Pvt. Franklin E. Gates, Co. G, 12th New York Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford and the Battle

27 10 2016

 

A CANASTOTA VOLUNTEER’S EXPERIENCE IN BATTLE.

—The Following letter from Frank Gates, a Volunteer in Col. Walrath’s regiment, is communicated by his father for publication:

Washington, July 23, 1861.

DEAR PARENTS:—To relieve your anxiety, I hasten to inform you that Frank is still in the land of the living. We arrived in this city yesterday, and I should have written to you then if I had not been completely exhausted. Until yesterday afternoon I had not received half an hour’s sleep for eighty hours; so you may well imagine that I was pretty well worn out when we came here. After reaching this city I made my way straight to the Capitol, where, by the kindness of one of the Congressmen, I was enabled to get a little rest. He took me into a room where nil was quiet, and provided me a good sofa to lie on.

I suppose you are anxious to hear an account of the battle in which I have been engaged; therefore I will begin now to give you a description of it: We left chain bridge last Tuesday afternoon and proceeded on our way to Fairfax, where the rebels had stationed a force (as near as I can ascertain) of about 5,000. At this place they had thrown up breastworks, blockaded the roads, &c. But as soon as they found our troops were advancing, they left as fast as their heels could carry them, and we took possession of the place. We then proceeded some six miles from Fairfax, and stopped for the night.—In the morning we resumed our march, and after going some two miles we came upon a strong rebel battery. Here we expected to have a ….brush, but on examination we found that the rebels had fled and deserted their posts here. So on we went. Thursday, at half-past twelve, we arrived at the place called Bull’s Run, which is but a short distance this side of Manassas. As soon as we came here our brigade, consisting of four regiments, which was in the advance of the main column, was drawn up in battle array. At ten minutes past one our regiment received orders to march down to the left to ascertain, if possible, the position of the enemy. We were marched in double quick time through ravines and over hills, until we came to a dense thicket which we immediately entered. Suddenly a heavy volley of musketry was poured in upon us but very fortunately it was aimed so high that the most of passed above our heads. We could not see a person in the direction from which we received the fire, although our left flank had approached within three rods of the spot from which the charge was made. The enemy, some five or six thousand strong, had concealed themselves behind a masked battery, and as soon as they fired, dropped down out of sight, and the only way that we could direct our fire was by aiming at the spot where we saw the flash of their guns. We at once charged upon them and then fell flat upon the ground and loaded again. Before we arose, their second volley was fired, which came a little lower and did us more injury than the first. If we had not fallen upon the ground I am sure we could not have escaped utter destruction. We arose to our feet and again charged upon them, and as before, fell and loaded. At this moment the rebels opened upon us from another battery a terrific fire of grape shot and shell. We charged again and then fell back to the first ravine in our rear. Here we were ordered by the Colonel to form in line again and make another charge upon them, but one of our batteries of flying artillery returned the charge we had received from theirs, and this brought us in range of the fire of both batteries, theirs and ours; therefore it was impossible to carry out our plan, and we were ordered to fall back. A heavy cannonade was kept up from both batteries until near sundown.

