S. A., Personal Secretary to Secretary of the Senate, On Washington After the Battle

21 01 2018

Very Interesting Letters from Washington — Description of the Scene after the Battle of Bull Run.

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[We have been favored with the following copy of a highly interesting and descriptive letter from the private Secretary of Col. Forney, Secretary of the Senate, relative to the scenes which occurred at Washington during and after the battle at Bull Run. The letter was addressed to a personal friend of the writer, in a neighboring town, who has kindly placed it at our service. It will be read with deep interest. – Editor Am]

“Do you see, dear friend, where I am? Bodily here in my room, writing, near midnight, at the same little table. Mentally, trying to keep abreast of the grandest movement the world ever saw. The moral progress the Nation has made in the last six months is amazing.

Day before yesterday the Senate passed a bill setting free all slaves whom the rebels may use in any way for the furtherance of the war. On the 1st of January last the man would have been deemed crazy who should have said the Senate would pass such a bill in six years, even.

God is working in ways we never have dreamed of. I find no time here to read much but the papers – the new Atlantic is just out, and I must manage to edge that in somehow. My duty at the Senate commences at 9 o’clock and ends at 4. My dinner hour is 4 ½ — my breakfast hour is 8. I have but two meals daily.

What shall I tell you about the sad disaster of Sunday. You will get a history of it from the papers. The movement was unquestionably made before Gen. Scott was fully ready. Why, is one of the questions no one can answer. The day was also unquestionably ours up to about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Our force in the battle was not over 25,000 men; yet though the rebels had the advantage of nearly double our number of men, added to that of an entrenched and strongly fortified position, we drove them from the field and won the day. Just in the moment of victory that strange panic sprung up and we lost all. It was utterly causeless –- no one can account for it. Our loss of artillery is not over twenty pieces. We saved nearly all of our army wagons and baggage. We threw away considerable ammunition, and some guns. Our loss of life is as yet impossible to tell. Each day reduces the general supposition, for men are constantly coming in. Tonight some 2,000 are unaccounted for and set down as killed, wounded and missing. I think 500 of them will yet report at camp – thus putting our killed and wounded at only 1500. I shall not be surprised if it is finally reduced to 1200. So far as we can judge, the loss of the enemy is at least double ours. We took 25 or 30 prisoners who have been brought here, and I judge the enemy did not get many of our men. Better than ours no men ever did on the field of battle.

Wednesday morning. Of course Sunday was a sad day here. Probably 200 people went out to the battle ground. I wanted very much to go, but my room-mate was sick and I did not try to get away. Sunday afternoon I went to service in the House by the chaplain of the Senate. At 6 in the evening I went to vespers in the Catholic Church. By 9 in the evening couriers began to arrive from the field of battle – and they kept coming in every half hour till after midnight. The general tone of the report was good – “severe fighting, but our men were gradually driving the rebels from the field.” Soon after midnight came in a rider who left a 5 o’clock. He brought report that “the day was ours – the firing had about ceased – the enemy was driven back some three miles.” You may be sure there was excitement. I us up town so cannot speak more in detail. Then everybody, generally, went home to sleep and pleasant dreams. The news of the disaster did not reach here till 2 o’clock. It was too awful, and no one placed the least credence, in the report. Half an hour more, and more messengers came in. Soon the panic stricken civilians and officers began to arrive. A newspaper reported tore up the avenue for the telegraph office – his horse badly wounded and gory with blood. Then soon came another who reported having a man shot from behind him on his own horse. The few people about the hotels were thunder-struck. At a quarter before 3 somebody called beneath my window. I recognized the voice as that of Col. Forney, Secretary of the Senate. Getting out of bed I went to the window when he struck me dumb with these words: “I am just in from Bull Run. We have been defeated. Our army is all retreating. We have lost nearly everything. Our killed and wounded are counted by the thousand. Some apprehensions are felt at the War Department that the city may be stormed before morning. Our men fought nobly, but it was of no use. They are awfully cut up. Col. Cameron is killed. Col. Burnside is wounded. Col. Hunter, is also wounded – his lower jaw is shot away – I have just left him. Our army is all in retreat in the most disordered manner.” Three hours before, I went to sleep with news of victory. What a tale to tell a man just roused from sound sleep! There was Col. Young, who rooms next door – it was his voice, and it was him. He was not wild or incoherent – he spoke calmly, but could it be true? Was I awake? O God, was it not all a fantasy of the brain! Before I could collect my senses – Col. Forney had passed into his room. There I stood with head stretched out the window. I remember looking to see if there was not a glare in the sky – it might be the enemy’s guns were already at work. By this time we were all awake – my room-mate and the gentlemen in the other rooms. The family were also astir. I could not speak – I lay down. But spoke my chum, “Sid, are we awake?” Surely, it was terrible. Presently he said, “It is awful!” repeating the three words every moment or two for sometime. First I thought of the ten-thousand homes in which there would be mourning on the morrow for the chosen one of the household. The great wail of wo swept over me like a thick tempest. Then came the full voice crying, “Vengeance!” and my thoughts sprung to the long line of a hundred thousand new men ready to die for Liberty and Law. But before one of them could get here the cannon would probably be upon us. Thousands of men must arm here to defend the city, to fight to the death if need be.

