Corp. William Howard Merrell, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle, Wounding, Capture, and Treatment

16 01 2021

In compliance with the request of friends in Rochester, and in pursuance of a resolution previously formed, I propose to publish a few reminiscences of my involuntary sojourn in the “Old Dominion.”

The events which I am about to narrate are of so recent occurrence, that a retentive memory would suffice to recall them with all due exactness and circumstantiality; but were it otherwise, I have only to turn to a little pocket diary, which has been a faithful and indelible reflector of all important occurrences, as they transpired, during a five months’ imprisonment in the Rebel Capital.

In presenting this narrative, I claim for it nothing but TRUTHFULLNESS – “a plain and unvarnished tale,” wherein I shall

“Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice;”

and may safely appeal to my late prison associates for the confirmation of any statement that is likely to be called into question.

With a view to form a connected narrative, I shall relate events in the order in which they transpired, commencing with my personal observations at the battle of Bull Run; yet, as it is no part of my design to describe that memorable engagement, I shall wholly confine myself to facts and incidents relating to my own regiment, the 27th N. Y. S. V. This regiment was organized at the Elmira Rendezvous in the month of May, and was ordered to Washington on the 10th of July. It consisted of three companies from Binghamton, one from Rochester, one from Albion, one from Lyons, one from Lima, one from Angelica, one from White Plains, and one from Mt. Morris. The field officers were Col. H. W. Slocum of Syracuse, Lt Col. J. J. Chambers of White Plains, and Maj. J. J. Bartlett of Binghamton. The regiment had the reputation of being one of the best officered in the service, and notwithstanding that it was newly recruited and but partially inured to the hardships of camp life, it was believed to be as effectually disciplined as any volunteer corps in the army of the Potomac.

The 27th did not participate in the action of Thursday the 18th of July, but in that of the Sunday following their mettle was fully tested, and I believe that no impartial eye-witness of the battle of Bull Run will maintain that any regiment, whether regular or volunteer, exhibited a greater degree of gallantry on the field, maneuvered with better regularity or precision, were more exposed to the enemy’s fire, or suffered more severely from its effects, than the one which has been facetiously christened the “Mutual Admiration Society” of Elmira. Notwithstanding the unaccustomed fatigue of an early and protracted march on Sunday morning, the feeling of the troops was animated, and they literally went on their way rejoicing. The enemy seemed hastily to abandon every position as we advanced, and the fact that the progress of the Union army from Washington had been marked only by a succession of light skirmishes, the less reflecting felt assured that we should not encounter a sufficient resistance on the way to Manassas, or even to Richmond, to furnish an appetite for rations. Yet how sadly different was the result.

Glancing back upon the interminable line of the Grand Army, as its several columns crept gradually toward Centreville – the sunlight flashing upon the serried bayonets, the regimental banners fluttering in the morning breeze, and the huge masses moving steadily, noiselessly and with the beautiful regularity of a street parade – the view was grand and imposing in the extreme, and though momentary, seemed worth the sight-seeing experience of an entire life. But the eventful scenes were to come, and the predictions of those who assumed that the enemy were disposed to let us “onward to Richmond” without contesting our ability to force a passage, were speedily silenced by the sound of heavy artillery from the batteries to which we had been lured. There was no longer doubting the fact that we were approaching the field of battle. The roar of cannon was succeeded by the roll of musketry, which at every step became more and more audible, and it was easy to perceive that though not with us, yet elsewhere the work of carnage and of death had already commenced in earnest.

As I before intimated, I shall attempt no general description of our engagement, but rather confine myself in this connection to a narrative of events, as they transpired, in my immediate vicinity, and within the scope of my own observation.

It was my good fortune to be selected as one of the color-guard of the 27th. Soon after entering the field, we saw at a distance what appeared to be our National Flag, but which was in reality that of the enemy. While we were still in doubt, but advancing, Adjutant Jenkins rode forward, with the remark that he would soon determine whether they were friends or foes. He placed his havelock on the point of his sword, which he held aloft as a flag of truce, but as he approached them he was greeted with a volley of musketry. Unharmed, however, he rode quickly back to his regiment, exclaiming, with considerable emphasis, “Give ‘em —, boys.” The 27th responded by opening their hottest(!) fire, and the enemy scattered. We subsequently learned that they were the 27th Virginia volunteers.

We continued to advance till confronted by the 8th Georgia, who stood their ground manfully for a time, loading and firing with great rapidity. They could not, however, withstand the regular and accurate discharges of the 27th, and we finally drove them back to a considerable distance, where they were reinforced. We were then in turn repulsed, and took refuge under a hill, where we remained until another advance was ordered.

(It was while resting here that one of my comrades, William Hanlon, of Rochester, Co. E, was most severely wounded. He was struck in the right leg by a cannon ball, and was thought to be killed outright. He survived, however, a cripple, to become a prisoner at Richmond, and was released and sent home on the 6th of October.)

Soon after this event Col. Slocum, our gallant commander, was ordered to charge a battery stationed on a knoll to our left, and was fearlessly leading on his regiment, in the midst of a tremendous fire, when he fell, severely wounded, and was immediately taken from the field. The occurrence was a severe blow to the regiment, who regarded their brave commander with a feeling of boundless affection. Happily he was spared to receive the appointment of Brigadier General, and the 27th is still under his charge.

The first member of the color-guard who was “stuck” was Corporal Fairchild. The regiment had for a moment halted, when the Corporal staggered back, crying, “O, boys, I am struck!” Placing his hand upon his breast, with the expectation, as he afterwards said, of finding it “covered with blood,” he accidently felt the ball (a grapeshot) in his shirt pocket! He immediately pulled it out, exclaiming, “Thank God, I am safe!” It was a spent ball. The Corporal survived the battle to become a prisoner at Richmond.

In the meantime the action had become fierce and sanguinary, and every soldier in the ranks realized that his regiment was quite as severely “exposed” as the most ardent-minded and valorous could desire. Our numbers were greatly diminished, and though our discharges were rapid, they had become irregular, and the men loaded and fired promiscuously. An incident may be related in this connection of rather a novel character. Corporal S—-s, of Rochester, a young man, who, since his enlistment, had been somewhat distinguished among his comrades for a religious zeal, fought manfully with the “full assurance of faith.” With every load of his musket he uttered an audible prayer to this effect: “O, Lord, send this bullet to the heart of a rebel, and spare my life!” A Manxman, who stood beside him, and who was quite as energetically engaged in the “discharge” of duty, censoriously retorted: “Hoot mon – shoot more and pray less!” Shooting was evidently the most pressing business in hand, but our Manxman, was probably not aware that a Yankee seldom attempts to do one thing at a time, and that it was quite proper to put two irons in the fire when the conflagration was so general and so extensive.

The 27th Regiment continued to march unflinchingly forward, literally amid a storm of “leaden rain and iron ball.” Indeed, it seemed as though we were confronting an avalanche of bullets. Many were mowed down. I think that but one of our line officers then deserted his post of duty, and a few days since I met him in the streets of Rochester, wearing the uniform of a private. To my inquiring upon this subject, he admitted that he had been cashiered in consequence of his behavior on that occasion, and that he afterward returned home. “But,” said he, “I could not help it; I ran despite of myself, for we were marching into the jaws of death. I am not a coward, and I mean to prove it. Therefore I have enlisted as a private soldier, and if I ever participate in another battle, I mean to stand my ground.”

In less than half an hour after the fall of General Slocum, the ranks of the color-guard were reduced from nine to two. The colors were large and weighty, and Sergeant Freeman having become quite exhausted, and myself too much so to relieve him, Major (now Colonel) Bartlett, who perceived the situation of affairs, came to our assistance. Riding along the line, and waving the colors above his head, he shouted, “Boys, will you fight for this?” The response was general and enthusiastic.

