Corp. Samuel J. English, Co. D, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Advance, Battle, and Retreat

7 02 2017

Camp Clark, July 24th/61
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mother

I rec’d your letter of the 21st shortly after our return to camp and take the earliest opportunity of writing. Yes, we have been & gone and done it. Last Thursday the 16th our brigade consisting of the two Rhode Island regiments, the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd took up our line of march for Fairfax Court House. We crossed Long Bridge about 3 o’clock and continued on for six miles where we bivouacked for the night. Nothing occurred of importance to disturb our slumbers except the passing of troops bound on the same expedition. We commenced our march early in the morning, the 2nd R. I. regiment taking the lead and acting as skirmishers, Co. A taking the advance on the right; Co. D acting as flankers; Co. F acting as rear advance on the right of the column, Co. K[?] acting as advance on the left. Co. C as flankers and Co. G as rear guard. I cannot state exactly the strength of our forces at the time, but should judge there were seven or eight thousand, including 1500 cavalry and two Batteries of artillery with two howitzers belonging to the New York 71st Regt. When within half a mile of the village of Fairfax, word was sent that the rebels’ battery was directly in our line of march. Our artillery was immediately ordered to the front and fired three shots into it, making the sand fly, and showing pretty conclusively that the birds had flown. All the time this was taking place your humble servant was skirting around in the woods as a skirmisher and arrived in the village ahead of the main column. As our company arrived the streets presented the scene of the wildest confusion: old negroes running around, some laughing, some crying and some swearing at a fearful rate. The streets were strewn with the knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, blankets, shirts and most every article pertaining to camp life. The houses were deserted and in some places the tables were set for dinner and coffee warm on the stove. After strolling around a short time we quartered ourselves in the park of G. Lee and made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit. The cavalry in the meantime pursuing the retreating rebels and capturing 30 of their men. What particularly pleased me was that the company that lost the mess was the Palmetto Guards and Brooks Guards of South Carolina, having lost all of their camp equipage and barely escaped with their lives. But to continue, the next day our colors started for Manassas but halted and camped three miles this side of Centreville, waiting for our troops and reinforcements to come up; the second regiment being somewhat in advance of the main army; we stay here for about three days and Sunday the 21st about 2 o’clock the drums beat the assembly and in ten minutes we were on our march for Bull Run having heard the enemy were waiting to receive us, our troops then numbering 25 or 30 thousand which were divided into three columns ours under Col Hunter taking the right through a thick woods. About eleven o’clock as our pickets were advancing through the woods a volley was poured in upon them from behind a fence thickly covered with brush; the pickets after returning the shots returned to our regiment and we advanced double quick time yelling like so many devils. On our arrival into the open field I saw I should judge three or four thousand rebels retreating for a dense woods, firing as they retreated, while from another part of the woods a perfect hail storm of bullets, round shot and shell was poured upon us, tearing through our ranks and scattering death and confusion everywhere; but with a yell and a roar we charged upon them driving them again into the woods with fearful loss. In the mean time our battery came up to our support and commenced hurling destruction among the rebels. Next orders were given for us to fall back and protect our battery as the enemy were charging upon it from another quarter, and then we saw with dismay that the second R. I. regiment were the only troops in the fight; the others having lagged so far behind that we had to stand the fight alone for 30 minutes; 1100 against 7 or 8 thousand. It was afterwards ascertained from a prisoner that the rebels thought we numbered 20 or 30 thousand from the noise made by us while making the charge. While preparing to make our final effort to keep our battery out of their hands, the 1st R. I. regiment then came filing over the fence and poured a volley out to them that drove them under cover again; they were followed by the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd regiments; with 2,000 regulars bringing up the rear who pitched into the “Sechers” most beautifully. Our regiments were then ordered off the field and formed a line for a support to rally on in case the rebels over powered our troops. When the line had formed again I started off for the scene of action to see how the fight was progressing. As I emerged from the woods I saw a bomb shell strike a man in the breast and literally tear him to pieces. I passed the farm house which had been appropriated for a hospital and the groans of the wounded and dying were horrible. I then descended the hill to the woods which had been occupied by the rebels at the place where the Elsworth zouaves made their charge; the bodies of the dead and dying were actually three and four deep, while in the woods where the desperate struggle had taken place between the U.S. Marines and the Louisiana zouaves, the trees were spattered with blood and the ground strewn with dead bodies. The shots flying pretty lively round me I thought best to join my regiment; as I gained the top of the hill I heard the shot and shell of our batteries had given out, not having but 130 [?] shots for each gun during the whole engagement. As we had nothing but infantry to fight against their batteries, the command was given to retreat; our cavalry not being of much use, because the rebels would not come out of the woods. The R.I. regiments, the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd were drawn into a line to cover the retreat, but an officer galloped wildly into the column crying the enemy is upon us, and off they started like a flock of sheep every man for himself and the devil take the hindermost; while the rebels’ shot and shell fell like rain among our exhausted troops. As we gained the cover of the woods the stampede became even more frightful, for the baggage wagons and ambulances became entangled with the artillery and rendered the scene even more dreadful than the battle, while the plunging of the horses broke the lines of our infantry, and prevented any successful formation out of the question. The rebels being so badly cut up supposed we had gone beyond the woods to form for a fresh attack and shelled the woods for full two hours, supposing we were there, thus saving the greater part of our forces, for if they had begun an immediate attack, nothing in heaven’s name could have saved us. As we neared the bridge the rebels opened a very destructive fire upon us, mowing down our men like grass, and caused even greater confusion than before. Our artillery and baggage wagons became fouled with each other, completely blocking the bridge, while the bomb shells bursting on the bridge made it “rather unhealthy” to be around. As I crossed on my hands and knees, Capt. Smith who was crossing by my side at the same time was struck by a round shot at the same time and completely cut in two. After I crossed I started up the hill as fast as my legs could carry and passed through Centreville and continued on to Fairfax where we arrived about 10 o’clock halting about 15 minutes, then kept on to Washington where we arrived about 2 o’clock Monday noon more dead than alive, having been on our feet 36 hours without a mouthful to eat, and traveled a distance of 60 miles without twenty minutes halt. The last five miles of that march was perfect misery, none of us having scarcely strength to put one foot before the other, but I tell you the cheers we rec’d going through the streets of Washington seemed to put new life into the men for they rallied and marched to our camps and every man dropped on the ground and in one moment the greater part of them were asleep. Our loss is estimated at 1,000, but I think it greater, the rebels lost from three to five thousand.

