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 

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New Orleans Visit – Confederate Memorial Hall

1 09 2016

In this post, I hipped you to my recent trip to New Orleans. After our stop outside at Lee Circle, we paid the small ($8) fee to tour Confederate Memorial Hall – Louisiana’s Civil War Museum. The exterior is nice, but the inside is very impressive – lots of wood and open timbers. Way old-school, outside of the 20 minute video presented at the end of a hallway on a flat-screen TV. So much to see, and you can check out the history of the place at their website. As with anything that is Confederate in NOLA, don’t put off seeing it until your “next trip,” as it may very well be “lost in time, like tears in rain.” Lots and lots of manicuring going on in the town.

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One odd thing – the video mentioned a vast store of documents in the basement. When I asked the attendant how one gains access for research purposes, I was told one does not. I asked why and was told the documents are historic, hence no access. Ummm, OK, I guess.

Here are some photos, and I’ll try to let them do the talking for the most part. Click on any image for great big giant versions.

First, the exterior:

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The interior:

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Jefferson Davis ephemera:

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This is the crib used by Jeff Davis as a child, also used for his children.

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First Bull Run stuff:

  • Rob Wheat and the First Special Battalion:

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Stars and Bars of the First Special Battalion

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The story goes that, after his wounding at First Bull Run, Wheat was wrapped in these colors and borne from the field…

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…and that his bloodstains are still visible today

  • 6th Louisiana Infantry

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  • 7th Louisiana Infantry

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  • 8th Louisiana Infantry

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  • Washington Artillery

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About that piece of wood (click on the image to enlarge) – it was not likely taken from Sherman’s Battery at First Bull Run, as the battery was not captured there.

  • P. G. T. Beauregard

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Odds and Ends:

  • Benjamin Butler

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  • A Piano, confiscated – or rescued – at Jackson, MS in 1863

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  • Braxton Bragg

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Any Masons in the house?

Lee Circle

Metairie Cemetery





Some Little First Bull Run Uniform Illustrations

13 11 2015

WARNING – Fun stuff ahead. If you are easily offended, that is, super-easily offended, or if you’re just looking for a fight, run away now.

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Thanks to fellow blogger Robert Moore for directing me to some fine illustrations of Civil War uniforms by Bartek Drejewicz. Here’s his blog, and here’s his Facebook page. With his permission, lets take a look at this imagined soldier of the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion, a Tiger Zouave:

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And here’s a cannoneer of the Washington Artillery:

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And people ask me “why the interest in First Bull Run?” But really, take a look at the uniforms, if you can. He got more right than he got wrong, don’t you think? On the Tiger – gaiters, Bowie knife. And check out the WA on the artillerist’s kepi, and the short artillery sword.





“W.”, Co. E, 1st Special Louisiana Battalion, On the Battle

12 11 2012

More on the Manassas Battle.

———-

The following interesting letter from an officer in Major Wheat’s Battalion, addressed to his father, in this city, will be read with interest:

Battle-Field, Near Manassas Junction,

Wheat’s Battalion, July 2[?], 1861.

Dear Father — I received yours of 16th inst. yesterday night. I wrote you about same date from camp “Stuart,” and expect that you are in receipt of it, long ere the date of this.

We have been for the past week or ten days constantly on duty, our position, as the advance portion of the army, necessarily involved incessant and unflinching duties from officers and men. The enemy, previous to the 21st inst., were ubiquitous. The three or four battle previous to that date were well contested, but all resulted in their defeat. The camp equipage, baggage, &c., of our command were sent to the rear on the morning of the date of my last letter, and since then till now your son has been innocent of a change of linen or water to wash himself, except what the Heavens furnished in the shape of rain and dews, and they only contribute to render his dusty habiliments of the hue and character of the soil and road, with variegations of colors fixed and indelible.

Our duties have tried the mettle of our men; without covering, without blankets, half clothed, scarcely half fed, bivouacked where duty demanded our pickets to be placed, our men have stood it all, and bravely. I have seen them night after night lying uncovered in woods and fields, hungry and half-naked, (officers faring the same,) expecting the advance of the enemy every moment, without a murmur. Day after day, exposed to rains and an almost intolerable heat, they unflinchingly performed their duties. After marching and counter-marching, without tents, clothing or anything to render them at all comfortable, they  were led on the glorious morning of Sunday, 21st inst., to beat back Lincoln’s horde of northern barbarians, when for forty-eight hour previously they had not tasted food. Most gloriously did our battalion acquit itself. We have earned an undying fame.

The enemy, variously estimated at from 40,000 to 60,000, made a feint upon our front, which was easily and readily understood. Our battalion being in advance, and holding the post of honor on the left, were ordered to meet them as they endeavored to flank us. Our whole force did not number on the field 1800 men. Marching to take our position, we were fired upon by the South Carolina regiment and one of our company shot down; he fell at my feet. After the fire of the South Carolina regiment upon us from a point blank distance, concealed as they were in the woods, the enemy opened upon us a most terrific storm of shell, canister shot, chain shot, &c., taking position with only our little battalion, about 420 strong, the balance of our force of 1800 being under cover, we charged the enemy at the point of the bayonet and maintained, under the most incessant and murderous fire, for fully one hour, our position; and had our little battalion been supported we could have captured the enemy’s batteries and soon given another turn to events as they transpired.