Was I ready? I am sure I did not hesitate an instant. I only considered, am I ready? Have I my business matters in such condition that a stranger could settle them? Is there any wrong I ought to repair before I go to another world – any farewell I must say? There were farewells to say, but I could say them in the moment of starting for the trenches. I lay and though. I did not see anything that required attention. I am sure I thanked God then that the hour had come when I was really wanted in the world – all these years of my life seemed to have been nurturing me just to carry a gun and use it nobly in the trenches and die for Humanity. Not doubting the full truth of all Col. Forney had said, in an hour I had given myself away. You had not friend – my mother had no son – my sister had no brother. My use and my life were passed over to the great cause, and I had no more concern for myself. God would deal with me as he pleased – in the end all would be well. I hope I may be as true when the real emergency does come, as I was that morning lying upon my bed. Resolving to get up and go down town as soon as I could well see, I turned over and went into a doze. I woke up to find myself saying aloud: I have fought the good fight, I kept the faith.” It was a quarter of 6 when I started up the street – just commencing to rain. Early as it was, the avenue was full of people – as many on the sidewalk as there usually are at 10 in the afternoon. By this time a few of the runaway soldiers were arriving. Each soiled, begrimed, red eyed man was instantly surrounded and made to tell his story. In the length of a square there were often a dozen of these grouped around some here. I didn’t care to hear details – the grand fact of a terrible defeat and of a probable attack upon the city was all I cared for. Having settled the case in my mind I was curious to see how the people felt. I stirred my blood strangely to hear a calm-faced man say, after hearing the story, “I have a wife and four little children – I am going home to put my house in order – I will be back in two hours – put my name down if men are wanted.” There was a hero, though fame may never catch his name. Scores of men would not believe the report of defeat – “it was impossible; these soldiers were deserters, cowards who deserved to be shot.” Here and there traitors appeared – their chuckle marked them. The stern faces of the loyal men promised harsh use of any man who spoke treason. One great man swore out roundly he was glad the government army was routed. In an instant a slight built private of the Massachusetts Sixth, stepped in front of him, and he lay sprawling on the sidewalk. It was done so quick I could hardly see it, but I know the blow was a neat one. The traitor got up and slunk away – the crowd clapped the soldier on the back and said, “Bully!” Good for you.”

