dress parade. He shook his head, sighed heavily, and described the stout-built, superbly equipped men he had seen pouring by thousands upon thousands down Pennsylvania Avenue. This incident made little impression on me at the time, my friend being of a despondent nature; but after my talk with Colonel Clingman it returned to me, and, I confess, depressed me not a little.

The camps were now deserted, the regiments being picketed on Bull Run. It was painful for me to go among the empty tents; it was like wandering about college in vacation – nay, worse, for it was morally certain that some, perhaps many, would return to the tents no more. I missed the faces of my friends; I longed for the lemonade “with a stick in it” that Captain Shields and Dr. Palmer used to give whenever I made them a visit, and I really pined for the red shirt and cheery voice of Captain H. Grey Latham, as he went from tent to tent, telling them new jokes, and on leaving, repeating his farewell formula, “Yours truly, John Dooly,” which actually got to be funny by perpetual repetition and became a by-word throughout the army. Finally I got so sick of the deserted camp that I asked Clifton Smith to let me share his pallet in the little shed-room cut off from the porch at head-quarters. He kindly assented, and I moved up, but still took my meals at camp. Doleful eating it would have been but for the occasional presence of my dear friend, Lieutenant Woodville Latham, who, being judge of a courtmartial then in session, had not yet joined the Eleventh Virginia at Bull Run.

The nights were so hot that I found it almost impossible to sleep in Clifton Smith’s little shed-room. My mind was excited by the approaching battle, and my habit of afternoon napping added to my sleeplessness. So the little sleep I got was in a chair on the porch. Near me, on the dinner-table, too long for any room in the house, lay young Goolsby, a lad of sixteen, who acted as night orderly. The calls upon him were so frequent and the pain of being awakened so great, that finally I said to him: “Sleep on, Goolsby, I’ll take your place.” He was very grateful. So I played night orderly from 12 o’clock till 6 A. M. thenceforward, and on that account slept the longer and the harder in the afternoon. Near sunset on the 18th I arose from Smith’s pallet in the shed-room, washed my face, and walked out upon the porch. It was filled with officers and men, all looking toward Bull Run. One of them said:

“That’s heavier firing than any I heard during the war in Mexico.”

“It was certainly very heavy,” was the reply, “but it seems to be over now.”

And that is all I know about the battle of the 18th. I had slept through the whole of it! Major Harrison, of our regiment, was killed; Colonel Moore, of the First Virginia Regiment, and Lieutenant James H. Lee, of the same regiment, were wounded, the latter seriously, as it turned out. There were no other casualties that particularly interested me.

Every one knew the ordeal was at hand. The movements preceding the great tragedy had the hurry and convergence which belong to all catastrophes. A confused mixture of memories is left me – things relevant and irrelevant. L. W. Spratt, Thomas H. Wynne, Mrs. Bradley T. Johnson – the big guns of the intrenched camp; the night arrival of Johnston’s staff, the parting with my friend Latham – all these and many more recollections are piled up in my mind. Beauregard’s plan of battle had been approved by General Johnston. Ewell was to attack McDowell’s left at early dawn, flank him, and cut him off from Washington, our other brigades from left to right cooperating. Until midnight and later all of Colonel Jordan’s clerks were busy copying the battle orders, which were at once sent off to the divisions and brigades by couriers. I myself made many copies. The last sentence I remember to this day; it read as follows: “In case the enemy is defeated he is to be pursued by cavalry and artillery until he is driven across the Potomac.” He needed no pursuit, but went across the Potomac all the same. No, not all the same. Had we followed in force the result might have been different. I sat up as usual that night, but recall no event of interest.

As morning dawned, I wondered and wondered why no sound of battle was heard – none except the distant roar of Long Tom, which set the enemy in motion. How Ewell failed to get his order, how our plan of battle failed in consequence, and how near we came to defeat, is known to all. ‘Tis an old, and to Confederates, a sad story.

On the morning of the 18th, as Beauregard walked out to mount his horse, he stumbled and came near falling – a bad augury, which, we thought, brought a shadow over his face. But on this morning, the 21st all went well; the generals and their staffs, after an early breakfast, rode off in high spirits, victory in their very eyes. My duty was to look after the papers of the office, which had been hastily packed up, and, in case of danger, see that they were put on board a train, which was held in readiness to receive them and other valuable effects. The earth seemed to vomit men; they came in from all sides. Holmes, from Fredericksburg, at the head of his division, in a high-crown, very dusty beaver, I well recollect. He made me laugh. Barksdale, of Mississippi, halting his regiment to get ammunition. The militia ensconced behind the earthworks of the intrenched camp, their figures flit before me. It was a superb Sabbath day, cloudless, and at first not very hot. A sweet breeze from the west blew in my face as I stood on a hill overlooking the vale of Bull Run. I saw the enormous column of dust made by the enemy as they advanced upon our left. The field of battle evidently would be where the comet, then illuminating the skies, seemed to rest at night. Returning to head-quarters I reported to Colonel Jordan the movement upon our left.

“Has McDowell done that?” he asked, with animation. “Then Beauregard will give him all his old boots, for that is exactly where we want him.”

The colonel meant that Ewell would have a better chance of attack by reason of the weakening of McDowell’s left.

Again and again I walked out to watch the progress of the battle, which lasted a great deal longer than I expected or desired. The pictures of battles at a distance, in the English illustrated papers, give a good idea of what I saw, minus the stragglers and the wounded, who came out in increasing numbers as the day advanced, and disheartening President Davis as he rode out to the field in the afternoon. At noon or thereabout a report that our centre had been broken hurried me back to head-quarters, and although the report proved false, kept me there for several hours, the battle meanwhile raging fiercely, and not a sound from Ewell.

