Pvt. John O. Casler, Co. A, 33rd Virginia Infantry, On the March From Winchester and the Battle

25 02 2013

July 18th we marched through Winchester and took the road leading to Berry’s Ferry, on the Shenandoah river, about eighteen miles distant. The citizens were very much grieved to see us leave, for fear the enemy would be in town, as there were no troops left but a few militia and Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry.

After marching a few miles we were halted, and the Adjutant read us orders that the enemy were about to overpower General Beauregard at Manassas Junction, and we would have to make a forced march. It was General Johnston’s wish that all the men would keep in ranks and not straggle, if possible. Then we started on a quick march, marched all day and nearly all night, wading the Shenandoah river about 12 o’clock at night halted at a small village called Paris about two hours, then resumed the march about daylight, and arrived at Piedmont Station, on the Manassas Railroad.

Our brigade was in the advance on the march, and when we arrived at the station the citizens for miles around came flocking to see us, bringing us eatables of all kinds, and we fared sumptuously. There were not trains enough to transport al at once, and our regiment had to remain there until trains returned, which was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We had a regular picnic; plenty to eat, lemonade to drink, and beautiful young ladies to chat with. We finally got aboard, bade the ladies a long farewell, and went flying down the road, arriving at the junction in the night.

The next day, the 20th of July, we marched about four miles down Bull Run, to where General Beauregard had engaged the enemy on the 18th, and repulsed their advance. There we joined our brigade. We lay on our arms all night. We tore all the feathers out of our hats, because we heard the Yanks had feathers in theirs, and we might be fired on by mistake, as our company was the only one that had black plumes in their hats. We could hear pickets firing at intervals, and did not know what minute we would be rushed into action.

My particular friend and messmate, William I. Blue, and myself lay down together, throwing a blanket over us, and talked concerning our probable fate the next day. We had been in line of battle several times, and had heard many false alarms, but we all knew there was no false alarm this time; that the two armies lay facing each other, and that a big battle would be fought the next day; that we were on the eve of experiencing the realities of war in its most horrible form – brother against brother, father against son, kindred against kindred, and our own country torn to pieces by civil war.

While lying thus, being nearly asleep, he roused me up and said that he wanted to make a bargain with me, which was, if either of us got killed the next day the one who survived should see the other buried, if we kept possession of the battle-field.

I told him I would certainly do that, and we pledged ourselves accordingly. I then remarked that perhaps we would escape unhurt or wounded. He said: “No, I don’t want to be wounded. If I am shot at all I want to be shot right through the heart.”

During the night we heard a gun fired on the left of the regiment and I got up and walked down the line to see what had happened. I found one of the men had shot himself through the foot, supposed to have been done intentionally, to keep out of the fight, but the poor fellow made a miscalculation as to  where his toes were, and held the muzzle of the gun too far up and blew off about half of his foot, so it had to be amputated.

July 21st dawned clear and bright (and for the last time on many a poor soldier), and with it the sharpshooters in front commenced skirmishing. We were ordered to “fall in,” and were marched up the run about four miles, and then ordered back to “Blackburn’s Ford.” Our company and the “Hardy Greys” were thrown out as skirmishers, opposite the ford, in a skirt of woods commanding a full view of the ford, and ordered to fire on the enemy if they attempted to cross the run. While we were lying in that position heavy firing was heard on our left, both infantry and artillery. In a few moments we were ordered from there to join the regiment, and went “double quick” up the run to where the fighting was going on. The balance of the brigade was in line of battle behind the brow of a small ridge. We were halted at the foot of this ridge and Colonel Cummings told us that it was General Jackson’s command that our regiment should depend principally on the bayonet that day, as it was a musket regiment.

Some of the boys were very keen for a fight, and while we were down in the run they were afraid it would be over before we got into it. One in particular, Thomas McGraw, was very anxious to get a shot at the “bluecoats,” and when the Colonel read us the order about the bayonet I asked Tom how he liked that part of the programme. He said that was closer quarters than he anticipated.

Our regiment marched up the hill and formed “left in front,” on the left of the brigade, and on the entire left of our army. As we passed by the other regiments the shells were bursting and cutting down the pines all around us, and we were shaking hands and bidding farewell to those we were acquainted with, knowing that in a few moments many of us would be stretched lifeless on the field.

At this time our troops were falling back, but in good order, fighting every inch of the way, but were being overpowered and flanked by superior numbers. They were the 2d Mississippi and Colonel Evans’ 4th Alabama Regiments, General Bee’s South Carolina Brigade, Colonel Bartow’s 7th and 8th Georgia Regiments, Major Wheat’s Battalion (called the Louisiana Tigers), and Imboden’s Battery. They had resisted the main portion of the “Federal Army” and had done all that men could do, and had lost severely, but were still holding the enemy in check while we were forming.

It was there at this moment that General Jackson received the name of “Stonewall,” and the brigade the ever memorable name of “Stonewall Brigade.” General Barnard E. Bee, riding up to General Jackson, who sat on his horse calm and unmoved, though severely wounded in the hand, exclaimed in a voice of anguish: “General, they are beating us back!”

Turning to General Bee, he said calmly: “Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet.”

Hastening back to his men, General Bee cried enthusiastically, as he pointed to Jackson: “Look yonder! There is Jackson and his brigade standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer. Rally behind them!”

They passed  through our brigade and formed in the rear. I knew they were South Carolinians by the “Palmetto tree” on their caps. General Bee and Colonel Bartow fell, mortally wounded. The enemy, flushed with victory, pushed on, never dreaming what was lying just beyond the brow of the hill in the pines. There seemed to be a lull in the firing just at this time, and Sergeant James P. Daily, of my company, walked up to the brow of the hill, but soon returned with the exclamation: “Boys, there is the prettiest sight from the top of the hill you ever saw; they are coming up on the other side in four ranks, and all dressed in red!”

When we heard that, I, with several others, jumped up and started to see, but Colonel Cummings ordered us to “stay in ranks,” and Daily remarked: “We will see them soon enough.” Sure enough, in a few seconds the head of the column made its appearance, with three officers on horseback in front, and marching by the flank, with the intention of flanking one of our batteries – the Rockbridge Artillery, Captain W. N. Pendleton. In a few minutes they spied us lying there, and I heard one of the officers say: “Hello! what men are these?” At that moment some of our men who, evidently, had the “buck fever,” commenced, without orders, firing some scattering shots. The enemy then poured a volley into us, but as we were lying down the balls went over our heads, harmless.

That morning we had been given a signal to use in time of battle, to distinguish friend from foe, which was to throw the right hand to the forward, palm outward, and say, “Sumter.” When this regiment (which was the 14th Brooklyn, N. Y.), appeared in view Colonel Cummings gave the signal, and it was returned by one of the officers, but how they got it was a mystery. So, when the scattering shots were fired by some of our regiment, Colonel Cummings exclaimed: “Cease firing, you are firing on friends!” and the volley came from them at the same time, and I know I remarked, “Friends, hell! That looks like it.”

