Maj. Buel Palmer, 16th New York Infantry, On the Battle

29 11 2016

We are permitted to make the followin extracts from a letter from Maj. Buel Palmer, 16th Regt. To his wife, dated.

Camp near Alexandria, July 22.

My Dear Wife: You will see by the heading of this short note that I am again back at the old Camp. All of the 16th Regiment are safe, only one wounded. Lieut. Hopkins was shot in the foot, a slight wound; he will be about again in a few days. * * *

Thursday we took up our line of march for Centreville where Gen. McDowell’s army was to concentrate before any further advance on the rebels. Our Regiment arrived there about noon on Thursday last, and bivouaced in an open tract of country around and about Centreville, together with about 35,000 other troops. We remained there until yesterday morning when the army took up its line of march. The 1st Division left about 2 o’clock A. M. Our Division being the 5th and last, did not get under way before 7 o’clock A. M. We marched to the ground where Gen. Tyler two days before had a hard brush with the rebels. Here we planted our battery and immediately opened fire on the masked batteries of the rebels just below us; a ravine called the Bull’s Run. They did not return the fire, still we kept up ours occasionally stopping for a short time. The battle soon became general all along the Bull’s Run for 3 or 4 miles from us to the right. The most of the battle was fought on our right, the rebels trying to flank us, that is trying to get around our right wing; but did not succeed. — News came to us about 3 o’clock that the rebels were in retreat which at one time was actually the case, but owing to some blundering our victory was turned into a defeat or retreat back to Centreville. Of this our Division knew nothing until about 6 o’clock, when our Reg’t was attacked by about 3000 rebel Infantry and some Horse. We had at the time a battery of 4 guns, brass, and 2 iron, the 16th and 31st Regts. We supposed that the rebels were in retreat all the time. The first intimation we had to the contrary was by seeing a long line of bright bayonets glittering in the sun; they were on our left and were right on us. We immediately changed the position of our battery, formed our infantry in line of battle, the right wing of the 16th on the right of the battery, the left wing on the left and the 31st on the left of our left wing. Lt. Col. Marsh, in command of the right wing, I in command of the left wing of the 16th, and Col. Pratt in command of the 31st. As soon as formed our battery opened upon them & must have done dreadful execution, as they scattered and ran in every direction. They soon reformed and advanced again; and again our batteries let them have it; our ammunition gave out, but the battery still stood in position. The enemy came up at last through a dense thicket of underbrush. In the mean time we had ordered our men flat on their faces so when their volley came it generally passed over our heads, some fell short; it was a perfect hail storm of bullets. We could see them tear up the turf on all sides of us, but providentially none of our boys were hurt. – A Lieut of the battery was killed, a ball struck him in the forehead and killed him almost instantly. The artillery and the 31st at last withdrew from the field, leaving our right alone. We fell back about ten rods still keeping our line of battle perfect. This movement was made in hopes that the rebels would leave their cover so that we could get a chance to pepper them, but they still kept behind the trees and in the bushes. We remained in this position until Col. Davies sent peremptory orders by his aid to leave the field and fall behind the battery that was in the woods in our rear and right. – When we received this order, we formed in two ranks and marched off the field in common time, our Reg’t being in the rear. We then marched up on the hill near Centreville and remained there until near 11 o’clock at night when Gen. McDowell ordered us to fall back on Fairfax and thence to our old Camp. The 16th and 31st were the rear guard of the Grand Army and arrived in camp this morning about 9 o’clock. The reason of our falling back is a mystery to me. I think our troops should have stayed at Centreville; still all the Divisions except ours were very badly disorganized and much cut up.

Plattsburgh Republican, 7/27/1861

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From Bull Run to Chancellorsville: The Story of the Sixteenth New York Infantry together with Personal Reminiscences

Contributed by John Hennessy





J. A. V.*, 16th New York Infantry, On the Battle

19 12 2012

Letter from the War.

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The following two letters from St. Lawrence County boys will be read with interest:

Alexandria, July [??], 1861.

Our regiment was sent to the extreme left to protect a battery of six rifled cannon. We remained inactive until about four o’clock, when we espied a detachment of the enemy coming to take possession of our guns. Under Lieutenant Colonel Marsh we formed to receive them, and the artillery played upon them with fine effect. They were in a ravine and we upon a hill. They fired upon us. We laid down and their bullets passed over our heads, falling among us, and in front of us. Our boys were as cool as if at their dinner, and waited for the foe to show themselves on the brow of the hill, with a smile of satisfaction on their countenances. They did not advance, and our artillery getting out of ammunition and leaving us, we were ordered to retreat, which we did in excellent style. Our regiment was the last to leave the field, and come near being surrounded, as our men had all retreated and left us alone.

Lieutenant Colonel Marsh showed great coolness and courage, and acquitted himself with great credit. Our regiment was the only one that left the field with unbroken ranks and marched in good style the whole way. This was due to the energy of Colonel Marsh and by his fearless conduct he has endeared himself to the officers and men. None of our regiment were hurt except Lieutenant Hopkins, who was slightly wounded in the heel while out on a scouting expedition.

We are again in our old camp, and were absent from Tuesday until Monday, during which time I never took off my clothes, slept on the ground, and ate hard bread and raw pork. I feel well, and am ready for another fight and hope we will have more competent leaders next time. Our loss is not so great as was first reported, although it is too much for all that was gained. The loss of the enemy must have been very great as a fierce cannonading was kept up by our men for over four hours.

Our men are very much dissatisfied with their food and I must say that our commissary department is very poor. We have not yet had our pay, and some are growling about it. All are out of money and we await with eager eyes the approach of pay day, which has been deferred from time to time.

Yours truly,

J. A. V.

St. Lawrence Republican, 8/6/1861

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*Possibly Lt. John A. Vance, Co. F, or Pvt. John Valliere, Co. B. See regimental roster

Contributed by John Hennessy