A large number of the enemy were discovered in the front, and the 27th advanced towards them, Sergeant Freeman again being in possession of the colors. At this conjuncture, while my piece was leveled, I received a ball in the breast and fell, remarking to my comrade that I should have to leave him. The Sergeant gave me a glance so full of sympathy at my misfortune that I never can forget it, and with the regiment passed on to meet the enemy. I crept to a rail fence near by, and lay insensible about fifteen or twenty minutes, as I should judge, and upon regaining consciousness, discovered that I was surrounded by numbers of dead and wounded. The immediate vicinity was not then occupied by troops. The first notable object that excited my attention was a Union soldier, who was wounded in the left arm, which lay powerless at his side. He was standing beside the fence, his piece resting upon the rail, and which, after taking deliberate aim, he discharged at the enemy. He then dropped his musket, and came a laid down beside me. No more passed between us, but I imagined he had obtained “satisfaction” for his own grievances.

While still lying in my position, I beheld another Union soldier at a short distance, climbing the fence. He held his musket in his right hand, but while astride of the fence, and in the act of getting down, a cannon-shot struck the rail, shattering it in pieces, and sending its rider whirling and summersetting in the air, with a velocity that would have astonished the most accomplished acrobat. He gathered himself up with almost an equal degree of alacrity, and started on “double quick” toward our own forces. He had proceeded but a few feet, however, when he came to a halt. Casting his eyes over his shoulder, and perceiving that he was unpursued, he scratched his head thoughtfully for a moment, and then ran back and recovered his musket and started again for his regiment. I was in too much pain and bewilderment at the time to fully appreciate the comicality of this performance, but have since enjoyed many a hearty chuckle upon its reflection.

There was a great deal of skirmishing upon the field, and many instances of personal bravery particularly worthy of remark. I noticed, for example, one soldier leave his regiment, and crossing the field and leaping the fence, load and fire several times at a squad of cavalry. He was finally discovered, and three or four of their number rode down upon him. One who was in advance of the rest, came upon “our hero” as he was in the act of loading. He had driven the ball home, but had not withdrawn the ramrod. The horseman raised his sabre, and the next instant, as it appeared to me, the volunteer was to be short by a head; but suddenly inverting his musket, he dropped out the ramrod, and in the twinkling of an eye emptied the saddle and started back to his regiment. After proceeding a few rods, and finding that the enemy had given up the chase, he started back to recover his ramrod, and with it returned in triumph to his regiment, where he was greeted with rousing cheers.

But it is needless to multiply instances of this nature, so many of which have been already published by the press. The movements upon the field had in the meantime changed in such a manner that I found the spot where I lay exposed to the cross firing, and accordingly crept to the cellar of “the old stone house.” The passage was not unattended with danger, the rebels making a target of every living object upon that section of the field, (from which our troops had retreated,) and their balls whizzed briskly about me. The cellar in which I found refuge was already occupied by many other wounded Union soldiers, who had likewise sought its shelter. They were lying in the mud and water upon the ground. Upon entering, I discovered Corporal Fairchild, (above mentioned, of the 27th,) who was moving about among the wounded, exerting himself to relieve their sufferings by stanching their wounds, etc. Their distracted and agonizing cries would have moved the most obdurate heart to pity. “Water, water!” was the prayer upon every tongue, but it was unavailing. To linger upon such a scene is to recall one of the most painful experiences of my life, and one which no words can adequately depict. The floor above was also covered with wounded soldiers, whose cries could be distinctly heard. I was not then aware that my comrades, Clague and Hanlon, of Rochester, were among the occupants of the upper floor.

The cross firing of the troops continued, and the rattle of musket balls against the walls of the building was almost incessant. A number of them entered the windows, wounding three of the inmates.

A cannon-shot also passed through the building, but inflicted no bodily injury. Pending these occurrences, two rebel soldiers entered the cellar, one of them seeking shelter in the fire-place. They were both unwounded. The occupant of the fire-place, however, had not fairly ensconced himself when a musket ball passed through his leg. The other, who was lying by my side, was also severely wounded – fitting penalty for their cowardice and desertion.

Finding that the building was likely to be destroyed by the continued firing, one of our number went to the door, and placing a havelock on his bayonet waved it aloft in the air. This hospital signal was greeted with a shower of balls from the Confederates, and he was compelled to retire. Subsequently a yellow flag was displayed from the floor above, but it was likewise disregarded.

The wounded were perishing with thirst. At the distance of about two rods from the building was a pump, and one noble fellow (whose name I regret that I have forgotten) took two canteens and went out to obtain water. While do doing he received five or six musket balls, in different portions of his body, from the rebel forces – yet was not fatally injured. Though very low he was still alive, an inmate of prison hospital No. 2, when I left Richmond. He will ever be remembered with gratitude and affection by those who witnessed his noble conduct, and shared in the benefits of his exploit. It is my opinion that between fifty and sixty men fell in the immediate vicinity of the pump and “the old stone house.”

From the position in which I lay, glancing outward, I could discover the movements of troops upon the field, and at times with tolerable distinctness. The battle seemed general, but irregular, and I witnessed no bayonet charges, or murderous hand-to-hand conflicts. The thrilling pictures by “our special artist, taken upon the spot,” subsequently to adorn the pages of our enterprising illustrated weeklies, must have been “through a glass, darkly,” or in the heated imaginations of that ubiquitous class of correspondents who simultaneously indite at Hong Kong, Constantinople and Salt Lake City, and invariably reach the sanctum in time to read the proof of their own missives.

The observations and impressions of another spectator of the same field, are thus truthfully and graphically described:

I’ll tell you what I heard that day:
I heard the great guns, far away,
Boom after boom. Their sullen sound
Shook all the shuddering air around.

“What saw I?” Little. Clouds of dust;
Great squares of men, with standards thrust
Against their course; dense columns crowned
With billowing steel. Then, bound on bound,
The long black lines of cannon poured
Behind the horses, streaked and gored
With sweaty speed. Anon shot by,
Like a long meteor of the sky,
A single horseman; and he shone
His bright face on me, and was gone.
All these, with rolling drums, with cheers.
With songs familiar to my ears,
Passed under the far hanging cloud.
And vanished, and my heart was proud!

At length a solemn stillness fell
Upon the land. O’er hill and dell
Failed every sound. My heart stood still,
Waiting before some coming ill.
The silence was more sad and dread,
Under that canopy of lead,
Than the wild tumult of the war
That raged a little while before.
All nature, in her work of death,
Paused for one last, despairing breath;
And, cowering to the earth, I drew
From her strong breast, my strength anew.

When I arose, I wondering saw
Another dusty vapor draw
From the far right, its sluggish way
Towards the main cloud, that frowning lay
Against the westward sloping sun;
And all the war was re-begun,
Ere this fresh marvel of my sense
Caught from my mind significance.
O happy dead, who early fell,
Ye have no wretched tale to tell
Of causeless fear and coward flight,
Of victory snatched beneath your sight,
Of martial strength and honor lost,
Of mere life brought any cost.
Ye perished in your conscious pride,
Ere this misfortune opened wide
A wound that cannot close or heal
Ye perished steel to leveled steel,
Stern votaries of the god of war,
Filled with his godhead to the core!

While our forces were on the retreat, pursued by the rebels, a body of troops halted at the stone building, entered with bayonets, and demanded a surrender! They were to all appearances as much intimidated as though they had anticipated a successful resistance. None was made, however. No violence was offered to the prisoners, and in this connection, I may state that I saw no “bayoneting” whatever committed by the enemy at Bull Run. Our arms were delivered up, and a few moments afterward I was led and half-carried away to the quarters of Gen. Beauregard, situate at a distance of perhaps half a mile. Before reaching there, we encountered Gen. Beauregard, flanked by Johnson and Davis, riding across the field. Their countenances were illuminated with a mingled feeling of joy and exultation, and they could well afford, as they did, to salute an unfortunate prisoner. The head-quarters consisted of a large white house. It was filled with wounded soldiers, undergoing surgical attention. Fragments of human bodies were strewed upon the verandah and about the building, and large numbers of both Union and rebel wounded lay outside upon the ground.