Colonel Cummings, seeing his mistake, and also seeing a battery of artillery taking position and unlimbering, in close proximity and in a place where it could enfilade our troops, determined to capture it before it could do any damage. I don’t think he had any orders from any superior officer, but took the responsibility on himself. Then came the command: “Attention! Forward march! Charge bayonets! Double quick!” and away we went, sweeping everything before us; but the enemy broke and fled.

We were soon in possession of the guns, killed nearly all the horses, and a great portion of the men were killed and wounded; and we were none too soon, for one minute more and four guns would have belched forth into our ranks, carrying death and destruction, and perhaps have been able to have held their position. As it was, the guns were rendered useless, and were not used any more that day, all though we had to give them up temporarily.

We were halted, and one of my company, Thomas Furlough, who had belonged to the artillery in the Mexican war, threw down his musket and said: “Boys, let’s turn the guns on them.” That was the last sentence that ever passed his lips, for just then he was shot dead.

While this was going on, the enemy were throwing a force on our left flank in the pines, and commenced pouring it into us from the front and an enfilading fire from the flank, and were cutting us to pieces, when we were ordered back, and halted at our first position.

Then we were reinforced by the 49th Virginia and the 6th North Carolina Regiments, commanded by Colonel Chas. F. Fisher (who was killed a few minutes afterwards) and “Extra Billy” Smith. This mad our line longer, and we were ordered to charge again. The charge of Jackson’s men was terrific. The enemy were swept before them like chaff before a whirlwind. Nothing could resist their impetuosity. The men seem to have caught the dauntless spirit and determined will of their heroic commander, and nothing could stay them in their onward course. The 33d Virginia, in its timely charge, saved the day by capturing and disabling Griffin’s battery, altho’ they could not hold it just then. The name won that day by the brigade and its General is immortal.

In this action our regiment (the 33d Virginia), being on the extreme left, was alone, the balance of the brigade not charging until later, and we were terribly cut up and had to fall back. General Jackson said he could afford to sacrifice one regiment to save the day; and it was the first check and first repulse the enemy had received, and during the remainder of the day the battle turned in favor of the Confederates.

We did not follow them far, for fresh troops were coming in all the time, and we had lost severely, and were considerably demoralized. I then took a stroll over the battlefield, to see who of my comrades were dead or wounded, and saw my friend, William I. Blue, lying on his face, dead. I turned him over to see where he was shot. He must have been shot through the heart, the place where he wanted to be shot, if shot at all. He must have been killed instantly, for hs was in the act of loading his gun. One hand was grasped around his gun, in the other he held a cartridge, with one end of it in his mouth, in the act of tearing it off. I sat down by him and took a hearty cry, and then, thinks I, “It does not look well for a soldier to cry,” but I could not help it. I then stuck his gun in the ground by his side, marked his name, company and regiment on a piece of paper, pinned it on his breast, and went off.

I then saw three field officers a short distance from me looking through a field glass. I very deliberately walked up to them and asked them to let me look through it, and one of them handed it to me. When looking through it I saw, about two miles off, what I took to be about 10,000 of the enemy. The field appeared to be black with them. I returned the glass, saying: “My God! have we all of them to fight yet?” Just at that moment “Pendleton’s Battery” turned their guns on them and I saw the first shell strike in the field. I don’t think it was five minutes until the field was vacant. I felt considerably relieved. I had had enough of fighting that day. We had gained a great victory. The enemy were completely routed and panic-stricken, and never halted until they arrived at Alexandria and Washington.

My company only numbered fifty-five, rank and file, when we went into service, but, ,so many having the measles and other ailments, we went into the fight with only twenty-seven men, and out of that number we lost five killed and six wounded. The killed were William I. Blue, Thomas Furlough, James Adams, John W. Marker and Amos Hollenback. The wounded were Sergeant William Montgomery, John Reinhart, Robert C. Grace, Edward Allen, A. A. Young and Joseph Cadwallader.

The regiment went right into action with about 450 men, and lost forty-three killed and 140 wounded. Our regiment fought the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves and the 1st Michigan, which poured a deadly volley into us. While we were engaged in front, Colonel Cummings ordered the regiment to fall back three times before they did so. All the troops engaged suffered more or less, but the loss of the 33d Virginia was greater than that of any regiment on either side, as the statistics will show, and it was the smallest regiment, not being full and not numbered.

We worked nearly all night taking care of the wounded, for nearly all of the enemy’s wounded were left in our hands. I took a short sleep on the battle-field. The next day was rainy and muddy. The regiment was ordered to “fall in,” but not knowing where they were going, I did not want to leave until I had buried my friend, according to promise. When they had marched off I hid behind a wagon, and Sergeant Daily, seeing me, ordered me to come on. I told him never would I leave that field until I had buried my friend, unless I was put under arrest. He then left me, and I looked around for some tools to dig a grave. I found an old hoe and spade, and commenced digging the grave under an apple tree in an orchard near the “Henry house.”

While I was at work a Georgian came to me and wanted the tools as soon as I was done with them. He said he wanted to bury his brother, and asked if I was burying a brother.

“No,” I replied, “but dear as a brother.”

“As you have no one to help you,” he said, “and I have no one to help me, suppose we dig the grave large enough for both, and we can help one another carry them here.”

“All right,” I said, “but I want to bury my friend near the tree, for, perhaps his father will come after him.”

So we buried them that way and gathered up some old shingles to put over the bodies, and a piece of plank between them. Then I rudely carved the name on the tree.

Captain William Lee, who was acting Lieutenant Colonel, was killed, and our Sergeant Major, Randolph Barton, a cadet from the Virginia Military Institute, was severely wounded.

That evening there was a detail made from each company to bury the dead, and we buried all alike, friend and foe, and this ended the first battle of “Bull Run,” and the first big battle of the war.

There is no doubt but that the timely charge of the 33d Virginia turned the tide of battle and saved the day for the Confederates. Colonel Cummings took the responsibility upon himself and ordered the charge just in the nick of time, for in five minutes’ time the Federals would have had their battery in position and would have had an enfilading fire on the brigade and Pendleton’s Battery, and made their position untenable. I herewith append a letter from Colonel Cummings, and one from Captain Randolph Barton, which bear me out in my statement, and more fully explain the situation and results. Also one that I had written to my parents three days after the battle, and which is still preserved.

Cummings Letter

Barton Letter

Casler Letter

James I. Robertson, Jr., ed., Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, pp. 21-33





Interview: Guy R. Hasegawa, “Mending Broken Soldiers”

22 10 2012

I first became familiar Guy Hasegawa through his collaboration with Jim Schmidt on Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine. At Jim’s request Guy sent me a copy of his new book, Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. OK, well, after I dropped a not very subtle hint to Jim on Facebook, that is. It’s a slim volume, only 80 pages of text with another 45 pages of appendices, notes, etc., but it’s chock full of good stuff all in answer to a question which perhaps you never actually considered – how did governments and industry satisfy the explosion in demand for artificial limbs brought about by the Civil War?

BR:  Guy, can you start off with a little background?

