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

7 10 2017

In the preceding chapter I described my night ride from Washington to the camp of McDowell’s army at and about Centreville. After delivering my dispatches and concluding my business at headquarters, I remounted my horse, and having been directed in the darkness the way to the ground occupied by Palmer’s seven companies of cavalry, I set out to find my company for the first time, and report to the commanding officer for duty before the column should begin the march to the battleground.

As previously informed by a staff officer at headquarters, I found it necessary only to ride a few hundred yards, when suddenly I came upon a column of cavalry already mounted and in readiness to move. It was still so dark that I could see but a few lengths of my horse in any direction. I accosted one of the troopers nearest me., and inquired, “What cavalry is this?” “Major Palmer’s,” was the brief reply. I followed up my interrogations by asking, “Can you tell me where Company G, Second Cavalry, is?” the company to which I had been assigned, but as yet had not seen. “At the head of the column,” came in response.

Making my way along the column in the darkness, I soon reached the head, where I found several horsemen seated upon their horses, but not formed regularly in column. There was not sufficient light to distinguish emblems of rank, or to recognize the officer from the private soldier. With some hesitation I addressed the group, numbering perhaps a half dozen or so individuals, and asked if the commanding officer of my company, giving the designation by letter and regiment, was present. “Here his is,” promptly answered a voice, as one of the mounted figures rode toward me, expecting no doubt I was a staff officer bearing orders requiring his attention.

I introduced myself by saying, “I am Lieutenant Custer, and in accordance with orders from the War Department, I report for duty with my company, sir.” “Ah, glad to meet you Mr. Custer. We have been expecting you, as we saw in the list of assignments of the graduating class from West Point, that you had been marked down to us. I am Lieutenant Drummond. Allow me to introduce you to some of your brother officers.” Then, turning his horse toward the group of officers, he added, “Gentlemen, permit me to introduce you to Lieutenant Custer, who has just reported for duty with his company.” We bowed to each other, although we could see but little more than the dim outlines of horses and riders as we chatted and awaited the order to move “forward.” This was my introduction to service, and my first greeting from officers and comrades with whom the future fortunes of war was to cast me. Lieutenant Drummond, afterward captain, to whom I had just made myself known, fell mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks, nearly four years afterward.

While it is not proposed to discuss in detail the movements of troops during the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas, a general reference to the positions held by each of the contending armies the night preceding combat may be of material aid to the reader. Beauregard’s headquarters were at or near Manassas, distant from Centreville, where General McDowell was located in the midst of his army, about seven miles. The stream which gave its name to the battle runs in a southwest direction between Centreville and Manassas, somewhat nearer to the former place than to the latter.

The Confederate army was posted in position along the right bank of Bull Run, their right resting near Union Mill, the point at which the Orange and Alexandria Railroad crosses the stream, their center at Blackburn’s Ford, while their left was opposite the Stone Bridge, or crossing of the Warrenton Pike, at the same time holding a small ford about one mile above the Stone Bridge. Beauregard’s entire force that day numbered a few hundred over 23,000 with 55 pieces of artillery, notwithstanding that the president of the Confederacy, who arrived on the battlefield just before the termination of the battle, telegraphed to Richmond, “Our force was 15,000.” Ewell commanded on the Confederate right; Longstreet in the center, at Blackburn’s Ford; and Evans the left, at and above the Stone Bridge.

The Federal forces were encamped mainly opposite the left center of their adversary’s line. The numbers of the two contending armies were very nearly equal, the advantage, if any, in this respect, resting with the Union troops; neither exceeded the force of the other beyond a few hundred. General McDowell crossed Bull Run, in making his attack on the enemy that day, with only 18,000 men and 22 guns. But to this number of men and guns must be added nearly an equal number left on the east side of Bull Run for the double purpose of constituting a reserve and occupying the enemy’s attention. All of these troops were more or less under fire during the progress of the battle. Thus it will be seen that the number of men was about equal in both armies, while the Confederates had six pieces of artillery in excess of the number employed by their adversaries.

Reconnaissances and a skirmish with the enemy on the 18th had satisfied General McDowell that an attack on the enemy’s center or left did not promise satisfactory results. He decided, therefore, to make a feigned attack on the enemy’s center at Blackburn’s Ford, and at the same time to cross Bull Run at a point above that held by the enemy, and double his adversaries left flank back upon the center and right, and at the same time endeavor to extend his own force beyond Bull Run sufficiently far to get possession of and destroy the Manassas Gap Railroad, thus severing communications between Beauregard’s army and its supports in the valley beyond.

McDowell’s forces, those engaged in the battle…divided into four divisions, commanded by Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, Connecticut volunteers; Colonels David Hunter, S. P, Heintzelman, and D. S. Miles. Tyler’s division was to occupy the attention of the enemy by threatening movements in front of the Stone Bridge, while the divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman were to move up Bull Run, keeping beyond the observation of the enemy, cross that stream, and turn the enemy’s left flank. Miles’s division was to constitute the reserve of the Federal army, and to occupy ground near Centreville. Richardson’s brigade of Tyler’s division was to act in concert with the latter, under Miles, and to threaten with artillery alone the enemy stationed at Blackburn’s Ford. Still another division, Runyon’s, formed a part of McDowell’s forces, but was not made available at the battle of the 21st, being occupied in guarding the communication of the army as far as Vienna, and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; the nearest regiment being seven miles in rear of Centreville. It will thus be seen that as McDowell only crossed 18.000 men over Bull Run to attack about 32,000 of the enemy, his reserve, not embracing Runyon’s division, was but little less in number than his attacking force.

One of the conditions under which General McDowell consented to the movement against the enemy at Manassas was that the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley, under Johnston, who were then being confronted, and supposed to be held in check by the Federal army, under Major General Patterson of the Pennsylvania volunteers, should not be permitted to unite with the forces of Beauregard.

This was expecting more than could be performed, unless Patterson had been ordered to attack simultaneously with the movement of McDowell. As it was, Beauregard no sooner learned of McDowell’s advance on the 17th of July than Johnston was ordered by the Confederate authorities at Richmond to form an immediate junction at Manassas with Beauregard. Other troops, under Holmes, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, amounting to about one brigade, were also ordered to join Beauregard.