Restless and excited, I went into a neighboring house, occupied by a lone woman, who was in a peck of trouble about herself, her house, her everything. The bigger trouble outside filled my mind during the recital of her woes, so that I now recall none of them.

Unable longer to bear the suspense, I left important papers, etc., to take care of themselves, and set out for the battle-field, determined to go in and get rid of my fears and doubts by action. I reached the hill which I had so often visited in the morning, and paused awhile to look at some of our troops, who were rapidly moving from our right to our left. Just then – can I ever forget it? – there came, as it seemed, an instantaneous suppression of firing, and almost immediately a cheer went up and ran along the valley from end to end of our line. It meant victory – there was no mistaking the fact. I stood perfectly still, feeling no exultation whatever. An indescribable thankful sadness fell upon me, rooting me to the spot and plunging me into a deep reverie, which for a long time prevented me from seeing or hearing what went forward. Night had nearly fallen when I came to myself and started homeward. The road was filled with wounded men, their friends, and a few prisoners. I spoke kindly to the prisoners, and took in charge a badly wounded young man, carrying him to the hospital, from the back windows of which amputated legs and arms had already been thrown on the ground in a sickening pile.

At head-quarters there was a great crowd waiting for the generals and Mr. Davis to return. It was now quite dark. A deal of talking went on, but I observed little elation. People were worn out with excitement – too many had been killed – how many and who was yet to be learned. War is a sad business, even to the victors. I saw young George Burwell, fourteen years of age, bring in Colonel Corcoran, his personal captive.

I heard Colonel Porcher Miles’s withering retort to Congressman Ely, who tried to claim friendly acquaintance with him, but went off abashed in a linen duster with the other prisoners. I asked Colonel Preston what he thought of the day’s work.

“A glorious victory, which will produce immense results,” was his reply.

“When will we advance?” “We will be in Baltimore next week.” How far wrong even the wisest are? We never entered Baltimore, and that victorious army, rne-half of which had barely fired a shot, did not fight another pitched battle for nearly a year!

It was after midnight when I carried to the telegraph office Mr. Davis’s despatch announcing the victory. Inside the intrenched camp one thousand or twelve hundred prisoners were herded, the militia standing up side by side guarding them and forming a human picket-fence, funny to behold. It was clear as a bell when I walked back; the baleful comet hung over the field of battle; all was very still; I could almost hear the beating of my tired heart, that had gone through so much that day. Too much exhausted to play orderly, I slept in my chair like a top.

The next day, Monday, the 22d, it rained, a steady, straight downpour the livelong day. Everybody flocked to head-quarters. Not one word was said about a forward movement upon Washington. We had too many generals-in-chief; we were Southerners; we didn’t fancy marching in the mud and rain – we threw away a grand opportunity. For days, for weeks, you might say, our friends kept coming from Alexandria, saying with wonder and impatience: “Why don’t you come on? Why stay here doing nothing?” No sufficient answer, in my poor judgment, was ever given. The dead and the dying were forgotten in the general burst of congratulation. Now and then you would hear the loss of Bee and Bartow deplored, or of some individual friend it would be said: “Yes, he is gone, poor fellow”; but this was as nothing compared to the joyous hubbub over the victory. How proud and happy we were! Didn’t we know that we could whip the Yankees? Hadn’t we always said so? Henceforth it would be easy sailing – the war would soon be over, too soon for all the glory we felt sure of gaining. What fools!

Captain H. Grey Latham, in his red shirt, was a conspicuous figure at head-quarters. His battery had covered itself with renown; congratulations were showered upon him. I saw Captain (afterward colonel, on Lee’s staff) Henry E. Peyton come over from General Beauregard’s room blazing with excitement and exaltation. Yesterday he was a private – now he was a captain, promoted by Beauregard first of all because
of his signal gallantry on the field. “By – !” he exclaimed to me, “when I die, I intend to die gloriously.” Alas! Colonel Peyton, confidential clerk of the United States Senate and owner of one of the best farms in Loudoun County, is like to die in his bed as ingloriously as the rest of us.

A young Mr. Fauntleroy, desiring an interview with General Joseph E. Johnston, I offered to procure it for him, and pushed through the crowd to the table at which he sat. “Excuse me, General Johnston,” I began. “Excuse me, sir!” he replied, in tones that sent me away in a state of demoralization.

The next thing I remember is the coming on of night, and my resuming my post as night orderly. I was seldom aroused, and slept soundly in a chair, tilted back against the wall. In the yard just in front of me were a number of tents, one of which was occupied by President Davis. The rising sun awakened me. My eyes were still half open when Mr. Davis stepped out of his tent, in full dress, having made his toilet with care. Seeing no one but a private, apparently asleep in a chair, he looked about, turned, and slowly walked to the yard fence, on the other side of which a score or more of captured cannon were parked, Long Tom being conspicuous. The president stood and looked at the cannon for ten minutes or more. Having never seen him close at hand, I went up and looked at the cannon too, but in reality I was looking at him most intently.

