Benjamin Brown French, On the Campaign and Aftermath

13 03 2013

Friday, July 19. … The Federal army, more than 50,000 strong, is pushing on as fast as possible toward Manassas Junction where it is expected that the Traitor rebels will make a stand. Thus far they have run on the approach of the Federal troops. This day must, I think tell the story of a decisive battle, or an ignominious rout of the rebels. The Federal troops either reached Manassas last night, or must this morning…

… I went to the Navy Department on business for a friend, but did not succeed in seeing the Secretary. Hon. Truman Smith was with me. We waited two or three hours, but the place was besieged by Members of Congress, who have the preference in seeing the Secretaries….

Friday, July 20. Soon after eating breakfast yesterday I walked to the War Department – found it would not be possible to see the Secretary – heard all sorts of rumors about battles, etc., but could not ascertain the truth of any of them. One was that Gen. Tyler’s brigade had marched up to a masked battery at Bull Run, and that 500 were killed and an immense number wounded! which all turned out to be gammon. I staid about the War Department perhaps an hour, saw President Lincoln pass through the lower passage, which was crowded with people. He was dressed in a common linen coat, had on a straw hat, & pushed along through the crowd without looking to the right or left, and no one seemed to know who he was. He entered the East door, passed entirely through & out the West door, & across the street to Gen. Scott’s quarters. I was somewhat amused to see with what earnestness he pushed his way along & to observe his exceedingly ordinary appearance….

Sunday, July 21. … At 3 Misses Emeline Barrett & Lizzie Barrett came with their heads full of exciting news of the battle now in progress at Bull Run. Emeline, whose nephew is with the Mass. 5th Regt. as a spectator, was very much troubled. She came with tears in her eyes. I told her not to believe anything she heard until it was officially confirmed. We soothed her as well as we could, & she left at 1/4 before 4 in much better spirits than she came….

Monday, July 22. I am sick in body & mind. The battle yesterday was disastrous to our troops. Forty-thousand men in the open field undertook to fight 70 thousand well entrenched, and of course were whipped. At 12 o’clock, midnight, Col. John S. Keyes, who had been at Bull Run, came to my door, called up his mother, & said “Mother pack your trunk and be ready to leave in the 1/4 past 4 o’clock train.” I asked why such haste? He said, holding up both hands, We are whipped all to pieces.” He then went on to describe the battle and the retreat, & said when he left the whole army was in full flight. Mary Ellen was down at my brother’s & I went immediately after her. She came up & aided Mrs. Keyes to pack, got her some breakfast, etc., and at 1/4 past 4 accompanied her to the depot, & she, with Doct. Bartlett, Miss Emeline, Mrs. Jo. Keyes, & Lizzie Bartlett, went….

At 1/2 past 8 I walked down in the City and soon found, to my sorrow, that our “grand army” had made a grand run, and has been terribly cut up. As I passed along the North side of the Avenue I saw a baggage wagon marked “2d Reg. N.H.V.” which stopped opposite the door of a house on the other side. I walked across, & behold Surgeon Hubbard of Manchester was the driver and he had inside Col. Gilman Marston, badly wounded, with a bullet through his shoulder. So great a crowd collected at once around the wagon that I could see nothing, so I walked on, and on my return called at the house and was told Col. M. seemed inclined to sleep, & it was thought best not to disturb him as there was no hemorrhage, so the wound had not been examined & no one could tell how bad it was. I then came to the Capitol. Soldiers were straggling into the city in all sorts of shapes. Some without guns – some with two. Some barefooted, some bareheaded, & all with a doleful story of defeat.

Ambulances & wagons also came. At the Capito everybody’s face was gloomy. A gentleman sat in one of the member’s seats in the Hall, who was present from the firing of the first gun at 10 A.M. till 1/2 past 9 P.M. and seemed to have had all his wits about him. He gave a very full description of the fight & the retreat. On being asked if the retreat was in good order, he said, it was in the worst order that could be imagined, that it was actually led by the officers. That he saw two officers throw away their swords, cut a horse loose from a wagon & both get on and ride away. He said the ground was strewed with all sorts of provisions from Bull Run to Centreville, where a rally was made the troops again formed.

It was now 3 o’clock P.M. and all sorts of rumors came along. Col. Keyes was here about the time I commenced writing, on his way along to Alexandria to look after his brother-in-law, Capt. George Prescott, of the Mass. 5th. He said the report was that the U.S. troops were retreating in good order, with some 3,000 cavalry in pursuit, and that they intended to make a stand somewhere, perhaps at Fairfax, & give battle again.

As for me, I am almost too sick to be up, but, eager as I am for news, I cannot go to bed….

Tuesday, July 23. Another day has passed and Washington is fast settling down into its usual calm. The rain fell steadily all of yesterday – the city was filled with excitement & demoralized soldiers most of whom, I suspect, ingloriously fled on Sunday. This morning opened bright and beautiful. I had occasion to ride down in the City immediately after breakfast, and found that the Companies were resuming their old quarters, & reorganizing fast. The soldiers seemed to be individually engaged in drying their wet clothing, cleaning their guns, cooking, etc. The smoke and dust of battle having cleared away, we all begin to see the field as it was actually left, and the loss on our side, currently reported yesterday as 5 or 6,000, has dwindled down to 5 or 600! It is believed that the rebel loss far exceeded ours, but nothing certain is known. They did not follow our retreating army – so much is certain – & no reason is given but that they were too much cut up to do so.

I met Gen. Wilson – Senator – this morning, and speaking about the battle, he said, “Don’t call it a battle, it was nothing but a tuppenny skirmish, with about 500 killed on each side – that was all it was, and all it ought to be called.”

I have succeeded in keeping myself pretty busy all day. Arose early, read the papers till breakfast was ready. As soon as I had eaten breakfast went to market. Thence to the P.O. & to Jo. Keyes’s boardinghouse. Found that Capt. Prescott & Edwin Barrett had both returned to the city unhurt. Called on Barrett, who showed me the trophies he had brought from the field of battle, consisting of a very nice pair of secession saddlebags, a handsome revolver, belonging to one of the Black-horse Cavalry, pretty much all of whom are said to have been killed by the Zouaves, an India-rubber blanket, & a woolen ditto, picked up on the road & both belonging to our troops, a button cut from a secession coat. He also brought in a horse with his equipments, taken from the rebels.

After having a very minute and interesting account from Edwin of what he saw (& being with Gen. McDowell, he had the opportunity to see a great deal) I went to see Capt. Prescott. Found him with most of his company quartered at Jimmy Maher’s old tavern house. He was looking finely….

Edwin told me he saw a lively fight between the 2d N. H. Regt. and a Georgia Regiment in a small piece of woods, in which the Georgians were badly beaten. After the troops had left he said he went into the woods and saw the dead bodies of 42 rebels & 10 wounded on a space of ground not larger than the parlor in which we were sitting when he told me the story….

Friday July 26. … [On Wednesday July 24] I rode down to Col Marston’s room & saw him. He looked quite well and his physicians told me was doing well, & they had strong hopes of saving his arm.  The bullet was a common musket bullet & struck his right arm just below the shoulder, passed through it, & lodged in his breast, from which it was extracted. At Marston’s room I found Senator Clark, and we rode out to the encampment of the 2d N.H. Regt. in my buggy. We saw Col. Fisk and Major Stevens, and many others. Ned was out there & introduced me to Dearborn Morse, a son of Josiah Morse, whom I knew from my childhood till his death. He lived at my grandfather Brown’s when I was a boy, and I was glad to see his son, who is the very image of his father.

Major Stevens gave us a very interesting history of the battle, explaining it by diagrams which he drew as he proceeded. He was in it from first to last. He said he saw one of the “Black horse cavalry” undertake to sabre a Zouave. He parried the sabre with his musket, seized the trooper by the breast of his coat, dragged him from his horse and cut his throat, all within a single minute….

D. B. Cole & J. J. McDonough, eds., Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee’s Journal, 1828-1870, pp. 365-369

Benjamin Brown French bio.

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Sgt. William P. Holden, Co. H, 2nd Maine Infantry, On the Battle

29 01 2013

Position of the Second.

1861 8-3 Bangor Daily Whig and Courier 2d Maine Bull Run with map 1861 8-3 Bangor Daily Whig and Courier 2d Maine Bull Run with map

We copy above what we should judge to be a very correct diagram of the position of our Second at the battle of Bull Run. It was roughly made, with such conveniences as are at the command of soldiers, by Wm. P. Holden of this city, and accompanied a private letter to his father. We copy such portions of the letter as explain the map; that our readers may understand, as clearly as may be, the exact position of our regiment, at the fight. After giving an account of the terrible forced march, fatigue and almost starvation preceding the attack, he says: –

We started for Bull Run on Sunday morning at 2 o’clock. The head of the column came up to a battery about 8 o’clock, and the artillery commenced throwing shell and balls into it, and in about half an hour they left it, and retreated to another. The artillery moved to the top of a hill, marked our battery. I have only marked on the map the battery which our regiment charged upon. There were eight more to the right. It was 12 o’clock before our regiment was called to charge. They were about three miles to the rear of the battery which they charged upon. They marched double quick all the way, and as it was a very hot day, you can judge what kind of shape the boys were in to fight. A great many of them could not stand it to run so far, and fell out of the ranks before they arrived at the battle ground. Our regiment went upon the main road as far as the line, marked through the cornfield and woods, and drew up in line of battle, in front of the woods. When we came out of the woods, there were a lot of rebel troops in the orchard, but as they were dressed in gray, our officers supposed they were our troops, and did not find out otherwise until they retreated some distance, turned and fired upon us, killing all that were killed during the fight. The Colonel then gave the order to charge upon them, which we did until within 40 yards of the battery, where our men stood until they were ordered to retreat by Col. Keyes. They then retreated to the woods, and laid down to rest. Gen. Tyler soon came down and ordered them to charge again, but Colonel Keyes said our regiment had done their share of fighting, and that he had better order one of the Connecticut regiments on, as they had not done any fighting. About 4 o’clock a general order to retreat to Centreville was given, as the rebels had received a reinforcement of 30,000 men from Manassas, and our troops had been fighting for eight hours and were pretty well tire out. We retreated to Centreville and encamped. About 12 o’clock at night, orders came from Gen. McDowell to retreat to Washington.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier,  8/3/1861

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William P. Holden at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





“Stephen”, 2nd Maine Infantry, On the Battle

14 11 2012

Letter from the Second Regiment.

Headquarters 2d Maine Regiment,

Arlington Heights, Va. near Fort Corcoran, July 27th.

After a disastrous battle, and an ignominious retreat, although the 2d Maine strictly obeyed orders, and nobly performed the duty assigned them, as the official report will testify, I embrace the present opportunity to once more resume our correspondence.

Our regiment, before the conflict, having been attached to Col. Keyes’s brigade and Gen. Tyler’s division were held as a reserve guard, until arriving at the scene of action, when suddenly the reserve was dispensed with, and we were literally run two miles and plunged into a masked battery, with the fond assurance that success was certain, and the day our own. After the first charge, however, we were fully convinced that we reckoned without our host, and that we had aroused more passengers than we imagined the infernal machine contained. Upon the second charge we did splendidly, sending many a misguided Southron to his long home, and for a moment the enemy’s lines apparently receding, we felt quite inspired. At this juncture, the battery still belching forth its torrent of iron hail, we were ordered o retire, which we did in good order, and having sheltered ourselves in the woods near  by, we then attempted to take the monster by a flank movement, which possibly might have been crowned with success, ,had more despatch been exercised. Our boys fell in lively, but the 1st and 2d Connecticut regiments seemed to prefer a recumbent position. Receiving the order to advance, we were repulsed, without loss, a third time, the enemy, on account of our delay, having anticipated the attack.