Rhodes, Robert Hunt, All For the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, pp. 32-35

Samuel J. English at Find-A-Grave 

Samuel J. English at Ancestry.com 

Samuel J. English at Fold3 





“Juvenis,” Battery A (Reynolds), 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, On the Battle and Retreat

22 11 2016

Army Correspondence.

Camp near Harper’s Ferry, Aug. 5th, 1861.

Mr. Editor: – I hope you have not thought that, because I have not contributed lately to your paper I was among the fallen at the battle of Bull Run. True, I was in that battle, and in the thickest of the fight for five long hours; but no missile of death was allowed by my Heavenly Father to strike me down. Members of my own company and of my own mess fell at my side, the shells burst at my feet, the spent musket balls struck me, but I am still unscathed, ready for another conflict with my country’s enemies; ready for the life long conflict with the enemy of souls, ready I hope to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to lost men.

It seems strange to me, that even the presence of death has no effect upon the minds of men. One can still hear the same coarse jests, the same profane language, the same taunts at those who speak to them of religion, as before they were surrounded by the dead and dying.

We are now encamped in a lovely place; the mountains of the Blue Ridge are on every side except where the Potomac winds through them. We have taken the 1st R. I. Battery, as their time is up, and our battery with the exception of one piece, was lost at the battle of Bull Run. Perhaps your readers would like to have a short account of that battle, which was one of the bloodiest in American history.