That was the turning-point in my life. Had I gone up to him, made myself known, told him what I had done in his behalf, and asked something in return, my career in life would almost certainly have been far different. We were alone. It was an auspicious time to ask favors – just after a great victory – and he was very responsive to personal appeals. My prayer would have been heard. In that event I should have become a member of his political and military family, or, what would have suited me much better, have gone to London, as John R. Thompson afterward did, to pursue in the interest of the Confederacy my calling as a journalist. But Clingman’s talk had done its work. Already prejudiced against Mr. Davis, his face, as I examined it that fateful morning, lacked – or seemed to – the elements that might have overcome my prejudices. There was no magnetism in it – it did not draw me. Yet his voice was sweet, musical in a high degree, and that might have drawn me had I but spoken to him. I could not force myself to open my lips, but walked back to my chair on the open porch, and my lot in life was decided.

General Beauregard removed his head-quarters to the house of Mr. Ware, some distance from Manassas Station, a commodious brick building, in which our friend, Lieutenant James K. Lee, lay wounded. Mr. Ware’s family remained, but most of the house was given up to us. I slept in the garret with the soldier detailed to nurse Lieutenant Lee. In the yard were a number of tents occupied by the general and his staff. Colonel Jordan’s office was in the house. My duty, hitherto light and pleasant, now became somewhat heavy and disagreeable. I had to file and forward applications for furlough, based mainly upon surgeons’ certificates. This brought me in contact with many unlovely people, each anxious to have his case attended to at once. It was very worrying. Others beside myself, the clerks and staff officers, seemed to be as much worried by their labors as I was by mine. Fact is, young Southern gentlemen, used to having their own way, found it hard to be at the beck and call of anybody. The excitement of battle over, the detail of business was pure drudgery. We detested it.

The long, hot days of August dragged themselves away. No advance, no sign of it; the men in camp playing cards, the officers horse-racing. This disheartened me more than all things else, but I kept my thoughts to myself. At night I would walk out in the garden and brood over the possible result of this slow way of making war. The garden looked toward the battle-field. At times I thought I detected the odor of the carcasses, lightly buried there; at others I fancied I heard weird and doleful cries borne on the night wind. I grew melancholy.

Twice or thrice a day I went in to see Lieutenant Lee. Bright and hopeful of recovery, he gave his friends a cheery welcome and an invitation to share the abundant good things with which his mother and sisters kept him supplied. A visit to his sick chamber was literally a treat. The chances seemed all in his favor for two weeks or more after our arrival at the Ware house, but then there came a change for the worse, and soon the symptoms were such that his kinsman, Peachy R. Grattan. reporter of the court of appeals, was sent for. He rallied a little, but we saw the end was nigh. Mr. Grattan promised to send for me during the night in case anything happened, and at two o’clock I was called. The long respiration preceding death had set in. Mr. Grattan, kneeling at the bedside, was praying aloud. The prayer ended, he called the dying officer by name. “James” (louder), “James, is there anything you wish done?” Lieutenant Lee murmured an inarticulate response, made an apparent effort to remove the ring from the finger of his left hand, and sank back into the last slumber. I waited an hour in silence; still the long-drawn breathing kept up.

“No need to wait longer,” said Mr. Grattan; “he will not rouse any more.”

I went to my pallet in the garret, but could not sleep; at dawn I was down again. The long breathing continued; Mr. Grattan sat close to the head of the bed and I stood at the foot, my gaze fixed on the dying man’s face. Suddenly both his eyes opened wide; there was no “speculation” in them, but the whole room seemed flooded with their preternatural light. Just then the sun rose, and his eyes closed in everlasting darkness, to open, I doubt not, in everlasting day. So passed away the spirit of James K. Lee.

A furlough was given me to accompany the remains to Richmond, with indefinite leave of absence, there being no sign of active hostilities. In view of my infirm health a discharge was granted me after my arrival in Richmond, and thus ended the record of an unrenowned warrior.

Let me say a word or two in conclusion. In 1861 I was thirty-three years old; now I am fifty-five, gray and aged beyond my years by many afflictions. I wanted to see a great war, saw it, and pray God I may never see another. I recall what General Duff Green, an ardent Southerner, said in Washington, in the winter of 1861, to some hot-heads: “Anything, anything but war.” So said William C. Rives to some young men in Richmond just after the fall of Sumter: “Young gentlemen, you are eager for war—you little know what it is you are so anxious to see.” Those old men were right. War is simply horrible. The filth, the disease, the privation, the suffering, the mutilation, and, above all, the debasement of public and private morals, leave to war scarcely a redeeming feature.

The Old Virginia Gentleman: And Other Sketches, by George William Bagby

Hat Tip to John Hennessy

George W. Bagby bio 

Dr. George W. Bagby at Findagrave.com 





Dr. Hunter McGuire on Brig. Gen. T. J. Jackson’s Wound

1 05 2016

A Reminiscence of Stonewall Jackson – His Wound at the Battle of Manassas

In the February number of the Richmond Medical Journal, we find an able paper on “gunshot wounds of joints,” from the pen of Dr. Hunter McGuire, Professor of Surgery in the Virginia Medical College, and, during the war, chief surgeon on the staff of General Stonewall Jackson. In the course of his remarks, speaking of gunshot wounds of the hands, the Doctor cites the case of the wound received by his renowned Chief at the first battle of Manassas. The Doctor writes:

When he made the celebrated charge with his brigade, which turned the fortune of the day, he raised his left hand above his head to encourage the troops, and, while in this position, the middle finger of the hand was struck just below the articulation between the first and second phalanges. The ball struck the finger a little to one side, broke it, and carried of a small piece of the bone. He remained upon the field, wounded as he was, till the fight was over, and then wanted to take part in the pursuit, but was peremptorily ordered back to the hospital by the General commanding. On his way to the rear, the wound pained him so much that he stopped at the first hospital he came to, and the surgeon there proposed to cut the finger off; but while the Doctor looked for his instruments, and for a moment turned his back, the General silently mounted his horse, rode off, and soon afterwards found me. I was busily engaged with the wounded, but when I saw him coming, I left them, and asked him if he was seriously hurt. “No,” he answered, “not half as badly as many here, and I will wait.” And he forthwith sat down on the bank of a little stream near by, and positively declined any assistance until “his turn came!” We compromised, however, and he agreed to let me attend to him after I had finished the case I was dressing when he arrived. I determined to save the finger, if possible, and placed a splint along the palmar surface to support the fragments, retained it in position by a strip or two of adhesive plaster, covered the sound with lint, and told him to keep it wet with cold water. He carefully followed this advice. I think he had a fancy for this type of hydropathick treatment, and I have frequently seen him occupied for several hours pouring cup after cup of water over his hand, with that patience and perseverance for which he was so remarkable. Passive motion was instituted about the twentieth day, and carefully continued. The motion of the joint improved for months after the wound had healed, and, in the end, the deformity was very trifling.

During the treatment, the hand was kept elevated and confined in a sling, and when the use of this was discontinued, and the hand permitted to hang down, there was, of course, gravitation of blood towards it. Under the circumstances you would expect this. In consequence of it, however, the hand was sometimes swollen and painful, and, to remedy this, he often held it above his head for some moments. He did this so frequently that it became at length a habit, and was continued, especially when he was abstracted, after all necessity for it had ceased. I have seen it stated somewhere that whenever, during a battle, his had was thus raised, he was engaged in prayer; but I think the explanation I have given is the correct one. I believe he was the truest and most consistent Christian I have ever known, but I don’t believe he prayed much while he was fighting.

Richmond Examiner, 1/31/1866

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





Capt. Simon G. Griffin, Co. B, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, on Capt. Ephraim Weston, Co. G, At the Battle

31 10 2015

Roanoke Island, N. C,
May 22, 1862

John C. Weston, Esq.:

Dear Sir,

Your letter, making inquiries in regard to your brother at the battle of Bull Run, was duly received through our friend, the Hon. Alvin Beard, and it will be a pleasure to me if I can afford any comfort or gratification to the family of him whom I valued so highly as a friend and associate. Captain Weston had not been well for many days, but when the order came to march he no longer complained of being sick, but was at his post, looking after his men and supplying their wants for the march and the fight. Soldiers are very much like children, needing some one constantly to look after them and attend to their personal wants, and a captain, if he is a good one, will supply the place of a father to them. Captain Weston was in this respect one of the best captains, and provided well for all the wants of his men as far as he was able. I saw him frequently on the march from Washington to Centreville, and to inquiries respecting his health he invariably returned a cheering answer, although he was so feeble as to be compelled to ride a part of the time in order to keep along with his company. We bivouacked each night, sleeping with no shelter but our blankets and perhaps a few boughs hastily thrown up by the soldiers and it must have been hard for him, suffering as he was at the time from diarrhoea.

One of the hardest marches I have ever seen, excepting, of course, the retreat on the same day, was that from Centreville to Bull Run field on the morning of the 21st of July, not so much on account of its length, for even our division, commanded by Hunter, did not probably march more than fifteen miles, as from its tediousness, caused by the inexperience of both officers and men in marching in a long column of troops, and also from the excessive heat and consequent thirst and fatigue. We started at 2 a.m., and went into the fight at 10:30 on the double-quick. During all this long march Captain Weston must have been on his feet, as none but mounted officers had any opportunity to ride, and when we debouched on the field all were nearly exhausted.

There was but one company (Co. I) between Captain Weston’s and mine, and I recollect seeing more of him than of any other captain in the line, though each of us had plenty to do to attend to our own companies. At one time, after we had countermarched from the right to the left of the Rhode Island battery, when we were receiving the hottest fire we saw that day, when the bullets were flying like hailstones and thinning our ranks at a terrible rate without our being able to return the fire on account of friends in front, and no enemy within sight of us, we were ordered to lie down to avoid the shot. Captain Weston probably did not hear the order, and I remember seeing him standing, erect and alone, in front of his men, waving his sword and urging his soldiers to ‘Stand up like men, and not lie down like cowards.’

It was here that Colonel Marston was wounded and nearly all our loss for the day sustained before the order came to lie down, and it was a wonder that the Captain, exposed as he was, escaped unhurt. Presently the fire slackened, and we all moved forward. At another time, when we had advanced nearly half a mile to the front and to the right, we were lying down again, unable to return the fire on account of uneven ground.

My company being armed with Sharp’s rifles, different from the rest, was on the left of the line and was a sort of independent corps, and seeing an advantageous position just in front of us at the top of the hill, where I could cover my men behind a fence and reach the enemy with our superior rifles, I moved my men forward at double-quick and seized the fence, pouring in a rapid and destructive fire.

A part of Co. I went with us, and Captain Weston, seeing the movement and supposing we had been sent forward, went to the field officers and begged of them to allow his company to go with us. But they had received no orders to advance, and as other regiments were retreating, they very properly refused and gave the order to retire, and reformed the line half a mile or more to the rear. Here seven captains of us met, with quite a respectable battalion, and exchanged expressions of chagrin and regret that we had not held the foe at that advanced position. Captain Weston rushed about to find some officer of sufficient courage and authority to lead us forward again, or at least to make a stand where we then were. But none were to be found. The day was lost. The retreat — the rout — had commenced.