On arriving at head-quarters, my guard, who was a private soldier, pointed me out to a “Louisiana Tiger,” and performed the ceremony of introduction by saying, “Here’s one of our Tigers!” – and – “Here’s a d—-d Yankee!” I expected a savage growl, not to say the roughest of embraces at the hands of the savage forester, and was not a little surprised when he approached me kindly, with the remark, “Are you wounded, sir?” I replied in the affirmative, when he resumed, “I am sorry for you. I hope you will soon recover, and be restored to your friends,” My companion, the guard, appeared to be quite as much astonished as myself; though less agreeably so, I have no doubt.

The case above may have been exceptional, for I was afterwards subjected to frequent insults from private soldiers, though kindly treated, in general, by the “Confederate” officers.

Night closed in with a pouring rain, and the wounded lay upon the ground unsheltered. I slept soundly, after these unaccustomed hardships, and was awakened by the sound of the morning reveille. My arm was stiff, my wound extremely painful, and my physical powers quite exhausted. A Lieutenant approached me and inquired as to my condition, and I begged him to find me a shelter. He absented himself for a short time, and then returned to say that there was but one place to be had, and that was a tent which was already filled with Confederate wounded, but if I was content to lay in the water for the sake of a shelter overhead, he would try to provide for me. I gladly accepted the offer, and soon found myself at the place indicated. As I entered, a wounded Confederate soldier, who had a blanket above and another beneath him, offered me one of them, which I at first politely declined. He however insisted, and I was soon enjoying its protection. Soon after, I observed a young man standing at the opening of the tent and looking within. As he glanced at me I nodded, and stooping down he kindly inquired if he could do anything to relieve me. After some conversation, I gave him the address of my wife, begging him to write and inform her of my misfortune, etc. He was, it appears, a Methodist student, and though a private soldier in the ranks of the rebels, was then acting in the capacity of Chaplain, and administering consolation to the wounded. I should occupy too much space in reporting our discussions at length. Before leaving, he kneeled in the water at my side and offered one of the most eloquent and moving applications to which I have ever listened. He soon after fulfilled his promise to notify my family of my condition, and subsequently, during my imprisonment, called upon me and placed in my hand five dollars and a copy of the Bible. I shall ever treasure it as a memento of our brief acquaintance, and of my heartfelt gratitude toward William E. Boggs, of Wainsboro, South Carolina.

While I was lying in the tent of the wounded “Confederates,” a private soldier who had just received his ration, (consisting of half a pint of coffee, a hard biscuit, and a small piece of bacon,) brought it to me, saying “You need this more than I do.” I at first hesitated to accept it, but he urged it upon me, remarking “We were enemies yesterday, in the field, but we are friends to-day, in misfortune.”

I would again state that these are exceptional instances of the feeling generally manifested by the rebels toward their prisoners, and the fact rather enhances my feeling of gratitude for the kind-hearted treatment, of which, at times, I was so singularly the recipient.

While the above was transpiring, a number of officers were standing near, convening, and one of them asked me how it was that men who fought so bravely could retreat, when the day was fairly their own? The speaker said it was at first believed to be a “Yankee trick” or the Confederates would have followed up their advantage! He solicited my opinion on this subject, and I assured him (of what I fully believed) that our forces would unquestionably return, and quite as unexpectedly as they had retired.

I was soon informed that all of the prisoners whose condition was such as to withstand the fatigues of the journey, would be immediately removed to Manassas; and soon after I was placed in a lumber wagon, beside one other prisoner and three wounded rebels, and we reached our destination after about an hour’s drive through a forest road. It struck me as rather significant that the direct road was avoided, and hence no prisoner transported in this manner was afforded an inspection of the enemy’s defenses.

The rain continued to poor in torrents, and without intermission. As we arrived opposite the depot at Manassas, I was afforded a glimpse of the place. The most prominent was the hospital, a large frame structure, opposite to which was the only battery to be seen in the vicinity. The only mounted piece was a shell-mortar. There were perhaps a dozen small frame buildings, which comprised the “Junction” proper. All of these seemed to have been appropriated to the accommodation of the Confederate wounded. Numerous tents had been pitched for a similar purpose, and temporary sheds were also in process of erection.

The Confederates were assisted from the wagon; my fellow-prisoner also descended and went off to obtain shelter, and even the guard and driver, thoroughly drowned out by the deluge, deserted their posts of duty, and left me to

“Bide the pelting of the pitiless storm”

in solitude. I finally managed to get out upon the ground, and crept along, “swimmingly,” to the hospital. There I was refused admission, on account of its over-crowded state, but finally prevailed upon the steward to let me within the hall, where with a number of others, I remained for about one hour. As formerly, when I had reached almost the lowest depth of despondency, I was so fortunate to secure a friend in a wounded rebel soldier. In the course of our conversation, he informed me that all of the prisoners were to be conveyed to Richmond. He was going as far as Culpepper, where his parents resided, and he assured me that if I desired to go with him, I should receive the best of medical care and attention. I accepted the kind offer conditionally, as I did not wish to be separated from my wounded comrades. He then – upon receiving my parole of honor – assumed the responsibility of my custody, and we were soon among the passengers of a crowded train, and speeding “on to Richmond.”

The journey occupied two days, the train being required to halt at every station from one to three hours. All along the route great crowds of people were assembled, consisting mostly of women and children, and at almost every place large numbers of Confederate wounded were removed from the cars, followed by weeping and distracted relatives. Some of these scenes were very affecting.

Davis, Lee, and other Confederate magnates, accompanied us as far as Orange Court House, and at intervening points the first named was called out upon the platform to speak to the multitudes. At some villages, the women thronged about the cars, offering refreshments to the wounded, both Union and Confederate, but more particularly to the former, whom they seemed to regard with mingled curiosity and favor. I suspected that the sympathies of some were even more deeply enlisted than they dared to avow. We were invariably addressed as “Yankees,” and there were frequent inquiries respecting “Old Scott, the traitor,” and “Old Lincoln, the tyrant.” The ladies generally expressed a benevolent desire to “get hold” of the hero of Lundy’s Lane, in order to string him up.

Arriving at Culpepper, the daughter of Major Lee, a young and beautiful damsel, came up to the window from which I leaned, and asked if she could do anything for me; and added, “What did you come down here for?” (This had become a stereotyped query.) I replied, “To protect the Stars and Stripes and preserve the Union.”

My questioner then proceeded, after the uniform custom, to berate Gen. Scott. “That miserable old Scott – a Virginian by birth – a traitor to his own State – we all hate him!” And the heightened color, the vindictive glance and the emphatic tones of the excited maiden, furnished assurance that her anger was unfeigned. But it quickly subsided, and after some further conversation, she took from her bonnet a miniature silken secession flag, which she handed to me, remarking she thought I could fight as well for the “Stars and Bars,” as for the Stars and Stripes. I playfully reminded her that she had just denounced Gen. Scott as a traitor to his own State, and if I should fight for the “Stars and Bars,” I should be a traitor to the State of New York! This trivial argument was evidently a poser. “Oh!” responded she, “I had not thought of that!” – But she insisted upon my acceptance of the emblem of disloyalty, and I still retain it as a memento of the occurrence, and with a feeling of kindly regard for the donor. She cut the buttons from my coat sleeve, and I consented to the “formal exchange,” though not exactly recognizing her as a “belligerent power.”

As Miss Lee retired, another young lady came forward, and glancing at my companion, the Confederate guard, addressed him as a “Yankee prisoner,” expressing her indignant surprise that he should have invaded their soil to fight them. He corrected her mistake, stating that I, not he, was the “Yankee prisoner.”

“No – no – you can’t fool me; I know the Yankees too well,” insisted the lady. I corroborated the assertion of my custodian, but it was some time before her prejudices could be overcome.