GH: I was born and raised in Santa Monica, CA, and received a B.A. in zoology from UCLA and a doctor of pharmacy degree from UC San Francisco. Further pharmacy training and jobs accounted for a series of moves eastward until I landed in suburban Maryland, where I have worked since 1988 as an editor for a pharmacy journal. I’ve published numerous articles on pharmacy and medical topics. My historical articles started appearing in 2000, and I collaborated with my good friend Jim Schmidt in editing and contributing to Years of Change and Suffering. I’m honored to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) and am a Director Emeritus of the Society of Civil War Surgeons (SOCWS). My wife and I have two college-age sons. Our remaining family member is of the canine persuasion – a male Belgian Malinois.

BR: How did you get interested in studying the Civil War?

GH: I think I’ve always been interested in military history. The Civil War Centennial started when I was nine, and I remember ordering a map – by mailing in some cereal box tops, I think – that showed the location of various battles and had portraits of generals around the border. I didn’t really start studying the war, though, until I moved to Maryland and began visiting battlefields and other sites. After seeing NMCWM in Frederick, MD, I volunteered my services there and was assigned, because of my pharmacy and editorial background, to research and write a panel for a display of medicinal herbs. The Museum referred me to Dr. Terry Hambrecht, an expert on Confederate medicine, who became a friend and mentor and continues to be an invaluable sounding board and information resource. The herb project required examination of primary reference sources, and I soon became hooked on the challenge of finding obscure information and trying to make sense of it. I began attending and lecturing at NMCWM and SOCWS conferences and writing historical articles based on my research. The members of these organizations are knowledgeable, encouraging, and eager to hear about each other’s research. Interacting with them has taught me a lot and helped me differentiate between tired topics and those that warrant further investigation.

BR: Why prosthetics?

GH: Much of my research has been on the Confederate medical department, and I have spent considerable time at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Washington, DC. While scanning NARA holdings, I became aware of the record book of the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers (ARMS), which I later learned was the wartime Southern organization that provided artificial limbs to amputees. I promised myself that I’d examine the volume when I had time, and once I did, I concluded that ARMS would be a good topic for an article or talk. A little more thought convinced me that the corresponding Union program also needed to be researched, and it eventually dawned on me that there might be enough material altogether for a book, especially if I included a description of the limbs industry. I didn’t start with an intention to learn about prostheses, but the story told by the records was too good not to relay. Because of my familiarity with Civil War medicine, I was pretty certain that the topic had not been explored in-depth and that I could handle it without wandering too far outside my areas of expertise.

BR: What will most folks, regardless of their experience studying the Civil War, learn from Mending Broken Soldiers?

GH: Mending Broken Soldiers is unique in numerous ways. It describes in detail the wartime efforts of both North and South to assist military amputees. Most of the existing literature deals with the postwar Southern programs, and the few brief descriptions of the wartime programs are incorporated into discussions of the social aspects of amputation and prosthetics.

My primary goal was to describe what happened and why, but this story cannot be appreciated without a basic understanding of prosthetics – how they were produced and by whom – so the book describes the intensely competitive limbs industry and includes an appendix of the makers important to the story. People interested in invention and technology should enjoy learning how the limbs were constructed and how makers used mechanical innovations and marketing to gain a competitive edge. I’m not aware of another modern work that provides this sort of information. One can find old articles and books about artificial limbs, but many of them were essentially advertising pieces and none, to my knowledge, provides a balanced overview of the business.

The book also serves as an effective case study demonstrating how the vast differences between the North and South influenced the respective programs’ ability to attain their goals. Constructing and distributing artificial limbs required, among other things, technical know-how, administrative competence, industrial capacity, manpower, raw materials, adequate transportation, and money. Although the Southern limbs effort did not lack for administrative ability and zeal, the book neatly illustrates how deficiencies in those other factors compromised the program. The tribulations of the Southern program provide insight about the difficulties that plagued other aspects of the Confederate war effort. Mending Broken Soldiers features a slew of illustrations, many of which have not previously appeared in print. The publisher has posted lists of soldiers who applied for or received an artificial limb through the programs. These lists, which are available at no cost, convey some idea of the war’s human toll and may be useful to genealogists and others who are researching individual soldiers. Readers looking for a connection between past and present will learn that today’s programs to supply prostheses to service members arose from the efforts described in Mending Broken Soldiers. Those interested in famous military men will learn something new about Union cavalryman Ulric Dahlgren and Confederate generals N. B. Forrest, J. B. Hood, and R. S. Ewell. The book is not just for Civil War medicine enthusiasts.

BR: Can you describe the project and what you learned along the way that surprised you?

GH: My research started in mid-2009 and continued until I submitted the final manuscript about two years after that. It would have taken much longer if I had not already been familiar with Civil War medicine and with some of the resources at NARA and other repositories. A major difficulty, common to much Civil War research, was the incompleteness and scattering of records and the difficulty of piecing together documentary evidence into a cohesive story. Much of the documentation I used was in the form of letters that had to be gathered from various sources and put in chronological order to get a picture of events. The U.S. Surgeon General’s records were particularly troublesome because they are massive and require you to look in registers and indexes to find possibly pertinent letters, which are often mis-filed. All this takes time because of the limits that NARA puts on the number of records you can request – not to mention the mental fatigue that sets in after a few hours of trying to read strange handwriting in disappearing ink. I was dismayed at my inability to find some vital reports to the Surgeon General, without which I’d have to make some risky inferences. These were referred to but not filed with the Surgeon General’s correspondence, and I almost gave them up for lost when I discovered them among records of the Adjutant General. Another obstacle was the lack of cooperation from an important archival source, which I will not name. I eventually got what I needed, but it was like pulling teeth.

Since I started with no knowledge about the limbs programs, everything was new and interesting. One of the neat things about the Union records was correspondence from prominent physicians – guys you hear about when studying the history of medicine, like Valentine Mott and Samuel Gross. I had no idea that ARMS, a civilian agency, was administered by a Confederate surgeon. This helped explain why the organization operated as well as it did, and it also accounted for the ARMS documents showing up among official Confederate records. I was surprised at the difficulty that ARMS had in finding decent artificial limbs to copy. There must have been Southerners wearing high-quality Northern prostheses, so I’m perplexed about why they were so hard to locate. I was also surprised that when amputees were given a choice, after the war, between a replacement prosthesis and cash, the vast majority took the money. The archival material is sprinkled with bits of unexpected information, and many of these nuggets made it into the book.

After a while, any researcher starts to see that the investment of time is yielding less and less new information. I reached a point at which I considered the narrative fairly coherent and detailed enough for most readers. I also had a deadline for submitting a finished manuscript, so that forced me to halt further research and devote my remaining time to cleaning up my writing and making sure all the pieces were in place. At this point, I don’t think I omitted anything important.

BR: You’ve covered some of this above, but can you expand on your research and writing process, and where you found your information?