Commanders who had that day lost the opportunity to make themselves heroes, with a few noble exceptions, were already far on the road to Washington. Our regiment, although on the extreme right of the line, and consequently brought in the rear of the retreating mass, came off the field in tolerably good order, but there were so many fugitives constantly mixing in our ranks, and the men were so dreadfully fatigued, it was im possible to keep them together, and we were soon irretrievably scattered. About two miles, however, from the field there was an attempt made to halt and make a stand. The Captain was with me there, and we made an effort to rally our men — he exhausting all his eloquence and using every endeavor to induce them to halt. But it was of no use. The stream of fugitives from all regiments poured past us like the waters of a reservoir broke loose, and we gave up in despair. We retreated together through the woods, keeping as many of our men with us as possible, — he calling out at intervals with stentorian voice, ‘Second New Hampshire,’ and I constantly answering in the same terms from a short distance away. After two or three hours, however, we became separated, and I saw very little more of him until we met near the close of that terrible march at the Long Bridge.

We marched into the city and into camp together with a part of our men, the only two captains who remained to the last with their men and returned to camp with their regiment.

This is all I remember of our noble and lamented brother more than you already know. I can bear testimony with all others who knew him well, that as a soldier he was brave, honorable, and patriotic in the highest degree, and as a citizen and a man it is impossible to speak of him in terms too exalted.

With great respect I have the honor to be,

Yours, etc.

S. G. Griffin

Source: The History of Hancock, New Hampshire, 1764 – 1889, by William Willis Hayward

Contributed by David Morin, Exeter, NH

Notes on Ephraim Weston and Simon G. Griffin





Pvt. Lewis Herbert Metcalfe, Co. E, 11th New York Infantry, On the Battle

21 07 2015

“so Eager Were We All …”

The morning was beautiful. The day before had been so hot and sultry that the damp cool night air seemed quite a relief, and the full moon, beaming above, lighted up the valley in which we lay, and its rays glistened on the thousands of muskets which were stacked around.

I awoke shortly after twelve o’clock, my sleep having been disturbed by the voice of one of our sergeants who passed down the row of sleepers telling them that letters had arrived from home. The sight before me when I arose from the ground was one which, though often seen by a soldier, is always interesting. Twenty thousand men were gathered together in that valley covering the slope of the hills on both sides. In every camp large fires were burning, around which groups were sitting or standing reading newly received letters and papers or busily engaged in cooking food for the coming day.

We had bivouacked there two days and, having no tents, had managed to protect ourselves from the sun during the day by building bower houses of small trees which we cut in a neighboring wood, and which had served as a slight shelter against the rain which had fallen the night before.

Orders had been issued the evening previous for the army to march at two o’clock in the morning. Three days’ rations had been supplied; ammunition furnished; and all were prepared to start. Through all the camps everyone seemed stirring, though it wanted two hours of the time, so eager were we all to meet the foe. Many had not slept at all. Some had spent the night before the campfires writing to the loved ones at home, letters which for aught they knew might be the last. Others whom excitement forbade to sleep had spent the night in storytelling and suggesting plans of private action on the morrow.

As I wandered through the camp visiting several campfires, I found every man full of resolution. Once aroused I could not sleep again amid all the hum and bustle of the camp. So, taking my canteen, I started for a spring to fill it with water. I had to pass through several camps before reaching it, and found nearly everyone stirring. Here and there would be groups of privates surrounding some officer who was regaling them with latest news of which the very latest seemed to be that General Butler had captured Richmond and the Rebels had been surrounded by General Patterson. All that we had to do was to give Beauregard a thrashing in order to end all the troubles. Not a thought of defeat or reverse of any kind entered our minds. We had only to go forth to conquer.

Two o’clock came, but no movement was made. Our regiment was ordered to fall in by companies, and after a short time of waiting, the muskets were again stacked, and the soldiers dismissed for a while. Some of us set fire to the bower houses which, being dry, burnt with a brilliant light, and other regiments following our plan, in a very few moments the whole valley was almost one sheet of flame.

At daybreak we were ordered to fall in and marched a very short distance to the edge of the road, and after forming the regiment, we were allowed to rest on our arms. We rested there an hour or two. Some laid down and slept, and the sun was well up above the horizon before any movement took place around us. First, Ricketts’ Battery which lay across a little creek in front of us limbered up and started down the road. Then came the 1st Michigan Regiment who, in passing us, gave three cheers. “Fall in!” came the order to us, and instantly every man was in his place. After the Michigan regiment came the 2nd Scott Life Guard, 88th, New York, which also gave three cheers which we returned, and, on the order being given, we formed in marching order and started off behind them.

Our colonel had been suffering from fever for several days, and was not considered able to do any duty. To our great surprise, as we gained the top of the hill above our late camp, he came riding by us toward the head of the column cheered again and again by our regiment and others who lined the roadside in order to see us pass.

In a short time we passed through Centerville and turned to our left down a country road. On this road was stationed a number of regiments which were a portion of the reserve, and all of them, as we passed, cheered us and wished us success. On we marched, crossing Cub Run, and then a short distance beyond we turned abruptly to the right, passed through a small grove of trees, and emerged into a large open plain skirted by woods on nearly every side. Away ahead of us we could just see a regiment vanishing in the woods. “Forward double quick” came the order, and away we went. Now “double quick,” if properly performed, is a very pretty movement, and one not excessively tiresome to the soldier. I remember one day to have seen the Massachusetts’ 5th coming down Pennsylvania Avenue at double quick with the drums beating to keep the proper time, and it looked very well.