At almost every station on the route, one or more dead bodies were removed from the train, and placed in charge of their friends. The University at or near Culpepper, and the Church at Warrenton, had been fitted up for hospital purposes, and large numbers of the Confederate wounded were conveyed to them from the train. Of the six or seven cars which started from Manassas, there were but two remaining when we reached the rebel capital. We arrived there about 9 o’clock in the evening. After the cars had halted, I heard a low voice at my window, which was partly raised. It was quite dark, and I could not distinguish the speaker, who as evidently and Irish woman.

“Whist, whist?” said she; “are ye hungry?”

I replied that I was not, but that some of the boys probably were.

“Wait till I go to the house,” she answered, and a moment afterward I heard her again at the window. She handed me a loaf of bread, some meat, and about a dozen baker’s cakes, saying – as she handed me the first – “That was all I had in the house, but I had a shillin’, and I bought the cakes wid it; and if I had more, sure you should have it , and welcome! Take it, and God bless ye!”

I thanked here, and said, “You are very kind to enemies.”

“Whist,” said she, “and ain’t I from New York meself?” and with this tremulous utterance she retired as mysteriously as she had come.

This was the first “Union demonstration” that I witnessed in Old Virginia. I thanked God for the consolation which the reflection accorded me, as on the third night I lay sleeplessly in cars, my clothing still saturated and my body thoroughly chilled from the effects of the deluge at Manassas. I could have desired no sweeter morsel than the good woman’s homely loaf; and proud of the loyal giver, I rejoiced that “I was from New York meself.”

The following morning the prisoners were all removed to the hospital and provided with quarters and medical attendance.

From Five Months in Rebeldom; or Notes from the Diary of a Bull Run Prisoner, pp. 5-17

27th New York Infantry roster

William Howard Merrell at Fold3





Pvt. John B. Edson, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Death* of Pvt. John Clague

8 01 2021

From Capt. Wanzer’s Company.

Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 23d.

Dear Sir: – You no doubt have heard of the great battle fought on Sunday last. Our regiment was brought in to the hottest of the affray. I have a painful duty to perform. It is with a trembling hand I inform you of the death of your son John. He fell by my side mortally wounded in the right shoulder. He lived about two hours and a half. Myself and two others carried him to a stone building nearby, used as a Hospital by our troops while in action. I made him as comfortable as possible. He deemed to take everything very easy and died nobly. Our troops had to retreat, and consequently could not bring him off the field. We’ll try however, and obtain it by a flag of truce if the rebels will respect it. John was thought a great deal of in camp. He was quite and took everything very cool. I am in hopes of getting a furlough for a week or two, until our regiment is made up again, it having been terribly cut to pieces, and then will give you a full account of his death.

[To] William Clague.

J. B. Edson.

Rochester (New York) Evening Express, 7/26/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John J. Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster

*Per the regimental roster, John Clague mustered out with his company on 5/31/1863. Hospital steward Daniel Bosley of Co. E. reported Clague killed instantly. Pvt. Duncan Brown of Co. E reported Clague died after about an hour. Clague was however reported very much alive after the battle by Co. E’s Corp. W. H. Merrell in his account of his captivity after the battle. John Clague of Co. E died in 1921 per FindAGrave

John B. Edson at Fold3





Sgt. Robert E. Ellerbeck, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

6 01 2021

ADVENTURES AT BULL RUN.

We are indebted to Mr. F. J. M. Cornell, for the following private letter received by him from his brother-in-law, Mr. Robert E. Ellerbeck of the 27th Regiment of New York Volunteers for the war. Mr. Ellerbeck is well known to many of our readers. The New York 27th has not had due credit for its share in the conflict. It formed part of Col. Porter’s brigade in the division under acting General Hunter, and consequently was placed on the extreme right of our lines, where the fight was most severe and the march the longest and most fatiguing. The letter was written with the attendant inconveniences of camp life, and was not intended for publication:

Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 25, 1861.

Dear Brother: – You of course have heard much of the battle, and the defeat of our army at Bull Run – or what is more proper if I know anything of the location of the country – before Manassas, for we marched at least five or six miles after we crossed the Run. I suppose you have not had an account from an eye-witness. Of all the days I ever beheld, last Sunday was one that will be remembered by me and by many, not a few of whom were Rochester boys.

Since I came to Washington it seems as if here, where above all other places we expected better treatment, we have received the worst. There seems to be no management but to have the Quartermaster make as much as possible, for no other excuse seems to go down with out men.

If I begin to give a detailed account of all that took place on that eventful Sunday, it would take a much longer time than I can possibly spare, for our regiment is so much disordered by retreat, it will take a good while to get them as they were before they left Washington. We left this city for Virginia one week ago last Tuesday, camped each night in the open field with but a blanket to wrap around us, and not a day passing without the men grumbling of their scanty provisions, except one day when they went out and brought in everything you could think of being raised on a farm, enough at least to appease their appetites for one day, among other things they got a bull belonging to Beauregard or some other “secesher,” shot him, dressed him, and divided him among our regiment, they burned barns and houses in their rambles, harboring no pity for the enemy who is the cause of all their sufferings. The night previous to the battle of Bull Run or Manassas, we were up cooking beef for the day’s rations, that and biscuit for the same period was all we had to subsist on. At one o’clock on the morning of the 21st of July we commenced our march, which was a laborious one to begin a day’s work of which no man could foretell the result, or who of us would be left to tell the tale, but I am thankful to say I saw it all and did my duty, and although I saw my comrades shot from my side I am among the number who remain to lament the fall of our fellow soldiers. We marched about ten miles before we saw the battle field, on which some of our bones might be bleached. We made but one halt and that only long enough to get water from a stream that many thousands of soldiers had marched through but a few moments before. Many men fell exhausted from hunger and thirst, together with the burning effects of the Southern sun. I saw numbers fall out of the ranks to die by the roadside from the effects of sun-strokes; we fear that one of our men on the retreat, after passing the danger of the cannon’s mouth, fell exhausted from its effects and was taken by the rebels.

It seems very strange to me that none of the New York papers speak of the conduct of the New York 27th Volunteers when we were the first to engage the enemy with musketry. We were led in from the right by our gallant Col. Slocum, flowed by the N. Y. 14th, who after we had reached the ravine, in full view and reach of musketry and grape, retired and left us alone to the mercy of a deadly fire, till our Colonel was shot and many of our men fell mortally wounded, at which time our Colonel gave the command to retire, or at least ordered the Major to do it, but the men seemed reluctant to do so without revenging the fall of our Colonel. When my friend John T. Clague fell I saw a dying look on his face, he threw his arms across his breast as if in calm and sweet repose, and swooned to rise no more. I had only time to order men to carry him to the rear, and then to my post. They carried him a short distance, laid him carefully on the ground, and then returned to our aid. We finally had to retreat over the brow of the hill, firing as we went, and leaving our dead and wounded on the field. It seemed almost a shower of bullets and shell, tareing up the ground all around us. After our first engagement our Major rallied us together under cover of the hill, when our boys were completely exhausted, and led us again down the hill at a double quick. Some were played out, and some were frightened out, but, however, I led our company in the second time, followed by our Ensign in charge of the left platoon. I was cheering our men on down hill, when all at once a dozen voices sung out, “Go in Bob, bully for you.” I looked to the left, and there, scarcely recognizable, I beheld the 13th N. Y. Volunteers, in whose ranks I, for the first time since we left Elmira, have seen so many familiar faces; I was grasped by the hand (and who knew for the last time) by my old friend Capt. Putnam, and many others that I cannot recall, as I kept up a hurried march for the balls were falling fast around us. The 13th were waiting for orders to move forward. I saw them ascend the hill almost to the enemy’s lines of defense afterwards, but they were soon compelled to retire. We had driven all the rebels in the fort and taken up a position behind a bank near a creek, shell whistling over our heads and almost grazing our backs. I began to look around and found the rebels had brought a piece to bear on us from the extreme east of the fort, that would sweep right along the bank. I gave the word to the men to retreat to the ravine by small squads, which they did, and it protected them from the cannon ball, however two of our men remained on their own responsibility and a moment later a shot took off one of their legs, he is among the missing. After our first engagement we did not see our Captain or Lieutenant till next day (Monday) at Washington.