At the hotel, men were getting up who had heard nothing of the disaster. First came into their faces a look of incredulous amazement – then every man’s face took on that look of stern determination to never yield. In some faces I saw as plainly as if the house-door had been open before me, all the home circle – wife and children, high hopes, desires, plans, promise of future years, and coming pride and joy. There was a look backward toward these, as it were, but in every eye was that calm decision which boded no good for an enemy who dare attack the city. On old man who appeared to be over sixty, heard the tale and said: “I have two sons in the Rhode Island First, I suppose they are both dead – I know what they were made of – I’m stout enough to handle a gun yet.” A few cowards there were – men ho had urgent business in Ohio or New York or somewhere else. Loyal men would not stay to hear their excuses. Every man was restless; there was not much talking. “Did you know Jim Harris?” said a man to one of the Michigan First. “Yes,” was the answer, he was shot dead.” Not a muscle quivered – “Where?” “In Front.” “That’s right, he was my son.” Before such heroism how mean I felt! I was ashamed of myself. I ought to have been in the field – my body might have stopped the ball which killed the son of such a father.

I am sure I came home to breakfast a better man than I was when I went away.

After breakfast we all went up street. It was the same scene. Every where knots of men around soldiers – the dreary rain pouring down – here a man standing out alone and solemnly and reverently calling God’s vengeance on the rebel fiends who came on the battle field, and bayonetted our wounded – there soldier friends rushing together, each having supposed the other dead – now a choleric old man swearing at himself for being so stiff with rheumatism that he could not march in a rank – elsewhere middle aged men shaking hands with each other, and saying almost gladly, “Now our time has come!” A beardless boy exclaiming, “I shall take Jack’s place in the 71st,” – an old man of seventy chiding one a few years younger for yielding to the fear of panic on the battle field – a coal-black negro touching his hat to me and asking, “Please, mass’sr, d’ye think we darkies can have a chance to fight dis yer day?” = one man swearing at the Tribune for urging on a battle before we were ready – another swearing at Patterson for letting Johnson escape him in the Harper’s Ferry neighborhood – the faint chuckle of some traitor – the faint chuckle of some traitor – the quick word “You are not wanted here, go away or you’ll get hurt” – in nearly every eye that strange light that never before was, which spoke in the same instant of home and friends, and consecration to the Stars and Stripes to the death. At ten I was at my post in the Senate. We could not work – we did only so much as we must. The wildest rumors were running about till near the middle of the afternoon. Every man kept an eye on Arlington Heights across the river if so be he might see the smoke of battle – crowds of soldiers poured into the city – reports of dead and wounded grew upon us – all waited in uneasy expectancy for the roar of cannon. The House was cast down and dispirited – the rain poured down faster and faster – everywhere except in the Senate was gloom – Trumbull of Illinois, Wilson of Massachusetts, Ten Eyck of New Jersey, each spoke a few nervous words in favor of the bill before mentioned, in relation to slaves – Charles Sumner’s responsive “aye!” when his name was called had the ring of an organ in it –old Ben Wade’s answer was as sharp as a sword – and when the vote was announced – “32 for, to 6 against” – the heats of the people in the galleries began to rise. Directly the bugle was heard and past the Capitol wound Sherman’s battery, which everybody supposed lost, only four men missing, and not a gun harmed. Bless me! How the people rushed out in the rain, swinging their hats and cheered! From that time things began to improve. Fact began to take the place of wild rumor – we began to comprehend and understand the great disaster. So the day wore away – rain and darkness everywhere, no booming of cannon, supposed dead men reporting themselves alive, fragments of regiments clustered in all parts of the city, everybody going to look after friends, private houses on every street opening to receive weary and hungry soldiers, stranger men giving soiled privates half dollars with which to get warm dinners. Five o’clock came and we went up town again. Straight to the quarters of the Michigan 2d, and found my friend Lester unhurt. My college mate, his is now assistant surgeon.

It was a long time before I could find a man of Company “F.” of the Minnesota First; there were not many of them left. At length, “Do you know anything of your First Lieutenant?” Dead.” That was all, then; so went down a rare nature, generous, chivalric, earnest. I saw him here and shook a “good bye” with him when the regiment crossed to Virginia, then days before the battle. His last words wot me were: “You now I’ve always been a Democrat, but I’m in for the war; I never can die in a better cause.” * *

War came home to me that evening as I moved about among the boys of Company “F.” I felt very much humiliated – they all seemed brothers to me, whom I had in some way wronged. Ah me that I could have given them twenty dollars instead of five so that they might all have put away their poor army ration, and had such a good warm meal!