We were encamped between Fairfax and Centerville, and expected to remain there for some time. We had built our huts of branches, our fire places and cranes were ready for use. Sunday morning at on o’clock the bugle sounded, and the battery was harnessed up. We mounted the boxes and silently wound along the road towards Manassas Junction. There was no music, no loud command; our General wished to steal a march on the enemy. We were confident of victory, as we had confidence in our commander. We took a circuitous path through the woods, and without once having halted during the march of twelve miles, we reached the field of battle. The Rhode Island troops had the right of the line, the 2nd regiment in advance, the 1st next in order with our battery between. The first notice we had of the presence of the enemy was the volley of musketry from the woods upon our lines. The 2d regiment charged and drove them from the woods, down the hill. We were instantly ordered into action. We got into battery as quickly as possible and engaged a battery about a third of a mile from us. We soon silenced that and engaged the enemy in other parts of the field. The battle grew hotter and hotter – thicker and thicker flew the bullets, the shot, the shell. Our horses suffered severely, our men at the guns were entirely exhausted, wounded or dead. We were so thirsty that we threw ourselves into the mudy brooks and eagerly swallowed the mud and water. The enemy were retreating on every hand. Already Beauregard had sent a dispatch to Richmond, and even while we were fighting, Jeff Davis was packing up his State papers to send them to a place of safety. Bu all day there had been a constant stream of reinforcements pouring into the woods where the rebels had their head quarters. All at once the celebrated black horse cavalry charged upon us, their fresh infantry poured their volley into our ranks, their masked batteries opened upon our flank; thick as hail the shot flew; four hundred of the Zouaves were cut down. We retreated. We ran before that stream of lead and iron. No man could stand such a fire as that. The retreat became a rout; all were mingled together in dire confusion; the road was crowded with fugitives; the wounded, the wearied all rushed along together. We brought our battery off the field, and dozens of wounded men climbed upon our boxes and pieces, some with broken arms, some with broken legs, some with the blood flowing down their faces, some with their clothes red with blood. We were obliged to leave many a poor wounded, dying man who beseechingly begged us to take him upon our boxes. Those that were free from wounds were panic struck. At the least alarm every man almost would flee for his life, not knowing where he went. Thus we passed slowly along. We came out of those long woods, the dust in the road was so thick that nothing before us could be seen. We began to hope that the enemy would not disturb us, for now we had reached the direct road to Centerville, and our reserve was two or three miles before us. It began to grow dusky, for the thick dust and the woods on either side of the road hid the setting sun; all at once into that dense mass of men, horses and wagons, the enemy from a masked battery poured their shell; the musketry opened upon them; their cavalry charged upon them. What a scene! We were just at the bridge, but upon it was piled the government baggage wagons. We could not pass with our battery; for it was a narrow bridge, and there were deep gullies on each side. Our drivers cut the traces, we left the wounded men to save our own lives, and helter skelter we dashed on towards Centerville. The cavalry of the enemy charged upon us, and many a poor soldier fell before their sabres. We soon met the reserve coming up under Colonel Miles, but still we hurried on through that long dark night; morning dawned, and still we had not halted; Washington and the long bridge hove in sight, and we sank down upon the ground exhausted! for we had eaten nothing since Saturday. We had marched ten or twelve miles to the battle field without halting, we had fought through that hot day, we had marched nearly forty miles from the battle field to Washington. Thus we fought, thus we retreated.

I will not say upon whose head a terrible retribution should be visited. We long for an opportunity to wipe off the disgrace of that day.

O! how much pleasanter we spent the hours of the last Sabbath (the 4th inst.) Though separated from our regiment, we had religious services. We repaired to a huge pile of rocks shaded by tall trees, and there one of our number preached to to us the gospel of Christ. It seemed lik a heaven below.

Juvenis.*

Boston Christian Era, 8/16/1861

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*In Latin, Juvenis is a young man or a youth. The root of juvenile.

