Pvt. Albert E. Sholes, Co. B, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Campaign

27 03 2023

Personal Reminiscences of Bull Run.

Read at the Thirty-eight Annual Reunion of the First R. I. Regiment and First Battery Association at Lakewood, R. I, Thursday, July 21, 1910, by Albert E. Sholes, of Flushing, N. Y.

“And what so tedious as a twice-told tale,” says Pope, and yet your secretary, my comrades, wrote me a few weeks since, asking that I present on this forty-ninth anniversary of the day we celebrate, a paper of reminiscences.

To so give color and change to the story of that which is in the main familiar to you all, as to interest, is not an easy task. As on strives to look back through the mist of the years, he finds that details of incidents, faces and even names of those once closely allied with, and dear to him have been obliterated, wipes out as the child erases the picture from his slate, so that only the dimmest trace of it remains.

Yet the real story of the past can only be gathered and collated from individual remembrace, and i can respond to Comrade Slocomb’s request, tell of the time,

When we beheld a Nation betrayed,
When Lincoln called and we obeyed.

in no better way than by giving you personal memories.

[Skip to p. 5]

On July 16th. orders came for the regiment to move across the Potomac, but Commisary Cole was instructed to keep all the attaches of his department in camp. This did not meet my approval, and I arranged with one of the boys in my mess to bring my haversack with the rest for rations and leave it in my bunk. I served all the rations, saw the Regiment formed and march in, and watching my opportunity, slipped off to quarters, put on my equipments, caught my gun and ran as if for life.

Half a mile down New York avenue, I dropped into line, Captain Van Slyck[1] failing to note my presence till we had crossed the Long Bridge, when he commented with a smile, that I “would probably wish later that I had obeyed orders and staid in camp.”

Memory skips today many of the details of that march, though I recall that it was a hot and dusty experience. The night of the 17th if I remember rightly, we camped in the yard of Fairfax Court House, and I have a letter somewhere which I found in the scattered mail at the Post office, which written to a member of a South Carolina Regiment, from his home, informed him that a three gallon jug of old corn whiskey had been shipped, and requested in return that the soldier bring him “one of old Abe’s front teeth.”

I recall also a visit to the home of Major Ball, who, married into the Washington family, was in command of a Confederate battery, and how some of the troops – I think not of our regiment – had sought to get even with him by practicing on his piano with their boot heels.

Then came our advance on the 18th, when we heard the first shot of the enemy across Blackburn’s Ford, and our movement to Centerville, the morning of the 19th. That day and the next in camp there, and then, on the evening of the twentieth, came orders to prepare to move in the early morning.

Little of sleep was, I think, obtained by any of us that night. The excitement of realization that tomorrow would witness a battle between two great armies, both composed of American citizens, and that we were to participate, did not tend to slumber. Then, for myself, I was one of the details to go half a mile or more to a spring for water. On our return, rations which would shortly arrive must be waited for, and after arrival, which was near midnight, the meat must be cooked.

Finally tired and sleepy, I laid down only to be awakened before I had gotten even the traditional “forty winks,” with the cry of “Fall in.”

Out into the road, down to and over the bridge which was to achieve fame ere the close of the day, up a slight elevation, and forward over an unknown road, moving in quietness, every man simply following his file leader, dawn found us in the midst of a forest, such as few of any of us had ever before seen. Giant trees were on every hand, while all about us other giants had grown to maturity, lived their day, decayed and fallen to earth. We could almost imagine the genii of the forest peering out upon us and saying, “Who be these who this disturb us? Surely their like ne’er passed this way before.”

Clambering over the fallen trunks of trees, pushing through heavy growths of underbrush, we presently emerged into the open ground, crossed a little brook, and climbed a small hill toward what we later learned to be Sudley Church.

As the let of the regiment cleared the top of the hill, the order was given “By battalion left into line,” and we advanced in line of battle.

An hundred or more yards we moved when there came a shot which I am confident was the widest shot fired during the entire war. It struck the ground a short distance in our front, and ricochetting, passed directly over my head. I am prepared to swear to this even now, and I have no question that every man here today will testify that it passed directly over his head, never mind whether he was on the right or left of the line. The command came “Forward. Double quick!” and then, “Left oblique,” and in less time than I can tell it, pushing over the left of the 71st N. Y. as it lay on the hillside, we were on the brow of the hill with the Seventy-first New York on the right, the Second Rhode Island on our left, and the gray clad enemy in front.