But with our regiment, it was another matter, and performed in a manner not set down in our tactics. Anyone who has seen a closely contested race between two fire engine companies down Grand Street can form a good idea of what double quick was with us. Soon the plain on each side of us was found strewn with blankets which had been thrown aside by flying soldiers, and some of us, thinking they belonged to the Rebels, set up a lively shout.

In a short time we gained the woods, and entered them by an old road which looked as though but little used, and which we afterward discovered had been widened and cleared in some portions to allow our artillery to pass on it. I cannot form any opinion of the distance through the woods or the length of time we were in them. Now and then we were halted for a very few minutes, and then away we went again at double quick. The day was very hot. Scarcely a breath of air was stirring, and the shade of the trees afforded but little relief.

As we advanced farther on we passed numbers from different regiments who had given out in the march and dropped by the side of the road to wait for the wagons to pick them up.

After a while we came to edge of the woods. For some little while back the booming of cannon had told us a battle was going on. Now that we had reached the edge of the woods, the sound came more clearly and we could hear the rattle of volley after volley of musketry. Passing up a steep hill, we left the woods and halted on the road. To the left of the road was a wheatfield, and, looking across the field a mile or two to the right, we could see the puffs of smoke rising, showing us where the fighting was going on.

Cheer after cheer rang out from our regiment at the prospect of at last finding the foe, and yet many among us were suffering from the intense heat and want of water, for nearly all the canteens were empty by this time.

Away again on the run. The dust under our feet was thrown into the air and filled our eyes and mouths, and the fierce July sun blazed remorselessly down upon us. But a short distance and we filed off the road on to an open plain, forming into companies, and halted. To the left stood a large old-fashioned mansion house, and around it were several horses tied, belonging to our army, and several ambulances were halted there in front of the house. To our right the land sloped steeply down to the creek, and at the bottom of the hill was a meadow which was occupied by several of our regiments who were getting water.

We paused but a moment, and at the order the column wheeled and marched down the hill, company front. To hear the shouts of the assembled soldiers below us as we moved slowly down toward them, and see the splendid manner in which the evolution was performed, one would think it was some gala day, and ours a Broadway parade instead of a battlefield, and a fiercely contested one at that. We halted a moment in the meadow. A squad was detailed from each company to fill our canteens with water from the creek. But before they returned, away we started again at double quick. Hot, tired, and thirsty, and Tantalus-like our chance for water seemed slipping from our grasp. But the squad detailed from our company came running up, and nearly all of us were furnished with a canteen of water.

Now it was double quick in earnest across the creek, up a hill, then another creek crossed by a bridge, by Sudley Church, and then wading through another creek till we halted for a moment and divested ourselves of blankets, overcoats and haversacks which we laid, each company by itself, in piles on the ground. After leaving our things, we started again, and soon came to a large open space, one just suited for a parade—and so we must have it. Break into platoons. Forward double quick. I guess it must have looked well, for a regiment just retiring from the field came around a piece of woods, and when they saw us, shouted, cheered, and threw their caps up. But we were tired and nearly worn out, as the pale faces and heavy short breaths of those around me indicated.

All the time the cannon were roaring out just ahead of us, and to our immediate left the crack of the muskets told us we were on the battlefield. A member of the New York 71st who was slowly walking to the rear met us. “For God’s sake, hurry up, boys,” he said. “We’re driving them, but they’re killing all our officers.”

A few moments more, and still at double quick we filed into marching order and entered the battlefield up a slope on the summit of which to our right was a large barn and several haystacks. We passed by Ricketts’ Battery which were in action a short distance down the slope of the hill to our left, and seemed to be engaging a Rebel battery which lay about a mile off a little to our rear and left. Several of the shells from it exploded in mid-air before reaching us, and a few balls passed over and through our regiment, but none were struck by them. Passing on by the barn we soon got out of range of them. We marched a little down the hill so as to be protected from the cannon, and formed in line of battle.

Behind us in the valley the 14th Brooklyn were drawn up in line and were resting. Oh, if we could but get some rest, just five minutes, to catch one good long breath,—one moment to get a sip of water from our canteens! No, not for us. Up rode an officer sword in hand ere we had hardly halted. “Colonel,” he shouted, “the General has decided to put you right into it. Let the colors advance ten paces. Detail two of your companies as a reserve. Dress on your colors.”

’Twas done. “Come on boys and show them what New York can do!” And with that the pet lambs were led to the slaughter. Ricketts’ Battery were ordered to limber up and follow us. The hill in front sloped down to a small creek along which ran a road, and just across the creek another hill rose, on the top of which was a small white house surrounded by an orchard and cornfield beyond which were dense woods. To our right a small spur of dwarf pines and bushes extended obliquely down the hill some little distance from the woods.

Down the hill we marched, over the fence into a road, across the creek, passing some skirmishers of the 14th, and then, climbing another fence, gained the foot of the hill on the other side. The regiment was thrown into a little confusion getting over the two fences, but soon resumed good order, and up the hill we pushed at double quick. Up, up, not a single enemy in sight, not a shot from his side. Up, up till we gained the top and then:

Crashing through the cornfield, singing and whistling around our ears, making the air blue and sulphurous with smoke, came a storm of bullets upon us from the woods in front. “Down, every one of you,” cried the Colonel. And we went down just in time to escape the second volley. No orders came all along the line. One and then another would jump up and fire and then lie down to reload. Some started toward the woods on their own account, crawling slowly along in hopes to get sight of the foe.