The History of Battery A, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery

Contributed by John J. Hennessy





Portraits of Bull Run Participants

23 01 2015

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Albert Armstrong, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry. “Age, 20 years. Enlisted, May 2, 1861, at Binghamton, to serve two years; mustered in as private, Co. D, May 21, 1861; promoted corporal, date not stated; discharged, September 1, 1862, by order War Department.” From here.

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Private Amos Bowen, Co. A, First Rhode Island Infantry. “Born at Providence, R. I., January 22, 1838, died at his home in Providence, June 3, 1907, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Rumford, R. I.  He enlisted from Brown University as private, Company A, First Regiment, Rhode Island Detached Militia, April 17, 1861, was mustered in May 2, following, taken prisoner at Bull Run, July 21, 1861; paroled, May 22, 1862, at Salisbury, N. C.; discharged July 22, 1862. He reenlisted and was commissioned first lieutenant, Company C, Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, February 10, 1863, and was acting aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Eustis, September, 1863, until May, 1864; honorably discharged and mustered out, June 17, 1864.  For six years he was a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and for nineteen years member of the Providence school committee. ” From here.

Photos courtesy of Joe Maghe.





Lt . Luther C. Warner, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

Letter from Lieut. Warner.

We are gratified to be able to print this afternoon the following extracts from a private letter received last evening from Lieut. L. C. Warner, of Company C, First Regiment. He gives a graphic and evidently truthful account of Rhode Island’s participation in the fight of last Sunday, and the intelligent reader will readily gleam from its perusal a confirmation of a remark made to Mr. Wm. E. Hamlin by one of the soldiers after the battle, that Lieut. Warner was one of the bravest men on the field.

Camp Sprague,
Washington, D. C., July 24, 1861.

Lewis Pierce has just called on me with sad news from you, and brings a paper recording my death first and afterwards a prisoner. My first duty after arriving at Washington was to telegraph you of my safety. I went to the office and immediately sent a despatch. Our company supposed I was lost, until I came into camp. After we came off the field of battle our company stacked arms near a piece of woods. There were two of our men missing, one of whom I knew was wounded. I stayed longer than I was aware of, helping to attend the dying and suffering, also in getting Capt. Prescott’s body off the field, not thinking of any retreat being ordered, as we were victorious on our part of the field.

I was absent just an hour, and then started to join our Regiment, but when I got down to where we stacked our muskets, they were all gone, and the rebels were firing shells and grape after them as they were retreating. I started after them upon the run, running nearly two miles. I got sight of the regiment, and renewed my exertions to overtake them, but I was so exhausted I could not, and getting over a fence, which adjoined a piece of woods, I stumbled and fell, completely exhausted and nearly melted. I could not arise but lay there fully one hour. I then started alone through the woods, not knowing where I should get to, but I found one path on which we came, before it got too dark, and followed on. I picked up a Sharpe’s rifle, cartridge box, balls, &c. which some poor tired soldier had left, loading the same, determined to defend myself when I came out of the seven miles long woods. I saw several soldiers of other regiments, and continually overtaking them all along, until we had a party of about thirty. When near Bull’s Run Bridge we were fired upon by some of the rebel scouts and one of our men killed. We returned their fire with deadly effect, for we saw three of their number fall. The bridge was covered with dead men, horses, teams, &c. in one mass, so much so that we could not cross where the rebels shelled our forces on their retreat.

We waded across the river waist deep. After going half a mile we came upon several hundred of our men resting. Hardly had I reached them before the shells began to come again from the rebels from a high hill on our right. The men fired and then began to retreat in confusion again. I was alone until I reached Centreville. Here some three regiments who were held in reserve were drawn up in line of battle to meet the enemy if they advanced. The mad all they could of our retreating ones join them. Finding I was an officer they mounted me on a horse and I rallied the broken columns all I could, and had some four or five hundred soon in line. I talked, begged and plead with them to make a stand and give the rebels one more volley. Did not have to wait long before the shells came, but it was so dark they fell short of us. After firing a few times they ceased, when all of a sudden, from the woods on our left, came the Black Cavalry. When near enough we poured three volleys into them which must have killed many for they fled in haste. Then came the shells again, one of which exploded near me killing my horse, and I fell headlong but without a hurt excepting a slight scratch. It was a narrow chance. They now ceased firing, so I concluded to press forward.