Our company have missing four, probably dead, our regiment probably seventy-five or more. We are in hopes some are prisoners. William H. Merril our correspondent of the Rochester Express was wounded twice and is missing. William Hanlon, leg shot off probably dead.

I met Capt. and Lieutenant Putnam in Washington yesterday, and exchanged another friendly greeting with warm congratulations for our deliverance. Our Colonel is getting along finely, but it will be several weeks before his is out.

There was very little water we drank that day but looked like such a pool as one sees by the roadside in a heavy shower. I don’t know when we will go out again, but probably not till our Colonel gets about. I will have lots to tell when I see you. I have got a secession sword.

Yours as ever,
Robert.

Yonkers (New York) Examiner, 8/1/1861

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27th New York Infantry Roster

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Image: Cpl. Guilford Wiley Wells, Co. G, 27th New York Infantry

24 06 2020

800px-GuilfordWWells

Guilford Wiley Wells, US Representative from Mississippi, 1875-1877 (Source)





Cpl. Guilford Wiley Wells, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

24 06 2020

Another Letter from the 27th.
—————

The following letter descriptive of the Battle of Bull Run and incidents pertaining thereto is from a member of the Lima company, in the 27th regiment. We have already published a number of letters from members of that regiment who took an active part in the bloody work, but we venture to five one more.

Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 2[?], 1861.

Dear Father, Mother, Brother and Sister: I now take my pencil to write you, that your uneasiness in reference to me may be quieted, as you no doubt ere this have heard that our regiment was all cut to pieces in the Battle at Bull Run, and probably think that I was either killed or wounded. But I am not, though I am all fagged out, as I was on the march and in the battle from 2 o’clock Sunday morning until 7 o’clock Monday night, and not having anything to eat except four or five crackers in the forenoon of Sunday.

As I suppose you and my friends of Conesus are anxious to hear, I will give you a short description, as I saw it, and I was in it from beginning to the end. Our regiment was the first which charged on the enemy, notwithstanding the papers said it was another regiment, which the Washington papers corrected this morning.

I will give you the details of the battle. We marched in the morning for Bull Run, which was about ten miles from where we were encamped. We passed around the enemy’s batteries and succeeded in outflanking them, and arrived on the ground at 11 o’clock. On our march we did not find but one drop of water, and then it was dirty water – so dirty that it was not fit to drink even by a beast, but as our canteens were empty we filled them. When we reached Bull Run we did not have time to get water or anything to eat. We then marched down to the woods, where the enemy were all alone, but when we arrived at the woods we saw a regiment who swung their handkerchiefs and showed our colors, and we supposed them to be our friends, but our suppositions were all false, for when we reached the end of their line and they were about twenty rods from us, they flanked us and fired, which of course surprised us, but we returned the fire and charged upon them, and drove them into the woods. Our loss was very great. They killed or wounded over half at the first fire. We rallied around our colors, and were ordered to retreat. As the batteries opened fire upon us with large cannon and shell, we fell down flat, loaded, then charged upon them again, when another regiment entered the field to our aid. Then followed the whole force. We then drove them out of the woods on the hill beyond. Then commenced one of the hardest fought battles, I think, ever fought on this continent. First one retired, then the other, but still we drove them. At the same time the groans of the wounded and dying were singularly blended with the roaring of cannon and the rattle of musketry. Oh, such a sight I never want to see again. You can have some idea of it if for once you will imagine the people of Conesus all together, and all wailing and groaning, and each covered with blood, while the people of Livonia were there, and there lying dead. This would be something like the sight which I gazed upon Sunday.

O, mother, you never saw suffering like that which is exhibited on the battle field I saw one man who had five balls put through him, and yet was alive, but there was no doctor to dress his wounds, and he walked [?] miles and fell down exhausted and died. I saw many upon our retreat who could not have walked had it not been that the enemy were following them with the intention of taking all prisoners that they could reach. This served to inspire them with energy sufficient to keep on the march until from utter exhaustion they dropped down.

But I am wandering from my story. We fought for [?] hours. Some of the time we thought victory was just coming, but at that time a new battery would open on us. We would then work to silence it, and then another would open, and in that way we fought until our ammunition gave out, and we found the enemy had plenty left, and were using it to the very best advantage. We then were ordered to rally once more around our flag, but the regiments were too much broken, yet they succeeded in rallying about 1,000, but the Black Horse Cavalry made a charge on us and we were obliged to leave on a run. We left many valuable things on the ground. I for one left may coat and haversack with all I had to eat. As we left, we overtook the Rhode Island Regiment with their cannons, and as most of the horses were shot, they were obliged to cut the [?] and leave the pieces on the ground for the enemy. We left scattered all over the ground, with men running in every direction. We left at the hospital all out wounded, and we did not have wagons enough to draw them. The doctor remained until the commenced to throw shell upon the hospital, something which was never known before. As the building caught fire the doctor took his horse and cut through the cavalry. They then made a charge upon the hospital killing all who were so unfortunate as to be wounded in it. We had a number of our company – three or four – from East Bloomfield, one from Honeoye Falls, two from Lima, and the 1st Corporal. How many more we can’t say, as we know of many who are missing, but do not know whether they were killed or wounded. We did not succeed in getting a wounded man away or burying those who were killed. They used us worse than ever man was used by Indians, as they skulked behind trees, fences, and whenever we left a wounded man on the field, they rushed out and cut his throat.

But again, after we arrived on top of the hill, we marched to a house. Upon arriving on the other side, the first thing we knew, they commenced throwing shell at us. They fell among us like hail, without much harm. I found I could not go much further. A wagon came along and I put everything – gun and accoutrements – in it and left as fast as I could, which was not very fast, being without anything to east from 2 o’clock in the morning – without rest, and running most of the way. We found two regiments at Centreville, but they were so close upon us we were obliged to leave en masse.

The drivers commenced to run their horses – flipping over and breaking the wagons. Our loss of wagons must have been 30 or 40 left filled, [?] a [? ?] which they took from us. As I passed along the road I found many who wished me to give them something to eat, saying that they had had nothing for 24 hours. As I was in the same fix I could not administer to their wants. I had nothing to eat until a black woman gave me a small piece of biscuit, which tasted as good as anything I had ever had. I arrived at Washington Monday night at 7 o’clock in the rain, wet through and cold as I could well be. I went into Willard’s Hotel and they gave me something to eat, and I found a fire to dry myself. I then went to my barracks, found a hard board to lie on, which seemed much better than the cold ground. I am well now. A lady here gave me plenty to eat and some salt and water to wash my feet in, as they were very much swollen. She seemed to take as much interest in me as though I were her own boy. She came up this morning and took me down to her house for breakfast. I write this on a board on the ground. I will try and write a more [?] letter next time.

G. Wiley Wells

Rochester (NY) Union Advertiser, 7/31/1861

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27th New York Infantry roster 

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Pvt. John Alden Copeland, Co. G, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

23 06 2020

FROM A PRIVATE OF THE LIMA COMPANY, 27TH REGIMENT, TO HIS FATHER, G. W. COPELAND, OF CLARENDON, N. Y.

Washington, July 24, 1861.

Dear Father – When I left Washington a week ago yesterday I did not expect to see it again under such circumstances as surround me at present. I arrived here last night, direct from the battle field, tired and foot sore, but in good spirits. I was the last almost to return, and found that my name had been entered upon the list of the killed.