Who can tell of the incidents of a battle, particularly one like Bull Run, where every man and officer was a novice in the art of war? The rattle of musketry, the roar of cannon, the cries of the wounded, the shouts of officers, the loading and firing at will, all come back as a blurred memory. I recall seeing the loved Prescott[2] dead, the falling with wounds of Irving and Haskins of my Company, the riding of Governor Sprague to the front of our line, the killing of his horse, and his appearance as he rose with his hat off, hair flying and sword waving and called on the First to follow him. Then as he was led rearward, some Regiment advanced to fill our places, and we were marched to right and rear to the shade of the woods, to have our supply of ammunition replenished.

Here, to us came the news of the wounding of Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou and Captain Tower, and that they had been borne to the little house at the rear of our line of battle.

Securing permission from Captain Van Slyck, I at once went to the cabin especially to know if i could render service to the man whom I had always loved and honored, Colonel Slocum.

As I recall, no physician or attendant was with them when I entered. Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, and I think a third man lay on the floor at the side of the room, while I passed Captain Tower lying in the yard near the door of the cabin with the pallor of death on his face. I gave utterance to some expression of sorrow when the Colonel said, “I am glad you came, Albert; can’t you get us some water?” I removed the canteens, cutting the rapes and went to the old sweep well nearly up on the line of battle. As I drew up the bucket, a man waiting by the well at my side, fell dead, as he was struck by a fragment of shell. The canteens were filled, and returning, I gently raised the head, first of Captain Tower in the yard, then of Major Ballou, and finally of the Colonel, gave them a drink and moistened their faces with my handkerchief. when I had helped Colonel Slocum, I eased his position as best I could, and then sat or half lay beside him with his head upon one arm, while I wiped the blood away as it slowly oozed to his lips, till he suggested I return to my company. He bade me goodbye, and as the tears ran down my face, he said, “Never mind, Albert, it’s all right.” Captain Tower’s mind was wandering, and he was near death as I left, but the voices of both Colonel Slocum and Major Ballou were comparatively clear and their eyes not unsteady, so that I hoped to see them again. A few days later we learned that both had died in Sudley Church, to which place they had been removed by the rebels.

Returning to the Company I learned that the ammunition brought would not fit our rifles, and the wagons had been sent back. The troops passed us, moving hurriedly to the rear, and a report came that the enemy was reinforced and our men retreating. As Colonel Burnside rode up, several ran to him and asked if it were true. The cry arose for him to lead us back to the fight, with the responding cry. “What can we do without ammunition?” Shortly, we fell into line and covered the retreat, two hundred regular cavalry who were supposed to protect our rear, crowding their way through our ranks, ere we had gone a mile.

Needless to tell of the march back through the woods, of the opening of artillery on us as we came into the open above the bridge, of the blockade of the bridge by which we lost our guns, of the curses of McDowell, which rose loud and deep on every hand. Shortly after nightfall we were back in camp at Centerville, tired, weary, heartsick, with every Company counting their lost from those who had marched away in the morning.

A few hours of rest, and then, at midnight the sound of volleys, with stray shots dropping in camp, followed by the cry of “Fall in,” and we were off in irregular, disorganized mass for Washington.

What a night? Who, that was there can forget it? Men fell asleep leaning on a comrade, as they walked, and then, one after another dropped by the roadside indifferent to everything but sleep. I confess to being on of these, and at early dawn I was awakened to discover a six mule team stalled almost beside me, the animals twisted up as only army mules can twist themselves, and the driver using frantic exertions with whip and voice to straighten them out. Rising, I aided him to ultimate success, with the result that I was invited to crawl in on top of the barrels of beef, which I at once did. Placing my blanket roll on a barrel which lay on top of the upright ones, I dropped again into dreamless slumber. The jolting of the springless wagon tossed my head from the blanket to the barrel chimes and back again, until when I finally awoke as we entered Alexandria, I had that vulnerable left eye more badly swollen and discolored than ever before.

