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,
Utica Morning Herald amd Daily Gazette (unknown date)
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