The promised arrival of these heavy reinforcements induced Beauregard to depart from his resolution to act upon the defensive. He determined to attack General McDowell at Centreville as soon as he should be assured of the near arrival of Johnston’s and Holmes’s commands. His first plan was to have a portion of Johnston’s army march from the valley by way of Aldie, and attack McDowell in rear and upon his right flank, while his own army should make an attack directly in front. This plan was abandoned, and instead it was agreed between Beauregard and Johnston that the forces of both should be united west of Bull Run, and matched to the direct attack of the Federals.

In pursuance of this plan Johnston arrived at Manassas at noon on the 20th, the day preceding the battle, and being senior to Beauregard in rank, he nominally assumed command of both Confederate armies, but assented to Beauregard’s plans, and virtually conceded their execution to that general.

It is somewhat remarkable that the Federal and Confederate commanders had each determined to attack the other on the same day, the 21st. The Confederate general was induced to alter his plan, and act upon the defensive, but a few hours before his lines were assailed by McDowell; his decision in this matter being influenced by two circumstances. One was the detention of about 8,000 of Johnston’s men, whose presence had been relied upon; the other was the discovery several hours before daylight that the Federal army was itself advancing to the attack. Beauregard had ordered his forces under arms and was awaiting his adversary’s attack at half-past four o’clock the morning of the 21st.

Reasoning correctly that McDowell was not likely to attack his center at Blackburn’s Ford, not to operate heavily against his right near Union Mills, Beauregard no sooner discovered the movement of Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions, to pass above and around his left flank at Sudley Springs, than he began moving up his reserves and forming his left wing in readiness to receive the attacking division as soon as the latter should cross Bull Run.

Hunter and Heintzelman were forced to make a much longer detour, in order to make the designated crossings of Bull Run, than had been anticipated.

The first gun announcing the commencement of the battle was fired from Tyler’s division in front of the Stone Bridge. It was not until nearly 10:00 A. M. that the troops of Hunter’s division came in contact with the enemy near Sudley Springs.

Once over the stream, both Hunter and Heintzelman promptly engaged the enemy, and slowly forced his entire left wing back until the troops under Tyler were able to cross and participate in the battle. Beauregard, soon after satisfying himself of the real character and direction of his adversary’s movement, decided upon a counter-attack by throwing his right wing and center across Bull Run at Blackburn’s and Union Mills fords, and endeavoring to do with his enemy exactly what the latter was attempting with him – to turn his right flank. By this movement he hoped to place a large force in rear of Centreville and ensure McDowell’s defeat.

The orders for this movement, which were sent to Ewell on the right, miscarried, and too much time was lost before the mistake could be rectified. It was fortunate for the Confederates that this was the case, as had this turning movement been attempted, the troops sent to the Federal side of Bull Run to execute it would in all probability have been held in check by the heavy Federal reserves under Richardson and Miles, and would have been beyond recall when, later in the day, Beauregard, finding his left giving way in confusion before the successful advance of Hunter’s, Heintzelman’s, and Tyler’s divisions, rapidly moved every available man from his right to the support of his broken left. Had Beauregard attempted to turn the position at Centreville, McDowell would have achieved a complete victory over all the Confederate forces opposed to him on the Confederate side of Bull Run several hours before the arrival upon the battlefield of the Confederate troops from the valley whose coming at a critical time decided the battle in the Confederates’ favor.

With the exception of a little tardiness in execution, something to be expected perhaps in raw troops, the plan of battle marked out by General McDowell was carried out with remarkable precision up till about 3:30 P.M. The Confederate left wing had been gradually forced back from Bull Run until the Federals gained entire possession of the Warrenton Turnpike leading from the Stone Bridge. It is known now that Beauregard’s army had become broken and routed, and that both himself and General Johnston felt called upon to place themselves at the head of their defeated commands, including their last reserves, in their effort to restore confidence and order; General Johnston at one critical moment charged to the front with the colors of the Fourth Alabama. Had the fate of the battle been left to the decision of those who were present and fought up till half-past three in the afternoon, the Union troops would have been entitled to score a victory with scarcely a serious reverse. But at this critical moment, with their enemies in front giving way in disorder and flight, a new and to the Federals unexpected force appeared suddenly upon the scene. From a piece of timber directly in rear of McDowell’s right a column of several thousand fresh troops of the enemy burst almost upon the backs of the half-victorious Federals.

From Civil War Times Illustrated (submitted there by Peter Cozzens), The Half-Victorious Federals, Vol. XXXVII, No. 7, February 1999

Part 1
Part 3





Recap: Brandy Station Foundation

30 09 2017

On this past Sunday, Sept. 24, I delivered my Kilpatrick Family Ties program to the Brandy Station Foundation down in Culpeper, Virginia. This is a pretty long (4.5 hours) drive for me, so I turned it into a weekend trip and stayed in Warrenton. So let me recap my trip, with special emphasis on items of First Bull Run interest. Click on any image for a larger one.

I got into Warrenton around 6:00 PM, checked into my room, then headed to the historic district. I’ve never visited Warrenton before, so it was all new to me. First up was what is touted as the post-war home of Col. John Singleton Mosby though, based on length of residence, it may better be described as the post-war home of General Eppa Hunton, colonel of the 8th Virginia Infantry regiment at First Bull Run (read his battle memoir here, and his after action report here). Hunton made “Brentmoor” his home from 1877 to 1902, after purchasing it from Mosby.

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In the “law complex” section I found California, the pre-war home of William “Extra Billy” Smith, who commanded the 49th Virginia battalion at First Bull Run (memoir here, official report here). After the war, this building housed Mosby’s law office. Smith was a pre-war and wartime governor of Virginia.

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A few blocks away at 194 Culpeper St. is “Mecca,” a private residence built in 1859. It served as a Confederate hospital to the wounded of First Bull Run, and later as headquarters to Union generals McDowell, Sumner, and Russell.

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The Warrenton Cemetery is the resting place for many Confederate soldiers, most famously Mosby. Also there is William Henry Fitzhugh “Billy” Payne, with Warrenton’s Black Horse Troop at First Bull Run.