A boy of the Seventy-first had somewhere gotten into the wagon and when we dropped off we sought a place for breakfast, though it was well toward noon. As it chanced, we entered the Marshall House, where Ellsworth was shot a few weeks before. It was apparently uninhabited, and as we turned to go out a soldier came from the basement. “There is nobody about,” he said, “but I have found a barrel of mighty good wine down cellar.” Returning, he showed us the barrel and a sample of the contents testifying to his truthfulness, we filled our canteens and then proceeded to consider how to get to Washington. Stragglers from all regiments filled the streets, the Seventy-first being especially represented, and presently it was reported that a boat was to be sent from the Navy Yard for them.

My “Seventy-first” friend, Will Berrian[3], told me to stick by him and he would see me through, and I obeyed.

The boat came, and Lieut. Colonel Kimball standing at the gangway declared that he’d run through any not of the Seventy-first, who tried to embark; nevertheless, by the aid of a dozen of the Seventy-first I got on, but not by the gangway.

We landed at the Navy Yard about seven o’clock Monday evening, and I expended my last two dollars for a coach to Camp Sprague, where I arrived at about nine p. m., to receive a hearty welcome from the boys, who thought me captured.

On other incident, a pleasing memory, and my story ends. I slept until nearly noon the next day, then in the early afternoon started down town to assure my few Washington friends of my safety. Having made one call, I was about to cross New York avenue, at Four and One Half street, when I heard a familiar voice crying, “Here, my boy!” and looking up, Colonel Burnside had stopped his carriage in front of me. I saluted as he signalled me to approach, and as he asked where I was going, I answered, “Down on Pennsylvania avenue to visit friends,” when he said, “I wish you wouldn’t. Return to camp today, and I will give you a pass for all day tomorrow.” “Thank you, Colonel,” I replied, as I turned campwards; “I have a standing pass.” “Oh! yes,” said he. “You are with Captain Cole, aren’t you? Please then go back and oblige me. Some of the men on the avenue are not acting well today, and you know what Dog Tray[4] got for being in bad company.”

As I touched my cap in salute, and again turned, he threw open the door of his carriage and said, “Here, ride up with me,” and in a moment I was beside Colonel Burnside.

Long before we reached camp he had all my pedigree, knew several of my kindred and had permanently established himself a very warm place in my heart.

There could be no prouder boy or man in the camp than I, as we drove through it, and to his headquarters where I alighted, and he again thanked me, implying by his manner that in obeying his request I had conferred on him a special favor.

Two days later, on Thursday evening, July 25th, we bade farewell to Camp Sprague, and embarked near midnight for Providence, where after much delay we arrived on Sunday morning, July 28th.

We were boys, you and I in that long gone July
When our country called us to dare or to die!
But as the call came, in an hour then
The bous had assumed the full stature of men.

We’re proud to be counted as boys of “61,”
To have fought with Burnside at Bull Run.
We’re proud of the record the old Fist bore;
Each man did his duty; none could do more.

So here’s to the brave, the gallant Burnside,
We cherish his name in love and in pride;
And here’s to Sprague our War Governor, who,
In time of peril, was staunch and true!
Here’s to our comarades! God bless each one.
May He say, as He welcomes them, “Boys, well done!”

Transcript image

Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

[1] Capt. N. Van Slyk, Co. B

[2] Lt. Henry A. Prescott, Co. D

[3] Pvt. William L. Berrian, Co. H, 71st NYSM

[4] Old Dog Tray was a minstrel song written by Stepehen Foster in 1853, however the meaning of its use by Burnside is not clear.