GH: The bulk of my research was conducted at NARA. I transcribed nearly all of the Confederate material I found into Word documents. This greatly facilitated later reading and made it possible to use the search function to locate pertinent documents or passages. I should have done the same for the Union documents but didn’t. Beyond that, I cast a wide net to gather as much pertinent information as I could and always tried to trace it back to its original source. I consulted the Official Records and the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and searched the Surgeon General’s Index Catalogue (the predecessor of Index Medicus). Google books and other online sources provided lots of leads and many complete documents, including government reports. Fold3, a great online source for Confederate compiled service records, census records, and city directories, saved me many trips to NARA. I’m lucky to be close not only to NARA but also to other important information sources that I visited or contacted for this project. These included the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and NMCWM. I used WorldCat and other sources to identify libraries and other repositories holding important documents, and in almost all cases, I successfully obtained electronic or mailed copies.

As an editor, I often advise aspiring authors to write an outline and not to worry too much about eloquence or style when preparing initial drafts. My own practice is pretty much the opposite and did not change with the book even though it was a larger project than my articles. While I’m reading and organizing my stacks of references, I picture how the information is coming together and how it can best be arranged. By the time I actually begin writing, I know what I want to do with only a mental outline. For the book, I created a decent draft of one chapter before starting on the next, and the order in which I wrote the chapters depended on how complete my information was for the subject at hand. As I wrote, I discovered holes in the information or in my understanding of the topic, and this prompted additional research or reexamination of the sources. I also refine organization and wording constantly, starting with the first draft, so a piece of my writing is altered scores of times before I’m happy with it. I don’t recommend my approach, and it has probably worked for me only because my projects have been relatively small.

BR: Is there another Civil War related book in your future?

GH: I have another possible book in mind that would allow me to use a lot of material I’ve collected over the years on Union and Confederate medical purveying. As is the case with Mending Broken Soldiers, I’d like the material to demonstrate how conditions forced the two sides to take different approaches. I also want the work to be relevant to a wide range of readers, not just those specializing in Civil War medicine. Until I figure out how to do all of that, I won’t know exactly what the book will cover or how much more research I’ll need to do. For now, I’ll be promoting Mending Broken Soldiers, attending Civil War medicine conferences, and keeping my eyes open for something new to research.

Thanks, Guy, for a truly enlightening look into how Mending Broken Soldiers came about!





1st Sgt. John Tobin, Co. E, 6th Louisiana, On the Retreat from Fairfax Station, Blackburn’s Ford, and the Battle

6 06 2012

Battle of Bull’s Run and Manassas

————

Letter from One of the Mercer Guard, 6th Louisiana Volunteers

————

We have been favored with the following letter from a private of Col. Seymour’s Regiment, Mr. John Tobin, of this city, belonging to the Mercer Guard, who was promoted from the ranks to a lieutenant for his gallantry. The letter was written in pencil to a friend, with all the freshness and frankness of the true soldier, and will be found highly interesting, as everything must be to us at this time on this subject:

Union Mills, Va., July 31, 1861.

Dear Friend — We are now encamped at this point, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, five miles from Manassas Junction and five miles from Fairfax Station.

We have passed through many scenes and since I last wrote you, and have seen as hard duty as is common to volunteers. We have, for a week at a time, slept on the bare ground, without any shelter or covering except what the heavens saw fit to bestow upon us. We have been on duty during heavy rains, all night and day, unable to change our wet uniforms for clothing more dry and comfortable, for the simple reason that we were without a change of wearing apparel – our baggage having been transported to some place unknown to high privates and subalterns. Such is the life of a soldier; his toils, trials, and privations are our every-day experience.

At w o’clock on the morning of July 17, while encamped at Fairfax station, we were aroused from our peaceful dreams by the morning reveille. We were taken unawares by this unthought for alarm; however, we willingly performed the first duty of a soldier, (to obey orders,) and took our respective places in line to receive orders. Tents were struck, and baggage of all kinds, cooking utensils, &c., packed in double-quick time, and ’twas then we understood that the enemy were advancing on our position, and ’twas our intention to give them a warm reception. Our baggage, and every moveable and cumbersome article being packed into our camp wagons, our men proceeded to take their position behind the breastworks they had a few days before erected.

Our company (Mercer Guard) and Calhoun Guard composed the reserve, and were detached from our regiment, and entrusted with the honorable position of covering the retreat. We were expecting the attack every moment, when Brig. Gen. Ewell, commanding this brigade, (6th Louisiana and 5th Alabama Regiments,) ordered a retreat; the enemy were then within a few minutes’ march of our late encampment, and had we remained to give them battle we would have been completely cut to pieces, or compelled to surrender.

The reserve of which we were a part brought up the rear of the retreating party, and halted at Union Mills, where we are now encamped. We retreated along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and took the precaution to burn some four or five bridges between this point and Fairfax Station, to prevent the enemy’s artillery from coming by this road. Twenty minutes after our retreat the enemy, consisting of some 20,000 men, were upon our late camp ground. They rent the air with their shouts of exultation, and were so elated with their victory that they immediately took up their march, expecting to overtake and slaughter us. To our regiment is due the honor of decoying and misleading the enemy, and drawing them on to Bulls Run, where they suffered so inglorious a defeat. Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon the officers commanding our regiment. I would make mention of Col. Seymour, but he is too well known a soldier to receive any praise from my pen, either for bravery or capacity.

On the night of the 17th, both armies slept on their arms, being stationed about one mile from each other. On the morning of the 18th, the enemy advanced towards Bull’s Run, and attempted to cross at Mitchell’s Ford, and as you know ere this reaches you, with what success. Our company, on the night of the 19th, were posted as picket guard for two miles along Bull’s Run, it rained incessantly all night, and we were compelled to lay flat on the ground to prevent the enemy seeing our position, and most important of all to keep our powder and muskets dry. Occasionally you could hear the sharp report of a musket, then probably a volley, and you might bet your life that every report told its tale of death, and the returning echo seemed to answer that every shot had accomplished its purpose. On the morning of the 20th, we were relieved from picket guard by another company, and went to our quarters to take whatever rest the wet ground afforded us. Nothing eventful occurred until the morning of the 21st, the day was beautiful, the sun shone in all its splendor, and to make our cause more holy, it was Sunday, and the battle of Stone Bridge, the greatest battle ever fought on this continent was enacted. On the morning of the 21st, at sunrise, the battle was opened by the enemy’s artillery; it is impossible for me to give you anything like a correct idea of this well contested battle, but will confine myself to such facts as I know to be true.

Neither party had any advantage up till 3 o’clock, P.M., when the battle looked very gloomy for our side. Our troops at one time were panic stricken, and we would have lost the day had not the reserve taken their position so as to receive the enemy’s fire, and cover our retreating forces. Our troops were reformed and again led on. They were ordered to charge bayonet, and with one yell they charged, and great God! what havoc and butchery there ensued! The enemy were formed thirteen deep around their batteries, but had they been ten times that they could never have withstood that charge. Our forces came down upon them like a thunderbolt, and with one cry of despair the enemy broke and ran – the day was ours. The sun, which had been concealed by dark clouds a few hours before, now peeped forth upon this scene of carnage and death. The dying looked upon its radiant brightness, and felt its healing influences for the last time. The groans of the dying and wounded could be heard on every side, the living too eager for the fray to be of any service to their dying comrades. So much for a soldier’s experience. Let us drop the curtain on this appalling picture, and return to something more interesting.