And still the volleys came thundering upon us from our unseen enemy.

Our right, among which was my company, were thrown into confusion by them, and [by] the number who broke ranks and advanced toward the enemy. Our gallant Captain who had been in front of us all this time commanded us to rise, sent the sergeants to bring the adventurers back into line, and ordered us to fall back down the hill to the valley. The men returned slowly, the company on our right returning with us, while the rest of the regiment held their ground and returned the fire of the Rebels.

As we fell back to the valley, being broken and separated, cavalry came riding down upon us. They were met by a volley from the regiment, and rode through us cutting right and left with their sabers but hitting no one. They passed to our rear, gained a small clump of bushes, partially rallied and commenced discharging their carbines at us. Without waiting for any orders, the two companies on the right rushed pell mell at them, running in their fury right up to the horses and bayoneting the riders when the bullet would happen to miss, and drove them flying from the field in as short a time as it takes me to tell it.

Having disposed of them, we soon got our companies rallied and ran up in good order and formed in line again with the regiment. We were in a bad position. The clump of trees extending down from the woods were directly in front of our portion of the regiment, and the fire of the Rebels who lay concealed among the bushes within thirty yards of us told with fearful effect on our men. We had just got into line with the regiment when a bullet whirred across my breast, passing through both shirts I had on, but not even grazing my body. Before I had recovered from the shock, a blow as though a club had hit me just above both ankles, told me that I was hit.

The regiment was still pressing forward, and not knowing how bad I was hit, I still kept on. I had taken three or four steps when my left leg crushed under my weight, and I fell to the ground. The regiment passed on a little from where I lay and left me alone. Knowing full well how necessary it was that the blood should be stopped, I took a handkerchief from my pocket and tied it tightly around my leg above the knee. Then, holding my gun in my hand, I crawled, or rather dragged myself, away from the enemy.

Several of my companions passed by me. One wished me to let him carry me back toward the ambulances, but he was stopped by the Colonel, who told him to attend to the fighting instead of the wounded.

I have no doubt but that much of the disorder into which our regiment was thrown was owing to the fact that those who were unhurt, instead of pressing on to the fight, would stop and carry their wounded friends out of the way. Thrown into all manner of danger as our firemen are, they soon learn to stand by each other in trouble, and the stern necessities of a battlefield even could not break them of it.

To the right of where we had been fighting, a road ran up the hill in the direction of the Rebels. It being but a few hundred feet off, and the balls coming very thick around me where I lay, I thought I would drag myself to it. So I started again still carrying my gun. Pausing to rest, it suddenly occurred to me that I was extremely foolish to be dragging my gun with me when I was disabled from rising. It was loaded, and raising it, I managed to get it to my shoulder and discharge it in the direction of the enemy. Then I reached for a small stone which lay near me, broke the nipple off the gun, and laid it down.

During the time while I was slowly gaining the roadside, our men were still fighting, but from the large number straggling around, and the number of wounded which were being brought by me, I could see that we would soon be driven from the hill. Ricketts’ Battery had come up behind us and got into position, but the heavy volleys had swept off nearly every horse, and it was impossible to move the guns away. For nearly two hours the strife was over those guns. We had been driven away from them, and they were in possession of the enemy when Captain Ricketts rode up to a large body of our regiment and exclaimed, “For God’s sake, boys, save my battery.”

Captain Ricketts had always been a favorite with our men, and enough of them rallied, and under the lead of their sergeants, charged on the Rebels and drove them back to the woods again. But we were too small in numbers to hold it. The brave artillery captain was badly wounded, and his battery, after being taken and retaken several times, was finally lost.

I at length reached the side of the road but found I was no better off. I lay there for a long time looking around till our own men had vanished from my sight. And then for the first time I saw our concealed foe. A company of them came slowly from the woods loading and firing with great rapidity. Their gray coats and slouch hats, seen under such circumstances, filled me with disgust which I have not yet overcome. The bullets rained all around me, striking near me in the ground and throwing the dirt over my clothes. They came so thick and struck so near me that, for a time, I thought they were firing at me. But only one ball struck that passed through my right leg.

Once again I saw a portion of our army. I was engaged in watching the motions of the Graycoats on the top of the hill when suddenly they disappeared toward the woods. Soon after there came by where I lay a party of three or four hundred of our army composed of all the regiments I had seen and of those I had not. They were not marching in regular order at all, each man alone loading and firing and pressing forward in the direction of where I was first shot. “We’re driving them! Come on, boys!” was their cry.

I hoped we were driving them, but I feared not, and my fears were too true. The soldiers pressed on, worked well up onto the field near the woods, when crack came another of those fierce volleys, and our soldiers returned down the hill, their numbers greatly reduced, and the ground around strewed still thicker with dead and wounded. The fight had been going on all this time in other parts of the field. Now for a time it ceased entirely around me, and everything was quiet.

I imagined the Rebels were changing their position, and it turned out so. They moved further to our right, and some pieces of artillery were brought and placed in position on the road near which I lay about two hundred feet above me. Just across the road from where I was, stood a large tree around the trunk of which several wounded men were lying. One man, a soldier of the 14th New York who was wounded, was standing by the tree. I had lain my head down on my arms and was resting quietly when I was startled by a fierce volley coming down the road, striking the tree and whistling through the branches. Next I heard a rush down the road and shouts of “Kill him, he’s a Fire Zouave, kill him!”