* * * S.A.

Chenango American, 8/22/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

John W. Forney bio

More information on the identity of S. A. will update this post as it becomes available





Pvt. John E. Goundry*, Co. B, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

8 01 2018

An Interesting Account Of The Great Battle. – Mr. D. Goundry, who was formerly employed by A. V. Masten, of this village, is not connected with a Minnesota regiment, and was in the thickest of the fight at Bull’s Run. We are permitted to extract the following statement from a letter written by him to Mr. David E. Taylor: –

* * * “Now came ‘the tug of war.’ The Ellsworth or Fire Zouaves were making charge after charge. They sent word to us that they would not charge again with any other regiment but ours. Our regiment was sent into a piece of woods where every other one had refused to go. We had to pass between the fire of two batteries, the cannon balls and shells flying thick and fast. The boys did not mind them only to laugh at each other as on after another would dodge a ball, or jump up to let them pass. They could not see them, but could hear them from the time they left the cannon. Sherman’s Battery soon silenced one of theirs. Our boys then charged into the woods, and drove the enemy before them, across an open field, into his entrenchments. Our Colonel brought us to a halt within about five rods of a concealed rifle pit. Here the enemy sung out, ‘Friends!’ and displayed the Stars and Stripes. Our Colonel told us not to fire, when the black-hearted devils poured a volley into us. Down went our men, flat to the ground, amid a hissing of bullets which sounded like a drawing of a file across a thousand wires. Men who had been through the Mexican War said they had never experienced such a fire before. Our men returned a volley, and then dropping on their backs would load – then rise and fire. After firing a few times the order was given to fall back on the woods. Soon the Fire Zouaves came up and sing out, Go in, Minnesotians! – we’ll stand by you!’ So in we went again. The Black Horse Cavalry tried to charge between us, but they were repulsed and sent flying back. After standing it some time, both regiments had to retreat. It was charge after charge from two o’clock until five, afternoon. Sometimes Zouaves and Minnesotians, in small squads, in companies, and some on their own hook – sometimes side by side with Wisconsonians, Rhode Islanders, or Vermonters. Our men fought like heroes, driving the enemy before them for a mile. At last Sherman’s Battery – which had done good execution, got short of ammunition, and the artillery riders started back on their horse after more. There was a crowd of civilians – Senators, Congressmen and others – seeing these horses running, thought they were retreating, took fright, and started pell mell for Washington. From them it communicated to the teamsters, and then to the army. Then came the order to retreat, and on only a ‘double-quick’ but run. Our regiment walked from the field, but found no reserve to fall back upon. We halted to rest a short way from Bull’s Run, but were told that the enemy were surrounding us, and forced to march on. Monday morning the weary and wounded commenced coming into camp. I could hardly keep the tears back as one after another they came slowly straggling in, from daylight till dark. There were some sad scenes which almost unmanned me.”

Penn-Yan Democrat, 8/2/1861

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Full Penn-Yan Democrat for 8/2/1861

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Found John E. Goundry in Co. B, and Wm. W. Goundry in Co. E. Found no D. Goundry listed. This may be a typographical error by the newspaper. The Penn-Yan Democrat was published in Penn-Yan, New York. John E. Goundry had lived in Stillwater, MN for only a year prior to enlistment, and was from New York. One document lists John E. Goundry as having lived in Penn-Yan. It is most likely that this letter was written by John E. Goundry. John E. Goundry was killed at Antietam and is buried in the National Cemetery in Sharpsburg. Biographies of both John and William can be found at this 1st Minnesota Infantry history and roster.

John E. Goundry biography.