Sunday morning, at [?] o’clock, our division left camp, three miles north of Centreville, and marched till noon – about [?] miles – when the battle commenced. After we emerged from the woods – the greatest forest I ever traveled, our route through it being about [?] miles – we were drawn up in battle front, our regiment being the leader. We then went on a run for three miles to the battle field. One of our boys stopped to fill several canteens before we started, and I carried his gun to the field, in addition to my own, and at the same time I was loaded with my haversack, containing three day’s provisions, two blankets, and 40 rounds of cartridges. When I got to the field I threw aside everything except my gun and cartridge box, and took my place in the ranks under heavy fire from the enemy’s artillery, and charged up the hill with the boys, but when half way up, I fell from exhaustion, with several others. I staid about fifteen minutes, and then summoned strength to rejoin our regiment, and crawled over the hill, the balls flying like hail around me. I met our Lieut. Col. Chambers galloping back to get help for our regiment, and he rushed up to one of the field officers and in his stuttering way called for aid, for heaven’s sake, to relieve our boys. He said that they were surrounded in the woods below. When I heard this I ran down in the woods and found our regiment retreating, carrying back our Col., wounded in the thigh, with several of our company wounded but none killed. – Other companies had some of their members killed. Here we made a stand, the balls of the artillery and musketry whizzing over our heads in a perfect storm. Our Major took command and led us out of the woods, to make, as we thought, a second charge. Our Colonel nearly wept when he could not lead us further, and ordered that we should be taken from the field, as we had already had our share of the fight, and were enough cut up without hazarding further loss of life. We left the woods, the fight raging all around us, and lay down behind the banks of a creek, as it was almost instant death to lose cover, as the enemy were continually unmasking new and unseen batteries upon us, and all well planned with good engineers. They had nearly 100,000 men arrayed against us, and they had reinforcements pouring in continually from Manassas, four miles distant.

The battle was in reality the long, long looked for struggle which was to come off at Manassas, although it took place at Bull Run. We had scarcely 15,000 troops to oppose them, and with this odds against us, we drove them from the field three times, forcing their batteries into the woods. But the woods were filled with their troops, and they could lead fresh men to the attack continually. More than that, there was on our side no order whatever. Each Col. attacked or withdrew from field when he pleased, and that is the way the fight was carried on. Our regiment and another went first into the fight, and after driving the enemy from the field, unsustained, were driven back by the guerilla hordes, who never gave us a chance to use the bayonet. Notwithstanding their superiority of numbers, they fled to the cover, and played Indian through it all. Thus the fight continued until the retreat was ordered. I was never in a battle before, but I never saw a braver set of men in my life, than our volunteers. The regulars were less enthusiastic, and seemed to be pushed to the charge, while the volunteers would come rushing along, hurrahing with all their might, driving the enemy into their thicket fast[?], when they were only forced back by the murderous fire of masked batteries and concealed musketry, leaving their wounded to be butchered by the boasted chivalry of the South. Our artillery did terrible execution, but the enemy would bring two pieces to our one, against us. Sherman’s battery was first on the field and mowed down whole ranks of the retreating enemy, and as the remnants came flying past our regiment, we were about to fire upon them when they hoisted the Stars and Stripes, and they were suffered to pass. After getting by, they put up their true colors, and poured a whole broadside into our regiment. Our Colonel, when he saw them, said, “Boys, there are the rascals, fire!” But another countermanded the order, supposing them to be our friends, and thus they escaped. Our boys were mad at this deception, as they were entirely in our power.

Ellsworth’s and Brooklyn Zouaves were about the last to leave the field, and received the special attention of the enemy. The white cap South Carolina Zouaves charged upon them, and the way they routed the Carolinians was a treat to see. They are large swarthy fellows, and hung to each other like brothers, and the enemy have a great terror of them.

When we left the field we expected to encamp on the ground we had taken, and the bold front we showed on our retreat undoubtedly saved us from utter destruction. They did not dare to follow us, having seen too much of our fight during the day, to attack us. But we had not proceeded three miles before it was known throughout the line that we were in a full retreat to the [?], and then the rout commenced. Instead of [?], the regiment broke up, and there was nothing to be seen but a long line of fugitives hurrying to the North. Before we entered the woods the cry arose that the cavalry were upon us, and such a scramble I never saw. The officers ordered the men to the cover to save themselves. Baggage-wagons, artillery, ambulances and carriages of every description, thundered on by us, and the whole route was strewn with broken wagons, or [?] men filled [? ? ?] and all the appurtenances of war, [?] large [?] of private property belonging to the officers.

Thus the road continued through the forest, and when we emerged from the woods we were attacked by a masked battery and the Black Horse Cavalry. Our cavalry rushed on with our artillery in order to save it, and it was saved. Where we came out of the woods there was a deep gully, and here the battery poured down upon the stream of fugitives. The Zouaves charged upon the battery, took two rifled cannon, and cut up the Black Horse Cavalry terribly, thus saving Sherman’s battery and adding two pieces to it. The loss of Sherman’s battery would have been worse than losing a battle to the United States. When they fired upon us I turned to the left and waded a creek three feed deep and passed on toward Centreville; but before I reached the road I came upon the encampment of the New York 69th Regiment, and found them united with the 14th for mutual safety. They were expecting a night attack and lay upon their arms all night. They had secured guides who were to lead them early in the morning to Alexandria, and I concluded to stay and go with them. A soldier of another regiment laid down with me and went to sleep. I woke twice during the night, and the regiments were still on the ground; but, finally, I got into a sound sleep and did not wake up until my comrade awoke me, when he told me the whole body of troops were gone, and we were alone beyond Centreville. I must say that things looked tickelish, but I was determined to pick my way through if such a thing were possible. It was cloudy and raining some when we started, and, inasmuch as I went to bed on the bar ground the night before, after wading the creek, soaking wet and also after marching all day from two o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night, with the battle thrown in, I did not feel much like taking a [?] march of some twenty miles to Washington, as I knew I must, a point of safety. We avoided Centreville by crossing the fields and came on in the highway leading from Alexandria to Richmond, but being uncertain of this we took another road leading to Manassas, and I know not how far we should have followed it but for a farmer, who put us on the right track. This was quite a delay as we went about two miles out of the way, and it was about seven o’clock in the morning. When we reached the road we found to our dismay that we were nearly the last of the returning fugitives. I felt very hungry, and although the road was strewed with crackers, bread, sugar and coffee, I did not have time to sit down, build a fire and cook a good dish of coffee, which I might have done at every rod of the way between Centreville and Fairfax. Beef, pork, crackers, bread and sugar lined the roadsides, and the farmers along the route must have picked up enough plunder to feed them for that year, while the enemy, who followed us, must have seized a large number of fine baggage wagons and large amounts of military stores.

I kept up spunk and a quick pace, and I reached Fairfax about three o’clock, P. M. After resting a little, I pushed on, and having overtaken some boys of our regiment, we got a good cup of coffee some four miles this side of Fairfax. It rained in the afternoon steady, but I kept the India Rubber blanket you sent me, and it was of great service to me. I too the road to Alexandria and others went to Arlington Heights. I reached Alexandria about seven P. M., and found Lieut. Hall, and some twenty boys of our regiment. As we could not get to Washington by boat that night, we took up our quarters in the building of the famous Alexandria library. The next day, P. M., went to Washington on foot, and found our regiment out on dress parade, and when our lieutenant marched us into camp before their eyes, it was a joyful sight for both.

This was probably one of the hardest fought battle we have ever had in America, and the rout beats anything I ever read of in our history. Braddock’s defeat, or Green’s retreat, did not begin with it. The Rebels will never give us a fair field fight, and we must bring the heaviest artillery in order to shell them out of their masked batteries. Our Colonel is loved by all the regiment, but the general movement of the army was in unskillful hands. I am a little foot sore and stiff after marching some sixty miles in two days, but I want to get at those rebels again.

J. A. Copeland

Later. – We have just been favored with the perusal of an interesting letter from a volunteer in the 27th regiment, attached to a Binghamton company. He describes minutely the progress of his regiment from Washington to Bull Run and back so far as he understands the movements.