The enemy retreated towards Centreville, closely pursued by our forces; they were pursued with great slaughter as far as Alexandria. All of their artillery, consisting of 67 pieces, were captured. Among them were several Armstrong guns and Sherman’s crack battery. The battle-ground covers a space of some ten miles along Bull’s Run. The loss on both sides must have been immense. We took almost 1000 prisoners, and some 500 cavalry horses, and captured about 10,000 stand of arms – truly, a great victory.

Our regiment arrived just as the enemy were retreating. President Jeff. Davis was on the ground in time to see the enemy disappear from sight.

Such was the glorious victory achieved by our forces at Stone Bridge, July 21, 1861.

I would not attempt to give the strength of either party; it is currently stated here that their force was 60,000, and ours 35,000. I give you this for what it is worth. It is true that they were the best equipped army that ever went into the battle field; they were clad from top to bottom in the best — all the money in Christendom could not have given them a more complete outfit.

It will soon be dress parade, and I must bring this long episode to an end.

New Orleans Times Picayune, 8/7/1861

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John Tobin on Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the March

29 03 2012

On the evening of July 15 – when we had about concluded that it was all talk – we were ordered to be prepared to move at a moment’s notice. It did not take long to make all necessary preparations. The tents were to be left standing, and a detail of ten men from each company – with a complement of officers – was to remain in charge of the camp. The selection was to be made from the sick and those the least able to march. About every company had that number of sick and ailing. Each man going was to carry his canteen, haversack with three days’ rations, and his blanket, besides gun and accouterments. The blanket was rolled lengthwise, and the ends tied together, and it was carried over the left shoulder with the ends tied at the right hip. In the blanket were soap, towel, etc., and also twenty rounds of extra cartridges, which with the forty in the box made a total of sixty rounds to each man. It was all arranges that night who of the company were to remain with ‘the stuff.’ I think we all found an opportunity to write a few lines to the folks at home, informing them of the contemplated movement and saying a word of farewell.

It is almost surprising – realizing the possibilities  of death or wounds as we did – that we marched out so cheerfully the next morning to take our chances. I am quite sure that we all understood the personal risks – perhaps exaggerated them – but I think none of us thought seriously of being defeated. We seemed to feel assured of success.

There were two officers and – I feel quite sure – eighty-six enlisted men who left the camp at Alexandria for the Bull Run Campaign on the morning of July 16, 1861. There were not more and might have been less. The commissioned officers of Company F were: Captain William Colvill, First Lieutenant A. Edward Welch, and Second Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt. Non commissioned officers were: First Sergeant Martin Maginnis, Second Sergeant Hezekiah Bruce, Third Sergeant Calvin P. Clark, Fourth Sergeant Henry T. Bevans, and Fifth Sergeant Charles N. Harris. The corporals were: John Barrows, William D. Bennett, Fred E. Miller, Amos G. Schofield, Merritt G. Standish, John Williams, E. Oscar Williams, and James A. Wright. I recall that Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt was one of the officers of the guard left behind us, and I feel quite certain that Corporal John Williams was also left, as his wife was then in camp at Alexandria.

For the first time, our brigade – the First of the Third Division – was assembled as a brigade. It was composed of the Fourth Pennsylvania, the Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts, and First Minnesota. The brigade was commanded by Colonel William B. Franklin; and the division, Colonel Samuel P. Heintzelman – both of the regular army. It seems a little surprising that it had not been got together and drilled and maneuvered as a brigade and division before starting on the march, but that is not the only surprising thing about that campaign. If this had been done a few times, perhaps the brigade commanders might have been able to get more than one regiment in action at a time.

We started early, and it took some time to get fairly moving. The roads were dusty, and the day was very hot. The march was not hurried, and camp was made before night on a ridge covered with a second growth of scrub pines near Fairfax Court House.

Each man carried his rations as issued from the commissary, and they consisted of coffee, sugar, crackers, and salt pork. Each one did his own cooking while on the march, Although the cooks and wagons followed as far as Centreville, they were not with us. None of the boys were expert cooks, but all managed to make a shift at it and get something to eat. Many of the boys had provided themselves with coffee post – or small pails – to make coffee in and small frying pans to cook meat in, and found them very convenient. A ‘mess’ with a coffee pot, a frying pan, and a hatchet were pretty well fixed, and with a little experience could always prepare a meal at short notice – provided they had the necessary materials.

There had been no conflict with the enemy during the day, and we rested quietly during the night, sleeping on the ground under the pines, which sheltered us from the dew.

The next morning, Wednesday, July 17, the march was continued. There were frequent halts and delays, considerable skirmishing and some artillery firing, but no real fighting. We took no active part in these affairs, though near enough to hear them and feel a little of the excitement. One of these episodes was an attempt to capture an outpost on the railroad, which failed, as they ran off as soon as our men came in sight, leaving their dinner cooking.

We bivouacked in the bushes again that night near Sangster’s Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During these two days, we had occasionally passed a few houses near each other and, frequently, single houses in little cleared patches in the woods, but for the most of the way the country was rough and densely wooded, with pines and cedars predominating. Our division had apparently gone across the country and principally on the by-roads.

Thursday morning, the 18th, the march was continued near the railroad, and that morning our regiment led the brigade. As on the previous days, there were frequent halts as the advance felt its way. Finally, the regiment was halted in the woods at the edge of a field, while two companies – A and B, led by Lieutenant Colonel Miller – scouted some miles to the front and left. While waiting for the return of Lt. Col. Miller and his party, artillery firing began to our right and front. We were sure a great battle was being fought, while we seemed to be forgotten or lost in the brush. We could hear the distant musketry, also, occasionally.

After an hour or more, the firing gradually ceased, and about the same time the two absent companies returned – they having gone until they had discovered the enemy and retired without attacking, as they were instructed. This was the fight at Blackburn’s Ford, in which the advanced division under General Tyler was engaged. Of course, we were burning to know all about the affair, and there were many conjectures, but very little information obtainable. This was the third day out, and, although we had started with three days’ rations, we were not accustomed to taking three days’ supply at a time, and the most of us were out of food and hungry.

There had been strict orders issued against foraging, before we marched. There were also some cattle and sheep in the edge of the wood across the clearing, and the sight of these was too much for the hungry stomachs of some of the boys, and a small party went after them. They succeeded in getting some of these, which they skinned and cut up in the bushes, but in coming out they accidentally met Colonel Franklin, who at once began an inquiry.

About the same time, Colonel Gorman rode up, and, when he sensed the situation, opened on the culprits with a lively fire of cuss words, asserting that they were a lot of “born thieves” and a “disgrace to their state and to their mothers.” He brought matters to a head by requesting Colonel Franklin to let him make an example of them for the good of the regiment in the future. This was assented to by Col. Franklin, who was probably glad to have the matter taken off of his hands, and rode away. After he was gone, Col. Gorman – who looked very black and uncompromising – said, “Now, —- you, take up that meat and go to your companies, and don’t ever disgrace the regiment by getting caught in any such scrape again.”