Failing in this, our last attempt, amid shells rifle cannon and Minnie rifle balls we retired from Bull’s or Bloody Run, feeling that without avail, we had nevertheless nobly performed the task assigned us. Would to Heaven we could tell a different tale.

In our first charge, Capt. James of Co. C fell mortally wounded, while bravely leading on his command. At the same fire, Wm. J. Deane, color bearer, fell wounded fatally while vigorously sustaining the flag presented to is the day before by the ladies of California formerly residing in Maine. This flag was for a short time lost, but finally regained. The flags presented at Bangor and New York are badly riddled, but will again, I trust, lead us on, not to defeat but victory. Color Sergeant Moore, I forgot to add, was also shot dead on the first charge, the aim of the enemy being directed to the glorious Stars and Stripes under which they heretofore received unnumbered benefits and unbounded protection. In returning from the field it fell to my lot to see and grasp by the hand both Capt. Jones and Sergt. Deane – the former being borne to the hospital by his comrades in arms and the latter already there under the care of Dr. Allen and Lieut. Skinner, who have since been taken prisoners. Dr. Palmer desired to remain at the hospital but Dr. Allen insisted that he should move on. Capt. Jones, receiving a ball through the spine, will probably never recover. Sergt. Deane, being apparently wounded thro the wind-pipe, his case was considered doubtful.

By the way, to give you a specimen of Southern chivalry, so much in vogue. While our Surgeons were amputating limbs and extracting lead from our wounded and dying, the valiant “Black Horse Cavalry”, so called, charged upon the hospital and all were taken prisoners – but owing to a galling fire from our ranks, they were unable to hold their position and with great loss and few prisoners rushed their steeds into the woods beyond.

I live in the hope that our regimental loss in killed, wounded and missing will not exceed one hundred, but the death or absence of even one brave fellow from our ranks is too much, when we reflect that apparently nothing has been gained by the struggle. Our regiment and all others would have been literally cut to pieces were it not, after the first fire, for the order to lay down and reload, by so doing the enemy’s fire, most of the time, was too high, and passed harmlessly over us.

By the way, Washington Harlow, of company C, reported wounded and in hospital, is incorrect. He is wounded and missing. Samuel Nash, of company A, reported wounded, is with us, alive and well. Rev. Mr. Mines, our Chaplain and one of the bravest of clergymen, is taken prisoner – not shot as some affirm. I trust that as regards surgeons and chaplains at least, there may speedily be an exchange of prisoners.

From all we can learn, Beauregard is inclined to deal justly with all and the acts of Indian barbarism that have been committed thus far are not through his orders. The loss of the enemy is far greater than ours, and from one of the 69th New York regiment who has made his escape I understand that Richmond is more a city of mourning than rejoicing. The truth is we gained the day, but, humiliating as it must be to us all, lost it through the incompetency of some, either officers or civilians, [?] the [?].

Among the distinguished busy-bodies on the field, there were too many Congressmen and reporters, and too few real commanding officers. But the die is cast and we must look hopefully to the future.

Our brigade, which comprised three Connecticut regiments and a portion of the New York 8th, whose term of enlistment has about expired, is now broken up, and we are temporarily attached to Col. Sherman’s command – 3d Brigade. We soon hope, however, to again be under Col. Keyes, who is both a skilful, cautious and humane commander, and much esteemed by us all.

Gen. Tyler, I must confess, we do not adore, but in the late engagement cannot say but that he obeyed, to the letter, the orders of his superiors in command. The whole movement was ill-timed, badly arranged, and horridly engineered, and my only wonder is, that we are not all laying upon the battlefield, under the [?] rays of a July sun.

On Sunday evening, our regiment, having retired in good order to Centreville, we were assigned the honorable part of guarding for the night, the battery commanded by Captain Ayres, but at about ten, P. M., jaded and fatigued, the whole army was ordered to Fairfax, and our march was continued until we arrived at Alexandria, twenty-five miles distant. Could we have retained our position at Centreville, even now we should have been there, but fate ordered otherwise, and we now have a demoralized army, and a disgraceful flight to patch up as soon and as best we may.

Our boys, owing to fatigue, ragged clothes, no money, &c., are not in the best of humor, as may be supposed, but with many promises ahead, and by the blessing of God, we soon hope to be in better circumstances, trusting that when we again move onward, we shall have a Commander-in Chief in whom we may have [?] confidence.

One thing has been demonstrated – that infantry cannot cope with masked batteries, and that a successful retreat – if retreat we must – cannot be accomplished without sufficient artillery and cavalry. Time alone will heal the present shock, and to time must be left the [?].

The general health of our regiment is good, although our camping ground is not in a very healthy locality, as we are now obliged to occupy the old camping ground of the New York 69th, which , upon our arrival, was not troubled with extreme neatness.

In a few days I hope to write you more in detail.

Yours in haste,

Stephen

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Lieutenant Rinaldo B. Wiggin, Co. A, 2nd Maine Infantry, On the Battle

13 11 2012

Letter from the Regiment.

The following letter received on Saturday will be found of much interest. The incidents of the charge made by the gallant Second are given in some detail.

Arlington Heights,

Near Fort Corcoran, July 29, 1861

To B. C. Frost and other friends, who generously contributed in making up the box to the B. L. I.’s.*

Comrades – We have received you generous donation, and wish, as far as words are able, to express to you our thanks. We did not, (as was you intention), receive it in season for the 4th of July, but it came to us at a time when of all others we most needed it…it came to us after the battle, when we were “war worn and weary.” It came just as we had returned from burying one of our comrades, (Chamberlain). We had been on our feet for thirty-six hours, had fought a hard battle, and marched in all a distance of sixty miles, soaked with rain, our clothes ragged, and some without shoes. If you could have seen the crowd that gathered around that box as it was opened, and could have heard the fervent “God bless the boys at home!” as the generous presents made their appearance, I know you would have been amply compensated!

I will endeavor to tell you a little of the part we had in the affair, as I have not yet seen in correctly stated in the papers. In most accounts which I have seen the Second Maine is put down as the Second Wisconsin. We were in Col. Keyes’ brigade with the three Connecticut regiments, and in Gen. Tyler’s division. We [?] our camp at 2 o’clock Sunday morning, the 21st, at Centreville, when we were halted while the whole column marched past us, leaving us in the rear as a reserve. About 10 o’clock the order came for us to march to the front, which we did, coming up to the point where Sherman’s battery was engaging one of the rebel batteries. Here we threw off our coats and packs, and marched by the right flank in double quick time through the woods, across fields, over streams and ditches, a distance of over three miles, coming up to the enemy’s battery on the flank, coming on right line we charged the battery up a steep hill. The battery had just been reinforced by the arrival of Gen. Johnston’s fresh troops, and as we charged up the hill, a storm of iron and lead came down upon us, which nothing but the overruling hand of God prevented from sweeping us from the face of the earth.

Twice we charged almost to the muzzles of their cannon, and twice we were driven back, when the order came to retreat. William Deane was among the first who fell, carrying the California flag which had been presented to us the day before. We got him on board an ambulance of the New York 69th, and I suppose he fell into the hands of the enemy. John F. Reed was taken prisoner in the cavalry charge, and Edward R. Chamberlain of Bangor, died of exhaustion, two days after reaching Alexandria. This is the whole loss of the B. L. I.

On the retreat, shot and shell flew thick and fast amongst us, but fortunately none of us were hurt. The enemy’s cavalry made a dashing charge upon our rear, but we formed the best lines we could, and kept them at bay. At Centreville, we dropped on the ground for a few minutes to rest, when the order came to retreat to Fairfax, and once more we took up our weary line of march, retreating a distance of 28 miles, without food or rest, the last three or four hours through a heavy rain, till we reached Alexandria. We stopped two days in Alexandria, and were then ordered to this place.

Poor Chamberlain died the day after we left Alexandria, and it was while Capt. Bartlett was there making arrangements for his funeral, that the long looked for box was found in the Alexandria express office. You can perhaps imagine something of our feelings upon receiving it. All I can say to B. C. Frost, Levi March, John Lowell, C. C. Prescott, H. E. Sellers, H. G. Thaxter, O. R. Patch, and all others who contributed in making “our box”, is, that a soldier’s blessing will follow you.

On my own behalf, and in behalf of the officers and members of the Bangor Light Infantry,

I am, Gentlemen, yours truly,

R. B. Wiggin

*B. L. I. – Bangor Light Infantry, Company A of the 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, 8/5/1861

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Rinaldo B. Wiggin on Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





“G.”, 2nd Connecticut Volunteers, On the Battle

10 11 2012

From 2d Regiment.

Camp Keyes, Washington City,

July 28, 1861

Messrs. Editors – It is Sabbath morning – just one week since the memorable conflict at Bull’s Run, and oh! how different this moment are the feelings, the anxieties, the doubts and fears of the future. Then all was excitement, what is now quietude; and our worst fears, instead of our most sanguinary hopes, have been realized. We entered the field with hurried step, and [?] panting, and eager for the fray. We considered our cause sure to win, for its justice was undoubted. We doubted not for a moment the capabilities of our leaders or the stamina of their followers. And though the death-shots fell thick and fast around us, yet for a time they were as harmless as ashes of fire in the bosom of the great deep. Our troops pressed forward, shouting and cheering each other on in their holy mission, until we flanked and finally gained the rear of the enemy. Here we halted for a moment to rest and refresh ourselves, when our position was discovered, and once more we moved forward. We again halted, and delivered a few random shots at the enemy, as they retreated under the double fire of our brigade and the gallant 69th. While at a halt, it was my lot to witness a very painful scene. I captured a prisoner, (a German) belonging to the 8th South Carolina Regiment, and took him to Major Colburn for instructions as how to dispose of him. The prisoner requested one privilege as his last, which the Major very humanely granted. He said his brother lay a short distance off, in a dying condition, and he wished to see him. I bade him lead the way, and I followed.

He took me to an old log hut a few [?] from where our regiment was halted. On the north side, in the shade, we found the wounded man. The prisoner spoke to him – he opened his eyes – and the film of death had already overspread them, and the tide of life was fast ebbing. He was covered with blood, and the swarms and flies and mosquitoes which were fattening upon his life’s blood, indicated that he had lain there for some time. They clasped hands together, muttered a few words in the German language, supplicated the Throne of Grace for their families at home, kissed, and bade each a final adieu; the prisoner remarking as I took him by the arm to lead him away, for the column was moving, “Brother, you are dying, and I am a prisoner.” The man was shot with a musket ball, in the back, just over the hip, from which fact I inferred that he was on the retreat when the deadly ball overtook him.