John E. Goundry at Fold3

John E. Goundry at Ancestry.com

John E. Goundry at FindAGrave.com





Pvt. George L. Smith, Co. C, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

20 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.
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[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Brother: Fearing that you might hear a report of my being killed in the disastrous action of the 21st, I take this method of informing you and other friends that I am alive, and by the intervention of Providence, untouched – I have experienced a new sensation lately – that of hearing the rush of shot and shell, and of seeing friends and companions in arms falling by my side in the cold embrace of glorious death. We were driven – routed – but not until the ground was covered with the slain. We were not disheartened. We hope to regain and will regain our position, or die in the attempt. I can give no certain account of our loss, as we retired in disorder. Probably 100 killed outright and 250 wounded in this Regiment alone. Our wounded will, I fear be killed at last. I have heard that the house used as a hospital was burned and all killed. The enemy were in a strong force, and after the charge was made they had batteries which could not be seen until they opened fire, and then only by the smoke. We were rushed up in disorder to a masked battery, with a large number of the enemy in a concealed trench. We discovered them before they fired, but our officers refused to let us fire, because they said they were friends, but they fired, and many a gallant heart ceased beating. We dropped on the ground and fired, reloaded and fired, and kept firing. We were repulsed, and returned again; again separated and again rallied on our colors, which we brought with us from the field.

In our Company, C, the color Co., we lost about 25 killed, our Captain wounded, 2d Lieut. do, 3 Sergeants killed, or missing, and some 6 others slightly scratched. I was loading the 5th time, when a ball passed between my fingers, taking my ramrod from my hand, leaving me with a useless gun, until I could pick up another ramrod. I got one, but it was too large at the large end, and I had to load with the small end. Well, I gave them about 14 rounds, and then left with a mixed crowd of Fire Zouaves, Minnessota, and Massachusetts troops, Garibaldi Guards and U. S. Regulars.

They killed our wounded on the field, and we understand they killed all in our hospitals, They were in strong force, – and were reinforced by 10,000 men, just as we were marched on to them. * * * Please write, and send papers, and have others do so, for we are much pleased to get them in camp. Direct to Co. C, 1st Regiment Minnesota Volunteers, Washington, D. C.

Yours, &c.,

Geo. L. Smith

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

George L. Smith bio 

George L. Smith at Fold3





Pvt. Mortimer Stimpson*, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

24 11 2012

Letters from soldiers.

We are under obligations to very many persons who have furnished us with letters from their friends in the army, obtaining early and interesting intelligence after the battle at Bull Run. We are still in the receipt of several, but the contents of most of them have been anticipated, and the publication at length is therefore unnecessary. From others we make extracts which will be read with interest by the friends of the writers. From a letter written by Mortimer Stimpson of the 1st Minnesota regiment, (son of Rev. H. K. Stimpson, of Lagrange, Wyoming County), we take the following:

“Our regiment with the Fire Zouaves were ordered to right flank at double-quick, right down upon the enemy who were concealed in a piece of thick everglades and woods. As we came up they displayed the American Flag just as our boys were going to fire at left oblique, and the Colonel gave orders not to fire, as they were our friends. Just then down went the flag, and up went the secession flag, and with the most destructive fire of musketry, grape and canister from a masked battery inside the wood. Our poor boys were cut up awfully, and after rallying three times were obliged to retreat. The carnage was most horrid on both sides. The dead, dying and wounded of both sides literally covered the ground. The secession cavalry charged our boys and the Fire Zouaves, when the Zouaves formed and almost annihilated them and their horses; that was the only fair show our boys had. At this juncture the enemy were reinforced by Johnson with twenty-five thousand men, and our forces made a precipitate retreat. *  *  *  *  *

There were more than 8.000 soldiers straying through the woods, and who refused to rally, as their commanders were either killed or wounded, but for the most part, our men were as brave as men could be, and it is acknowledged by all hands that if proper precaution had been used in surveying the ground, and plenty of siege pieces had been with us, we shouldn’t have had to mourn the loss of so many brave fellows, and a disastrous defeat. Our flying artillery did some fine work. We had [?] batteries with our division. Only five of these engaged the enemy, and one, after getting position on the left of the Minnesotas and Fire Zouaves, and unlimbering, every man fled without firing a gun. All their horses were killed, and consequently we had no help from the artillery.