It is perhaps needless to say that the boys were extra careful after that not to get caught. I do not think that Company F took a leading part in this affair, but there was a fair representation in the following. I saw ‘Lenghty’ wiping the blood off of his butcher knife with a bunch of leaves, and ‘Barb’ gave us a piece of sheep, which we broiled and ate with relish. I am not asserting that this was the right and proper thing to do – perhaps it was not – but we were in the enemy’s country and hungry. Right or wrong, we were doing just what has been done under like conditions since the days of David.

For the third night we slept under the skies, but instead of twinkling stars there were threatening clouds, and it rained a little that night and in the early morning. Friday the 19th, we marched to Centreville, where all of Heintzelman’s division was brought together; there were also many other troops there. What seemed to us a great army – probably 10,000 or 12,000 men – were gathered there, and more were coming. There was considerable skirmishing going on, but we took no part in it – that day or the next – and remained at the bivouac all day Saturday. It was a time of uncertainty and anxious waiting.

We could form but little opinion of how matters stood, when or where the next move would be made, but we felt assured that affairs had reached an acute stage, and that a crisis would come soon. When it did come we had no doubt that we would be ‘in it’ and share the fortunes of war with the rest, whatever they might be. After the repulse of General Tyler’s command on the 18th, some of us may have begun to feel the possibility of a defeat, but I am sure that the feeling – as to results – was one of assured confidence, no matter what might be the fate of individuals. We went to our blankets that evening knowing that we were to be aroused to march before daylight, and having no doubt but that the morrow would bring a battle. These were not pleasant thoughts to retire with, nor calculated to bring soothing reflections inviting sleep, but we did manage to put aside the wicked war and all of its attendant troubles, and slept until awakened to fall in for the march.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 48 – 51 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with MHS permission.





[B. H. B. ?], 6th Alabama, On the Battle

10 02 2012

Letter from 6th Alabama Regiment

Union Mills Ford, Va. July [?], 1861.

Daily Enquirer: —McLane’s Ford, on Bull Run, is about four miles north-east of Manassas, three miles below the Stone Bridge, and two miles above Union Mills Ford. Gen. Ewell’s Brigade, composed of the 6th Alabama (Rifle) Regiment, Col. Seibles, the 5th Alabama Regiment, Col. Rhodes, and the 6th Louisiana Regiment, Col. Seymour, are stationed at Union Mills Ford. It is a strong point, and for this reason avoided by the enemy. The battle at McLane’s, on Thursday the 18th, was fought mainly with artillery at long [?]. The firing continued for four hours, near the expiration of which time the enemy in strong force attempted to cross the stream. Our musketry opened upon them and kept up the fire for half an hour, when the enemy fell back and  the battle ceased for the day. They lost about a hundred – the confederates nine.

On Sunday morning the 21st, at half past 6 o’clock, the enemy opened fire again with cannon on our batteries at McLane’s. This was intended as a mere feint, designed to induce us to the conclusion that the main fight would be there. In this they were mistaken; Our Generals were not at all deceived by the ruse, and hence did not change any of their plans or arrangements. At 7 a fire was opened by them with cannon on our batteries at the Stone Bridge. This was also a feint to cover up, as long as possible, their real plan of attack. Within an hour or two after this it was ascertained that a force of not less than 25,000 had succeeded in crossing the stream a mile and a half or two miles above the bridge. With this force the left wing of our army soon became engaged, and here mainly, above the bridge, on the Manassas side of the river, the battle was fought and won. The plan was to turn our left flank, place their flanking force between us and Manassas, and thus hem us in, making a retreat to Manassas impossible, and with an overwhelming force cut us to pieces. Her (a mile and a half towards Manassas from the river) Sherman’s famous battery was captured, and here, for two miles in almost every direction, the field was covered with thousands of their dead and wounded.

The enemy had engaged in this battle, at the various points up and down the river from the bridge, about 40,000 troops, with a reserve of about the same number, perhaps more. They had at least 80,000 on and near the field – the prisoners say they had 105,000. We had engaged from time to time during the day, about 15,000 men, with a reserve of about the same number. The enemy commenced retreating about half past 4 o’clock or 5. It was a fair, open fight – they having as much advantage of the ground as we, and greatly the advantage in artillery and superiority of small arms, and as to numbers they were two to one. Notwithstanding all this, our brave boys whipped them out, chased them from the field, and covered themselves with unfading glory.

One not present cannot fully conceive of the extent of the unbridled confusion and dismay which spread amongst the enemy as soon as they commenced to retreat. They ran in every direction, every man for himself, through fields, over fences, through the woods, spreading here and there like partridges when beset by a dog. The army (what was left of it) went into Washington and Alexandria this broken up and completely demoralized.

Our regiment was not in the fight. At 11 o’clock we were ordered to cross the river and engage the rear of the enemy. We crossed, marched to within a mile of the enemy, were ordered to re-cross the river and engage them in front; we re-crossed, and arrived with the head of our column at the bridge just in time to see squads of the retreating enemy as they fled over the distant hills east of the river. If we had not received the order to re-cross the river, we would in half an hour have been up with the rear. I need not say what would have been the result. One thing is certain; the 6th Alabama Regiment would have occupied a splendid place in the picture.

Their lost in killed and wounded cannot be less than eight thousand, perhaps twelve thousand. I see some of their papers are putting it down at twelve. Killed on our side about two hundred and seventy-five, and from five hundred to a thousand wounded and missing.

Our troops continue to bring in prisoners. We have now but little short of 1500. The Confederates captured about sixty pieces of artillery as near as I can ascertain this evening, any quantity of horses, wagons, axes, spades, picks, ambulances, muskets, ammunition, provisions, blankets, shoes, knapsacks, canteens, and every other thing belonging to a well-appointed army. They left their dead and wounded on the field, and have made no effort to bury the dead or in any way care for the wounded. At this writing, hundreds of their dead are lying on the field, and the place has become so offensive that our troops are abandoning it for the present. After burying our own dead, and caring for the wounded, a large body of our troops have been engaged in the humane task of burying the enemy’s dead and administering to the necessities of their wounded and dying, but it has been impossible to bury all of their dead. The citizens are aiding our troops in this work, and between them the  prisoners are furnished all the delicacies the country affords and in every other way are as well provided for as it is possible to do under the circumstances. Our advanced forces are now at Vienna. You will hear of this division of the army again, I think, pretty soon. Lincoln says “let the war be short and decisive.” So say we.

Sergeant Bates, Privates Perkins, Pool, Howard, George Prince and A. J. Smith, who were lost on the morning of the 17th, were not killed; they were taken prisoners by the enemy, and are now in Washington. I am satisfied of this from conversations with citizens who were present or near by and know all about it. Bates fired upon the enemy from his post as officer of the picket guard; attempted then to escape, but soon found himself surrounded so as to make fruitless any further effort to escape.

The Russell Volunteers are generally well and in fine spirits; so too with  Capt. Waddell’s company. The health of this regiment has improved greatly, we have now comparatively but few on the sick list.

These Yankee scoundrels have spread dismay in their track east of this, by shooting down hogs, cattle, poultry, and taking horses and every thing else they wanted, (or which they, in their venom, desired to destroy) without the consent of the owners. Every citizen whom they suspected was friendly to the South has been unceremoniously stripped of all he had.