Then our whole force formed in a body and marched back to Centerville, a distance of two miles and stopped for the night. Nothing of much importance took place from that time until Sunday, when a hard battle was fought in the morning. Our batteries began to shell the woods for the purpose of routing them out of their strongholds and finding out where they were. During the whole of the fight we tried every possible scheme to draw them out of the woods into an open field, but this could not be done. They have adopted the Indian mode of warfare, and whenever they can be drawn out of their entrenchments and ambuscades they prove themselves the veriest cowards in the world. During the fore part of the day our batteries kept up a constant fire while our infantry scoured the woods off at the right. As soon as we begun the fire, they commenced pouring in reinforcements from Manassas, so that by the middle of the afternoon they had a force which more than doubled ours. But notwithstanding this, we kept driving them back, until our batteries had exhausted their ammunition and were compelled to cease firing. Then they began to follow us, and we saw that they were working to outflank us. To avoid this, we fell back to Centerville and drew up our forces in an open field, planting our batteries on a hill in the center of our troops. Here we expected an attack, but to our surprise they did not stir from the woods. We remained here from sundown until midnight, and then commenced our retreat back to this city. If we could have had more artillery, and plenty of ammunition, this movement would not have been made, but as it was, we could not do otherwise. The loss of life was great on both sides. As near as I can ascertain the loss on our side was between 1,500 and 2,000. Theirs was much greater. Ellsworth’s Zouaves suffered more than any other regiment, and about half their number was killed. [Our loss has since been shown to be much less than here stated.—ED.] No body of men ever fought more nobly and bravely than they did. They did not leave the field until they had laid one thousand of the rebels dead before them. Their brave Colonel fell from his horse at the first fire. I believe he was not mortally wounded. Beauregard commanded the rebel forces in person. His horse was seen to fall from under him. F. A. Darling stood by my side, and had the crown of his hat torn off by a grape shot. Another struck the bayonet of his gun and broke it off about two inches from the muzzle of his gun. A. Stone, of Peterboro, had a ball pass through his hat. G. Hammond had his gun knocked out of his hand by a grape shot. Several others in our company escaped in the same way, and there was but one killed, this was a young man by the name of John Markham. When we marched into the thicket, he was exactly in front of me, but when we formed a line and made the charge, he was a little to my left. I will now tell you of the narrow escape I had, and then close for the present. I had just entered a little hollow when I heard the whizzing of a cannon ball from one of the rebel’s guns; I dropped flat upon my face, when the ball passed directly over me and struck in a bank a few feet back of where I lay. If I had not fallen the instant I heard the sound, it would have torn me in pieces. Preparations are being made to attack them again. Whether it will be done before our time is out, I do not know, but I hope it will, for I want to meet them again.—We will have a much stronger force, both of infantry and artillery, which is the most needed. Give my respects to all my friends.

From your affectionate son,

FRANK GATES.

Utica Morning Herald amd Daily Gazette (unknown date)

Transcription per New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center

Franklin E. Gates in Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York For the Year 1899

Thanks to reader Will Hickox





Ezra Walrath Court of Inquiry

24 03 2014

As concerns Col. Ezra Walrath, 12th New York Infantry, and the results of his efforts for a Court of Inquiry into his command of the regiment at Blackburn’s Ford to which he alluded in his correspondence here and here, I was able to locate this unidentified news clipping from this site:

NEW YORK VOLUNTEERS.—Hon. George Geddes only delays his acceptance of the Colonelcy of the Twelfth Regiment until his physician shall assure him that his health will admit of active service. The commissioned officers of the Twelfth were unanimous in selecting Mr. Geddes for commander. The Syracuse Journal says he is the only man now left in the county, whose education and ability fit him for the position. The Twelfth has now about 400 men left, all of whom have served six months, and are said to be under good discipline. Col. Walrath having resigned, and Major Louis having been killed, the regiment is sadly in need of a head, and it is hoped that Mr. Geddes will soon determine upon his course in the matter.

—Col. Walrath, of the Onondaga regiment, (12th) has been entirely cleared of charges cowardice and incompetency, by the verdict of a Court of Inquiry, which awards to the Colonel high praise for his conduct at Bull’s Run. Capt. Locke, of the same regiment, was charged with giving the order to retreat, unauthorized. This charge was not sustained before a Court of Inquiry.

—The commissioned officers of the Onondaga Regiment (12th) have unanimously chosen Hon. George Geddes for Colonel, in place of Walrath in whose hands the regiment has fallen into a deplorable state of demoralization. Desertion has reduced the number from 780 to two or three hundred available men. Recruiting for it has actively commenced, and Col, Geddes will restore the regiment to efficiency if any man can.

Once I’ve identified the newspaper and date, I’ll move this to the resources section. As always, any help is appreciated.





Col. Ezra L. Walrath, 12th New York Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford (2)

24 03 2014

A STATEMENT FROM COL. WALRATH.

HEAD-QUARTERS TWELFTH NEW-YORK

VOLUNTEERS, CAMP OF THE ONONDAGAS,

ARLINGTON, July 24, 1861.