I still clung to my rifle and started again. I had not gone but a short distance before I had a chance to use it upon one of their horsemen who fired at me on the run. He tumbled off dead, I think. I had hardly time to load again before another one dashed at me. I made him bite the dust. He uttered a tearful oath as he fell. I looked at him as he lay with the moon shining upon him, and he looked more like a devil than a human being.

I tried for some time to catch his horse, but I was too tired to run. He was a noble animal, but I think rather wild. Again I trudged along, taking to the woods all I could, then cross lots, keeping near the road for my guide, until I came to Fairfax Court House. Here there were several thousands of our soldiers resting. We left this place well guarded. Here I met one of the Band, and we started together for Washington. Clinging to my rifle, I travelled all night long, resting only twice to eat three crackers which I had in my knapsack, the first food I had put into my mouth since the evening before.

Day broke at last, when our journey was not accomplished. My feet swelled so that I had to take off my shoes and walked over ten miles barefoot. At 20 minutes past 11 o’clock I reached Fort Corcoran, on Arlington Heights, completely used up. It began to rain at 6 A. M., and I was wet through. I had to throw away my blanket and coat in order to carry my rifle. Col. Baker at the Fort took me into his tent, and gave me dry clothes, refreshments, &c. Then I sought rest and did not awake till after dark, I could not cross the river then and therefore remained. I returned yesterday morning and as I remarked in my letter this morning, immediately called at the telegraph office to apprize you of my safety, although I was so lame it was most impossible for me to walk.

This all seems like fiction, as I wrote you this morning, but it’s true. Our men were glad enough to see me, and the officers, too, for they thought me lost, as I was a whole day behind them. I am now getting along nicely.

This truth is prominent: We (the R. I. troops) were the first in the field; first in the fight, and the last to retreat. Tell everybody of this, for it’s so.

Providence Evening Press 7/27/1861

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Unknown, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

12 10 2011

A Volunteer’s Narrative.

The following letter from a member the First Regiment to his mother has been kindly placed in our hands. It gives a very vivid picture of some of the terrible scenes enacted on the last Sabbath, and its graphic frankness gives it a peculiar charm: –

Camp Sprague, July 22, 1861.

Dear Mother; – Ere this you must have heard of the dreadful battle that took place Sunday. * * * * I am perfectly well and unhurt, with the exception of a few bruises. The destruction of human life has been fearful to contemplate, but that you may get a connected idea of the battle, I will begin at the beginning.

Sunday morning at half after two, we set off for “Bull’s Run,” and to escape a masked battery, made a circuit of about fifteen miles. Just as we approached the “Run,” – about 8 o’clock, we heard the sound of heavy cannon, by which we knew the fight was commenced. So we hurried on although Col. Burnside said we would not be called upon until the last, but we found this to be a mistake. As for the first time I approached a battle field, my feelings can be imagined better than described. The first thing of not was a shell whistling through the air, and “bang” went a bomb almost at our feet, and covered us with dust. We could hardly help flinching and bobbing our heads as we heard the whirr of these missiles of death.

We, instead of being kept back as a reserve, were formed directly after our arrival into a line of battle, and marched upon the enemy. Now the scene became awfully thrilling and dangerous. Every few minutes a shower of bullets would come among us, and some were sure to fall beneath their deadly force. We had to climb over a fence, and then proceeding to the brow of the hill, we fired upon the enemy below. The balls whistled around my head like hailstones; one knocked my musket out of my hand, while another just grazed my thumb joint. I fired eleven times and loaded lying down. The scene was dreadful; the first shot fired at us, hit our beloved Lieutenant, Henry A. Prescott, in the forehead, and he dropped instantly; and they kept falling and bleeding and dying before our faces, but we merely kept loading and firing. We had to sustain ourselves nearly half an hour, when some regulars came to our assistance and charged the enemy.