One of their regiments, on the 21st, in battle, displayed the Southern flag, and by this means deceived the 4th Alabama regiment, got the first fire and cut up that regiment prodigiously. Such unmitigated scoundrelism, practiced by an unprincipled regiment, met its just retribution in being soon cut to pieces itself.

[B. H. B. ?]

Columbus Daily Enquirer, 8/5/1861

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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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My Wife Calls This a “God Wink”

11 12 2011

I prefer to use the words of the Zen philosopher Leon Spinks: “Freaky Deaky.”

This is a little convoluted, so bear with me.

A few years ago I learned (from a total stranger via a gen group for the Smeltzer line) that my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, served in the 205th PA Infantry and was wounded during the Petersburg breakthrough in 1865. You see, most of my family, if we’re interested in genealogy at all, have always focused on my mother’s side of the family, I think because her father was from Ireland and we have always identified ourselves as “Irish”. We went to the Irish school and the Irish church (as opposed to the German, Polish, Italian, Croatian, or Greek churches and schools in our little town). Yes, with a name like mine that has required a lot of explanation over the years, but my dad was in fact president of our local AOH, and I have the throne from the now defunct group in my garage right now to prove it.

Given my interest in the Civil War, this was pretty cool news to me. I haven’t done much other than get his pension file from NARA (for some reason I forgot to order his service record) and locate his grave in Vicksburg Cemetery in Roaring Springs, PA – though I have yet to visit it (UPDATE – good thing I didn’t visit, as he is actually buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Hopewell, PA, Bedford County.) I learned from the gen group that John was born in 1846, his father’s name was Joseph and his mother was Susan. He had, IIRC, four siblings. It looks like he signed up when he turned 18. Later in life, he suffered from pretty much the same physical maladies as do I. Weird how that works.

OK, fast forward a few years and here’s where it gets freaky.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Milann Ruff Daugherty. She had found a collection of her great-great-uncle’s letters and published them, and wanted to know if I’d be so kind as to review the book here. I informed her, as I inform everyone, that if it was a novel I was not interested, but if it was truly non-fiction and Civil War focused I’d be happy to take a look, and at worst I’d give it a preview. Not long after, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier arrived in the mailbox. I glanced through it and noticed that, while the letters had some good stuff, the letters that have the really good stuff, written before, during, or just after big engagements, were missing (or, less likely, had never been written: really, how affectionate could a son be if he didn’t write home after a battle, if only to let his folks know he was OK?). So I put it aside with the intent of writing said preview when I had the time.

Jump forward about a week. I received an unrelated email from my good buddy and battlefield stomping pard Mike Pellegrini:

Hope all is well with you and your family. Found something on Ancestry.com that might interest you, see attachments for JB Smetlzer. On another note, why haven’t you mentioned your other CW ancestors, one being buried at Antietam NMP Cemetery?

Huh? I too subscribe to Ancestry.com, but simply haven’t had the time to use it much other than to trace down various individuals about whom I write. Really haven’t done anything much with my own family. So I responded to Mike that the reason I never told him was that I never knew. I got this in return:

John Smeltzer’s wife Hannah Virginia Gates had a few brothers: James Gates Co F, 8 PA reserves aka 37th PA died of wounds 16 Oct. 1862 at Smoketown or he died during the battle depending which web site you want to believe and is buried in the Nat Cemetery.

I know a little about Antietam (since I’m on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation I better know a little), and recognize Smoketown as a place where many Union wounded were sent after the battle to recover. Or, as in the sad case of James Gates, to not recover. A quick web search turned up this photo of his headstone, for the above use of which I thank Sharon Murray.

My great-great-uncle James Gates is buried in grave #3717 in Antietam National Cemetery. When I saw this photo I was immediately reminded of something my father said on occasion. His father, John’s son, was named Harry Gates Smeltzer. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Dorr. So my dad quipped, “My father was a Gates, my mother was a Dorr, and I was the Grand Slam.” OK, you had to be there.

Mike hepped me to a little more info on my Gates ancestors:

The Gates family goes way back. I saw a Rev war soldier and it looks like the town of Gatesburg was named for them: it’s out by State College [PA].

Damn, can you imagine me as an SAR? Or my sisters walking into a DAR meeting? I’d PAY to see that! I mean, I suspect that I was perhaps descended from a Rev War soldier, but always thought it most likely would have been from one of the Hessians who stayed here after the war (yes, a couple of them were Smeltzers).

The last little tidbit is even better. I asked Mike if any of my great-grandfather Smeltzer siblings were in the war:

JBS did not have any soldier siblings, but there appears to be a step brother KIA at South Mountain, William Harker Co. E 8th PA Reserves.

[Hmmm…there’s that regiment again. Maybe this explains how John B. met Hannah! Wait a minute – step brother?]

When I started looking for siblings I found JBS living with a Miller family in the 1850 & 60 census, so I thought maybe he was orphaned. Next I tried looking at some existing family trees that were posted and here’s what I found: Joseph Smeltzer [my great-great grandfather] married Susan Barley and they had 5 children before she passed about 1850 (then i saw the Joe S and  2 kids living with the Strayer family & JBS with the Miller’s on the same 1850 census page)   I guess splitting up the kids with different families was common when the mother of young children passed so the father could still go to work, that happened in my family when one of my great grandmothers died.  Joe then married Mary Ann Harker (who had 4 kids of her own). Joe & Mary went on to have 6 more kids. It was like the Brady Bunch on steroids!  So it looks like you have hundreds of relatives.

Wow. I’m really indebted to Mike for all this info.

So, I think so far you’ll agree this has been freaky, right?

But I also promised you deaky.

Something about the 8th PA Reserves struck me as familiar, and I looked down to my right as I was typing away during these exchanges and saw Your Affectionate Son. And wouldn’t you know, Millan Ruff Daugherty’s great-great uncle James Cleaver was a lieutenant in the 8th PA reserves (AKA 37th PA Volunteer Infantry, but the Reserves were a proud bunch and liked to go by their Reserves unit number – add 29 to the Reserves number and you get the PAVI number). Not only that, he was in Company F, my great-great uncle’s company. James’s name appears in a roster in the back of the book.

Now, that’s deaky, which makes this whole thing Freaky Deaky.

Stay tuned – more to follow. Your Affectionate Son will be getting a closer look than I at first thought.





Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F, 2nd RI Infantry

3 10 2011

The Lieutenant Shaw who authored this account of his experience in the Battle of Bull Run is most likely John P. Shaw, who would die a captain in the regiment during the Overland Campaign in 1864. Here’s a photo of Shaw courtesy of the Library of Congress:

The LOC info on this image:

Title: Camp Brightwood, D.C.–Contrabands in 2nd R.I. Camp
Date Created/Published: [between 1861 and 1865]
Medium: 1 photographic print on carte de visite mount: albumen; 10×6 cm.
Summary: Capt. B.S. Brown (left); Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F 2nd Regt. Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry (center); and Lt. Fry (right) with African American men and boy.

Notice the distinctive early war Rhode Island blouses and Shaw’s name stenciled on the folding camp stool at right. The regiment encamped in Camp Brightwood in the fall and winter of 1861-62.