To the Editor of the Washington Star:

After my arrival from Bull Run with my Regiment, I perused the daily papers published in Washington giving accounts of the recent battle, and was astonished to find such an account of the affair published in your paper from a “special correspondent,” reflecting in severe terms upon the courage of my Regiment, both officers and men, on that occasion. The whole matter as reported to your paper is untrue, and it would be doing justice to all concerned that you give publicity to the following statement of facts as they transpired. More could be said of the affair that ought to be made known to the public, but it would implicate certain officers of high positions in the service, and would be contrary to rules governing the inferior towards his superior. However, a court of inquiry will bring the facts before you. At about noon of the 18th inst., our Brigade was posted in rear of Sears’ battery on a hill overlooking a thick wood, in which, the enemy were hidden from view and waiting our attack.

After, considerable cannonading from our battery, which was replied to by the rebels, driving the skirmishers from the woods in double-quick time, two companies of the First Massachusetts Regiment were ordered to attack them in the woods on their left. They marched gallantly to the attack, and were repulsed with considerable loss. Two field-pieces, under command of Capt. BRACKETT, were then sent in, and met with such a deadly reception that the pieces were in danger of being lost. One of their men being shot, one of the men of my regiment immediately advanced and took his place at the gun. My command was then ordered to form near the woods in line of battle, on the left of a body of cavalry which was drawn up under cover of another piece of woods near the scene of action. A person in citizen’s dress, with shoulder straps, then rode up from the woods in great haste, and urged us forward to sustain his battery and prevent its loss. I had no Lieutenant-Colonel present, and was near the right of my regiment. The Adjutant, who was near the centre, asked him who he was, and he replied that he was Capt. BRACKETT, commanding the battery. At that moment I saw Col. RICHARDSON, commanding the Brigade, approaching, and I replied to Capt. BRACKETT that if it was Col. RICHARDSON’s orders to advance, I would do so. Col. RICHARDSON addressed us, saying: “Move forward, New-Yorkers, and sweep the woods.” I immediately gave the order to “Forward,” when the battery came rushing out of the woods, and broke through our line, followed by grape and canister from the enemy.

My command moved steadily forward into the woods and low thick pines and brush, which vailed everything in front beyond a few paces, and had proceeded some 20 or 30 rods when a murderous fire of musketry, grape and canister was opened on us. We returned the fire, and I ordered my command to fall, and load and fire lying. They did so, returning several volleys. The enemy continued to pour in their fire from a force which must have been quadruple our number, to say nothing of their battery. Yet my men returned the fire, till one of the line officers gave the command to retreat, when the centre and left rapidly fell back. As soon as I discovered the mistake I tried to rally the men on the colors, but the murderous fire being kept up, they would not obey, and actually ran over me. I followed, and entreated the men to rally on the colors, and partially succeeded several times, but was unable to make a permanent stand. Gen. TYLER at this time rode forward and denounced us all as cowards. He did not inquire the cause of the retreat, but at once censured us in severe terms. Several companies on the right — A, I, and part of E — remained until the firing ceased on the part of the rebels, when they, by order, formed a retreat in good order into the field in front of the woods.

At this time I had the regiment nearly formed on the hill near the woods, by the road, and left it in charge of the Major until I went back to see about the wounded, and when I returned, the word had been given for the brigade to retire to Centreville. I see, by the articles referred to, that “I mounted my horse and did not stop running until I was safely behind a pile of rocks.” Now, Sir, this is false in every particular. Our former Lieut.-Col. GRAHAM, (now Quartermaster of the regiment,) was mounted on a gray horse that resembles mine very much, who did ride to the rear in quick time. I doubt not but he was taken for myself when retiring from the battle-ground. I feel that I have been wronged and ask of you to publish this statement, and by so doing you will do justice to myself, my regiment, and my friends. I am so confident that I done my duty on that occasion, that I would repeat it if I should be placed before the enemy under similar circumstances.

E.L. WALRATH,

Colonel of the Twelfth N.Y. Volunteers.