I am anxious that you should hear from me, and cannot enter into a lengthened detail of the battle of the 21st. I write in a great hurry, but this I can say, that but for our battalion assuming the position it did, crossing a field at the charge, under the fire of eight thousand of the enemy, in position, protected by artillery, armed with the most improved weapons, the field would have been lost. All kinds of praise is accorded us. From Gen. Beauregard to the humblest private it is a source of wonderment how, being volunteers and unaccustomed to battle, we stood the fire we did. i can only say, personally, I endeavored to do my duty. I escaped most miraculously; fully one hundred shots were fired at me in a single instant. I entered into the engagement in my short sleeves, and showing a conspicuous mark, was fired upon from all points; just at the moment, at a deliberate aim, with my little carbine, I killed and officer or a man in front of their standard. The order to us being to fall back, as I retreated, being all alone, openly exposed, my white shirt a mark, I thought the eight thousand men opposed to our little battalion had opened upon me. Such an avalanche of shot, shell, &c., I do not care very soon to experience or risk the hazard of facing.

Our battalion was terribly cut up, seven commissioned officers of the eighteen who engaged in the battle being wounded. Our company lost half of its numbers in wounded. The flag we bore – ours being the centre flag company – evidences the fire we stood, there being no less than fifteen to eighteen perforations from the enemy’s bullets. I have not time to enumerate the wounded and killed, except of our company, and even this I may err in recapitulating, as returns are not complete:  Capt. Miller, small bone of leg broken; Lieutenant Dickinson, acting adjutant, shot through the thigh; Lieut Care, son of Dr. Carey, shot in the foot, and when lying on the field stabbed through the thigh by a Yankee officer, whom he killed; Major Wheat was shot early after the opening of the engagement, through the body, the bullet going entirely through his body, just back of both nipples; we thought he was killed, but he was brought from the field alive, and though pronounced mortally wounded he is fast recovering, and we only hope for him to live to lead us to millions of such glorious victories. We can whip the Yankees. At no time did we have more the 15,000 men engaged. Our battalion have earned their laurels. I cannot write more. I will send details, though I may have to copy many things embraced in this letter.

Thank God for my escape.

W.*

Daily True Delta, 8/8/1861

Clipping Image

*Possibly 1st Lt. William D. Foley

Contributed by John Hennessy





Tiger Rifles – Co. B, 1st Special Louisiana Battalion In the Battle

30 11 2011

News From The Tiger Rifles

The vivandier of the Tiger Rifles yesterday returned to this city from Manassas, and brought letters from two or three of the Tigers to their friends in this city. These letters give a detailed history of the Tiger’s sayings and doings since their departure hence, and especially their participation in the battles of Bull Run and Manassas. The loss of life among them, we are pleased to say, is much less than has been reported. They have twenty-six of their seventy-six, wholly uninjured, and several more who are but slightly wounded. That they fought like real tigers everybody admits and Gen. Johnston, it is said complimented them especially on the brave and desperate daring which they had exhibited. Lieut. Ned Hewitt reported here as having been killed, did not receive the slightest wound. Moreover, none of the officers of the Company were killed. Two of the Tigers who had been missing for several days after the fight, made their way to Manassas on Thursday last, one being slightly and other pretty badly wounded. The kindness of the Virginia ladies to the wounded soldiers is said to be beyond all praise – like that of a mother to a child or a wife to a husband. Soldiers so nursed and attended can never be anything else than heroes and conquerors.

The Daily True Delta, 8/1/1861.

Jackson Barracks – Historical Military Data on Louisiana Militia, Vol. 113, p. 16.





Wheat’s Battalion at Stone Bridge

29 11 2011

Wheat’s Battalion at Stone Bridge

Although we have made great exertions to procure for the readers of the Bee a full report of the killed and wounded Louisianians in the great battle of Manassas Plains, it has been impossible as yet to obtain it at any outlay of trouble or expense of the Washington Artillery, all of heard; of Hayes Seventh Regiment we have scattering information of different companies; the Sixth, Colonel Seymour has few or no casualties; we know nothing concerning Colonel Kelly’s  Eight, but believe it suffered very little. Of the special battalion, under Major Robert C. Wheat, we know, also, that from its position and the necessities of the crisis, it was called upon to sacrifice itself. How it answered to the call of duty, its decimated ranks and shattered column can better tell. Its only two field officers, Major Wheat and Adjutant Dickinson, are both badly wounded at Richmond. Dickinson reported that of its four hundred men, only a quarter are left, but a correspondent who had better [means] of information writes that at roll-call, after the battle, less than half answered to their names, and that many of those who did were wounded. With the gallant Georgia Eight who suffered nearly as bad, our dauntless man charged a whole division of the enemy, composing their picked men, regulars Fire Zouaves, and their onset is described by an eye-witness “terrific”. The Tiger Rifles having no bayonets to their Mississippi Rifles, threw them away when ordered to charge, and dashed upon the Fire Zouaves with bowie knives. They are said to have been surrounded and cut to pieces.

As we have been unable up to this time to get the names of the killed and wounded we present to-day the names of the gallant men who have won for [themselves] such imperishable laurels, nearly half, [again], finding the cypress entwined with them. This spartan band will never be forgotten to Louisiana or to the South. We have an additional reason for publishing this list in the fact that a great many people do not know and are anxious to ascertain which companies composed the battalion that has been so prominently brought into notice. Wheat’s Battalion comprised five companies of bold and sturdy men who were well known to be panting for just such an opportunity as that in which they found a field for their valor at the Stone Bridge. This spirit was exhibited by one of the companies choosing their name – Tigers – which they have upheld with their knives. While in Camp here they were accounted “hard nuts to crack”, and no none doubted that they would signalize themselves in battle. Their spirit so pleased A. Keene Richards, Esq. that he fitted them out in a dashing Zouave uniform at their expense. The Catahoula Guerillas, from Trinity, were all animated with the same resolve, to win a name, even if in death. The Walker Guards were a hardy, experienced band of Nicaraguan boys who took their title from General W. Walker. The Delta Rangers and the Old Dominion Guard were crack companies of fighting men. Major Wheat has been Captain of the Old Dominions, and he took his Adjutant  from that company. We take the following list from the State muster rolls.

[Roster of Special Battalion of Louisiana Volunteers follows, see link below.]

New Orleans Bee, 8/1/1861.

Jackson Barracks – Historical Military Data on Louisiana Militia, Vol. 113, pp. 3 – 4.





“Louisiana”, On Wheat’s Battalion in the Battle

20 10 2011

Major Wheat’s Battalion

We find the following interesting communication in the Richmond Dispatch of the 26th inst.:

To the Editor of
the Dispatch:

The gallant Col. Wheat is not dead, as was reported yesterday, but strong hopes are entertained for his recovery. All Louisiana, and I trust all lovers of heroism in the Confederate States, will say amen to the prayer, that he and all his wounded compatriots in arms may be restored to the service of their country, to their families and friends, long to live and enjoy the honors due to their dauntless spirits.

I have just a letter from Capt. Geo. McCausland, Aid to Gen. Evans, written on behalf of Major Wheat, to a relative of Lieut. Allen C. Dickinson, Adjutant of Wheat’s Battalion.

For the information of the family and friends of Lieut. Dickinson, I extract a portion of the letter, viz: “He (Major Wheat) deeply regrets to say that our dear friend (Lieut. D.) was so unfortunate as to receive a wound, which, slight as it is, will prevent him, for some time, from rendering those services now so needed by our country.

The wound is in the leg, and although very painful, is not dangerous. To one who knows Lieut. D. as he supposes you do, it is unnecessary to say that he received the wound in the front, fighting as a soldier and a Southerner. With renewed assurances of the slightness of the wound, and of his appreciation of Lieut. Dickinson’s gallantry, he begs you to feel no uneasiness on his account.”

Lieut. Dickinson is a native of Caroline County, Virginia, a relative of the families of Brashear, Magruder and Anderson.

For some years he has resided in New Orleans, and at an early period joined a company of Louisianians to fight for the liberties of his country. He fought with his battalion, which was on the extreme left of our army and in the hottest of the contest, until he was wounded.

His horse having been killed under him, he was on foot with sword in one hand and revolver in the other, about fifty yards from the enemy, when a Minie ball struck him. He fell and lay over an hour, when fortunately, Gen. Beauregard and staff, and Capt. McCausland, passed. The generous McCausland dismounted and placed Dickinson on his horse.

Of the bravery of Lieut. D., it is not necessary to say a word, when a man so well noted for chivalry as Robert Wheat has said that he appreciated the gallantry of his Adjutant. Lieut. D. is doing well and is enjoying the kind care and hospitality of Mr. Waggoner and family, on Clay street, in this city.

Maj. Wheat’s battalion fought on the extreme left, where the battle raged hottest. Although only 400 strong, they, with a Georgia regiment, charged a column of Federalists, mostly regulars, of 8000, When the battle was over, less than half responded to the call, and some of them are wounded.

When and where all were brave almost to a fault, it would seem invidious to discriminate. But from the position of the battalion, and the known courage of its leader, officers and men, the bloody result might have been anticipated. It is said of one of the companies that, upon reaching the enemy’s column, they threw down their rifles, (having no bayonets,) drew their bowie-knives, and cut their way through the enemy with a loss of two thirds of the company.

Such was the dauntless bravery of Wheat’s battalion, and such is the heroism of the Confederate army.

Whilst we deeply mourn the honored dead, we rejoice that they died on the field of glory, and that by their conduct and their fall, unerring proof has been given to the enemy and the world that the Confederate States cannot be subjugated.

Louisiana.

The Daily Delta, 7/31/1861.
Jackson Barracks – Historical Military Data on Louisiana Militia, Vol. 111, pp. 130-134.