I lay perfectly still expecting every moment to be set upon by the Rebels when a voice as from one in authority spoke up, “Shame on you, men, would you hurt a wounded man?” Instantly the excitement ceased, and raising my head, I glanced across the road. Surrounding the wounded at the foot of the tree were quite a number of Rebel soldiers busily engaged in asking questions of the wounded. Among them was a gray-haired man who appeared to be their captain and whose voice at once denoted him to be the one who interfered on behalf of our soldiers.

Some of the Rebels were giving water to the wounded, and one young man among them, looking over toward me, caught sight of me and came to my side asking numerous questions as to where I was wounded, etc. I asked him for water, but he had none. Leaving me, he went to the captain and told him there were several wounded men lying there, some of whom wanted water. A canteen was found among them which was not empty, and it was brought to me and I drank. There was a large bush within a few feet of me, and some of them asked me if I did not wish to be moved out of the sun. I acquiesced in their proposal, and two or three of them lifted me very carefully from the ground and carried and laid me down in the shade of the bush.

Here, to my great surprise, were three of my own regiment, and two of them belonged to my company. One was slightly wounded, and had been surrounded by the enemy while taking care of the other, a member of 28 Engine who was mortally wounded. Poor fellow, he lay on the ground writhing in agony, now begging for water, now talking in broken sentences of companions who were far away.

Our captors had left us suddenly, and soon we heard them forming in the woods across the road, their right being supported by the artillery which was in the road above us. Their regiment extended away to the left through the woods and, at the edge near us, we could see the soldiers loading their pieces and preparing to meet the charge of our own men. I could not see our army, but the exclamations of the enemy told us a little of their movements. “There they come,” “What a splendid front!” “They look good” were some of the remarks made. One, apparently a boy, spoke: “I say, Captain, just give me twenty men, and I’ll go around here and scatter the hull on ’em.” The laugh with which his proposition was received showed it didn’t meet with much favor. I heard the Captain ask if their guns were all loaded, and then the order was given for them to lay down close.

All was still. One of my comrades muttered, “I wonder if our folks know where these fellows are hid?” Oh, what a moment of suspense! I could picture in my mind our brave fellows advancing steadily uphill toward the woods not knowing where they were to be met, but pressing steadily on in line of battle. I could imagine them drawing nearer and nearer the foe when from the center of the woods came a low sound which was caught up at each company and repeated again – “Fire!” And with a roar that shook the earth, the artillery above us and the infantry in the wood opened upon our advancing columns.

Scarcely had the Rebel volley died away when we heard a heavy volley from our side. Again was it returned from the foe, and the artillery kept sending their deadly messengers down the road. Cheer after cheer came from our soldiers as they poured their volleys into the trees. But it did not last long. After a short time, amid the noise of the cannon and musketry, one could hear the Rebels shout: “There they go, they’re breaking.” Several, with great enthusiasm, leaped from the ground and cheered for Jeff Davis, and the whole of them were filling the air with yells and hurrahs.

But the group near the bush were filled with different feelings. We looked at each other in sorrow. All our hearts seemed to tell us the day was lost.

The artillery had ceased firing. The soldiers had advanced from the woods, and everything was quiet again. I looked toward the poor fellow who was so badly wounded. He lay perfectly still. His head lay on the ground, and his face was covered with his right arm. I said to my friend, “Look at Tommy—he lies so still, he must be dead.” He walked up, raised the arm, and turned the body so as to get a view of the face. My thoughts were too true. Amid that crash of shot and shell, through the sulphurous smoke which filled the air around us his soul had answered to God.

The tide of battle had passed away from us entirely. Our army were slowly retreating, but the sound of cannon and small arms showed that the ground was still contested in the neighborhood of where we first entered the field. From where we lay we could see the open fields through which the last charge had been made, and saw several Southern regiments winding slowly out of the woods with their banners hanging lazily in their midst as they moved still more lazily in the direction of our army.

We were soon surrounded by numbers of Rebels all eager to ask questions, and also desirous of obtaining a Minie musket or rifle. One asked me for mine. I told him I had dropped it, and I watched him searching for it, and saw him pick it up. He went off with it, but I imagine he didn’t harm anyone with it that day. Our visitors were mostly of the [?] South Carolina and 4th Georgia regiments, although a great many other regiments were represented all of whom were desirous to see the Fire Zouaves.

From the remarks of those who came to see us, we knew that our army had been driven panic-stricken toward Washington, and as night drew near we all became anxious to know how we were to be cared for. Several Rebel officers had been around cheering us up, telling us they would take care of us as soon as ambulances could be obtained to take us off.

About half an hour after dark, someone about fifty feet down the road inquired if there were any Fire Zouaves in hearing. We answered, and soon our names were given to each other. There were two of our regiment badly wounded, lying together, and the inquiry came from them.

During the whole day I had suffered scarcely any from pain. The force of the ball which had broken my leg had so benumbed it that when I lay still I felt no inconvenience. I lay patiently waiting for some wagon to come along, but as one after another came near and then departed filled with wounded, I gave up all hope of being carried off that night, and lay down to sleep. There was an old overcoat beside me which I drew around me to keep the chill night air off. Amid the noise of the wagons, the shouts of the Negro drivers, the sighs and moans of the wounded and dying around me, I closed my eyes on this eventful Sabbath. The toil and excitement of the day at last asserted their power, and I fell into a sound sweet slumber. Sunday, the twenty-first of July, 1861, was left among the annals of the past.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe at Ancestry.com.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe bio sketch

Transcribed by reader David Ulf.

Also appeared in print in American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 16, Issue 4, 1965