Several sources, including the Official Army Register (which is probably the culprit), list Shaw as killed at the Wilderness on May 5, 1861. However, Augustus Woodbury’s history of the regiment has this memorial biography:

Captain John P. Shaw, son of General James Shaw, was born in Providence, January 3rd, 1834. He was instructed in the common schools of Providence, and became by occupation a jeweller. He was married, September 13th, 1854, to Amanda O., daughter of William P. Brightman. At the outset of the rebellion he joined the First Rhode Island, as sergeant-major, and, on the formation of the Second, was appointed second lieutenant of Company F. He was successively promoted to first lieutenant, July 22nd, 1861, and captain, July 24th, 1862, of Company K. He was particularly efficient as a drill and recruiting officer, and, while as lieutenant, during the absence of his captain, he received, in special orders, the congratulations and commendation of Colonel Wheaton, for the “entire success with which he had performed the duties of a higher grade.” In battle he was known as a brave and gallant officer, and was selected more than once to perform services of a peculiarly difficult kind. He fell in the bloody battle before Spottsylvania Court House, May 12th, 1864. The generous words of Colonel Edwards, in his farewell order to the Second, on the departure of the Regiment from Cold Harbor, have already been given. In a private letter to General Shaw the colonel rendered an additional testimony of his regard: “Captain Shaw died fighting so bravely, was so conspicuous among the bravest, that I could not help noticing him particularly. I and all that knew him are fellow mourners.”

And Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes Shaw’s death in his diary entry Line of Battle Near Spottsylvania Court House, May 13th 1864:

In front of our line there was an open plain for perhaps two hundred yards and then there were thick woods. The Rebels formed in the woods and then sent forward a small party with a white flag. As we saw the flag we ceased firing, and the officers jumped upon the parapet, but as the party approached they were followed by a line of battle who rushed upon us with yells. Our men quickly recovered from the surprise and gave them a volley which sent them flying to the woods. From the woods a steady fire was kept up until after midnight. The guns which I mentioned above were still standing idle in the angle and neither party could get them. A Brigade of New Jersey troops were brought up and attempted to enter the angle but were driven back. General Sickles’ old Brigade (the Excelsior) were then brought up, but the men could not stand the terrible fire and instead of advancing in line only formed a semicircle about the guns. Capt. John P. Shaw of Co. “K” 2nd R. I. Volunteers was standing upon a stump and waving his sword to encourage these men when he suddenly fell backwards. I shouted to Major Jencks that Shaw was down. I ran to him and found him lying with his head upon an ammunition box. I raised him up, and the blood spurted from the wound in his breast, and he was dead. As I had lost my pistol I took his and placed it in my holster and will, if I live, send it home to the Captain’s father.





Interview: Jeffry Wert, “A Glorious Army”

9 05 2011

I first met prolific author Jeffry D. Wert (and his charming wife, Gloria) during a Civil War seminar almost 13 years ago, and the following summer spent an amazing few days riding at the back of a bus with him and the late Dr. Joseph Harsh during another conference. I probably learned more about the conflict in those few hours than I had up to that point, just by keeping my mouth shut (mostly) and my ears open.

Jeff’s latest book is A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph, 1862-1863, and below he discusses the project.

BR: While I’m sure my readers are very familiar with your works, how about telling us about yourself?

JW: I am a native Pennsylvanian and taught history at Penns Valley Area High School in the central part of the state for 33 years.  I am now retired from the profession.  I am an avid Atlanta Braves and Penn State football fan.

BR: Your new book is about the Army of Northern Virginia from 1862-1863, from Seven Days to Gettysburg.  What prompted you to look at this army for this period?

JW: Lee and the army’s record during those thirteen months is arguably unmatched in America’s military annals.  Although I have covered the army in previous books, I wanted to write a more analytical study on the reasons for their successes and do it, hopefully, in a smooth-flowing narrative.  My book is not a detailed tactical work but looks at leadership, morale, and the common soldiers’ fighting prowess.

BR: What did you turn up during your research that surprised you?

JW:  The amount of straggling in the army was endemic during 1862.  It reached a climax in the Maryland campaign but was a problem with the rank and file until Chancellorsville.  It appears from the evidence that straggling was minor during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Secondly, my research convinced me more that Lee’s aggressiveness offered the Confederacy its best chance for independence.  Admittedly, it is a controversial subject, but the results, I think, speak for themselves.  Finally, I address whether Lee took the so-called “bloodiest roads” and concluded that he chose the tactical offensive when circumstances dictated it, except for July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg.  Malvern Hill resulted in a tragedy because of misinformation.

BR: Can you sum up for us, in a nutshell, how Lee was able to be successful for most of this period, and what caused his setbacks?

JW:  When Lee assumed temporary command of the army on June 1, 1862, it was as though all the stars aligned for the Confederacy.  The Union Army of the Potomac’s subordinate leadership could not match the likes of Jackson, Longstreet, Stuart, Ewell, A. P. and D. H. Hill, and others.  To be sure, the caution of McClellan, the incompetence of Pope and Burnside, and the unraveling of Hooker contributed to the Confederates’ victories.  Lee’s infantry’s incalculable ‘élan in battle was a significant factor.

BR: What is your research and writing process? Did you visit archives and sites, and how much of a role did online research play?

JW:  I am old-fashioned in my methodology.  I put my research on note cards and write my books on legal-sized paper.  I am blessed with a wife who is an excellent assistant, and she transcribes my words into a word document.  I edit from printed pages.  During my research, I visit archives and libraries.  I use the internet to locate manuscript collections and fortunately for historians more institutions are putting letters and diaries online, making it unnecessary to travel as much.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JW:  The book has been reviewed in a few places and has been praised.  None of the major Civil War magazines have had a review in as of today.  I am gratified to have been a main selection of History Book Club and Military Book Club.

BR: What’s next for you?

JW:  For the first time in many years, I am not under contract on another project.  I may do another book in the future but not at the present.

So for the first time in years, Mr. Wert is taking a break. I have a feeling it won’t be too long before something catches his eye and we hear from his pen – really, his pen! – once again.





New Release: Scott Mingus, “Flames Beyond Gettysburg”

18 02 2011

Yesterday’s mail brought the new Savas Beatie edition of Scott Mingus’s Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863.  Originally this was published in 2009 with the subtitle The Gordon Expedition, June 1863.  But be not fooled – this is a completely revised edition with new maps and photos. Scott is a long time Gettysburg geek and miniature wargamer and an e-quaintance for a number of years, and I know he worked long and hard to get this book written and published. See Scott’s website for the book here, and see his wargaming blog here.

The book is 338 pages of text, with various appendices including a chronology (I think a chronology is as essential as Orders of Battle, which this book also has), and driving tours.  Scott consulted a number of manuscript sources and newspapers in researching Flames. Footnotes are honest-to-God footnotes.

From the back cover:

…a study of a fascinating but largely overlooked operation by part of Richard Ewell’s Second Corps in June 1863 that not only shaped the course of the Gettysburg Campaign, but may well have altered the course of our nation’s history.