New York Times, 7/31/1861

Source

 





Col. Ezra L. Walrath, 12th New York Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford (1)

29 09 2012

Letter From Col. Walrath.

Arlington Heights, July 28, 1861.

Friend Halsted: – I have waited until this time to write you in relation to the battle at Bull’s Run on the 18th inst. Myself and regiment have been grossly abused by the papers, and I am sorry to say that a certain few in Syracuse are ready and willing to believe the first accounts of the battle as far as relates to my “running from the scene of action and hiding behind a pile of rocks.”

I staid with my regiment all the time, in my place. I did not order a retreat, neither was I mounted, as has been charged. That I was seen “galloping across the field to a safe retreat,” is also false. Lieut. Col. Graham (now Quarter Master) was mounted on a gray horse like my own and was in the rear most of the time, near the reporters and strangers who were looking at the fight from the Hill, about one half a mile from the battle ground. He is still called Colonel, and was taken for me by all that were not personally acquainted with me.  A rifle cannon ball struck under his horse, and he left in double quick time across the field.

As to throwing away our Blankets &c., in the retreat of the Regiments, it is untrue. We went into the fight without Blankets. I ordered every man to lay aside all superfluous clothing in piles on the grass, near the woods, knowing that we could do better service without them than with them. The day after I sent for them and they were all brought into the woods where we lay encamped. – I have demanded a Court of Enquiry, which will show up the facts of the case. What I have done I would do again to-morrow. I feel conscious of having done my duty, and I have only one regret and that is when I ordered the men to rally and they would not in spite of all my exertions. The men were completely exhausted and cried for water continually. My Regiment will probably be mustered out on the 13th, Proximo, as will all regiments mustered in for only three months. Our Regiment had all the old muskets and were in miserable condition; about three in five were in condition for firing. Our cartridges were of different sizes. Some would almost drop in the barrel, while others would require the utmost exertion to get the ball home. The men had no confidence in their pieces, which was one of the reasons they would not rally. They said give us rifles, and we will rally.

While I was at work trying to get those men who retreated to form, those who remained, soon came from their position in good order. I hope soon to have the Court of Enquiry, which will bring forth facts that I dare not at this time mention, as it would impeach the ability and judgement of some of the superior officers in command of the army. I shall try to find time to-morrow to draw a sketch of the Battle Ground, and to send a statement of the whole affair from beginning to end, and I guarantee the officers and men will endorse the whole of it.

Give my regards to all my friends and say to them they have no cause to censure your humble servant, until they can bring proof to substantiate the foul charges that have been made against me and the Regiment.

Yours Truly,

E. L. Walrath.

Colonel 12th N. Y. Volunteers

Syracuse Daily Courier and Union, 7/31/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. William Ray Wells, Co. I, 12th NY, on Action at Blackburn’s Ford (2)

7 08 2011

July 23 1861

Washington Cap. Building

Tuesday.