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Saturday was spent touring the battlefield of Brandy Station and sites associated with the Army of the Potomac’s 1863-1864 winter encampment with two experts on both, Clark “Bud” Hall and Craig Swain of To the Sound of the Guns. I admit to knowing very little about either of topic, but was given a good foundation for further exploration. I also learned that some red pickup trucks can go absolutely anywhere, and there is good beer around Culpeper.

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L to R – Me, Bud Hall, Craig Swain

Not a whole lot of First Bull Run stuff on the field, though. But the first thing I saw when I got to Fleetwood Hill was “Beauregard,” the home in which Roberdeau Wheat of the First Louisiana Special Battalion recovered from his Bull Run wounds, first thought to be mortal. The name of the house at the time was “Bellevue.” Wheat recommended the name change, in honor of his commanding general and in recognition of the similar translation of both names.

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View of “Beauregard” from Fleetwood Hill

Sunday found me back in Culpeper at the Brandy Station Foundation where, as I said, I presented Kilpatrick Family Ties to a modest audience. I made some late changes to the program on Saturday night, adding one pertinent site from Warrenton (the Warren Green Hotel where one of the characters in the presentation lived for a year) and “Rose Hill,” the home Kilpatrick made his HQ during the winter of 1863-1864. But I did run into a couple of Bull Run items. First, the monument to John Pelham that was previously located near Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River (it was in a really bad location) has been relocated to the Graffiti House, home of the Brandy Station Foundation. Pelham, if you recall, was in command of Alburtis’s Battery (Wise Artillery) at First Bull Run (personal correspondence here).

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As most of you know, the Graffiti House at Brandy Sation was occupied by both Confederate and Union soldiers during the war. Over its course, soldiers of all stripes inscribed on its walls with charcoal signatures, drawings, and sayings of an astounding quantity. These were both obscured and preserved by whitewash after the return of its exiled owners, and were rediscovered in 1993. The Brandy Station Foundation has lovingly restored and preserved much of the dwelling, and you should make the Graffiti House a bullet point on you bucket list.

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Graffiti House, Brandy Station (Culpeper), VA

I’ll end this post with a shot of the signature of a prominent First Bull Run participant on one of the second floor walls. Can you see it? Here is his official report.

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Signature of Joe Johnston’s First Bull Run cavalry chief

 





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 5

30 06 2017

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 5: Escaping the Deathtrap (In which we go back to the Valley. As I said before, I’m not of the school that the Valley is integral to the story of First Bull Run, but the author is, so let’s take a look.)

P. 116 – To bolster his argument that the retention of Harper’s Ferry was vital, Jefferson Davis argued that it’s loss would “interrupt our communication with Maryland, and injure our cause in that state.”

P. 121 – Early on, Col. Ambrose Burnside’s 1st Rhode Island Infantry was part of George Thomas’s brigade of Patterson’s command. This of course would change and Burnside and the 1st RI would have a prominent role at Bull Run.

P. 124 – After taking Harper’s Ferry in mid-June “without firing a shot,” Patterson determined that Johnston’s retreat was so rapid he could not overtake him before Winchester.

P. 124-125 – Part and parcel to the mixed signals Patterson was receiving from Winfield Scott all during his foray into the Valley, after taking Harper’s Ferry, seeing no need for Patterson to press Johnston, Scott ordered the U. S. Regulars and the 1st RI returned to Washington. This left Patterson “with an army composed almost entirely of three-months’ volunteers, half of whose service terms had already expired or were about to.” The author theorizes that part of Scott’s reasoning was “a belated realization that the present campaign would be won or lost in McDowell’s theater. Scott had finally come to see Patterson’s operations as supportive of McDowell’s.” Would he ever communicate this realization to Patterson?

P. 130 – On June 20, on Johnston’s ordered the not-as-yet “Stonewall” Jackson destroyed B&O train cars and tracks at Martinsburg, to deny the resources to the enemy. Johnston ordered this as he understood it in conformance with directives from Richmond. However, the reaction from those quarters was far from laudatory. Maryland politicians and citizens, and especially B&O shareholders, were livid. Johnston’s stock in the Confederacy was now losing value as well.

PP. 135-137 – Also on the 20th, Scott ordered Patterson to submit a plan for moving his army east to support Col. Charles P. Stone’s brigade’s move on Confederate outposts between Leesburg and Washington. Patterson submitted plans for just such a move, which he later argued would have changed events considerably in favor of the Union.But on the 25th, Scott changed his mind and told Patterson to stay at Harper’s Ferry. Scott continued to mix signals [IMO (in my opinion)] by cautioning Patterson to engage Johnston only “if you are in superior or equal force,” but that it “would not due to pursue them as far as Winchester.” In light of later events and Scott’s assertions to the contrary, the General-in-Chief’s directives to Patterson were as clear as mud [again, IMO].

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4





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 





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 





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 3

21 02 2017

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 2: The Fretful Virginian and the Hesitant Irishman

I see the actions in the Shenandoah Valley at this time as much less important to the story of First Bull Run than does pretty much everyone else, primarily because it figured so little in Federal planning, and even in the failure of that planning (more on that later, but I’ve written about it often). Needless to say, Mr. Longacre is not of the same opinion, and provides substantial coverage of that area of operations. I didn’t skip over this when reading the book, so I won’t skip over it here.

P. 45 – I was unaware that Joseph Johnston resigned from the army in 1837, to take a civilian position with the Topographical Bureau in Washington. This is similar to a tact taken by George Meade, who, like Johnston, was assigned to the artillery upon graduation from West Point and who, like Johnston, felt he was stagnating there, and who, like Johnston, moved to a civilian position in the Topographical Bureau, and who, like Johnston, used this as a backdoor later to return to the army in the more prestigious  Topographical Engineers. I did not know that about Johnston (Longacre does not make the Meade connection, which is neither here nor there).

P. 61 – On this page, Longacre becomes the first author other than Russel Beatie to emphasize, in foreshadow, the influence that the character of Fitz John Porter may have had on his superior officer in the Shenandoah Valley, Robert Patterson.

P. 62 – The plan of how to move recruits to secure Washington in May of 1861 was devised by Patterson.

Chapter 3: Awaiting the Invader

P. 71 – A nice description of the geography around Bull Run, noting the convergence of major roads at Centreville, the Centreville Ridge, the thin population and poor soil.