At the point where the 27th went into battle they were the second regiment to engage the enemy, and drove them before them. Suddenly a regiment came out of a piece of woods and the men waved their caps. Col. Slocum thought they were Federal troops and would not fire upon them. They marched up within pistol shot, threw out a secession flag, and opened fire upon the 27th with rifles, the latter being armed with muskets. The 27th returned the fire sharply and compelled them to retire, but when they got out of musket range they poured in the bullets from their rifles and made bloody work. Col. Slocum sent to the New York 14th, near by, for help, but it was refused. At length he ordered his men to retreat to a cover of woods for protection and rest. While on the retreat the Colonel received a shot in his thigh and was borne away to the hospital. Soon after the 27th was ordered to join in a general assault, and went in with other regiments bravely, driving the rebels back to the cover of their masked batteries. Finally the retreat of the Federal army commenced. The 27th left the field in good order, but were charged upon by the rebel cavalry, which broke them up and each man took care of himself.

Rochester (NY) Union Advertiser, 7/30/1861

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Hospital Steward Daniel W. Bosley, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

12 06 2020

From the Twenty-Seventh.
———-

Mr. Daniel W. Bosley, of the 27th Regiment, Company E, who was employed assisting the Surgeons during the engagement between Bull’s Run and Manassas, writes to a friend as follows:

Washington, July 25th, 1861.

I received your welcome letter on Tuesday, the second day after the battle of Bull’s Run, which, I suppose, you have already heard of. – Sunday and Monday were two of the hardest days I ever experienced. We left our camp at 4 o’clock, Sunday morning, and marched fourteen miles to the battle ground. I did not have to fight. I remained in the back ground with the Doctor. The enemy was situated on a hill, behind masked batteries. Our troops took position on another hill, with a fine valley between them, the batteries playing from each hill. The federal troops behaved nobly; but for want of proper officers, (not outs,) ammunition, and besides that the boys were so tired that they could hardly walk, they were compelled to retreat. The battle lasted from 12 till 4 o’clock, when we retreated from the field, and marched to Washington, a distance of 40 miles. We carried some provisions with us, but the men threw all encumbrances away as they went into battle; therefore we had to march from Sunday morning to Monday morning, without resting over five minutes at a time, and without any sleep or anything to eat, going nearly sixty miles, and drank water that you would not wash your hands in.

I felt very stiff for one or two days afterwards, but now I feel first rate, and am anxious to go back, for the rest of the boys are willing to go. We will clean them out yet.

Only four of Wanzer’s company are missing; John Clague – Instantly killed. W. H. Merrill – wounded. Taken to the hospital, and the hospital was afterward burned by the rebels – Hamlin – foot shot off. Left to the tender mercies of the foe, and McGettrick – “sun struck.” I helped him a mile, when the cavalry charged on us, and I had to leave him.

I had to dodge cannon balls right and left, when from curiosity I ventured too near the fight. I captured a “secesh musket,” and the other boys took some swords, muskets and revolvers.

From your affectionate friend,
Daniel W. Bosley.

Rochester (NY) Democrat and American, 7/29/1861

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Pvt. Duncan L. Brown, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

29 05 2020

War Correspondence
—————

Letter from Duncan Brown, of Captain Wanzer’s Company – Description of the Battle – Col. Slocum Wounded – Corporal W. H. Merrill Twice Wounded and Removed to the Hospital – Death of John Clague and Wm. Hanlon – The Retreat and Arrival in Washington – Return of Missing Privates, &c.

Camp Anderson, Washington
July 23d, 1861

You have heard ere this of the battle at Manassas Junction. I have seen a battle field before, but I hope never to see another like that of last Sunday. The entire division was ordered to march at two o’clock on Sunday morning. They were encamped about eight miles from Manassas, and had nothing to eat except pilot bread and some fresh beef, but neither coffee not tea to nourish them. But, notwithstanding, they started in the finest spirits, and marched to the scene of the action. About eleven in the morning they came in sight of the rebels. But instead of three divisions, ours was the only one which was there to engage the enemy. But there was no thought of backing out on our part. Under a broiling sun the 27th were put to the double quick up a hill, and held their own until five o’clock, when McDowell, gave the order to retreat. Col. Slocum, (a braver man never lived) was seriously wounded and carried off the field by Capt. Wanzer and Lieut. Baker. He was conveyed to Washington, where he is now doing as well as can be expected. The doctors think he will be able to be with us in about six weeks.

But my hand trembles as I write you the disasters in our company. Poor Merrell, the regular correspondent of the Express, who was one of the color guard, stood by the flag until twice wounded – once in the arm and in the groin – when he was carried off the field and taken to a house used as a hospital for the wounded. But how can I tell you the remainder?

[The writer proceeds in the narration of incidents, which, for humanity’s sake, and especially in consideration of the feelings of those who are nearly related to the sufferer named, we feel it is our duty to suppress. He continues as follows:]

But there is a day of retribution at hand, and we will be revenged.

My pen again fails me to tell you of another who fell – one whom I loved more than a brother – John Clague, formerly a clerk in Rochester’s banking office, who was shot in the back, the ball passing out at the right breast. He lived about an hour, in the most horrible agony. He was only in his 19th year, but he fell, doing his duty under the flag he had sworn to protect. – The greatest regret is felt in the company, for he was beloved by all. The night before the battle, I was getting provisions for the regiment, (being in the Quartermaster’s department,) and being very busy, I could not go to supper; and he being fearful that I would have to go without, came to me and told me where I could find it, when I could get a chance to eat. Before parting, he told me that the regiment had orders to move before morning, and in a playful manner said: “Good bye, Brown, I may not have a chance to speak to you again.” These were the last word I ever heard him utter. But, although dead, he never will be forgotten by me.

Another boy, named William Hanlon, had his leg shot off, while trying to get around the brow of a hill. The poor fellow asked to be run through the heart with a bayonet, to put him out of his misery. He was taken to the same building as Merrell. * * * There are about 20 missing out of our company, but I hope they will mostly all turn up.

Hon. Alfred Ely was on the field as a spectator, and although urged not to expose himself, determined on crossing to the 13th. He was accompanied by Dist. Attorney Huson, and their rashness has probably cost them their lives.

There was a report in the city yesterday that Mr. Ely has been killed, and his body brought to Arlington. This is untrue. I saw three of Capt. Brown’s company this morning, and they say that the report at Arlington is that he is a prisoner. C. D. Tract, of the Express, was also present. I have endeavored to learn something of him, but without success. I can only hope he is safe.

I was not engaged in the field, being guard over the provision train, which halted [illegible…] whistled around like hail. I arrived at Long Bridge on Monday morning, with the train safe but tired and hungry. Col. Rogers, of Buffalo, with his usual kindness, had hot coffee and cooked meat in readiness for us, which, I tell you, came just in time, for hundreds could not have marched a mile farther, having had nothing to eat for nearly 72 hours, and having marched over 70 miles during 21 hours. We will probably march again in a few weeks, when our battle-cry will be “revenge.”

Although the scene was horrible, there were many laughable incidents, one of which I will mention. Horace Hibbard, and a chap we call “Black Tom,” members of our company, while on the retreat, came across a wagon drawn by four horses. The teamster was in the act of cutting the traces, when Hibbard seized him by the neck and started him for the woods. He then mounted the saddle horse, and Black Tom one of the leaders, and started, as they thought, for Washington, but instead brought up at Alexandria. Hibbard had made up his mind to sell the leaders to get something to eat, but you can imagine his disappointment, when he found they were branded with the U. S. mark.

The men who are missing in our company, beside the dear, are Jenks, Ambrose, Burbank, and Hosmer. The dead are Merrell, Clague, and Hanlon. It was Bull’s Run instead of Manassas where the battle took place.

I saw Smith and Bronson, two printers from your city, who belong to the cavalry.

Sergeant Webster, on the retreat up the hill, never turned his back upon the enemy, but kept a bold face and loaded and fired until darkness set in. The enemy’s artillery was loaded by niggers, and fired by white rebels.