The battle lasted all day, and the slaughter was dreadful. * * * * We were safe nowhere. The cannon balls would come whizzing over our heads every few minutes, generally killing some one in their progress. We drove the enemy back into their batteries several times, when suddenly a panic seized the troops. It was said that the rebels had captured all our artillery and were making a charge: 40,000 men set off on the run, leaving muskets, blankets, wagons of provisions, and the dead and dying all lying on the field. Ours was the only brigade that retreated in any sort of order. * * *

The scene was terrible. Shells were exploding and cannon roaring made such a noise that the cry of the wounded could not be heard. Cavalry, infantry and artillery, in one confused mass, hurried away as fast as possible. Some seized their arms, others not. One of the terrible scenes was just as we were retreating, the men were grabbing their muskets, which were loaded and capped, when one suddenly went off, wounding Jesse Comstock, a fine fellow of my age and a great friend of mine. He cried “Oh dear, I’m shot! Don’t leave me here! So we placed the poor fellow in the ambulance, but had hardly done so when a shell came tearing through the trees and landed directly in the ambulance, blowing at once to atoms one of our dearest companions in arms. But so we lost him – hard it seemed after his escaping the chances of battle, to so fearfully lose his life.

We were obliged to retreat the same way we came, by making a long and tedious circuit. On the way, not a drop of water could be procured, yet in spite of that, we marched fifteen miles without a single rest. It was a sad march, too, for we knew that our retreat would be cut off by the enemy, and true enough, just as our army, scattered as it was, reached the straight road, the rebels opened fire upon us with their artillery. The grape shot came pouring and whizzing by me, and we all began to run. Our artillery had strived to gain a post on the opposite hill, but before our arrival the rebels hade effectually barricaded the bridge, so that it was impossible to get anything over it. Ambulances, cannon, men and horses were piled in one confused mass, and to add to the horror of the scene, the enemy commenced firing solid shot and shell directly at the bridge, blowing up the living and the dying.

I leaped over a fence, and had hardly done so when I heard a loud crash and looking back I beheld (horrible dictu) the upper half of a soldier’s body flying up the hill. He had been cut in twain by a solid ball. At this almost barbarous cruelty, – that is, firing upon an almost unarmed and entirely unopposing force, a cry of mortal terror arose among the flying soldiers, and they followed me into the wood. This of course led the fire to be turned in my direction, and I quickly found the balls coming close to me. I dodged several; for if not crowded, you can dodge a cannon ball. I came within an ace of being killed by one of the flying missiles. I saw it coming directly towards me, and sprung into a gully close by, and the ball whizzed past close by my head, ploughing up the earth each side of me.

I ran three miles to where we were to encamp, and found what was left of our regiment starting for Washington. We arrived here this noon, after a march of fifty-six miles in two days, and a hard battle thrown in. * * *

I never shall pass such a dreadful Sunday, I trust and pray. I have seen war, and seen enough, and I hope I shall never hear the din of cannon and the rattle of musketry, while I again live. How I escaped is miraculous. We have to be thankful that all our relations were preserved to us. We come home within three days, with a regiment stripped of many of its brightest ornaments. * * * We shall return with a train of mourners, and a flag shattered with bullets. * * * * *

Give my best love to all and my kindest sympathy to sorrowing friends.

Providence Evening Press 7/26/1861

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“H”, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

11 10 2011

The following is an extract from a private letter of a member of Company C, 1st regiment.

Camp Sprague, July 22.

Yesterday was the most terrible day of my life. I can give you no idea of it. We had orders to move at 3 o’clock Sunday morning, so at that time, with hard crackers and a canteen of water for rations, we started from our camp near Fairfax. It was a beautiful sight, as our immense column moved to the right to make a flank movement. – We had marched about ten miles, and McDowell and staff passed. As he passed he said, “in a few moments you will see action.” Soon we deployed in a field, followed by the 71st and New Hampshire regiments. We had hardly taken our posts on the plain, when the pickets met and the firing of small arms began, the balls striking all around us. Then up came our battery at the rear, and disappeared. In a very few moments the shell came whizzing through the air over our heads, and next we heard our pieces speaking in rapid succession. On the right we saw our 2d regiment deploying in good order to the right, and delivering their fire. We had no much time to look, for we heard Burnside’s voice summoning us to “forward,” and into the woods we marched. – When we reached the woods we were halted. How the shell and shot did crash through the trees. – One ball struck in front of our first platoon, and bounded over their heads; another struck in front of our platoon, and covered us with dust. Soon from the hill above we saw Burnside beckoning to us “forward, over the fence.” To the fence we went. How the shot did drop around us. We passed Major Ballou lying wounded by the fence. We found when we reached the top of the hill the 71st lying on their stomachs. Over them we went, and just below the hill, within a hundred rods of us, the rebels were blazing away at us. We opened upon them, when the cry was raised that we were killing our own men. We then turned to the left and directed our fire to the bushes. The 71st finding we were mistaken about those in front being our friends, took our old position, and together we drove them down the hill, and concealed in the bushes they blowed away at us, who, exposed on the summit of the hill, returned the fire. I was standing on top of the hill waiting for the cowards to show themselves, when I felt a commotion between my legs, and a man was deliberately blowing away, using my legs as a port hole. Poor Prescott, while standing there encouraging his men, received a shot in the head; clasping his hands over it, he exclaimed “Boys, I am going,” and fell. We cannot mourn for him, for he has gone to his reward, one of the noblest men and best of Christians I ever say. His men cannot speak of him with dry eyes. He was universally beloved.

Soon we seemed to have silenced them, and the order was given for us to retire and fall into our ranks. Some places were vacant which a few moments before were filled. The rear rank stepped to the front and took their places, and we filed off the field into the woods, thinking the battle won. I set down to write you, and had hardly finished, when our batteries ceased firing, and we were ordered to fall in to cover the retreat, and in a few moments horsemen and footmen came running over the fields in full retreat. We moved off quietly, picking our way through heaps of knapsacks, canteens, blankets and accoutrements, and in a confused mass the whole column was pouring down the road. I think I never felt so badly in my life.- After awhile the Rhode Islanders got into to cover the retreat, and we all pressed backward toward Centreville. The ammunition had given out, the position of the rebels was too strong, and their force too large. Thus began one of the most rapid and perfect routs I ever heard of. As we came out of the woods one of their batteries played upon us, and into the woods we went. We forded a stream which came up almost to our waists, and tired and wet, we pressed on for our old camp. – The bridge was barricaded so that our battery had to leave their pieces behind them. Baggage wagons were all about the fields, the drivers mounting the horses and pressing on. Our only hope was to reach our camp before we were cut off. Tired as we were, we could not stop, we had to leave our dead and wounded to the mercy of the enemy. It was awful. When we reached our camp the order was given, “on, to Fairfax,” and picking our way amid baggage wagons, cavalry, and impediments of all kinds, having eaten nothing but dry crackers, and drunk nothing but dirty water, we pressed on. We reached Fairfax, and found to our joy that they had not cut off our retreat. “On, to Washington” was the cry then. We reached Arlington Heights this morning, having marched at least ten miles, fought a battle, and retreated, marching forty-one miles, with nothing but our rations of crackers and water to sustain us. God alone gave me strength to do it.

H.

Providence Journal 7/26/1861

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Unknown Officer, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

10 10 2011

The Rhode Islanders in Battle.

Extract From a Private Letter of an Officer in Company C.

Camp Sprague, July 23.