I suppose you would like to know what part I took in the battle; my position as one of the Band did not require me to do anything and we were ordered to remain in camp, but we all disobeyed the command and went on the field. I saw the whole of the hard fighting. I found a Tennessee rifle with all the accoutrements on a wounded secessionist. I helped him up beside of a stump, and giving him some water from my canteen, I went into the engagement and fired fourteen times, and am positively certain that five of them took effect, because I laid in the bushes, 30 rods from their column. I took a secession prisoner, horse and all, and delivered him to the Brooklyn boys, and have his revolver and sash, which I hope to be able to show you sometime.

Rochester Democrat and American, 8/4/1861

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*Likely Montcalm J. Stimson, musician, Co. G.

Montcalm J. Stimson at Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy





Chaplain Rev. Edward D. Neill, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

23 11 2012

Chaplain Neill’s Letter.

Washington, July 24, 1861,

Wednesday Night.

  *  *  The conductors of the advance towards Richmond forgot the better part of valor, discretion. Our regiment, as you have learned, was in the advance of Heintzelman’s column, and I never saw men behave with so much dignity and cheerfulness, with the entire absence of all shouting, as they descended into the battle field. Occupying the extreme right on the battle field, and in proximity to the Fire Zouaves, I have no doubt that their red shirts led the rebels to suppose that they were all of the came corps, and direct their fire upon our men with greater energy.

It was painful, I assure you, to be on the battle field and have nothing to do but dodge cannon balls. It was impossible for me to lag behind, as I felt that the soldiers ought to see me by them and as they entered the engagement; and yet, when they skirmished around and left me near the artillery, I felt a singular loneliness, and would have felt much better if I had had some distinct military duty to perform.

As the battle ceased, however, I found my hands full in dragging our wounded men to the hospital, near by. Afterwards I succeeded in bringing Capt. Acker, Lieut. Harley, (of Capt. Pell’s company,) and five other wounded men in an ambulance to Centreville, near where we had camped before the battle. Harley and I reached this place before we were ordered to retire to Washington. We reached Georgetown at 11 A. M. Monday, having been on our feet, with the exception of a few halts, thirty hours. During this time I saw the battle; was in the ambulance and surrounded by thousands of panic stricken men; forced to make a wounded man tear off his flannel shirt, which I hung out the ambulance on a sabre, as a hospital sign, so that the rebels, who were alleged to be near, would not fire on the suffering; witnessed the wreck of artillery wagons, baggage wagons, &c., on the road, which has been so fully told in all the papers. From Saturday night at six o’clock until Monday at dinner time, I had the privilege of eating two pilot crackers, a piece of cake and a cup of coffee.

All my baggage was thrown into the road to make way for the wounded, and I fear that the trunk may be captured. In that case I am left with only the clothes on my back.

We were quite anxious for Drs. Boutillier and Steward, fearing that they may have been captured, but to night the former arrived, and we learn that the latter is out by the Hospital, not far from the battle filed.

The field officers behaved very well on the field, and ll of them escaped without the slightest scratch.

St. Paul Press, 8/1/1861

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Rev. Edward Neill on Ancestry.com

Edward Neill bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. William Nixon, Co. A, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

23 11 2012

Letter From A Private In Capt. Wilkin’s Company.

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Interesting Account of our Soldiers in the Battle.

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[Mr. William Nixon permits us to publish the following letter from his son.]

Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father: — I now write you in answer to yours. We arrived here yesterday afternoon from Manassas. I suppose you have heard of the battle there. It was a hard one. We fought steady for about six hours. Col. Gorman led us right into the mouths of the cannon, and into the midst of a large body of infantry. We were terribly cut up, losing half our company, but it is lucky we got out as we did.