P. 73 – The author points out the significance of the railroad junction at Manassas to both armies, and discussed the concerns of Robert E. Lee, who as Virginia’s head military honcho played a major role in the development of defenses in the area.

Pp. 74-75 – A nice description of the less than attractive personality of Beauregard’s predecessor in command Milledge Luke Bonham. At the end of the campaign, every member of his staff transferred elsewhere.

P. 79 – The author points out several times the importance of interior lines in the planning and disposition of Confederate forces, in the thinking of folks like Lee and Beauregard.

P. 81 – The author notes that, while Beauregard’s failure to form any organization larger than a brigade was an “unwieldy decentralization of authority,” at the same time it kept “things simple and avoid[ed] extra levels of command. Then too, ‘Old Bory’ was not sufficiently acquainted with his subordinates to pronounce them deserving of leading more than a brigade.”

P. 89 – On much maligned Confederate Commissary General Lucious B. Northrup: “A dispassionate evaluation of the evidence, however, must conclude that while he made mistakes, they were mainly due to inexperience rather than obstinacy and that too many of the problems that beset him and, to a lesser degree, Lieutenant Colonel Myers – especially the slow and erratic shipment of rations and equipment by overburdened railroads – were beyond their ability to solve.”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Part 5

 





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 2

9 12 2016

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_I know, it’s been eight months since Part 1 of this series. Life goes on. To recap, here’s how this works: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Chapter 1: The Great Creole and the Obscure Ohioan

The biographical sketch of McDowell is pretty good here, more in-depth than you’ll find pretty much anywhere else. It touches on McDowell’s familial political connections, his broad education, experiences as a staff officer, alcohol abstention, and generally favorable impression upon military and political figures. This all contributes to making his ultimate appointment to command of an army more understandable and less serendipitous. I would have preferred a little more on McDowell’s actual rank (while a brevetted major, his actual rank prior to appointment as a full Brigadier General U. S. A. was as First Lieutenant) affected his relationship with other officers and his boss, Winfield Scott.

This chapter (p. 29) also gives the first glimpses into McDowell’s planning process, primarily with very preliminary plans he presented to his benefactor, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, in May, 1861. These plans far exceeded McDowell’s areas of influence, and I think should not be given too much weight in examining the plans he would later develop, under changed circumstances, for moving on Manassas. It seems to me some of the assumptions and conditions in these earlier, larger plans get conflated by analysts into McDowell’s later, more narrow plans.

The background provided on Beauregard in this chapter is pretty standard, with a little more discussion of his pre-war politics than one normally finds in general sketches. One surprise here is a description of Beauregard’s character (p. 22) provided by South Carolina Governor Pickens in a 7/7/1861 letter to fellow South Carolinian Milledge Luke Bonahm, whom Bory had succeeded in command of the Bull Run line. In that letter, which may have been written in part as salve for the wounded pride of the recipient, Beauregard is described  in terms usually applied to his comrade Joe Johnston (“His reputation is so high that he fears to risk it”).

Also in this chapter is a brief recap of General Scott’s “offering” of “command” of “the” Union army to Robert E. Lee which left me as dissatisfied as most accounts of the meeting.

Check back here often for the next installment. I’m going to make an effort to put up a couple chapters per month from here on out.

Part 1 

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5





Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, On the Battle (2)

26 11 2016

Letter from the 2d New Hampshire Regiment.

———-

Washington, D. C. July 25, 1861

Dear Brother: – I yesterday received a letter from you and sister and was very glad to hear from you. I am well, and have helped to fight one of the greatest battles ever fought in this country. I suppose that by this time you have the account of the fight and retreat of the army. We fought hard but in vain. What was the use of 25,000 or 30,000 men against 100,000? We had men enough, but they were not brought in to the field. At every point the enemy had masked batteries, and they would raise the stars and stripes or do anything to deceive out men, and that was one reason so many men were lost. But we did fight the best we could. They were commanded on the right by Johnston, on the left by Beauregard, and at noon Davis came and took command of the center.

I tell you Charley it was an awful day for all of us; men with all kinds of wounds begging for water and to be taken off, but we could do these poor fellows no good, for it was all a man could do to look out for himself. Men were mowed down like grain but we did the best we could as it was. I was under the fence after the regiment left me as you know I told you in Father’s letter, that I gave out and was where the balls came like hail-stones, and the regiment had gone ahead. I was almost asleep, for I was about dead when a cannon ball came and knocked a rail off the fence over my head and sent it across the road; I thought it time to get up; so I got up and went to find my gun; I could not see the regiment and started up the hill but gave out; I got into a wagon and went up the hill; then the retreat commenced. I got a drink of whiskey or I never could have got off the field; for it was men and horses, wagons and cannon rushing all ways, the dead and wounded at every step; It was as much as a man could do to carry his body over 40 miles with nothing to drink or eat; I could have taken a good horse but I thought the forces would not all retreat and the owner might be close by, so I kept on; but I called myself a fool afterwards for not getting a horse, for I never came so near dying as at that time. I had got but three miles, I could neither swallow nor spit; I drank water much blacker than your boots. We had to drink where all above and below were washing their wounds in it, and men going through mud, blood and all. It was good. Every mud hole we came to was at once in a centre of men dying of thirst. But I am alive and that is more than many a poor fellow can say; wounded men and those that gave out were left along the road and were probably killed or taken prisoners. But a man cannot tell much about anything, after a battle, for it is all a whirl, but it did not seem so in battle; I thought I could tell everything, but cannot; I was not scared, but never should have got home if it had not been that life depended on it. I was put among the missing but have returned safe.

J. S. S.*

Concord Independent Democrat, 8/8/1861

Clipping Image

*Likely Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E.

Biographical information provided by reader David Morin

Sweatt, Joseph S. Co. E; b. Boscawen; age 17; res. Boscawen (Fisherville, now Penacook); enl. Apr. 18, ’61, for 3 mos.; not must. in; paid by State; re-enl. May 21, ’61, for 3 yrs.; must. in June 3, ’61, as Corp.; disch. disab. Aug. 1, ’61, Washington, D. C.