Later. – Burbank, Jenks, and Hosmer have come in, leaving only two missing, exclusive of the dear. Hon. A. Ely is a prisoner at Bull’s Run.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/29/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster 

Duncan L. Brown at Ancestry.com 

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Surgeon Norman S. Barnes, 27th New York Infantry, On the Retreat

28 05 2020

War Correspondence
—————

[Our special dispatches of yesterday, 4 P. M., announced that Norman S. Barnes, of this city, Surgeon of the 27th regiment, was among the “wounded and missing.” At a later hour the following communication was received by Mrs. Barnes, from which we are permitted to make the following extracts. It will be seen that Surgeon B., although wounded, effected his escape, and is now in safety.]

Extracts from a Private Letter from Surgeon Barnes of 27th Regiment.

Camp Anderson
Washington, July 23d, 1861.

I am only slightly wounded, not so bad that I can sit up and attend to or superintend the care of the wounded.

Indeed, we have had a most terrific battle; the details of it you will get in the papers. The N. Y. Times’ reporter was near the scene of action, and retreated with us. Their papers will be a more reliable one on that account.

It was impossible to keep out of the way of danger. Cannon balls, grape, cannister and musket balls flew thick and fast about us; men and horses were killed all around me.

One horse was killed under me; I lost my coat, belt, sash, sword, &c; all my instruments and medicines. I amputated twenty five limbs. But the poor fellows were afterwards shoot, or bayoneted, or had their throats cut. ‘Twas a sorry sight.

As soon as I found that no respect was to be paid to Surgeons or to their wounded, I made up my mind to take care of myself. Up to this time I had not fired a shot; m revolver now did its duty. After that I took from a rebel soldier, somewhat against his will, a minie rifle – this served me better.

As I now had become a fighting man, I was compelled to join the ”rear guard” of the now rapidly retiring army. My horse Prince, that had been careering over the battle field on his own account, having broken away from the man in whose charge I left him, was no where to be seen; and with balls flying thick around me, and the rebels at our heels, I thought that on your account as well as my own, I’d take to the woods. Fourteen miles we – tired, hungry and thirsty fellows, fifteen or twenty thousand – pushed our way through the woods on foot.

We had not ne mouthful to eat or drink, except from mud-puddles. About fourteen miles from the battle-filed, my horse came along on a full run, with two men on him, fleeing for dear life. They dismounted, and I had it somewhat easier, but with a tired horse, bleeding at his sides, covered with foam and almost exhausted. After getting on him, and proceeding four or five miles, we were charged in the rear, where I still was, by a numerous body of the rebels, a large number on horse, and also by their flying artillery. About three hundred were killed, as nearly as we can calculate, from recent inspection.

A bridge which was just before us was blown to pieces, while I was fording the stream. Dr. Morse kept close to my side, and how we were saved I do not know, except it be through God. One thing, I do not remember that I once felt the least frightened, but made my calculations without confusion.

We left out camp, about forty miles from Washington, at 2 o’clock Sunday morning; overtook the enemy, strongly entrenched, about 18 miles distant; commenced action at 1:00; and after six hours hard fighting against more than twice our number; retreated to Washington, 58 miles. During all this time our men had been without food. We reached here yesterday morning at 8 o’clock. Since then a few stragglers have come in.

I’ve written in haste, surrounded by wounded soldiers, and giving directions to my assistants, unless in some important cases.

N. S. B.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/27/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster 

Norman S. Barnes at Ancestry.com 

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Pvt. Thomas Westcott. Co. F, 13th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

21 05 2020

Letter from W. H. Westcott.

Eds. Express: – As the Express has a large circulation in Clarendon, its readers may be pleased to read this letter from Thos. Westcott, private in Capt. H. Smith’s Company.

Truly yours,
H.

Camp Union, July 21, 1861

Dear Brother: – Yesterday I returned to this Camp from a hard, long and bloody battle. The Clarendon boys have all arrived safe and sound. Tell Mr. Copeland that I saw Alden after the fight; he is alive and well.

I will now try and give a little account of the fight. We started from Fairfax, or near there, Sunday morning at 2 ½ o’clock. I assure you it was the most awful Sunday I have ever seen or hope to see again. After marching six miles beyond Centreville, we filed off the main road into a large wood, then marched at left flank until we reached the edge again. Here we lay about two hours, then Gen. Tyler ordered two companies of our regiment to a hill. Those ordered were ours (Capt. Smith’s) Co. G. and Co. A. – Upon arriving on the hill, we then caught first sight of the enemy. We commenced firing on them as soon as they opened on us, but without any effect. While we were there the enemy marched towards the east and way off to the right. We saw one of our divisions advancing towards them, soon two batteries of our Brigades belched forth furiously on them, but they did not return the fire.

On this little hill we remained two hours, then returned to our regiment, and staid about half an hour; now the heavy cannon thundered, the long and steady cracking of musketry told plainly the work had commenced. Orders came for us to march forward as fast as possible. We did so, making good time, until we reached a wide creek, which we forded without much delay. No place could be found to get the batteries across, as the banks of the creek were high and steep. This caused us to fight with great disadvantages. On this eminence could be seen the batteries playing from both sides; soon the enemy began to retreat in great confusion, and the principal thing going on, was taking rebel prisoners.

Forward, march! – and now we are in the thickest of the fight. O, the destruction of men and horses! What a sight! I revolt to tell particulars. Stopping a few moments urged the enemy to open on us a terrific fire. The ground was heaving and flying in every direction. We were ordered to march toward the battery – but halted in a gully. Here we lay until one of our batteries passed up the hill to play on the enemy. While we were here, Col. Slocum and regiment passed. I watched for Alden Copeland; soon he came along looking pretty hard. I asked him how he liked the “fellers” whistling over us, and whether they made him dodge or no. He said the shells from cannon he dreaded, but the bullets he got along with well enough.

While marching along, I looked up and saw two balls coming that had struck the ground and were on the bound. They were about 20 feet in the air and [?] feet apart. Says I to Clinton, “Look at those balls!” They passed over our heads and struck in Capt. Nolte’s Company. – They hit the first men I saw fall in our Regiment. The battery of the enemy now ceased firing and we were ordered to march across the creek and up the hill, passing along for 40 rods, were ordered to the left flank, right wheel; we did so,, halted, dropped down, and waited for the enemy. While laying here, the 27th marched on up the road to support our battery, working on the enemy whose battery raked ours, killing all the horses that were to draw the pieces. Two regiments supporting the rebel battery, moved towards us on the brow of a hill. Here, for the first time, I saw the rebel flag or rag, as it soon became when in sight of our regiment. – Here our company suffered; two were wounded – one in the arm, the other in the neck and arm. The closest call I got, was by the ball that took effect in the poor fellow’s neck; it passed through my cape which was wound around my blanket, and slung across my shoulder. We lay there pouring bullets on them like hail. I was our rebel flag bearers shot down. Our cartridges were nearly gone so we retreated a short distance and made a stand, firing away our last cartridge.

About this time the enemy received large reinforcements – what an awful volley of balls were poured down on us – we were compelled to retreat, leaving many dead and wounded on the field. We were not scratched, but to see horses running away, tearing everything to pieces, was frightful.

We left for Centreville about six o’clock, ad there met reinforcements which went on to Bull Run to guard the wagons. That evening we marched to Fairfax, where I fell out of rank and made up my mind to go no further that night. I soon found a barn, a buffalo skin, and laid down for the night, not caring for the consequences. At six in the morning I awoke hungry and sore.

I made up my mind I never could walk to camp, so a conveyance was found, and I rode into camp about noon. The most of the boys returned bare-footed, their feet being much blistered. I think the loss in our Regiment is about 50 killed and wounded.

I have always had a strong desire to see a fight. I have now seen it. Now I have a desire to have just one more chance at them, then I am done. I don’t like to fight where the balls are only bullets. They are of no consequence.

I staid last night in a corn house with some Couth Carolina prisoners. Our force brought away many such fellows; some New Orleans Zouaves are here. I have no more time to write, so wait a little while longer.

W

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/29/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

13th New York Infantry Roster 

Thomas Westcott at Ancestry.com 

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