The country round about seemed to be peculiarly adapted for a defensive position. It was very hilly, and on each elevation a battery was planted, strongly guarded by infantry, whose bayonets we could distinctly see gleaming in the sunlight. So well did they understand the position of matters inside their lines, that if they retreated, it was done for a decoy, and our brave fellows in pursuing them found themselves surrounded, or cut down like blades of grass before the scythe, by the rapid and terrible discharges of grape and canister from concealed batteries. At about 2 o’clock, Lieut. Upton, aid de camp, rode up, and took position in the center of our regiment. He addressed us in essence as follows: “Boys of old Connecticut, there is a battery on the brow of yonder hill. I want you to follow me, and you shall have the right of capturing it. Will you follow?” In a moment we were wild with delight and determination, cheering and placing our caps on our bayonets, waving them in the air, and exhibiting in gratifying tones the patriotism that [?] our arms for the ordeal. Just at that moment the considerate Col. Keyes rode up and on learning the cause of the enthusiasm, remarked that  it must not be attempted with a less number of troops than the entire Brigade. As the rest of the command were otherwise engaged the project was abandoned, and a subsequent reconnoiter showed us the madness of the idea, for, on emerging from the woods, we encountered another battery, which the rebels immediately brought to bear upon us. Gen. Tyler, however, payed no attention to the firing, until Col. Keyes ordered the men to take refuge in the woods, where we lay concealed for a quarter of an hour. And it is a fact, that not a soldier in the ranks had any idea that the order to “retreat” was to abandon the field. When we left our concealment we came away side by side with the Fire Zouaves, the 79th, and others, who were bearing off their killed and wounded. Of course, the great disaster of the day was the manic which spread itself with such velocity through our ranks. Our troops were in good order, and, as far as I observed, in cheerful spirits. The first indication that I noticed was the rapid retreat and disorganized condition of a battery, which I supposed to be Sherman’s. This was communicated to the baggage wagons, ambulances, &c., and such a scene of confusion and terror as followed, is utterly indescribable. Yet I trust our people will not construe this act as one of cowardice. Panics like that are by no means unparalleled. The memorable retreat of the French and Sardinians from Castiglione to Brescia, furnishes another instance of how complete a powerful army may be routed sometimes by the most trivial circumstance. The allies then were not as we were at the Run, just leaving the field of carnage, tired, weary, and jaded with long marching, our stomachs empty, and our lips parched with raging thirst. On the contrary, they had rested, and refreshed themselves with wine and cordials, which every French soldier is provided with, previous to an engagement. The occurrence must be fresh in the minds of all your readers.

The only real act of cowardice, unpardonable, unfortunately falls upon the New Haven Grays. — joined the company as a private. After we encamped at Glenwood, he was assigned a position as clerk for the Colonel. He remained in that position for about six weeks, when he was appointed by Col. Terry to fill a vacant post in the non-commissioned Staff. Here he remained until his disgraceful flight from the vicinity of Bull’s Run into Washington – where, after many acts of kindness by our Congressman, Hon. James F. English, he was enabled to reach home. Col. Terry, on hearing of the circumstance, immediately reduced him to the ranks, the order being publicly read at dress parade on Saturday evening, which threw him back into the ranks of the “Grays” – which company, before dismissing ranks unanimously voted him out of their ranks, and also instructed their Secretary to notify the young gentleman and all the Press of the City of Elms. A feeling of just indignation was aroused when we read his description given of our retirement from Centerville. The facts of the case are: Col. Terry’s horse becoming unmanageable, he gave it to — who had once within my hearing solicited the privilege of riding, to retain until he called for it, whereupon he started for the former bivouac, and from thence he continued his fight until he delivered “news” to the New Haven Palladium. But I will not follow the theme further. If we are fortunate enough to return home, we can tell the story with our own lips. I cannot close this epistle without thanking you for the free gift of the Journal and Courier, which has come to hand so promptly since our departure from home. Hon. John Woodruff has been very kind to us in supplying reading matter, but of course his gifts could not be as fresh as those that came direct from the office. The coarse fare incident to camp life, affected materially the health of some of our men, but now they are where they can buy fresh food, and are fast recovering their former health. Hoping anon to see you face to face,

I remain yours, truly,

G.

New Haven Daily Journal, 7/31/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Capt. Richard Fitzgibbon, Co. H, 1st Connecticut Volunteers, On the Campaign

8 11 2012

Capt. Fitzgibbons, Co. H, of Bridgeport, kindly furnished us with the subjoined statement. He is a gentleman of intelligence, and the information derived from him can be relied upon as accurate. His statement is confirmed by Lieut. Lee, also of Bridgeport, who was side by side with Capt. F. in the engagement at Bull’s Run. Capt. Fitzgibbons has been in active military life about eight years, and now holds a Lieut. Colonel’s commission in the 8th Regiment of our own State militia.

Capt. Fitzgibbon’s Statement

The long roll sounded pleasantly in our ears while encamped at Fall’s Church, and at 2 o’clock P. M., Tuesday, the 16th, we marched to Vienna, where we bivouacked over night. About 6 o’clock the nest morning we took up the line for Fairfax, by way of Germantown. Our division, under the command of Col. Keyes, consisted of the 1st, 2d and 3d Conn., and the 2d Maine Regiments; the 1st and 2d Conn. regiments acted as skirmishers, and marched around Fairfax, while the remainder of the division marched directly forward. As we approached Germantown, we saw a secession flag flying on top of one of the houses. The 8th N. Y. regiment fired two shots at what was supposed to be a masked battery; our skirmishers fell upon their faces, ready to come up after the fire had been returned. The rebel battery fired over them, however. A member of the 8th N. Y. pulled down the flag, as we approached, and ran up the stars and stripes instead. This house was supposed to be the headquarters for the rebels. As we went through Germantown several houses were fired, but I am happy to say that none of our Connecticut troops had any hand in the firing of the buildings. – The house whereon the rebel flag was raised was entered by our men and found to be evacuated by the troops; tables were set, and our men partook freely of what they could find to eat. Our advanced and halted between Germantown and Centerville over night, where we bivouacked. Friday, about daybreak, we marched on for Centreville, where we arrived about noon. We could distinctly hear that an engagement was going on, before we arrived in sight. Several of our officers and civilians saw the engagement; none of our men took part. The secessionists, men, women, and children, followed up the rebel army; as we advanced, they pushed on, and they informed us that there was a great body of troops ahead of us.

Saturday, the 20th, we were notified to cook three days’ rations; that night we packed up, and at tow o’clock in the morning started for Bull’s Run. Our (Colonel Keyes’) brigade led off, until we got about half way, when we were called off into a corn field and filed off, and saw the whole column pass by. the 1st regiment boys felt a little discomfitted at this move, for fear they would not have a chance in the fight. We brought up the rear, and rested about half an hour, when the order came to again forward. This was about 7 o’clock in the morning. We marched into line, and about the first introduction we had was a charge by one of those masked batteries; we deployed a little to get by, ,when the men rallied in good order. Gen. Tyler rode by and praised our boys for their gallant appearance. We [??????]…they returned the fire, but their shots went over us, as we had dropped upon our faces. While in this position we loaded and fired another charge into them. One of our batteries came up and silenced one of their batteries which was playing upon us. As soon as their battery was silenced, the remainder of our brigade came up. We compelled the rebels to retreat, and as we moved on we encountered another battery; the 3d Conn. and the 2d Maine charged and suffered greatly. We then commenced scouting here and there, always putting in a fire when we got a chance. There was a continual fire upon us by their artillery, which was met by our musketry. We kept on fighting, Gen. Tyler assuring us we had won the day. He acted bravely; so did Col. Keyes and Col. Spiedel; Col. Burnham stood by his regiment. Soon afterwards, the order came to fall back, and we did so, not knowing it was a retreat; we were then in good order, and were accompanied by the Zouaves and Schenck’s brigade; saw the Zouaves make a splendid charge on the Black Horse Cavalry of Va.; it was a hand to hand conflict for a few moments with them, and the latter were cut up badly. We kept up a retreat, followed up by the enemy’s artillery and musketry. We saw the dead and wounded being carried from the field, some on blankets and others stretched on muskets. My company brought away six prisoners. We retreated in good order back to Centreville, to where we encamped the night before, arriving about dark. We remained here three hours and then had orders to fall back to Fall’s Church, which is about 25 miles from Bull’s Run. – We staid at Falls Church during Monday, and the next night had orders to march to Camp Upton, where the Ohio troops were encamped; we staid here during the night, and it was at this spot we saved some $200,000 of property, which had been left behind by one of the Ohio regiments. We struck their tents, took them to Alexandria, and loaded some six or eight cars with their trappings,, and about a ton and a half of ammunition. They had the finest camp equippage I ever saw. The War Department gave us great credit for what we had done.

Wednesday night we bivouacked at Arlington Heights; the next day we started for Washington. – We left Thursday afternoon, and arrived at Baltimore at 3 o’clock Friday morning, where we were detained until 6 P. M. waiting for conveyances; left Baltimore arrived at Havre de Grace, where we suffered another detention of five or six hours. We reached Philadelphia Saturday afternoon, and arrived in Jersey City about 4 o’clock Sunday morning; went on board the steamer Elm City at 4 o’clock and reached New Haven at 10.

Hartford Daily Courant, 7/29/1861

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Richard Fitzgibbon Biographical Information

Contributed by John Hennessy





Dr. P. W. Ellsworth, Connecticut Brigade, On the Battle

8 11 2012

Interesting Letter from Dr. P. W. Ellsworth –

Tribute to the Connecticut Troops.

We have had the pleasure of seeing a letter written by Dr. P. W. Ellsworth, surgeon of the Connecticut Brigade, in which he gives a particular account of the battle of Bull’s Run; also of that on the following Sabbath, at both of which he was present. He says the Connecticut troops receive the highest praise from their commanders. Gen. Tyler gives them unqualified commendation, and Col. Keyes, who acted a Brigadier General, declares that he never saw such a storm of bullets as the enemy poured upon us, and never saw veteran troops stand the shock of battle so bravely.

“It is a fact that our Connecticut troops stormed a battery before which the regulars had previously been repulsed, The Third regiment suffered most severely. The enemy fought chiefly from behind masked batteries, and when one was taken they had another concealed with commanded it. Three, however, were taken by great bravery in succession. Col. Burnham, of the Connecticut First, distinguished himself for his coolness and courage.

“The victory would have been on our side had not Johnston come up with his twenty thousand fresh troops, although the enemy had eighty thousand on the ground, and we not more than half that number.

“A Georgian colonel, taken prisoner, says that our artillery they could stand, ‘but our musketry was irresistible, it swept all before it.’ One crack company of Georgians lost every man but three, and the destruction on the side of the rebels is enormous.

“He says that in an open fight it is certain that Southerners are no match for our men.

“The view of the battle was grand, beyond description. The volume of smoke was not so great as I had expected, but the roar of artillery, and not less than one hundred and twenty thousand muskets, was terrific. The deep-toned roar of a huge thirty-two pounder, rifled gun, in our army could be distinguished above all. Every moment bomb shells burst in the air, scattering death, and rifled cannon also were pouring out their shells with great destruction on both sides.

“The battle raged thus from six A. M. till four P. M., with scarcely a moment’s cessation, excepting when our men were carrying the rebel batteries at the point of the bayonet. When the enemy saw our bayonets coming, they whipped off with their artillery and were ready again, so that it was hard work to get them.

“Our men labored under every disadvantage, from fatigue, hunger, and worst of all, from thirst – not a little, also, from the want of cavalry, to which the enemy were greatly indebted for their success: though their location and deliberate preparation, with their masked batteries, gave them a decided advantage. The federal troops declare that the rebels carried a flag staff having on one end a secession banner and on the other our own, and they showed either as suited their purpose. Their uniforms being very similar to our own, they often came close to our men in this treacherous way, preventing our fire until they had given their own.

“No provision for retreat had been made on our side; no one imagined the possibility of such an event. Consequently our troops were confused and subjected to the greatest privation and exposure.

He says, “I saw no one running, though they moved rapidly. Our Connecticut battalion retreated in the best order of all. No nobler men live than our Connecticut brigade, and I’ll not exclude the soldiers who fought with them. I am filled with admiration when I look upon them. Their country can never discharge the debt it owes them.

“The Southern troops are well fed, but where or how they obtain their provisions, I know not. What was found proved a good commissariat, and greater variety than we have had, thought they did not appear to be well supplied with tents.”

Hartford Daily Courant, 7/27/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. James Rorty, Co. G, 69th NYSM, On the Battle, Imprisonment, and Escape

16 01 2012

The 69th at Bull Run.

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The annexed letter from one of the gallant 69th, who was taken prisoner with Colonel Corcoran at the Battle of Bull Run, gives some interesting details regarding that event, and the subsequent treatment of the prisoners by the Confederates, which have not heretofore been laid before the public: –

New York, Oct. 12, 1861

To the Editor of the Irish-American:

Sir – As anything relating to the late campaign of the 69th, and the present unfortunate position  of its brave Colonel and some of its members, must be interesting to your readers. I desire to lay before them through the medium of your wide spread columns, the following sketch as well to correct certain prevalent erroneous impressions as to present some facts on the subject hitherto unpublished, and unknown to the public.

Popular as the corps was, it had many grievances (most of which were owing to the hastiness of the organization, and the shortness of its term of service), but it seems to me that the report of Brigadier General Sherman after the battle of Bull Run, contains a statement which does the greatest injustice to the Regiment, and which has become the heavier grievance from being borne in silence and thereby tacitly admitted. He says, “after the repulse of the 2d Wisconsin regiment, the ground was open for the 69th, who advanced and held it for some time, but finally fell back in confusions.” He omitted saying what many witnessed, and what Col. Corcoran, confirmed in Richmond (when we first saw the report) that he rode up and ordered Col. Corcoran to draw off his men, while we were still obstinately maintaining our ground, not only against the main strength of the Confederates hitherto engaged, but, also, while pressed hard on the right flank by the fresh troops (Johnson’s) which Gen. Smith and Col. Elzey had just brought from Manassas, and which, according to the official report of these officers, numbered 8,000 men. I do not pretend to say that we could have held the position against such overwhelming odds, but as we did so until ordered to abandon it, simple justice and fair play should have prompted Sherman to tell the whole truth. The manner in which he managed, or rather mismanaged his brigade, is more open to comment than the conduct of any regiment during the day. Inferior in numbers as we were to the enemy, he increased the disadvantage by keeping one excellent corps idle (th 18th N. Y. V.), and bringing the others into action separately and successively, allowing one to be broken before another was brought to its support, and thus throwing away the only chance of success that remained. Notwithstanding the heavy reinforcements the Confederates had received, they were so badly beaten and disheartened up to this time that there can scarcely be a doubt but that a vigorous, simultaneous, and combined attack of Sherman’s brigade and Keyes’ would have carried their position. Instead of this, after our regiment (leading the column) had turned their right under Gen. Evans, dispersed and almost destroyed the crack corps of the south – the N. O. Zouaves, instead of following up our advantage and pushing home the flying foe we gave them time to change their position, concentrate their strength, and deploy their fresh troops. We have reason to be thankful that our ill timed delay was not entirely fatal to us, as it would have been had not Beauregard’s order to General Ewell to get [in our rear mis]carried. Again, when our attack failed, and the retreat began, Col. Corcoran endeavored to cover it by forming his men in square, in which order it moved to the point at which we crossed Bull Run, where on account of the woods and the narrowness of the path down the bluffs that formed the west bank, it had to be reduced to a column. Sherman, who was in the square, told the men to get away as fast as they could as the enemy’s cavalry were coming. This prevented Col. Corcoran from reforming the men on the other side of the Run, a movement which would have not only effectually repelled the enemy, but would also have covered the retreat of every battery lost subsequently. It was in his efforts to remedy the disorder and straggling caused by this “license to run,” that Col. Corcoran (who, from the unfortunate and irreparable loss of Haggerty, and the absence of all his staff, was obliged to be somewhat in the rear) was cut off from the main body of the regiment, by the enemy’s horse, and being able to rally only nine men, moved into a small house, to make a better defence, but was induced by some of his officers to surrender as resistance was hopeless. Meantime about half a dozen men had joined him at the house, of whose arrival he was ignorant. Trifling as the reinforcement was, he surrendered so reluctantly that I verily believe had he known of it he would not have surrendered without a desperate fight. As I shared all his subsequent misfortunes, and witnessed the manly fortitude with which he bore them, the consistent dignity with which he repelled all overtures for any parole that would tie up his hands from the Union cause, and repulsed some Southern friends who endeavored to seduce him from it, it may not be improper to sketch his prison life. Owing to the inadequate arrangements for our accommodation in Richmond it was afternoon on the 24th, before some of us got anything to eat, so that we had eaten only once in four days. The colonel was extremely exhausted, but desired all his men to be brought to him “that he might take a look at – and know,” as he said, “those who had done their duty to the last.” Learning that some had no money, and wanted clothing badly, he gave $20 out of his own scanty resources to be laid out for their use. He also purchased and sent a number of shirts to the wounded of his corps, and sent some money to many of them also. He was never allowed to go out, not even to the hospital, to see his wounded men, which latter I heard him complain somewhat of. He was kept quite apart even from us how were in the same building, although some of us managed to see him daily or oftener. I wish to contradict, however, a statement which has obtained universal currency about him which is an unmitigated falsehood. He never was in irons, nor was he threatened with them from his capture until his removal to Charleston on the 10th ult., when we last saw him. Rigidly as he was watched, and great as was the importance attached to his safe keeping – the consistent bearing of which I have already spoken, had won for him the respect of every Southerner, and though it at first drew on him the virulent abuse of the Richmond press, even it ultimately changed its tone and declared “that the consistent obstinacy of that most impudent and inveterate of Yankee prisoners, Col. Corcoran, was preferable by far to the repentant professions and cringing course of some prisoners to obtain parole.” As to our general treatment it was harsh, although as long as any hope of the Government making an exchange remained, our guards were courteous and communicative, and I feel bound to say that the cavalry to whom we surrendered (the Clay Dragoons) acted in every respect like chivalrous and honorable men. Latterly, however, some regiments of raw recruits – mere conscript boys, whom the 10 per cent levy had drawn out, committed great atrocities on the prisoners, firing through the window at us on the slightest pretence of breach of the regulations. Several shots were fired into the room where the 69th were confined, and one man of the 2d N. Y. S. M. was wounded in the arm. Shots fired into the buildings were said to have resulted fatally, but as we could not get to them I cannot vouch for the fact positively. Atrocities like these, coupled with the prospect of being sent further South, induced many to try to escape, but the great majority failed, and were put in irons. As, however, none of the 69th, save two who were unsuccessful, had tried, your correspondent thought it became the honor of the corps to make an attempt, and accompanied by Sergeant O’Donohue, of Co. K, and Peter Kelly, of Co. J, left Richmond on the 18th ult., passing the sentries in disguise. Captain McIvor, who intended to accompany us, was unfortunately suspected by the guard, and put in irons. I regret to see he has since been sent to New Orleans. Our provisions (2 lbs. of crackers) soon ran out, but Virginia is full of corn, and we lived on the enemy. After travelling a week (solely at dead of night) we came on the Confederate lines on the Potomac, above Aquia Creek, and after running into the most advanced cavalry outpost, from which we escaped narrowly, and coming in contact with sentries for miles along the river, we at length found shelter and concealment in a deserted fishing house. Having built a raft to reach the Potomac fleet which was in sight, it turned out to be too small, and O’Donohue embarked alone on it, and reached the Seminole, the captain of which, however, refused to send a boat for us who remained on the Virginia shore, and insisting on sending O’Donohue to Washington, we were left to our own resources, and built another raft on which we reached the Penguin during the following night, and were sent aboard the Yankee. The engineer, Mr. Carpenter, and one of the crew furnished me with a complete suit of clothing which took away my naked, half savage appearance, and the steward, Mr. Fitzpatrick, attended to our famished and ravenous appetites with similar humanity. As this aid was no way official, and came solely from a generous and humane spirit we shall always cherish grateful feelings towards these gentlemen. From Lieutenant Ross(?), of the Navy Yard, Washington, and the captain of the Philadelphia steamer, we received similar kind treatment. Trusting that the length of this communication, will not render it objectionable,

I am, sir, yours truly,

James M. Rorty.

Irish-American Weekly, 10/26/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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Recollections of the Bull Run Campaign after Twenty-Seven Years – Henry F. Lyster

9 04 2010

RECOLLECTIONS OF THE BULL RUN CAMPAIGN AFTER TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS

A PAPER READ BEFORE MICHIGAN COMMANDERY OF THE MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY 1st, 1887  

BY COMPANION HENRY F. LYSTER, M. D., formerly Ass’t. Surgeon, 2nd. Regt. Michigan Infantry, and Surgeon 5th Michigan Infantry, and Acting Med. Director 3rd. Corps, Army of the Potomac

WAR PAPERS READ BEFORE THE COMMANDERY OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES VOLUME I

The 2nd regiment of Michigan infantry had been encamped below the Chain bridge on the Maryland side of the Potomac since the 12th of July, 1861. Col. Israel B. Richardson was in command, although Mrs. Richardson, his wife, who accompanied him, was the power behind the throne. It was not until the Colonel had become a general of division, that he outgrew his better half and bossed things generally himself.

Lt. Col. Henry L. Chipman had accepted a captaincy in the 11th Regiment U. S. infantry, Adjutant Wm. J. Lyster had gone to the 19th U. S. infantry.

Major Adolphus W. Williams, who later to the surprise of many of us, became the colonel of a high number Michigan regiment, and was breveted a brigadier general of volunteers was with us at this memorable time. The major had invited the adjutant and myself to join his mess, which had been organized by purchasing through Higby and Stearns, a mess-chest duly furnished with stores, and by obtaining the services of the major’s nephew and brother-in-law as cooks and skirmishers. We were soon reduced to the point of starvation, although in camp. When a polite inquiry would be made as to whether dinner was ready: “Well it aint, you know,” would be the somewhat unmilitary reply. Any ordinary cook would have been dismissed, or sent to the guard house, but from a nephew of the major it had to be condoned. At last after a few weeks experience, Harve, the cook, was noticed kneading some flour and water upon the head of a barrel, and was asked by the Adjutant what these preparations meant, replied, “I’m building up some pies that will make your eyes stick out.” And they did.

About this time the Regimental Quartermaster used to spend the greater part of the day in Washington, nominally on business, but he too frequently neglected to order up the wagons with the soft bread and fresh beef; and when night came on apace, and he was warned to return to the command, his short comings began to loom up before his anxious mind and lie heavily upon his conscience. He would approach cautiously the outer boundaries of the camp, and preserving a strict incognito, with faltering accents and disguised voice would enquire whether the bread wagons had arrived. If they had, he rode gaily into camp, but if they had not, he faded from view, and did not return to meet those who were hungrily lying in wait for him. It was while in camp at the Chain bridge that we made out our first muster rolls. Those who have been engaged in this work will appreciate the service so kindly and politely rendered by Major Brooks, U. S. army, now retired, and living on second avenue in this city. Verily in these matters “a soft answer turneth away wrath and pleasant words are of more value than pearls and rubies.” The recollections of Major Brooks and of the very agreeable and courteous Capt. Charles Gibson, ass’t com. of subsistence on duty in Washington at that time, have remained as pleasant memories with those volunteers who came in official contact with them.

The soldiers of the 2nd regiment were greatly interested in a resident near the camp known as Bull Frizzel. He kept himself saturated with a country liquor called peach brandy, which rendered him very inflammable and caused him to give utterance to a good deal of “secesh” sentiment, and kept him in the guard house most of the time. As he was the only rebel in sight it was frequently proposed that we begin our work by shooting him, but calmer counsels prevailed, and we left him to the slower, but not less sure course, marked out by himself, and the worm of the still.

On the 4th of July the non-commissioned officers obtained permission to drill the regiment in battalion drill— 4th Sergt. Wm. B. McCreery acted as colonel. Col. Richardson watched the manoeuvres from the front of his tent with much pleasure and interest. Turning to me he enquired the name of the sergeant commanding, and said in his peculiar drawl, “Dr. Lyster these non commissioned officers drill the battalion better than the commissioned officers can do it.” He made McCreery 1st Lieut, and Quartermaster in less than a month from that date.

Our first march to meet the enemy began July 16, 1861, when we crossed over the Chain bridge to the sacred soil of Virginia. We were brigaded with the 3d Michigan infantry, the 1st Massachusetts infantry and the 12th New York infantry. Col. Richardson was put in command of this brigade, and Surgeon A. B. Palmer was acting brigade surgeon. We had marched five or six miles towards Vienna Court House where Gen. Schenck of Ohio had not long before run a railroad train into a masked battery, and we were all on the qui vive regarding masked batteries, and unusual things of that sort.

The sun was yet in the meridian when I heard a commotion near the head of the brigade and upon riding up was astonished to find that Dr. C, acting at that time as hospital steward of the 2d, was chasing a small rebel pig and firing his revolver at it while in pursuit. The soldiers cheered lustily and the doctor hotly followed the squalling porker intent upon having a spare-rib for supper. All this unfortunately attracted the attention of Dr. Palmer, who was riding with the Colonel at the head of the brigade. Dr. Palmer, with an eye to the preservation of good order and discipline in his department, drew his sword, and galloped after Dr. C. and the pig. The soldiers cheered down the whole brigade still more vigorously appreciating the added comic element in the affair, and warning Dr. C. of his danger watched the unequal chase with increasing interest. The pig escaped for the moment, and Dr. C. mixed up with the column somewhat crest-fallen, but was later restored to his usual equanimity when a hind quarter of the pig was sent him in the evening.

Nearly a year later, after the battle of Charles City crossroads, June 29th, 1862, on McClellan’s retreat, Dr. C. remained with the wounded and was taken prisoner, and went to Richmond. In this he showed the highest appreciation of the professional relation, but as a non-commissioned officer at the time, he ran an undue risk of being detained indefinitely in the military prisons; almost equivalent to a death sentence.

To the surprise of everyone, he was almost immediately exchanged. His long deserved commission of ass’t surgeon, came to him soon after, and when he resigned to accept a desirable professional alliance in Detroit, in April, 1864, the regiment lost one of its most efficient and highly respected officers.

Dear Dr. Palmer, who only a month ago covered with professional honors, went over to be mustered into that growing army of veterans in the silent land, was so elated with his success in this first march, that he confidently assured me as we lay in bivouac that evening, that he felt within him those martial qualities which would give him command of troops in case he should determine to substitute the sword for the lancet.

That night the stars were out, and the uncertain moon was low in the western horizon, the darkest hour just before the dawn was on us, when the nervous strain of the pickets post could hardly be expected to resist the extreme tension of the first night out. The imagination turned some unoffending object into the stealthily approaching foe, and the musketry began to rattle with a liveliness that seemed very like active work. I shall never forget how long it seemed to take to lace up those balmoral shoes, to don my uniform, and get the horse unpicketed and saddled, so as to be able either to pursue or fly as might seem most sensible. The next night I slept with my shoes and hat on, and with old Dan tied to the wheel of the ambulance.

It was about this period of the march that the star of the regimental Quartermaster began to wane. It was all about some honey. Mrs. Richardson had gone up to the command of the brigade at the same time that the Colonel had, and a hive of honey had been added to the headquarters stores. Most of us had had some of it, but it had been expected to last like the widow’s cruise of oil through the campaign. It was observed that the Quartermaster had some honey after it had suddenly disappeared at headquarters. Nothing that he had failed to do hitherto was equal to this new offence. The next day the men began to get out of rations and the wagons were slow in getting up. The Quartermaster was found late at night asleep in the train. Dr. Palmer again drew his sword and pricked around with it into a wagon in the dark, and roused him. He fled before the wrath of the command and never stopped until he had reached Battle Creek, Mich.; and McCreery reigned in his stead.

On the 18th of July we were halted about half a mile beyond Centreville, having a nooning, when the enemy were reported a mile and a half in front of us at Blackburn’s ford. We fell in at once, and marched forward through some intervening woods, formed in line behind Lieut. Ayres’ regular battery, which opened upon the woods across Bull Run to the west of us about a quarter of a mile. We soon drew the fire of a rebel battery, which turned out to be the Washington Light Artillery from New Orleans. The first shot fired at the army, afterwards known as the Army of the Potomac, was at this time, and it took the leg off of a sergeant of artillery in Ayres’ battery on our front, and knocked a log out of a house in the yard of which the battery was stationed. The effect of this shot was not observed by the enemy, and the range was altered, and the other shots were not so effective.

It fell to my lot to attend the first Michigan soldier wounded by the enemy in the war. We were moving down as a support to the 1st Massachusetts and 12th New York, who had been sent down to the ford to “feel the enemy,” which they succeeded in doing to the extent of losing 40 wounded and 12 killed. The bullets and solid shots were passing over us, when a rifle bullet struck Mathias Wollenweber of company A, 2d Mich. infantry, in the left side, and he fell upon the sod. I tried to probe the wound with my little finger, and held my horse with the bridle rein thrown over my left arm. Every time a shot passed over us, old Dan would toss up his head and pull my finger out of the wound, and I concluded that while like Mercutio’s wound, “it was not as deep as a well, or as wide as a church door, it was enough;” and so it proved, for it finally “let out his sweet life” twenty years afterwards. Vickery came over with a four wheeled ambulance and picked him up and carried him back to Centreville, where he was afterwards captured by the enemy.

Vickery was a tall, raw-boned Irishman from county Cork, who followed Surgeon Palmer from the University of Michigan, to look after the regimental hospital. He was clever, well educated, with plenty of wit and a large heart. The Second loved Vickery more, I believe, than they ever did anyone else, and with good reason too. He rose to be assistant surgeon Aug. 8, 1862, and surgeon Sept. 1st, 1854. He jumped up upon the earthwork at Petersburg, June 29th, 1864, to see the colored troops charge at the Burnside mine explosion, when a bullet cut one of the femoral arteries. Surgeon Hamilton E. Smith, of the 27th Michigan was beside him at this time, and performed the most valuable service of his life in checking the hemorrhage, as these wounds are usually fatal on the field. Vickery is now a surgeon in the regular army, and is in charge of the army and navy hospital at Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Colonel Richardson shortly after came over from the front, and in a scornful sort of manner, suggested to the regiment, that we had better be getting back or the enemy’s cavalry would cut us off. Upon this we moved back into the woods. Loss in the 3d Brigade, 19 killed; 38 wounded; 26 missing. Rebel loss, 15 killed; 53 wounded. It was upon this occasion that Major Williams, after having moved the regiment well into the woods, formed them into a hollow square to resist an expected charge of cavalry. How well I can remember the beautiful appearance the regiment presented in the timber, with fixed bayonets. In the movement I was left on the outside, and tried in vain, to get into the place where the Adjutant and Major seemed so safely protected. Colonel Richardson’s remarks to the Major, when he discovered our position, and proceeded to unravel us, were not of a character to be repeated, even at this late date.

It was on our way in from the place where Wollenweber had been wounded, and at the edge of the woods, that I found one of our lieutenants lying at the foot of a large oak tree, quite white and limp. He had been in the Mexican war and we regarded him as an experienced soldier. I stopped an army wagon and tried to load him in, supposing he had been taken seriously ill. Colonel Richardson, who seemed to be ubiquitous, ordered him out, and spoke very harshly to him, and took quite an unprofessional view of the case. After the Colonel had gone on, I ordered the Lieutenant loaded in again, and as the last order is usually the one obeyed, we carried him back in safety. He disappeared like the Quartermaster, and we never saw either of them any more.

The Colonel had not gotten quite as much work out of the 1st Massachusetts and 12th New York, as he had expected, and he reared around a good deal during the next two or three days.

For two or three nights before the memorable Sunday, July 21, 1861, picket firing had been very constant, and the details from the regiment had pretty generally tired off their pieces a good many times. The grand rounds at night by the officer of the day was considered little less than fatal. He usually proceeded with a sergeant on each side as flankers, all with pistols at full cock. After having made the circuit of the pickets, this officer lay down to sleep with his flankers on either side, in order to prevent so important an official from being captured.

We held our position between Blackburn’s ford and Centreville along the line of the Bull Run during the battle on Sunday, the 21st. It was quite a commanding position, and we could look off to the north and west, and get some idea of the plan of the battle

We came near being the centre of the fight ourselves. It seems, that Beauregard intended to deliver battle on our left, and cut through to Centreville and get in the rear of McDowell, but the aide de camp who was sent with the final order, stopped to get a drink at a spring. The farmer, upon whose land the spring was located, being an ardent rebel, would not permit him to go on his way with only this cold cheer, but insisted upon pledging him in a glass of peach brandy. The excitement was so great, and the importance of the occasion so supreme, that the aide took several drinks of this apparently harmless beverage. Upon remounting and galloping off he accidentally struck his head against a tree, and became insensible, so the order was never received by Ewell, the general in command on the Rebel right. In the meantime, General Hunter’s column was pressing the enemy’s left so hard that they were forced into a defensive battle.

During all this day, we, at Blackburn’s ford, heard the heavy firing beyond the stone bridge, and hoped that the Union forces were winning a great victory, and that we should be in Richmond within five days. It might have dampened our ardor somewhat had we known that nearly four years of hardship were to intervene before we should realize the fulfillment of that “hope deferred.”

During the afternoon, about 4 P. M., Colonel Davis, of the 2d brigade of Colonel Miles’ division, made a very creditable defense of our left. Colonel Richardson’s brigade, the 4th of Tyler’s division, was making a demonstration at Blackburn’s ford by throwing out heavy skirmishers, as if to cross over. Colonel Jones was ordered by General Johnson to cross and attack our left, in order to prevent the division from joining in the battle on the Warrenton pike, which was at that time very hotly contested. Colonel Jones crossed at McLean’s ford, with three regiments and formed in line intending to flank Captain Hunt’s field battery of four guns. Colonel Davis, noting this movement, changed his front unobserved and waited for the attack. When Jones’ brigade came within five hundred yards Captain Hunt opened upon his line with cannister, and Jones’ Brigade simply disappeared.

As Colonel Nicolay says, in his “Outbreak of the Rebellion,” Jones modestly reported a loss of 14 killed and 62 wounded. The loss in Davis’ brigade was trifling. What would have been the result of throwing the brigades of Richardson, Davis and Blenker, over the stone bridge not more than a mile distant, to meet the forces of Ewell, Early and Holmes, as they came up from our left to join the battle at the Henry house. Can anyone imagine what would have been the effect upon the long victorious Union troops, who had marched so many miles, and fought so many hours, and charged again and again, by regiments, up the Henry house hill?

I remember to this day, how much solid satisfaction it gave us that evening, when we first began to realize that we were defeated, to hear that General Scott was hurrying up from Alexandria with a 50 pounder seige gun, manned by the marine corps from Fortress Monroe.

The medical men of our brigade and General Miles’ division, were in a large farm house on the left of the Blackburn’s ford pike.

I had just made my first amputation, and was examining the bones of the amputated arm, when Colonel Richardson rode up and reiterated his warning of three days before, that “you had better be getting out of here or the enemy’s cavalry will cut you off.” Complying with this apparently well founded order, and with the aid of Vickery and Cleland, loading up my solitary patient, I was about to mount my horse and move back towards Centreville, when Colonel Richardson asked me if I would be obliging enough to let Mrs. Richardson have my horse, as she could not find hers, and he was about to send her back to Alexandria under the escort of Captain Brethschneider and his two conpanies of flankers. Of course, however much I felt that I needed a horse at that moment, to avoid the charge of black horse cavalry, momentarily expected from the left, I acceded to the Colonel’s request, assuring him that I considered it a privilege to render any service to either the male or female commander of our brigade.

Reasoning that if I was obliged to walk, I had better not stand upon the order of my going, but go at once, I started off at a fair, brisk, shooting gait of some four or five miles an hour, expecting to join the column moving back on the Blackburn ford pike to Centreville. I had not proceeded more than a hundred yards, when, like Lot’s wife, I looked back, only with more fortunate results, for I spied old Dan eating clover, and Mrs. Richardson mounted upon another horse, and starting off under Captain Brethschneider’s escort. I turned back, mounted old Dan, and rode down to Centreville, and up on to the Rebel earth-works, which overhung Fairfax pike.

It is not often in a lifetime that one is permitted to see such a sight as I then witnessed. A retreating, uniformed, unorganized, unarmed crowd, poured down towards Washington at a steady unhalting pace. The men who had borne the burden and heat of the day, the camp followers, the friends of the several regiments who had come along to see the victory. Every now and then a wounded officer or soldier, assisted by his comrades, went by. Here appeared a couple of Zouaves riding on an artillery horse, with the broad, flat harness on, as it had been cut out of the traces. I remember seeing a Zouave officer walking along, slightly wounded, and hearing him say to those with him, that he would go no further, here he would stand and fight to the last, and just then a gun from one of our field pieces was fired off in an unmeaning manner, over into Virginia from near Centreville. The sound of that gun sent all his military resolutions to the winds, and he passed along with the steady current of the retreat. On looking down into the lunette, I saw a number of open carriages, and standing up in one of them was Zach Chandler, looking off towards Bull Run (for Centreville was on a hill,) into the red dust which formed the horizon toward the battlefield. This must have been near nine o’clock in the evening, at that season of the year about the time that the growing twilight takes the place of daylight. I had sent on the regimental ambulance, and rode back to the 3rd brigade, which lay with Tyler’s and Davis’s brigades, to the south and south-west of Centreville, in line of battle, waiting for the long expected attack of Beauregard.

It was a relief to see the quiet composure of these troops after having witnessed the confusion of the retreating mass surging towards Washington.  After the darkness fell, these three brigades covered the retreat. Richardson’s last.

Col. Miles had been suspended by McDowell on account of drunkenness and inefficiency, Colonel Richardson having complained to McDowell that he had been constantly interfered with by Col. Miles, commanding the 5th division; that Miles was drunk and incapacitated for duty, and it was by his orders Richardson had been withdrawn from holding Blackburn’s ford.

It was here that Richardson lost his sword, and his wife’s horse and side-saddle. The sword he had left standing against a tree, and forgetting it there when he moved on. He borrowed mine, greatly to my relief. It was a heavy cavalry sabre which had been issued to me by the State—for ornamental purposes, I presume—and was a counterpart of the one lost by the Colonel. He applied for permission to send a flag of truce, hoping to have the horse and side-saddle returned, but was refused by General Tyler, very curtly. Richardson had known General Bee, and he told me he knew that if Bee was able to do so, he knew he would send them back. Poor Bee had hummed his last note, and was no longer a worker in the hive of the Confederacy. He had been killed in the hot work on the Sudley road, on the 21st.

The 3rd Michigan of our brigade, had about the same experience that the 2d had in this campaign; and to the 1st Michigan belong any laurels won by hard fighting. This regiment made four charges at the Henry house hill in the hottest of the battle, and lost 6 killed, 37 wounded, and 52 taken prisoner. Here it was that General Wilcox was severely wounded, and that Captain W. H. Withington was captured.

We believed that a stand would be made at Fairfax Court House, and no one in our division imagined we would go further back. As I rode into Fairfax Court House that night, a rather warm-looking individual in a rumpled linen duster, and with a straw hat well pushed back on his head, rushed down into the road, and seizing me by the hand, fervently exclaimed, “Thank God! Govenor, you are safe.” I said, I was, just as thankful as he appeared to be, and appreciated it quite as much as if I was a govenor, as it did not make much difference, so long as you were safe, what your rank was. It seemed he had mistaken me for Govenor Sprague of Rhode Island. I did feel flattered for the moment.

At this place I saw an anxious looking elderly man leaning over a gate, who asked me whether the army would make a stand here. His youngest son was in the house, mortally wounded; in the retreat a black horse cavalryman had ordered him to surrender and upon his refusing had shot him, the ball passing through the spine. The father had followed his son in to the tield. He was from Ohio. His name was McCook, and he was the father of those gallant sons, afterwards known as the “fighting McCooks.” His son died that night. McCook found out the name of the rebel cavalryman, who came from Warrenton, Virginia, and hunted for him in and about Washington and Alexandria for a long time; coming on his hot trail several times. By a strange coincidence, two or three of the McCook brothers were killed upon different anniversaries of this same day. I remember one, a general officer, was killed by guerillas, who took him out of an ambulance in Tennessee. And this old gentleman himself was shot by Gen’l Morgan’s men, in the raid through Ohio.

We did not halt at Fairfax Court House, but kept right on to the Long bridge at Washington, by way of Munson’s hill and Arlington. In this battle of Bull Run the Union army lost 481 killed, 1011 wounded, and 1460 missing. The Rebel loss was 269 killed, 1483 wounded, no missing mentioned.

It was in many respects a grand battle, and was well conceived and well fought on both sides. And there were as valorous deeds and as good work done on this open field by the raw toops, as were done in any battle of the war. The mistakes were chiefly tactical, and could hardly have been separated from the conditions which at that time existed; who knows what might have been the result had the battle been set 24 hours sooner, or before General Joe Johnston had added his 8,884 men and 22 guns, to Beauregard’s army. As it was, this army from the valley of the Shenandoah, which did most of the fighting on the Rebel side, and the arrival of its last brigade on the flank and rear of the Union lines decided the contest. Military critics are agreed that in many points. Bull Run, was a battle which the more it is studied the more it will redound to the military credit of both sides engaged in it. While the troops were not handled with the same firmness as Grant, Sherman, or Sheridan would have shown later, the material was there in as good quality as when its commanders of regiments and brigades, such as Richardson, Keyes, Sherman, Porter, Burnside, Hunter, Heintzleman, Ricketts, Franklin, Griffin, Wilcox and Howard, later rose to the command of Divisions, Corps and Armies.

This campaign occurred in what might be designated as the “romantic period” of the war. Who that was in field and camp in the summer of ’61, does not realize the truthfulness of this distinction as compared with the sledge-hammer work under that modern Charles Martel, General Grant, in’64 and’65?

We were all young then—and the imagination was more active, the ambitions were greater, the pleasures and disappointments keener. Every man carried a baton in his knapsack, and Hope, the enchantress, was clad in the most roseate hues. Who can look back after these long years, when all of us have drunk the cup of experience, and have in too many instances found it far different from the nectar of our youth, and not sympathize with the thrill and enthusiasm of those earlier days of the war ?

The soldier of ’61 was full of life and patriotism, his ardor undampened by the stern discipline and reverses of the war. The soldier of ’65 was inured to hardship and adversity, and hoped less, but fought and accomplished more. The period of romance had changed to a period of system and endurance. Individuality had given place to mechanical action, and what was lost in enthusiasm and animation, was made up in concert of action and confidence in method. The military machine ran more smoothly and with less friction, and inspired greater confidence. The history of these four years of war has its counterpart in our own lives. In our youth, we acted upon impulse regardless of consequences, now we think before we act: “then we saw through a glass darkly, but now we see face to face; then we knew in part, but now we know even as we are known.”

Life is easier at fifty than it was at twenty, but as a rule it is not more delightful; and so it was with the war. In ’61 it was pic-nic, and a theatre ; in ’64, and ’65 it was a business, and a circus.

The story of the Bull Run campaign which I can recall is no fable, nor is it the vain imaginings of a cavalryman, it is the veritable truth. That campaign had every adornment of high coloring, it was gotten up regardless of expense, and the music and scenic effects were magnificent. It needed the brilliant tinting of a Turner to paint it true to life, and the pen of a Mark Twain to record its vitality and expression. With its unhappy termination, went out forever the effervescence and impulsiveness of the service in the war. And with the disappearance of the baggy red breeches and the havalocks, and the pell-mell marching, came in the forty rounds in the cartridge box, the three days rations in the haversack, and the sharper lines of rout and battle.

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The Regular Infantry in the First Bull Run Campaign – Dangerfield Parker

3 03 2010

THE REGULAR INFANTRY IN THE FIRST BULL RUN CAMPAIGN.

PERSONAL REMINISCENCES.

BY DANGERFIELD PARKER, MAJOR NINTH US INFANTRY

UNITED SERVICE – Volume XIII (1885), pp. 521-531

The rays of the afternoon sun of the 16th of July, 1861, were brightly reflected from the rifle-barrels of a compact little battalion of infantry just about to move from camp at Arlington Heights, Virginia, and take its place in the heavy column already beginning the march toward Fairfax Court-House. The battalion consisted of Companies C and G, Second, B, D, G, H, Third, and G, Eighth United States Infantry, under the command of Major George Sykes, Fourteenth Infantry (afterward major-general of volunteers, and in command of the Fifth Corps), who had recently been promoted from captain Third Infantry. Captain N. H. Davis, Second Infantry (now inspector-general United States Army) was the acting major. There were but few of the remaining officers who had had much experience in the field, they being for the most part either fresh from West Point or civil life.

It is not my purpose in this article to attempt an elaborate description of the campaign ending in the disastrous battle of Bull Run, for this has been done by far abler hands, but rather to relate the part taken in it by the little force to which I had the honor to belong, together with such incidents as will be likely, I trust, to interest the general reader. In order, however, to render my narrative intelligible, it will be necessary, here and there, to describe with as light a touch as I may, such dispositions of troops, etc., as may be requisite to throw into relief the role performed by the actors in my little drama.

Five companies, only, of the Third Infantry had succeeded, a few weeks previously, in withdrawing from Texas (where they were stationed before the war), the remaining ones having been taken prisoners at Indianola by an overwhelming force of Confederates, and afterwards paroled. They rejoined the regiment the ensuing year. I afterwards heard some of the older officers say that when this was effected, the enlisted men of these paroled companies were reported “Present or accounted for,” though many received tempting offers of commissions in the Confederate service.

The battalion which we have just seen as about to commence its march (1) formed a portion of the First Brigade (Porter’s), Second Division (Hunter’s). The troops composing the remainder of this brigade were: a battalion of seven companies of regular cavalry, belonging to the First and Second Regiments, and Second Dragoons, under the command of Major (now General) Innis Palmer, a battalion of marines under Major Reynolds, the Eighth, Fourteenth, and Twenty-seventh New York Infantry, and Griffin’s battery of the Fifth United States Artillery.

Before proceeding with our narrative it will not be amiss, perhaps, to take a glance at the city of Washington as it then appeared. But for the handsome public buildings scattered here and there, the place presented all the characteristics of a southern town,—and a second-rate one at that,—and bore no resemblance to the beautiful city of to-day. The streets were wretchedly paved and lighted, and, in spots, an air of shabbiness—not to say dilapidation—prevailed.

The troops that since the “call” of the President had been pouring into the city were, in part, the organized militia of the different States, and, in part, volunteers. All having been mustered into the United States service, however, this distinction was but a technical one. The streets of the city fairly swarmed with these troops; mounted orderlies galloped hither and yon, the music of the bands of incoming regiments filled the air, the hotel corridors were filled with embryo brigadiers, and all was excitement, bustle, and seeming confusion. I remember, but a few brief weeks before the period of which I write, to have met daily, General (then major in the adjutant-general’s department) McDowell on his way to muster in the latest arrived battalions. He was always in the full dress of that day,—i.e., the soft felt hat with ostrich feathers, epaulets, and sash; and I recall the impression made upon me by his fine physique and soldierly appearance.

So far as I am informed, the First Bull Run campaign was the only one in which the troops represented—regulars, militia, and volunteers— preserved their distinctive names, and, to a certain extent, uniforms. The last-named feature gave to the columns rather a parti-colored, not to say variegated, appearance. I recall that the Fourteenth New York, for instance (familiarly known as the Fourteenth Brooklyn), wore a semi-zouave uniform. The Twelfth New York Volunteers wore the full-dress hat of the regular infantry. There were a few regiments uniformed in gray,—Wisconsin and Minnesota troops,—and this fact gave rise during the battle to the report that one or more of these organizations were fired upon by our own men. I am under the impression also that some of the companies wore the old-fashioned “swallow-tail.”

But to resume. The march to Centreville was necessarily a tedious one. The troops were, as a body, raw, and almost all of them inexperienced in field service. So far as drill was concerned, most of them had some knowledge of company and battalion movements. But in regard to marching, target-practice, and the thousand and one details of practical soldiering, they were utterly, and necessarily so, uninstructed. The regular troops had quite a number of old soldiers in their ranks, with the usual sprinkling of recruits. The paucity of their numbers—so far, at least, as the cavalry and infantry were concerned— prevented their being an important factor in the attack, but it was far otherwise, as we shall see, in the retreat.

Leaving out the element of inexperience—or rawness, if you will— of the volunteer troops engaged in this campaign, I have always been of the opinion that they were an exceptionally fine body of men, and that their conduct on the field of battle was, under the circumstances in which they were placed, all that could possibly be expected of them. They only did, indeed, what veteran troops had done, upon occasion, in similar cases from time immemorial.

Of the battalion of marines, consisting of about three hundred and fifty, rank and file, all, excepting about a dozen non-commissioned officers, were raw recruits; and of the commissioned officers there were comparatively few of experience. Their veteran major (Reynolds), being keenly alive to this fact, let no opportunity slip of endeavoring to get them into shape, and the novel spectacle of battalion drills by moonlight, after a tedious day’s march, was presented several times, much to the interest and amusement of our men. The good result of this, however, was satisfactorily demonstrated on the field of battle.

The march of the 16th was necessarily a short one, the evening of the 17th finding us in the vicinity of Fairfax Court-House. During this day’s march—a hot and dusty one, I remember—a private belonging to some organization ahead of us passed us at “double-quick” on his way to the front. I have never forgotten his appearance. Like many another commencing his campaign experience, he had prepared for the march by literally packing himself, and beside the regulation knapsack, haversack, canteen, blanket, and rifle, he appeared to carry an assorted cargo of “a little of everything.” As he passed us with pots rattling, etc., he turned a jolly red face toward the column and exclaimed, “Lord, Jee! I wisht I was a mule!” The roar of laughter that followed seemed greatly to refresh and speed him on his way.

The close of the day’s march on the 18th found us in bivouac near Centreville. I cannot now recall whether it was during that night, or that of the 19th, that the following incident occurred: As a distinguished general officer, describing the rout of the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville, said, “somebody fired a gun” (but not the enemy, who was some distance away), and straightway such a fusilade across our camp began—apparently from every direction—that we were fain to look about for any shelter that might present itself. One of the officers’ “strikers” who was leisurely crossing the camp-ground, apparently oblivious to the fact that anything unusual was going on, had his march suddenly arrested by Captain D , who shouted “Lie down, you d— fool!”—which he proceeded to do instanter. He had been taught to obey orders, but not to avoid friendly bullets in an enemy’s country. It was one of the hottest fires I ever experienced.

While here, also, we witnessed a scene novel to most of us, and probably the last of its kind that took place in our army. It was the punishment, by whipping, of two deserters. Before the war this was the penalty prescribed for desertion in time of peace, and these criminals had committed the act some time previously. The battalion was drawn up in square, the punishment taking place within it. I will not enlarge on this scene further than to say it was a very painful one. A young officer, who displayed conspicuous gallantry in action a couple of days thereafter, fainted in ranks. One of the volunteers inquired of an officer of the Third, “If I, too, should desert, would I receive such punishment?” He was answered, “No, you would be shot!” But he did not seem to think this would be an improvement.

Having previously had many associations with the navy, I had a personal acquaintance with several of the older officers of the battalion of marines, from whom I received numerous invitations to meals, which, as they lived very well, to say nothing of their genial manners and hearty hospitality, I was very glad to accept. No one had tents, of course, but in some mysterious way they had been able to carry along tables. Though we dined and supped, therefore, alfresco, these appliances of civilization—with the addition of real tumblers, etc.— were most acceptable. I remember that at Centreville, after supper one evening, having permission to be absent from our own tattoo, I remained to hear the half-score or so of little marine drummers and fifers “sound off” that call. The field music of the corps used to be (and I presume still is) excellent, and during the two or three days we were at Centreville the performance of tattoo attracted crowds of volunteers, who evinced their appreciation of the music by loud clapping of hands, etc.

Major (afterwards General) George Sykes was an officer for whom I have always had an ardent admiration. He was a born soldier, and displayed conspicuous ability in every position in which he was placed. He possessed in a high degree that union of soldierly qualities that, while holding his men well in hand and under perfect control, enabled him to effect some decisive stroke with the least possible damage to his command. Thus his troops were in course of the war frequently called upon to enact upon the field of battle a dual or triple role,—to assist in opening the engagement, then to be withdrawn to the reserve, and finally (as at both Bull Runs, first and second) to make the final charge of the day. His troops seemed imbued with something of the order of his own daily life and demeanor, influenced by the same regularity and discipline, of which the ever-buttoned coat and spotless white glove were the outward symbols. As a man, he was upright and chivalrous; as a companion, courteous and—to his intimates—genial.

THE BATTLE

Day had not yet broken on the morning of July 21,1861, when our little force was paraded in readiness for the march to the battle-field; but, owing to the tardy march of troops in front, our division did not reach Centreville, about a mile distant, until after four o’clock, and it was some time after sunrise before we crossed Cub Run, on the Warrenton turnpike, and turned to the right on the “wood road” leading to Sudley Ford, with the “objective” of turning the Confederate left. This delay in the movement of the column in our front was particularly unfortunate, as the result proved, as this circumstance, coupled with the fact that the distance to be traversed was greater than the general-in-chief was led to expect, and the impossibility of concealing the movement of so large a column on a dusty road not especially favored topographically for this purpose, turned what had been intended as a “manoeuvre-march” into a simple “manoeuvre.” It will be remembered that McDowell’s original plan was to attempt to turn the Confederate right, and that this was abandoned for the reasons, as he himself says in his official report, that, upon examination, the roads on that flank ” were too narrow and crooked for so large a body to move over, and the distance around too great to admit of it with any safety.” Further, that the affair at Blackburn’s Ford, on the 18th, showed the enemy was too strong there to admit of forcing a passage without great loss, and if successful “would bring us in front of his strong position at Manassas, which was not desired.” And again, it has been stated that a demonstration in any direction was delayed by the non-arrival of subsistence stores (rations), which did not arrive until the night of the 19th and were distributed on the 20th.

The weather was extremely hot, and although the wood through which we now marched furnished here and there some protection from the fierce rays of the sun, yet its very denseness shut out the breeze and made the heat almost intolerable. The Second Brigade (Burnside’s) slowly preceded us under these circumstances, and it must have been fully ten o’clock before we arrived in the vicinity of Sudley Ford, probably eight or nine miles from our point of departure on the Warrenton turnpike. Turning south we speedily saw the smoke from the fire of the troops on the Confederate left, resting at that time on the Sudley road and the high ground north of the valley of Young’s Branch. The troops engaged were afterwards understood to be South Carolina and Louisiana regiments under General Evans, and opposed to them was Burnside’s second brigade of our division, which “opened the ball.” Just at this time an order reached Sykes to bring his battalion forward in support of Burnside. Before doing so he made us a short address. It was to the point, and gave us to understand that there would probably be some work for us to do. Shortly before this time, also, the first soldier I ever saw wounded in action passed us,—a cavalryman shot in the sword arm. The Sudley and Newmarket road, by which the column was now marching, was thickly wooded between the command and the creek (Bull Run) for a distance of about a mile, and then the country becomes more open on both sides of the road, gradually clearing into a series of undulating or rolling fields extending as far as the Warrenton turnpike, distant from the ford about two miles. Young’s Branch crosses the turnpike near the intersection of the two roads named, and it was in the more or less open space in this vicinity that the battle raged the fiercest.

We moved along at double time until, striking the open space referred to, we formed line, and swinging forward our left, charged through a belt of timber, taking several prisoners. Just previously we passed Rickett’s splendid battery, belonging to Franklin’s brigade of the Third (Heintzleman’s) Division. It was drawn to one side to allow us to pass, (2) and poor “Dang” Ramsay attracted our attention by waving his cap which he had placed on his sheathed sabre. He was killed shortly after this.

It was upon emerging from this wood, as I remember, that the battalion found itself opposite a masked battery posted near a house in the vicinity of the junction of the Warrenton turnpike and the Sudley road, and supported by an infantry force in position among the trees around it. The three left companies of the battalion were deployed as skirmishers under Captain Dodge, Eighth Infantry (now colonel Eleventh Infantry), and gallantly advancing to the attack were soon hotly engaged. The remainder of the battalion advanced across an open plain, the right skirting a belt of heavy timber. Having arrived at the apex of the angle formed by the southern limit of this wood with its eastern side, we changed direction to the right, and wheeling into line took up position to support the Rhode Island battery. This battery was served and handled with marked gallantry.

The troops on the Confederate left at this time consisted, as afterward appeared, of Evans’s demi-brigade, supported by Bee’s brigade posted near the historic Henry house, and afterward further strengthened, when the Confederate left fell back, by Hampton’s Legion and other troops.

By some Confederate writers the “turning column” has been estimated as about eighteen thousand strong. The official returns for July 16 and 17 give the total strength of the Second and Third Divisions as twelve thousand four hundred and twenty-five, from which it is to be presumed that on the day of the battle the usual number of non-effectives (the sick, etc.) must be deducted, as well as one entire regiment of the Third Division (the Fourth Michigan) not engaged.

The position of affairs on our right at this time was about as follows:

The Second Division (Hunter’s) hotly engaged; the Second (Burnside’s) Brigade on the right; the Third (Heintzleman’s) Division rapidly taking position on our left. The Rhode Island battery, which was the first one in position, was on the right, the two boat-howitzers attached to the Seventy-first New York Regiment on its left. A few hundred yards to the left, at intervals, Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were posted in the order named. Arnold’s battery came into action a little later, and was posted on the left centre. From the position, of affairs, the brunt of the fighting was sustained, so far as artillery was concerned, by these batteries, and nobly they did their work. They were superbly handled.

Griffin’s battery was supported by the marines, and Rickett’s by the Fire Zouaves (Eleventh New York), with the Fourteenth New York as a reserve support.

The battalion of regular cavalry—all there was of this arm in the column—was posted slightly in rear of the extreme right. History recounts the distinguished part played by this little force—seven companies—both in the action and in assisting to cover the retreat.

The First Division (Tyler’s) was posted as follows: Richardson’s brigade at Blackburn’s Ford, the other three (Sherman’s, Schenck’s, and Keyes’s) at or near the Stone Bridge. The Fifth Division (Miles’s) was held in reserve, and at no time engaged, except in slight skirmishing on the retreat. The Fourth Division (Runyon’s) was several miles to the rear.

It was originally intended, I believe, that the Third Division should turn off to the left, by a road supposed to be about midway between the Warrenton turnpike and Sudley Ford; but as such a road did not exist, this division followed the Second to the ford. This suppositious road was to lead to an equally suppositious ford east of Sudley’s.

After a stout resistance the Confederate left gave way, and was pressed back with such energy as speedily to throw it into confusion.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s and Keyes’s brigades having, accidentally as it appeared, discovered a ford on the run above the Stone Bridge, advanced and took an active part in the conflict.

The engagement now became general along the line. Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries were brought farther to the front. The arrival of Jackson’s command, and of some of the fresh troops of the Army of the Shenandoah just arrived, enabled the Confederates to rally their shattered battalions, and by taking the offensive in turn, to pierce our centre and recover some of their lost ground.

It was now after two o’clock. Our right, though checked, was readily rallied and put in order for another forward movement. The delay required to effect this probably enabled the Confederates to have at hand, an hour later, Elzey’s brigade and the other fresh troops, now rapidly advancing from Manassas Station. Our line again advanced, and recovered the plateau upon which were situated the Henry and Robinson houses, but was again repulsed, with the loss of nearly the whole of Griffin’s and Rickett’s batteries, the intrepid cannoneers being mostly shot down at their guns, while their supports fell back in disorder. The strong flanking position held by us on the right, however, enabled us still to hold our grip there, until the troops on our left were relieved and put in order for what was to be the final charge of the day on our part.

Up to this time, I believe it to be generally conceded that the fortunes of the day were in our favor. Even with the last advantage gained by the Confederates, we still retained our hold on the right so tenaciously as to enable us to reform a line of battle, presenting a firm and bold front. But the accession of fresh troops to the Confederate ranks afforded them the means of renewing the offensive so energetically that the result was inevitable. Moving around our right, under cover of the woods there, our flank began to yield, and before an advance of the whole Confederate line our men at length gave way, and in a twinkle were seized with a panic that, beginning in a retreat, degenerated into a rout.

Our battalion, which had remained under a hot fire for over an hour in support of the Rhode Island battery,—many of our men assisting in working it,—gradually worked its way farther to the right, the necessity for its longer stay in support of the battery having ceased, as the fiercest fighting was now developing in that direction. The line on this flank had extended somewhat in the manoeuvre for position.

Sykes now received an order to advance and cover the retreat of the troops in this part of the field. Shortly after getting in motion our little force was joined by a small detachment of what I now believe to have been Minnesota troops. They evidently must have been “spoiling for a fight,” at any rate, and had just left friends not so anxious for another round or two as they were. These men (uniformed, singularly enough, in gray) fell in on our left, and gallantly advanced to the front with us, and remained until we were ordered to form square. I then lost sight of them.

Though the number of troops engaged in this movement was insignificant, I have often thought that the order and regularity in which the men marched, and their gallant and determined bearing, must have excited the surprise, if not admiration, of our foe in the light of the events that preceded.

All was lost! The whole field, so far as the eye could reach, was covered with panic-stricken and flying men. The battalion advanced to the hill opposite, one upon which a house stood (probably Chinn’s, to the right and rear of the Henry house), where, being threatened with cavalry, it formed square. It remained in that position until, all of our men having fallen back, it was withdrawn in line-of-battle, suffering meanwhile severely from the fire of a section of artillery which was particularly attentive so long as it had a knowledge of our whereabouts. Being, on its march, still threatened by cavalry, the battalion, upon reaching the crest of another hill, faced about, opened fire, and held them in check. By this time the guns of the Confederates seemed from every height to converge their fire upon us, but by avoiding the road, the dust raised by the little column was so inconsiderable that our march was masked, and we were thus enabled to reach Centreville without further loss.

The reports of the different military commanders, as well as the accounts given by historians, agree in warmly praising the conduct of the regular infantry in this action. General McDowell says, “The battalion of regular infantry alone moved up the hill opposite to the one with the house, and there maintained itself until our men could get down to and across the Warrenton turnpike,” etc. General Barnard, the Compte de Paris, Swinton, and General Beauregard mention the conduct of the battalion in substantially the same terms.

The loss to the battalion, considering the small number engaged, was heavy, aggregating (killed, wounded, and missing) eighty-three. Lieutenant William Dickinson (now captain retired), acting adjutant of the battalion of the Third Infantry, was wounded and taken prisoner, as was also Lieutenant (now major Fourth Infantry) Jacob F. Kent.

I recall—the outcome of my inexperience—that in passing through these woods, I turned to Sykes and asked, “What do you make of this, major?” “Looks very much like a rout, lieutenant!” he replied, in the dry and somewhat nasal tone habitual to him.

Truly there is scarcely a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. I never think now of this incident without amusement: when the battalion formed square, as has been related, one of our friends in gray— apparently about six and a half feet high and slim in proportion— jumped up in the air and exclaimed frantically, “They’re trying to flank us! they’re trying to flank us!” His manner was so excited, and his appearance so outre (I think he wore a shako, which had slipped to the back of his head) that, if I had not been in a slightly mixed state of mind myself, I think I should have laughed outright. As it was, he made such a row that I felt strongly inclined to use some strong language. But all the same, he was a gallant fellow.

As we marched through Centreville we met the Fifth Division drawn up and seemingly in perfect order. I recollect that one regiment was singing “John Brown’s body.”

The fatigue of that terrible march, the gloom that settled like a pall upon the participants, can never be forgotten by them. General Sykes says in his official report, “Our officers and men were on their feet from 10 P.M. on the 20th until 10 A.M. on the 22d.” I must have fallen asleep (3) while marching, for I found myself with a strange regiment (I think the Twelfth New York Volunteers) when day broke. My command had halted for a short rest at Fairfax Court-House, and soon overtook me, after I had “fallen out” upon discovering my mistake.

The sun was high in the heavens when our worn-out officers and men reached camp at Arlington Heights, and after breaking ranks,— for the battalion had come “all the way through” in perfect order,— just threw their exhausted bodies down in the nearest shade that could be found.

Although, after the final charge of the Confederates on our right, with its attendant circumstances, there was no doubt in the mind of our leaders as to the final result, it would appear that the Confederate commanders were not at first prepared to decide upon the character of the reverse. So far as the disaster on our right, with its attendant circumstances, was concerned, there could be but one opinion. But was it a bona fide rout? It was, unquestionably. But were the Confederate leaders sure of it at first? We had heavy columns—of which fact they were doubtless aware—in reserve, as has been seen. The hardest part of the fighting had been done by the “turning column” and Keyes’s and Sherman’s brigades of Tyler’s division. Mr. Jefferson Davis writes to General Beauregard, under date of August 4, 1861, “You will not fail to remember that, so far from knowing that the enemy was routed, a large part of our forces was moved by you in the night of the 21st to repel a supposed attack upon our right, and the next day’s operations did not fully reveal what has since been reported of the enemy’s panic.”

So far as an advance upon Washington was concerned, it seems to have formed no part of the plan of the Confederate general-in-chief, nor of Mr. Davis,—at any rate at that time,—and this for what appear to have been good strategical reasons. Indeed, General Johnston makes a statement to that effect. He says, in his official report of the battle, “The apparent firmness of the United States troops at Centreville, who had not been engaged, which checked our pursuit; the strong forces occupying the works near Georgetown, Arlington, and Alexandria; the certainty, too, that General Patterson, if needed, would reach Washington with his army of thirty thousand men sooner than we could, and the condition and inadequate means of the army in ammunition, provisions, and transportation, prevented any serious thoughts of advancing against the capital.”

As to the numbers engaged on both sides, the official returns of the troops composing General McDowell’s army reported an aggregate of thirty-five thousand seven hundred and thirty-two. Of these about eighteen thousand—or let us say, at the outside, twenty thousand— were actively engaged. The Confederate field-return of the First Corps (Army of the Potomac) reports an aggregate of twenty-one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and the number actually engaged as nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven; but the return of casualties shows losses in organizations not embraced in this return. Of the Army of the Shenandoah engaged, General Beauregard reports the number as eight thousand three hundred and thirty-four. The reader can draw his own inference.

A few days after the battalion of regular infantry was re-established in camp, President Lincoln, accompanied by General McDowell, came over to review it. In their passage down the line they drew rein in front of the colors, when the general, turning to Mr. Lincoln, said, “Mr. President, these are the men who saved your army at Bull Run,”—doubtless an extravagant compliment. The President, looking keenly up and down the line, replied, “I’ve heard of them.”

This was all; but it made a powerful impression upon all present, as it more than compensated for the effect of the injurious reports rife in Washington upon our arrival there after the battle, viz., that “the regulars had run.”

Notes:

(1) This force was characterized by General Beauregard in his article in the November (1884) number of the Century as “a small but incomparable body of regular infantry.”

(2) If I remember correctly, it was this battery that was drawn by West Point horses.

(3) I believe this is not a very uncommon circumstance. I had done the same thing once before (in the “Patterson Campaign”) on the return march from Hagerstown to Williamsport.

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