Residence Boscawen NH; a 17-year-old Student. Enlisted on 5/21/1861 at Boscawen, NH as a Corporal. On 6/3/1861 he mustered into “E” Co. NH 2nd Infantry. He was discharged for disability on 8/1/1861 at Washington, D.C.

On 9/4/1862 he mustered into “G” Co. RI 7th Infantry. He died of disease on 3/6/1863 at Boscawen, N.H. (Enlisted at Woonsockett, R.I. Died of typhoid fever.) He was listed as:

Wounded 12/13/1862 Fredericksburg, VA

Hospitalized 12/15/1862 Windmill Point, VA

Promotions: 1st Sergt 9/4/1862 (As of Co. G 7th RI Infantry)

Other Information: born 10/28/1843 in Boscawen, NH

(Parents: Ira & Mary S. Sweatt)

Sources; used by Historical Data Systems, Inc.

JOSEPH S. SWEATT.

Sergeant Joseph Sawyer Sweatt, eldest son of Ira and Mary S. Sweatt, was born in the town of Boscawen, N. H., Oct. 28, 1843. He was fitted in the schools of that town and of Fisherville (now Pena cook) for the Tilton (N. H.) Seminary, which he left for the purpose of enlisting in the Second New Hampshire, a three months’ regiment. He was thus present at the First Bull Run. During the retreat he was one of the many who were lost from their regiment and was reported killed, but, at length, he found his way back to his command. Upon his muster out he immediately joined the Second New Hampshire (three years) Volunteers, but soon after was taken sick, discharged, and sent home.

A little later he went to “Woonsocket, R. I., where an uncle resided, the late Enoch Sweatt, railroad contractor, and was by him employed as an assistant civil engineer. When the call came for “three hundred thousand more,” he enlisted as an orderly sergeant in the Seventh Rhode Island. He was wounded at Fredericksburg Dec. 13, 1862, and was taken to Windmill Point Hospital, Md. There his father visited him, and, after fourteen days, was able to remove him to Washington. After a brief rest he took him home to New Hampshire, but he lived only ten days after his arrival. Yet he was very thankful to gaze once more upon familiar scenes, and to die among his friends. His final and fatal illness was typhoid fever, to which he succumbed March 6, 1863. Three older sisters survive.

Source: The Seventh Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Hopkins, William Palmer, 1845-; Peck, George Bacheler, 1843-1934, ed

A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. John F. “Fred” Gruber, Co. A, 7th Louisiana Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford and the Battle

2 11 2016

The Continental Guards at Bull Run and Stone Bridge.

———-

The town having waited with much impatience for news of Capt. George Clark and his gallant Continentals, it affords us much pleasure to lay before our readers the following letter, descriptive of what the Continentals saw and did during the ever memorable battles of the 18th and 21st of July. It was addressed to Mr. J. M. Laborde, and by that gentleman kindly placed at our disposal. The fact that the letter is from our old friend, Fred Gruber, will render it especially interesting:

Stone Bridge, Virginia, July 24, 1861

J. M. Laborde, Esq. – My Old Friend: Having by note to my wife apprised you that I am still in the land of the living, I avail myself of this first opportunity to give you a rough sketch of our doings since my last. The camp life at Camp Pickens, at the Junction, went on in the usual routine of business – drill, parade, etc., – until the 9th inst., when our company was ordered a few miles from camp, on picket duty, where we remained up to the 12th, on the morning of which day we were ordered back to camp, on order to join our regiment in the march of advance on the enemy.

While on picket duty the life was pleasant enough, with the exception of the fare, which was rather scant, consisting of salt pork and bread, and one young hog, which lost its way and strolled into our camp, where, owing to an unmistakeable Abolition proclivities, it met with an untimely death, greatly to the gusto of the boys. On the morning after our return to camp we struck the tents and marched to Camp Wigfall, about five miles distant, and there took up our abode for the time being. Reports constantly reaching us from Manassas Junction of the frequent arrivals of large bodies of troops, at once admonished us that our stay there would not be a long one, and our surmises proved correct, as on the evening of the 16th we struck tents again, leaving them and knapsacks behind, and provided with three days’ provisions in our haversacks, forty rounds of cartridges and guns, we quartered for that night on the ridge of one of those romantic mountains with which Virginia abounds. Here we met, for the first time, the Washington Artillery, or at least a good portion thereof. Of course the courtesies of war were exchanged, without, however, that usual New Orleans appendix, “Let us take a drink” as we had ‘nary drop.” After having, during a pleasant night, inhaled a sufficient supply of cool Virginia breeze and indulged in sweet dreams on rather hard ground, we broke camp in the early morn, and joined by a Virginia regiment and a battery of Washington Artillery, went over hill and dale, until about 12 o’clock, when we halted and took up, very mysteriously, our quarters under cover of a point of woods. At first, I thought strange of the movement; but in a very short time, with my usual quickness of perception, sharpened by a number of rifled cannon balls of the enemy flying right and left of us, I fully discovered the propriety of this order. Balls continued whistling, and at intervals musketry could be heard. Finally, when the report of arms indicated the progress of a general engagement, the word “march” was given and the brigade under Col. Early, of which the 7th regiment formed a prominent part, went in double quick time to the scene of action. On the way we were continually saluted by shells and balls of the enemy’s artillery, and it was a real miracle that some of us did not get killed; but God seemed then, as he has up to this time, to have held his protecting hand over us.