At the risk of repeating what the papers have already told you, I send a brief sketch of the battle as I witnessed it. But first let me gratefully record the safety of my men. As far as I know at this writing, none were killed, and the five missing is reduced to three by the return of Lieut. Warner and one other member. The men com in languid and late. exhausted by their hardship, and I find they have straggled along the road and been reported among the missing. But there is great reason for hope that they will all be in camp before we leave, – and my desire above all things is, that Company C may return with full ranks, and I may hear every manly voice answer “Here” to the roll call. I do not consider that the valor of an army, or a regiment, or a company, consists in its list of dead and wounded, but in having done its whole duty, and living to do it over again, – and that some of us must do that is very plain.

This is not a good time to talk of one’s self. I think all personalities are insignificant in the importance of the mighty cause. But I may say that I thank God to-day I am a Rhode Island man. My pride in her is all satisfied, and you must take a soldier’s testimony that her sons did their duty. Our regiments had expected to be a reserve, but were called into immediate action. The 2d regiment, with their splendid light battery, were the first that took position for the fight. They formed under full fire, and marched past the confederate battery as coolly as they did on a dress parade.

Our 1st regiment went into the fire with perfect courage and calmness, standing the death-dealing shot and shell like veterans. We broke the right wing of their army and drove it in. It was said to be commanded by Beauregard in person. After two hours’ fight we were allowed to stack arms for a brief rest. Then the ambulances and ammunition wagons began to pass us with the wounded – a ghastly procession. At that time the firing ceased, and a shout went up, and we claimed the victory; but it was only a pause in the work of death, for the enemy, largely reinforced, opened a steady and fatal fire again.

Our troops saw the reinforcement – and outnumbered and exhausted themselves, they took a universal panic, succeeded by an irresistible stampede, which resulted in a general retreat. I claim for our Rhode Island regiments that they left the field in perfect order, bravely resisting the contagion of fear and flight – bravely waiting the orders of their Colonel for retreat. Then came the voice we loved and obeyed, clear and calm – (no defeat in that) – and Rhode Island, unconquerable in her courage as in her pride, marched from the field she had defended with her best blood. And I contest the victory now. Outnumbered three to one – and ten to one if your realize the advantage of entrenched position – our famished, exhausted men could do no more than die. No tongue can tell the bravery of our troops. It will yet make the north invincible – and the final triumph is only a question of time. This battle is not lost if it teaches a clamorous people patience. I am proverbially a “slow man.” I know “the race is not to the swift.” Let the counsellors who urged us to battle before were we “strong” contemplate the result.

It is too late for regrets, the time given to contemplating our losses is better spent in redeeming them. Better pens than mine have told the scene of confusion – the wild flight of men and horses – the deserted wagons – the loss of provisions we were suffering for – the storm of shot and shell that followed our fleeing army, – death on the right, death on the left, and in front. Our only safety was that the enemy had neither courage nor strength for pursuit of our exhausted troops, else I might not be the one to tell the story. So we came on and on that dreadful day, and such as could reached their camp in Washington. But many a brave fellow, lifted in blankets or by generous hands, laid down his life by the roadside. Humanity had done its best and yielded to death and danger. Exhausted by hunger and sleeplessness, even a victory could hardly have roused us, and the retreat to Washington was made in pain and sorrow. nothing less than God’s care preserved us as we went. A rally was hopeless if we had been attacked. But we are all here now, and we await our missing comrades hopefully.

I saw instances of great personal courage. Come of our friends were unconscious heroes, and it was the proudest day of my life when I saw my noble boys stand shoulder to shoulder to meet their fate. Not a man flinched, and their tread was as steady as in their old armory. And when I contemplate their sacrifices, what they risked, and what they fought for, my words of praise fall far short of justice. The names of Gove. Sprague, Col. Burnside, Major Balsh and Major Goddard are widely known for their bravery on the field. These names are known from their position and prominence, but there was no distinction where all did their duty. There were some heroes in the splendid rank and file of the Rhode Island regiments. Of myself it is enough to add I am alive and well, ready and, I trust, willing for any duty fate and the future assign me. As for “home,” you may expect us when you see us. God bless Rhode Island. She is making history hand over hand.

Providence Journal 7/26/1861

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