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Image: Lt. Col. Joseph Story Pitman, First Rhode Island Infantry

11 09 2022
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Joseph Story Pitman, an 1839 Brown University graduate and lawyer, had raised a company of volunteers during the Mexican War, concluding his service in 1848 as major of the 14th U.S. Infantry. He became the lieutenant colonel of the Rhode Islanders in 1861, and led one group of 500 men to Washington (Burnside led the rest). Sent home on detached duty in June 1861, he missed Bull Run. He died in 1883 as a brigadier general in the state’s militia. (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Rick Carlile Collection)

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Image: Capt. Peter Simpson, Jr., Co. K, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

10 09 2022
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Col. Peter Simpson, Jr., of the Woonsocket Guards. Born in Canada, Simpson had moved to Woonsocket as a teenager and found work in the local mills. He later joined the Guards, and rose through the ranks to serve as its colonel. When the war began, the Guards were activated for duty in the 1st as Company K, with Simpson as captain. He commanded the company at Bull Run and garnered praise for his bravery. He mustered out with the rest of the regiment at the end of its 90 days service. He became a successful cotton mill owner, and died in 1889. His wife and two children survived him. (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Rick Carlile Collection)

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Image: Lt. George Frank Low, Co. A, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

9 09 2022
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Providence jeweler George Frank Low wears the standard officer’s double-breasted uniform of the regiment. He served as a second lieutenant in Company A and survived his three-months with the regiment. He came back a second time, from May to August 1862, as a captain in the 10th Rhode Island Infantry. He spent most of this period in relative safety inside the defenses of Washington. Low lived until 1905. (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Rick Carlile Collection)

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Image: Ensign James Henry Chappell, Co. F, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

8 09 2022
James Henry Chappell, Carte de visite by J. Appleby Williams of Newport, R.I. When the Newport Artillery Company formed in the early 1850s, the founding members included James Henry Chappell. An expert saddle maker, he closed up shop in April 1861 and joined his fellow militiamen to form Company F of the 1st. Chappell ranked as an ensign, or junior lieutenant. He posed for this portrait holding a Whitney revolver and a U.S. Model 1850 sword. He returned to Newport after the end of his three-month’s service and reopened his shop. Chappell went on to become a respected chiropractor and lived until 1914. (Courtesy Military Images Magazine/Martin Schoenfield Collection)

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Image: Pvt. Lewis Richmond, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

7 09 2022
Top, left: In civilian clothes, about 1861. Carte de visite by Frank Rowell of Providence, R.I. Rick Carlile Collection. Bottom, left: As a colonel, about 1865. Library of Congress. Right: Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Rick Carlile Collection (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Rick Carlile Collection)

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Image: Soldiers of Co. D, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

6 09 2022
Albumen print possibly by Alexander Gardner of Washington, D.C. A group from the company strike a seemingly serious pose with pipes and cards to stave off the monotony of life at Camp Sprague. (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Library of Congress)
Albumen print possibly by Alexander Gardner of Washington, D.C. Cigars and pipes dominate the playful scene which includes an especially animated pose of the trio of soldiers standing at the corner of the barracks. Also of note is the presence of African Americans. The two men of color, one pictured in each portrait, may have been employed as servants. The stoic woman staring straight at the camera may have cleaned the barracks. Company D, and its brother Company C, were originally raised in Providence as the “First Light Infantry.” (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Library of Congress)

Image: Col. Ambrose Everett Burnside, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

31 08 2022
Ninth-plate ambrotype by Manchester & Brother of Providence, R.I. (Courtesy Military Images Magazine, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

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Image: Lt. Addison Hyde White, Co. A, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

31 08 2022
Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Addison Hyde White, was a 30-year-old businessman born in Connecticut. He’s pictured here in officer’s full dress. Of note is his tall-crowned fur felt hat, to which is attached a dark plume. Also of interest is the device on his cap box cover, which may be the state seal or an eagle. The use of this device appears unique to the Cadets. He poses with a holstered revolver and a U.S. Model 1850 sword. White survived his enlistment, returned to Rhode Island, and became an insurance agent. He died in 1894. (Courtesy Military Images Magazine/Rick Carlile Collection)

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Image: Maj. Joseph Pope Balch, 1st Rhode Island Infantry

30 08 2022
Carte de visite attributed to Bundy & Rowell of Providence, R.I. Joseph Pope Balch, 38, had experience as a militia officer prior to the war. He led the regiment at the Battle of Bull Run in place of Col. Burnside, who commanded the brigade, and Lt. Col. Joseph S. Pitman, who had left the regiment the previous month. Balch returned to Providence after the end of his three-month term and resumed his service as an officer in the Rhode Island Militia. He received a brevet rank of brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. He died in 1872. (Courtesy of Military Images Magazine/Rick Carlile Collection)

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