Arrived at a small river. Bull’s Run, the line of contention, the enemy occupied the top and slope of a hill on one side, while we were on a plain on the other side of the stream. One Virginia regiment, stationed there before us, had repelled the enemy already three times, and actually crossed the river and driven them to the top of the hills, when again they had to retreat and give way to numerical odds twenty to one. It was then our brigade arrived; and of such volleys of musketry, and the roaring of six pieces of the Washington Artillery, one who never was in battle cannot form an idea. The commanding voices of their officers, the shouts and hurrahs of the boys, the bursting of shells and howling of balls, formed a concert which was rather calculated to strengthen nerves, no matter how weak, or else kill instanter. For more than two hours this state of affairs lasted, when finally, the Artillery, after then enemy had been driven up the infantry, so effectively poured their shells and rifle balls into the ranks and batteries of the same, that the former must have suffered a terrible loss, and the latter were completely silenced. Our loss on that day was comparatively small – ten killed and about twenty-five wounded; among the latter Ernest [Siball?], of whose fate you, no doubt, know more than I do. The boys, though in their first battle, showed great spirit and spunk, and not one seemed to realize the constant danger impending. The officers were cool and collected and led their men to the front. I should not particularize, but I cannot refrain from mentioning particularly big Captain Wilson, (tobacco merchant on Gravier street) of the Virginia Blues. He, by our marching by the left flank, held the post of honor, and well did he fill it; no sooner in front of the ford, than he exclaimed, in his characteristic style, “Light on me, blue birds;” and so they did; they fought like good fellows, while their gallant Captain crossed swords with a Yankee Lieutenant, when one of the men expedited him to the other side of the Jordan. To make this rather hasty sketch complete, you must imagine Capt. Wilson, with nothing on but a dirty woolen shirt and a pair of blue pants and a slouch hat. Shortly after the firing had ceased, the dead on our side removed, and the wounded been properly cared for, I went in a squad of about twenty, in command of Lieut. Harper, across the stream to the slope of the hill. The sight here beggared description; so precipitate was their flight that they even did not take time to carry their dead off, and even left wounded behind; who, after suffering and groaning all night, were finally brought over and cared for by us; their dead on the side of the hill, where only musketry reached, to the number of more than twenty five, were buried by us, while the ground was literally covered with clothing, haversacks, equipments of all descriptions, and thousands of other things. Over 160 stands of the most improved fire-arms fell into our hands, together with more than that number of soldier’s caps.

In searching over the effects thus suddenly acquired, we found that the main force of this army seemed to have been letter writers, specimens of which fell into our hands, testifying strongly that imagination, no matter how vivid, at a Southern standard, could compare with the poetical flight of these consummate liars. Envelopes with colored engravings of the most disgusting and fanatical character, and franked by some Abolition member of Congress, were to be found in every pocket, while the general outfit of all seemed to be more appropriate to a barbecue of three days duration, or a regular week of camp meeting, than for war purposes.

Our Colonel, Harry Hays, is a trump; so is Lieut Col. DeChoiseul; and young Major Penn has a veteran’s head on young shoulders; he is the coolest man I ever saw, while the Adjutant, Merriam, is good naturedly smiling, whether in battle or in jovial conversation. Their behavior throughout was such as only to increase the confidence of their men in their favor.

I cannot close this brief sketch of this skirmish without alluding to the trojan services rendered by the Washington Artillery. They are au fait in their business. Prisoners since captured acknowledge that they estimated the number of pieces engaged at eighteen, while only six were there, and sometimes only four in play. But it is useless to dwell now upon the precursory marks of that gallant band of New Orleans soldiery, as they have already won laurels since that occurrence, which eclipse any previous one of their or any other corps of a like number.

It was on that evening that poor Maylan, of No. 18, was out on picket guard, when a wrong alarm was given, and on the quick return of the picket the poor fellow was shot through the heart while crossing the stream. He was a good fellow, and was well liked by his fellow soldiers. During the same night we commenced throwing up entrenchments along the stream for nearly a half mile, in order to protect us against the attacks of the enemy, in case they should feel disposed to renew the play, but they did not. Over five hundred men slept on their arms, if sleeping it can be called, anxiously waiting, [?] nothing occurred except one or two false alarms. On the following morning work again commenced, until we were completely protected against the fire of the infantry of the enemy, some companies working as late as [?] o’clock. During the following night, two companies, who had been stationed at a ford about a mile further down the stream, were surprised by the enemy; they, however, returned the fire very promptly and with such telling effect, that everything was quiet on the following day. Feeling now rather secure and having recovered most of our blankets, canteens and other equipments, which we had thrown away in our quick march, we expected a few days rest and ease, but such was not our luck. ON the following morning we received orders to march and make room for another Virginia and one South Carolina regiment. In less than half an hour the whole brigade was under way, and we were moving in the direction of Camp Wigfall, when about half way the order was countermanded and we camped that day and the following, until 7 o’clock on the morning of the 21st, (Sunday,) at the very place the courier overtook us. From here we returned to where we had started from, only by a different road; arrived there, we were soon honored by shot and shell from the enemy, but did not return, as we had no artillery. About 9 o’clock that morning a regiment of Virginians, together with the Continentals and Baton Rouge Fencibles, crossed the stream to storm the battery if it should become too annoying to us, it having already then killed four and wounded several of our men. At that time, in fact from early daybreak, we heard cannonading at some distance, and well aware that a general engagement must necessarily soon take place, we came to the conclusion that the crisis had at length arrived. At about 1 1/2 o’clock we were ordered to recross the river, and the whole brigade took up march in the direction of the firing, namely, the great battle of Stone Bridge. The distance is about twelve miles, and was made principally running, over fields, through woods, not one hundred yards even soil. You may well imagine how we felt at mid-day, the thermometer ranging about 85 [degrees]. Of course we threw off knapsacks, provisions, blankets and everything calculated to lighten us, but, nevertheless, a good many lagged behind and some others actually gave out; as for myself, I never experienced such fatigue and heat in all my various exploits. But what was that in comparison to what was to come? Closer and closer sounded the artillery and vollies of the infantry. Miles distant from the battlefield, dead and wounded lay strewn about on both sides of the road, while not a step we could go without meeting some one returning from the battle wounded or assisting the wounded, or one whose appearance already indicated that the battlefield of this world was closed for him forever; but not one passed who was able to speak, who did not hail us with some words of encouragement – such as, hurry up, boys; you are just in time; or, we have got them, boys – hurrah! and at them; while some, actually despairing, encouraged and begged us to be quick, as their regiments had suffered terribly; and if no reinforcements had come soon, the battle would have been lost. Both appeals, though contradictory, had the desired effect – the last eminences were gained, and there lay before our view two armies in deadly combat, deciding whether a nation of freemen shall be free or be subjugated to the rule of their would-be oppressors; every prominent point occupied by batteries pouring forth their deadly missiles, while brigade after brigade marched to and fro to protect them and gain for themselves more advantageous positions. A more appropriate place, so far as name is concerned, could not have been selected than Stone bridge, as had the enemy been successful, the North would indeed have had a stone bridge to cross over to the very streams of Southern heart’s blood. But, to the battle. Before sunrise, the special battalion if Major Wheat, composed of the Tigers, Capt. Alex White, the Walker Guards, Capt. Harris, the Old Dominion Guards, Capt. O. P. Walker, the Delta Rangers, Capt. Gardner, and Catahoula Guerillas, Capt. Buhoup, numbering together about 460, rank and file, commenced paying their respects to the advanced guard of the enemy. In this they were assisted by companies of South Carolina Regiments; but, owing to the rapidity of the advance in overwhelming numbers, it became necessary to retreat and resort to all stratagems known to warfare to escape the deadly Minie balls of the enemy. It was when emerging from the woods on our side of the road, to await the arrival of the enemy, that the South Carolinians mistook this battalion for the enemy, and fired into them; and the fire was returned before the unfortunate mistake was discovered; but this accident, as it were, cemented both only closer together for the balance of the day; wherever the fight was the hottest, the gallant Wheat, with his battalion, was foremost, assisted and seconded by the captains and officers of the companies, who are too well known by all of you, to need any praise at my hands for personal courage and bravery. It was very near the close of the battle when Maj. Wheat was wounded. His command having suffered severely, he rallied once more all remnants and scattered factions, and brought them again before the enemy only to dare them once more to come on, and their refusal to charge, to fall mortally wounded.