I have not seen Edward since we left the field , but I guess he is all right, for some of our boys say they saw him on the road. Half our company only are here, [?] [?] expect some of them are yet on the road.

In the fight, I saw several of our boys shot down, two on my right were shot dead with the same ball, which went through the body of the first man on my right and struck the man in his rear in the shoulder. They fell like a stone, and did not utter a word. Mr. Halstead had all of his finger on one hand shot off. Robert Stines was shot in the elbow; he fell, and the blood ran out in streams. He asked me for some water but I had none to give him.

Mr. Neill was in the battle with us, but I do not know how he came out. One of the doctors was wounded, but not severely. Both Surgeons staid to take care of the wounded. It is reported that the rebels have slaughtered all the wounded.

In our retreat we were followed by several thousand dragoons for ten or fifteen miles. I thought I was at one time a prisoner. A companion and myself stopped to get a drink, and got left behind, and just as we were through drinking, a lot of cavalry came up and commenced firing upon us. I thought then that we were surely gone, so I told him to hurry up. He dropped his gun and came along with me a little ways, but could not keep up, but fell in with some other boys, and that was the last I saw of him. I have since heard that he was taken prisoner.

I got off better than I expected. When I went to the field, I did not expect to come off alive, but I put my trust in the Lord and he spared my life. As we were forming into line to go on to the field, I raised my eyes and asked Him to preserve me through the contest, and it so happened.

I never saw hail flying thicker than the balls did around me, some of them brushing my hair. We went in with the expectation of not seeing more than one or two hundred of the enemy, but when we got along by the side of a little grove a shower of balls came through the woods, and after a little there were about two thousand of the rebels ran out of the woods, and made believe they were our friends, and Capt. Wilkin ordered our men to cease firing, and then they poured a volley upon us, and just then we saw the Secession flag. I hauled up my gun, took deliberate aim at one of them, and shot him in the breast; he wheeled to run, took two steps and fell. I walked over him afterwards, and he was nearly dead. One of the Zouaves wanted to run his bayonet into him but he was stopped.

Our little Captain Wilkin fought like a man. He picked up a musket of one of the killed and shot four of the rebels, and took one prisoner.

Our boys fought like men – we were with the Zouaves all the time. They say they want the Minnesota boys to fight with them hereafter. No one can say but that all of our boys have done their duty. They went at it as cooly as thought they were shooting at a mark. We had a terrible hard time since we left Manassas; we camped one night at a place where we stayed one day, on the afternoon of which our company went out scouting, and discovered a battery of six cannon and several hundred men ready to fire upon us. We went back to camp to get more men, and when we got there the whole division was ready to march to Centreville, six miles distant! We had not had anything to eat since morning and all of our rations were gone, but we had to start right off, and march at double quick two or three miles to get up with our Regiment. We got to Centreville about nine o’clock at night and had to lay out all night in the rain without tents, and with nothing to eat until morning. We stayed here two days, and had nothing to eat but crackers, with dirty creek water to drink. We started at three o’clock in the morning for the battle field, and when we got within a mile of it stopped and got a drink. We were then ordered to at double quick into the field, and were about dead when we got there. As we went into the fight, we threw down our blankets and knapsacks, and when the retreat commenced we had no time to pick them up. We marched the rest of the day and all night and part of the next day before we reached Alexandria, where we stopped about an hour and got breakfast, and then proceeded to Washington where we arrived yesterday, and went into quarters. It rained all the time we were marching.

St. Paul Press, 7/30/1861

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William Nixon on Ancestry.com

William Nixon bio

Contributed by John Hennessy





Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, Sets the Record Straight

15 04 2012

The recent battle and the fate of our missing comrades, which we did not then definitely know, was the one subject of conversation. I recall an expression of one of my tentmates as we sat on the ground in the tent eating our dinners. “Well,” he said, “anyhow, it does seem good to have a roof over our heads and a visible means of support.” There was another thing connected with that, the second day after the battle, that has since caused me to feel sincere pride in the company. Every man not killed, wounded, or captured was ‘present and accounted for’ at the evening roll call, with his gun and equipments.