Dear Friends,

I am seated in the Capital building where congress sits at one of their desks (Henry C. Burnett is the name on the desk in front of me, using his pen and ink. I got my letter and envelope a little to my left in the P.O., Free. I have just had my likeness taken and enclosed in an envelope and sent to you. I took it into the post office here where I got my paper, &c. and had the P.M. send it for me. We started from Chain Bridge Tuesday the 16 and camped at Vienna the first night. One Co. all went on picket guard the first night. They made relieves of us part on two hours and then rest 4. When the first part were on two hours another 2nd relief part took their place and staid 2 hours then the 3 relief went on and staid 2 hours. The 2nd night we camped at Centreville and in the afternoon of the next day (Thursday) we were marching along when we heard firing ahead (there was one reg. ahead of us and two behind us. we all comprised Gen. Ritchardsons Brigade. We also had one Battery with us. When the cannon commenced firing ahead of us, they had all along been ahead, we formed into Battle line by the side of the road. We staid there but a few minutes when we (our reg.) was ordered on in advance of the Battery. After we had got by the Battery (they were on a rise of ground) in going down the hill in front of them we had open ground (meadow) and at the foot and all along after that beyond were roads. I will show you nearly so that I think you can form some idea how our reg. stood. The battery lay a little off to our right. [see drawing] There were pine under brush (very thick) ahead of us and as we had marched into them about 1 or 2 [rods?] ahead not thinking of [danger?] quite so near. The bushes seemed to be alive with the rebels (judging from their firing for we never saw one of them at any time we were there) their first volley was the most murderous to us. As soon as we were aware that we had run on to a mashed Battery (that is after their first fire we all fell and loaded on our backs. Then turned over and fired and kept doing so untill we were ordered to cease firing by our Capt. We fired about 9 and 10 rounds after our 6th round our guns were so hot we could not lay a finger on the barrel any where. One of our boys said he fired 12 rounds and in putting the 12th in the barrel it went off as soon as he had turned in the powder. Some way or other our two Co.s on the right and part of the 3rd. Co. got separated from the rest of the reg. so that Capt. Barnum had to take charge of us (our Col. was no where to be seen) he might have been with the rest of the reg. and he might not. Capt. Barnum stood in front of us and swung his sword and cheered us on untill he heard a N.S. Officer say who stood in our rear that our Col. had ordered us to retire. We then done so (by our Capt.s command) we retreated in order (what there was left us) about 10 rods when we halted and sent back part of us to bring of the dead and wounded. There was one man shot (my right hand man the only one shot in our Co.) whom we did not find. As soon as I saw him fall my blood was up and I did not care what I done (he fell at the first fire) the Capt. had to order me back. I was so far in advance of our Co. yesterday we all came back here to Wash. Our reg. could not get across the river and they waited a little while. While they were waiting I went out one side and laid down and went to sleep. When I woke up the reg. had left and I have not found where they are yet. I have found once in a while some of our reg. who have got strayed away from the reg. and that is all. When I woke up I enquired of some one standing around there if he knew where our reg. had gone and he said they had gone over the river into Washington. I then came to the gaurd one that was gaurding the bridge and asked him and he also said they had. I then came across (it was raining all this time) and put up in a hotell just in this end of the bridge. There is a Co. quartered there. I slept on the bare floor with nothing for a pillow and was very glad to get even a shelter for my head. Today I have heard that our reg. were at Arlington Heights. That is on the other side and up the river 7 miles. I think of taking a start (John Wells is with me) and go there as soon as I finish this letter. It is now 5 o’clock and I shall have to close if I go there to night. It cleared of this morning quite pleasant, but I must close.

Your affectionate son,

Ray.

I read a letter from Mary while on the battle field. I have not heard from any of the rest of you since the 5th your letter was dated. I have plenty writing papers on hand. Do not send any more.

Transcription and Letter Image

By the narrative it appears that Wells is describing again the engagement at Blackburn’s Ford on July 18, as he did in this letter.





Pvt. William Ray Wells, Co. I, 12th NY, on Action at Blackburn’s Ford (1)

5 08 2011

July 19

Manassass Junction

Dear Friends,

I presume this will be the last letter I shall ever direct to you. We are within about 3/4 of a mile of the enemy waiting by the road side I do not know what for. We had a slight brush yesterday afternoon with the enemy. Our reg, was marching along when we were fired upon from the bushes. At the first fire there was a young man who stood by my right side fell with a bullet through his head. I gave a glance around to see who it was and then we all fell down and loaded and fired as fast as we could. The enemys balls whistled and rattled by our ears pretty sharp. The boys got mixed at the first fire Co A Co J and part of Co E and Co H I think these were together and I do not know where the rest of the reg, was. us that were together stood it, like tigers and did not retreat until we were ordered to do so and then very sloly. There were some 60 or 70 of our reg killed and wounded. The union forces all drew of about 3 miles and camped over night. We are expecting to attact them now soon. We do not know the enemys exact number but hear they are very strong but I for one am going to do my duty. I hardly ever expect to see home again but if I fall it will be in a good cause. I have not rec’d any letters from any of you (except Mary) since that dated the 9th of July, but I must close. Perhaps forever. From your true son and brother

Ray

Transcription and letter image