The command of the battalion, which was on that day reduced from 460 to 260, fell on Capt. Harris – a soldier and gentleman well known to all of you – who, during the battle, had his horse shot from under him, and had, in fact, several narrow escapes from death. And, while on escapes, allow me to relate to you the escape of Henry S. Carey of New Orleans. He got shot in the leg, and being left by his company, very quietly laid down and awaited coming events. He did not wait long; for one of those chivalrous Yankee brigades soon retreated in the direction where he was lying, when a straggling lieutenant discovered him some distance off, ran to him and said, “Aw, we have got you, [?]” “Yes.” said Carey, “you have, and I hope you will treat me like we treat you.” With that the Yankee ran his sword through Carey’s thigh, having, of course, missed his aim, (the heart) when Carey very quietly drew his revolver and blowed off the whole back part of the head of this Northern ruffian. Such is their bravery.

In the fore part of the battle, and while the enemy had the regulars of the United States Army to push forward, the battle was very well contested; and, with numerical strength over us, well-drilled and battle-tried soldiers in front, and more artillery than we hat, they no doubt thought to have quite an easy thing of it, and on several occasions actually did have the advantage. But they lacked one thing – the spirit and spunk which animated every one on our side. Whenever a charge was made, our boys would make the welkin ring with their shouts and hurrahs – so much so, that in the latter portion of the battle, we had only to hallo and run towards them, when they would leave in a hurry without even firing a shot.

The Northern army was commanded by Gen. McDowell, with Gen. Scott at Centreville as the “power behind the throne,” etc., etc.; while Gens. Beauregard, Evans, Johnston and Jefferson Davis, Esq., managed the youngsters of the Young Republic. You cannot imagine that I could give you a full detail of all the movements of the different wings of the army; and I therefore confine myself to such abstracts as may be interesting. Of all the different portions of the Northern army, the New York Zouaves suffered most. They are completely burst up. What are not killed, are wounded or taken prisoners. I actually don’t think that, out of 1100, 200 left the field with sound hides. They fought well, and were the especial favorites of the South Carolinians, Tigers, and particularly of the Washington Artillery. The prisoners and wounded say that they never expected to meet an army here, but merely a concourse of people in open rebellion – something like a Centre street riot in New York. The episode of the battle, however, was the critical moment, when, in order to save the day, it became necessary to storm a battery at all hazards. This duty, dangerous and important, was entrusted to a Virginia regiment, assisted by another, of what State I do not recollect. Their charge was terrible, but of no avail. Again they charged, with the same result. Reinforced, they fought their way, inch by inch, to the top of the hill, and the battery was captured, not, however, before 700 noble lives on our side had been sacrificed. This gave the battle a decided inclination to our side, but notwithstanding this, regiments after brigades and reserves of infantry kept pouring in, and the plan was at once changed.

While their infantry in overwhelming numbers were to keep our infantry harmless, their artillery, which had taken prominent positions, were to operate against our strongholds; but they had, no doubt, forgotten that there was also Washington Artillery in the field at Stone Bridge. Through the thickest of a perfect shower of minie’ rifle balls, they moved their batteries to the point selected by Gen. Beauregard himself, and his horse just then having been shot from under him, he very quietly helped himself to the horse of one of the artillery band left them with the bare admonition, “don’t waste your powder, boys, but take good aim;” and they did take good aim. In less than a half hour, that battery, as well as the surrounding infantry, were rather quiet, while cannons, ammunition wagons, horses, drivers and soldiers were all piled up in one heap. All hope was now gone; the whole reserve of the infantry was now called into action, the enemy not having one cannon left. It was then that our brigade made its appearance on one hill, the Rockville Artillery and a squadron of cavalry on the next. We led off with a charge, supported by the artillery, and if mortal eye ever beheld a sunning set of cowards, it was the thousands then making their way through the fields, over fences, etc., etc., in the direction of Rhode Island and intermediate landings. Escaped from reach of infantry, these brave ones were once more rallied by their commander to resist the cavalry, which they feared would attack them in their flight. Two solid squares were formed on a hill on the very end of the woods, and no sooner formed than they were scattered to the winds by the shells of rifle balls of the artillery. This was too much; to stop the Mississippi would be an easy job to the one of attempting to stop the flying infantry of Abe and Scott. Pursuit was almost useless, as no one could catch them; but General Johnston met them a short distance on their way, giving them his farewell compliment by taking fifty wagons of all sorts of camp equipage and the remainder of their cannon, horses attached, together with a good supply of ammunition, and last, but not least, the private equipage of Gen. McDowell, unfortunately, however, without the General. The number of killed is very large on both sides; ours not less than 1500, while the enemy’s cannot be under 2500. All houses in the neighborhood are converted into hospitals, while even a church serves for the present the same purpose; and it is in it where over 400 Zouaves are now under the treatment and kind care of the rebels, as they call us. The prisoners thus far taken amount to over 1500, and every day some fellows turn up, wither from their own will or caught by our soldiers. The total killed, wounded and taken prisoners of the enemy cannot fall short of nine thousand, while we have about twenty-five hundred all told. What made our loss so great was, first, the great superiority of their fire-arms in the hands of regular troops; and secondly, the storming of that battery. While it is horrible to think of such loss of human life, it is also gratifying to know that a decisive blow has been struck, the enemy routed, driven back, and completely disorganized, and their fondest hopes of subjugating the South are blasted for the present, at least. How sure they were of gaining this battle, I can prove to you by letters found in their pockets to their relatives, where they tell them to direct their letters to Manassas Junction; and from the fact that two trains of ladies and gentlemen accompanied Gen. Scott to Centreville, in order to assist the old chieftain in his triumphant march to Manassas, the key of the valley of Virginia, and thence return by railroad to Washington. Another corroborating fact is stated by the prisoners, who say that their term of three months was out some days ago, but they were not allowed to leave until after this battle, when they were to have been paid off in Manassas, and sent to Washington by railroad: but alas! “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip.” It is almost a pity that a man like Gen. Scott, enshrined in life-long glory, should, at the very brink of the grave, follow the promptings of vindictiveness, and avarice, and destroy, with one blow, all affection, love and admiration a grateful country had for him; but “such is life,” as Bill Adams says.