The poet Walt Whitman, and others, have written profusely and, I think, unfairly and ignorantly, of the return of the army to Washington. A specimen of his statements is sufficient to indicate their absurdity. He says: “Where are the vaunts and proud boasts with which you went forth? Where are your banners and your bands of music, and your ropes to bring back your prisoners? Well, there is not a band playing, and there isn’t a flag but clings ashamed and lank to its standard.”

A grown man of very ordinary capabilities ought to have known better. We did go out with confidence, but I heard no boasting by the soldiers themselves – but I do not claim to know what noncombatants may have done or said. There were no ropes, and I do not suppose that any soldier ever had a thought of providing one. Our flag was not in any sense ashamed of us, nor we of it. The colors had been bravely borne. All of the color guard but one had been wounded, and the flag itself riddled with bullets, but it was dearer to us than ever, and its display brought neither censure nor discredit to us or it. Every man of the company – and, I believe, of the regiment – had clung to his musket as a man overboard would cling to a life preserver.

It is not my purpose to comment on the strategy or tactics at Bull Run or elsewhere, or the criticism that followed, but we know now that while the plan may have been good, it was most bunglingly executed, and later experience has shown the unwisdom of sending in a regiment at a time to be beaten in detail. It was really an absurd thing to do. I have often thought, too, what a glorious opportunity there was to have sent a brigade around our right flank at the time we were first engaged and taken their line and batteries in reverse. It seems now that it would have been entirely feasible and must have wrecked Beauregard’s army. But it is useless to ‘cry for spilled milk’ and – as ours was badly spilled – I leave this part of the subject without further comment.

The official loss of the regiment as I find it is: killed 42, wounded 108, and missing 30. Many of the wounded and the missing were prisoners. I do not know the exact number of the regiment in the Bull Run Campaign. If we set it at 900, then the total loss of 180 men was twenty percent of the whole number. The strength of Company F when it left the state was 3 officers and 96 enlisted men. When we started on the campaign, Lieut. Hoyt and ten enlisted men were left at the camp. There were 2 officers and 86 enlisted men went out with the company. The loss of the company was: 8 killed or died of their wounds; wounded, 12; and missing, 3 – for a total of 23. The total casualties were 23 – more than twenty-five percent.

Sergeant Charles N. Harris was one of the wounded. A rebel bullet shattered his shoulder, and he was captured and taken to Richmond. He recovered, was paroled, sent home, and finally exchanged. It was supposed at the time that he was dead, and, under that belief, his obituary was printed and funeral services were held. It was thus that he had an opportunity to read of his own funeral.

Company F was not ‘spoiling for a fight’ when it started for Bull Run or on any other occasion, but it meant business, as it always did when confronting an enemy, and did its level best to make things interesting for its ‘friends, the enemy.’ It did not ‘move as steadily as if on parade’ or ‘march undismayed in the face of batteries’ or ‘smile at bursting shells’; but it did try to march wherever it was ordered; we were all more or less scared – and in my case it was more; we ‘dodgedi the shell on the hillside both going and returning; and all through the fight we fully realized that it was a serious business, and I have no doubt we ‘looked it.’ In a word, we fully understood that life and limb were in danger, and the fact impressed itself upon us – much as it would on anyone under like circumstances.

I desire only to add a few words from the official reports that have a bearing on the matter. Colonel W. B. Franklin of the regular army, who commanded the brigade, said:

The First Minnesota Regiment moved from its position on the left of the field to the support of Ricketts’ battery and gallantly engaged the enemy at that point. It was so near the enemy’s lines that friend and foe were for a time confused. The regiment behaved exceedingly well and finally retired from the field in good order.

I may add, without injustice to any other command, that no other regiment in the brigade or division received such high commendation, and some were directly censured.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 64 – 65 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.