In this battle, the Continentals suffered more than any other company in the regiment, and for a very plain reason: we were the first to come down the hill, after the Mississippi regiment had been flanked; close to the woods in the hollow we were halted; while the Virginia regiment , in our rear, was flanked close to the woods on the right. These having been scarcely posted, Col Early commanding, gave order to form in line of battle – not in the hollow – but half way up the hill, in full view of the enemy on the ridge of the other, who used the opportunity to shoot down five of our men in less time than you could count twenty, and in other companies in proportion. The first man shot in our company was Henry Clay. The ball struck him in the neck, severed the jugular vein, and went out on the other side, killing him instantly. He had scarcely reached the ground, before two others fell – Sergt. Clohey shot through the leg, and Flynn badly wounded in the groin. While they were being picked up, a ball struck a canteen of one, went through it, and took the rear file, Kelly, through the hand. During this short time the cry was, “Let us charge,” but Colonel Early said, very coolly, that it was all a mistake, that they on the hill were our friends, etc.; until, when the whole regiment became so clamorous for a charge, that Col. Hays said: “Boys, do you want to charge?” All hands hallooed “Yes,” and charge it was, our gallant officer in front, closely followed by the boys, just in time to see the running Yankees knocked by our artillery over fences, roads, and everything which was not much higher than a one story house. So much for Col. Early.

I would be recreant to all truth and justice were I not here to mention, with all the praise this feeble pen is able to bestow, the coolness and promptness of our captain and lieutenants. McFarland you know too well to need encomiums from me; but, as regards Davis, he has surely more than gratified the most sanguine expectations of his warmest friends; he is a brick, and no mistake.

And now, let me close this rather lengthy and dull epistle, badly written, and scraped together on three different kinds of paper, with a Yankee cartridge box as a desk; read it to some of the Continentals if you deem it of sufficient interest, and allow me to subscribe myself with my best wishes for you and your family’s prosperity and welfare.

Your obedient servant,

JOHN F. GRUBER, Corporal*

In justice to myself I must inform you that I have been promoted to that important post. Give my respects to Jim McGawly, Blessy, Slemmer, Capt. Hodgkins, Th. Murray, and all the boys, and tell them for particulars I must refer them to a verbal report.

J. F. G.

New Orleans Daily Crescent, 8/5/1861

Clipping image

*While Gruber signed this letter as a corporal, records indicate he mustered in and out of the 7th LA as a private.

John F. Gruber at Fold3

Contributed by John J. Hennessy





Soldier Images – USA

16 10 2016

1st Sgt. John Henry Austin, Co. G, 16th New York Infantry

Pvt. (Joseph or Lewis) Barnes, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

4th Sgt. Andrew Christie Bayne, Co. G, 16th New York Infantry

2nd Sgt. Edwin O. Betts, Co. G, 16th New York Infantry

2nd Lt. George Armstrong Custer, Co. G, 2nd U. S. Cavalry

Pvt. Jonathan Davidson, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Corp. David Douglass, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Lt. James P. Drouillard, Aide to Major George Sykes, U. S. Regulars

Corp. Samuel J. English, Co. D, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Lt. Col. Francis S. Fiske, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Pvt. William Frazier, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. Charles Godfrey, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Capt. Simon G. Griffin, Co. B, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Lt. Samuel M. Harmon, Co. I, 27th New York Infanty

Pvt. Charles Henry Howard, 3rd Maine Infantry, Howard’s Brigade Staff

Surgeon George H. Hubbard, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Pvt. Benjamin Hughes, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Corp. Theodore Jenks, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. Robert Johnstone, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Sgt. George Kidder, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. John Manning, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Col. Gilman Marston, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Surgeon John McGregor, 3rd Connecticut Infantry

Pvt. James Newell, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. John Newell, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. Samuel Newman, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. Francis Osgood, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

3rd Sgt. Luther Lee Partridge, Co. G, 16th New York Infantry

Lt. Joab N. Patterson, Co. H, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Corp. William Pettinger, Co. G, 2nd Ohio Infantry

Pvt. Thomas Potter, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Sgt. Hugh R. Richardson, Co. G, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Pvt. Robert Robertson, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Corp. Francis Ronien, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. Smith Salisbury, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Corp. Benjamin F. Smart, Co. D, 2nd Maine Infantry

Pvt. Albert L. Smith, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Capt. Thomas P. Snow, Co. F, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Maj. Josiah Stevens, Jr., 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Cpl. Joseph S. Sweatt, Co. E, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Pvt. Peter Taylor, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Capt. Ephraim Weston, Co. G, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry

Corp. George Wood, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

Pvt. William Worger, Co. F., 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

2nd Lt. Harrison D. F. Young, Co. F, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry