Major Charles Herbert Joyce, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Advance and Battle

2 02 2015

Letter From The 2nd Regiment

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Camp Life—The March to the Battle of Bull’s Run—Conduct of the Regiment in the Battle—The Bravery of Officers and Men.

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Camp of Sec. Vt. Reg., Clermont, 6 miles
from Alexandria, Va., 1861.

Editors of the Times: I am aware that when I left Burlington I promised to write you often in regard to all matters pertaining to the Vermont Second, and I am equally aware that I have not kept my promise; but when you reflect a moment upon my duties in camp and position in our Regiment, you will, I know, forgive me. The history of our triumphant route from Burlington to Washington has, by this time, become exhausted; and I shall pass over that and take you to the hill east of the Capitol in the most terrible shower of rain that was ever known, and there you may see our boys, wet to their skins, pitching their tents and preparing their supper, on the afternoon of the 26th of June. Of our stay in the city it is enough to say that we had a grand time, and enjoyed ourselves hugely. But at last the order came to “strike tents,” and we packed up “duds” and started for some point, the exact location of which we were not informed; but time, which always brings us out somewhere, brought us, about sun down, and in an awful thunder shower, out at Commodore DeForrest’s estate, about six miles west of Alexandria. – Here, wet through as rats, we pitched into the mud and went to sleep. I was so perfectly worn out by the labors of the day that I had not strength to raise my tent, and by invitation from Capt. Dillingham, whose tent was up, I turned into his mud-hole, wrapped my overcoat around me a laid down to pleasant dreams!

The next morning we arose under a scorching Virginia sun, which soon dried us off, and we found ourselves in a very pleasant location; and here let me say, that during all the rain, toil and fatigue of the day, not a murmur or word of complaint was heard from one of our men. They bore themselves, as they always have. We now learned that our Regiment was the advance guard towards Manassas Junction, and that we were occupying a post of danger as well as honor. Here we commenced our first lessons in active field operations. We were immediately in the enemy’s country, and our time was pretty well occupied in guard and picket duty. Of all our adventures I have not time or space to write. Others have given you the history of them, and I will only say that our boys were always on hand and ready to do their duty, however difficult or dangerous.

About this time we were advised that we were joined in Col. Howard’s Brigade, which was composed of three Maine Regiments and our own. We found Col. Howard to be one of the finest of men, and a perfect gentleman in every sense of the word, and we have since found out that he is as brave and noble as he is good. I cannot pass without also bearing testimony to the kind acts and gentlemanly deportment of the Colonel’s Aids. One is his brother, and a splendid fellow; the others are Lieutenants Buel and Mordecai, from West Point. We have all received many kindnesses at their hands. But we must pass along and come down to the time when we received orders from headquarters to put ourselves in light marching order, to move with all the grand army upon the enemy, entrenched at Manassas. The morning we were to march was Monday, and we all arose with light hearts at an early hour, and had our “traps” all on and ready for the encounter. We did not receive orders to march until about noon when we left our camp with three days rations in our haversacks and started on that fatal journey.

We marched all the afternoon and most of the night and finally brought up on a side hill where we had the extreme pleasure of laying down on the damp ground with our clothes all on for sleep and repose. In the course of the after noon I bought me a horse, as we had no horses, which aided me very much in the march, and that together with now and then a cheering word from Col. Howard spurred us on in good spirits. The next morning, Tuesday, we started early and marched all day and encamped in a fine piece of woods that night where we stopped until Thursday morning. Tuesday we routed about 700 rebels from their camp and they left in such a hurry that they had not time to gather up their provisions which were eagerly seized by our boys and appropriated with a relish. Thursday morning we weighed anchor for Centerville and arrived there after dark and went into camp. When we started Thursday I was ordered by Col. Howard to take two companies of our regiment to act as rear guard of the brigade, which means to march behind all the baggage wagons and see that they were brought into camp safe. Just at dark we came to a very steep hill about one half mile long and attempted to ascend it, but lo and behold, of all the horses and mules which were hitched to that long train of wagons, not one would go up that hill. Here was a question for a lawyer. The main body of the army was far in advance and we left behind with the pleasing reflection that we were liable at any moment to be pitched into by the enemy and all our baggage taken and ammunition appropriated to blowing out our brains. We raved like mad bulls and you may not be at all surprised if before we left that delightful spot there was considerable tall extemporaneous swearing. The result was we unloaded the wagons, carried the baggage all up the hill on our backs, pushed the teams up, loaded and went on our way rejoicing. When we arrived in camp we found the boys all anxious about us and fearing some evil had befallen us. I am deeply indepted to Capts. Drew and Hope and their gallant boys for their assistance on that occasion. We remained at Centerville until Sunday morning at 2 o’clock A. M. July 21st, when we started for Bull’s Run.

Saturday evening at Dress Parade the chaplain of one of the Maine regiments made a most affecting prayer after which Col. Howard addressed us upon the events of the morrow and told us that in all human probability that was the last time we should all meet on parade and expressed the hope that we should all behave like men and never turn our back to the foe in the hour of conflict. He was answered with a cheer and a “never,” which echoed through the woods of old Virginia for miles. At two o’clock A. M. Sunday morning we started and after marching about one mile we were halted and remained there until nearly seven. We were now advised of our destination which we were told was to march around Bull’s Run between that and Manassas and cut off the retreat of the rebels if they should attempt to retreat on the latter place. About seven we marched on some three miles and halted near the cross road. Here we found Gen. McDowell and staff and all the other notables of the general army. They all put on airs and looked as wise as sheep and so did we. Here we stayed until about ten o’clock when a dispatch came for Colonel Howard to move his brigade out to Bull’s Run, at “double quick” as our services were likely to be needed there very much before sun down. The order came “fall in” and so we went on a dead run for about ten miles, through woods, over fences, ditches, rivers and everything else – soon our men began to give out – it was hat as the thermometer would allow and no water but stagnant pools, which a frog would not live in, to drink – during this time we could hear the loud roar of the batteries as they answered each other in rapid succession, and we knew our boys were at them. Soon we could hear the musketry and as we approached nearer we could hear the clash of arms and we came to the conclusion that it would not be necessary for us to cut off any body’s retreat until somebody began to retreat.

On, we went upon the run and our poor boys were dropping out by dozens, yet no halt or slack. Now we have arrived, at a road which leads up along the skirt of a piece of woods, we enter it and go on upon the run. Now, Oh God! what sights meet our eyes! Here are the hospitals for friends and foes, all thrown in together; here are the surgeons in the woods sawing off legs and arms from the poor fellows who have been wounded – some they have on the ground and some on a board; they shriek, they groan, they swear, in their delirium of agony; here comes the carts bringing in the wounded; the blood running from the cart like water from your street sprinkler. It is awful; it is terrible, but yet our brave boys press on. Now comes a messenger saying to us, go on boys; they need your help. Then another saying go ahead boys, the rebels are flying. We heed them not but with steady step move on. Now we have arrived at the corner of the woods where we must break off to the right through a corn-field which had been occupied by the enemy’s lines in the forenoon – here is our first lesson – we march along the ridge of a hill exposed to the raking fire of three batteries, all in plain sight of use. When I stepped over the fence into the field the first thing which greeted my entrance was a shell which went screaming past my head in a manner neither pleasant nor tranquilizing. I involuntarily dodged down my head and let the unwelcome visitor pass by. On we went while the shot and shell from those rifled cannon tore up the ground around us with perfect impunity – soon we came to to a stone house, and here we bore to the left and passed into another field, still in point blank range of those accursed batteries. As yet I had seen none of our boys fall, but just as I entered this field, I saw my friend, Lieut. Sharpley, of the Burlington company, fall flat on his face. The air was full of the deadly missiles and my fears were that he had been struck by a rifle cannon shot – I ran to him and picked him up and was happy to find that it was only the effects of a shot having passed so near his mouth as to take his breath from his body. I called a private to take care of him and went on glad in my heart that he was not hurt, for a braver man and kinder friend does not live than he.

About this time Col. Howard rode up and ordered our regiment to form line of battle in a deep ravine and march up a steep bank covered with brush wood, on to an inclined plain in full sight of the enemy. The order was given to Col. Whiting, who was near me at the time, completely exhausted and worn out – he immediately ordered me to give the order and see that it was executed, which I did to the sound of music which could be heard but not seen. We found in the ravine our boys, as cool as when on parade, and the order was given to “Forward the Second,” and you may depend it was done nobly. Oh, who would not have given a world at that moment to have been a Vermonter. Not a man but what felt that they carried the honor of Vermont upon their bayonets. On they went – the orders come, “Captains in rear of your companies,” “Boys keep cool,” “Take good aim and mark your man,” – not a pale face appeared in the line; lips were compressed and hearts were as firm as the granite in their native hills. The air was full, even to darkness, with iron and lead, yet I felt a pride in being with the noble Second on that day; and, although I was not born upon Vermont’s soil, yet I was proud of her and her gallant sons, and gloried in the State of my adoption. When we arrived on the brow of the hill we were in plain sight of the enemy’s lines. We marched down the hill about half way, and halted in line of battle. – Between us and the enemy was a deep ravine, and on the other side, on the hill pitching towards us were the rebels, behind a Virginia rail fence. The order now came to open fire on the whole line. Our boys drew up their guns, took deliberate aim at the fence, and then it would have done your soul good to see the devils jump. At the second volley they all cut and run into the woods on their left flank. Soon they made their appearance at the edge of the woods, and at them we went again like bulldogs. We were now in a very uncomfortable situation at least. They were shooting at us with three batteries, and all the rifles and muskets in the Southern States – I thought.

Our regiment loaded and fired with the rapidity of lightning for about two hours, when the word came to retreat. The remainder is unpleasant to reflect upon. I will not describe it our attempt to. I have only to say that, although our entire lines were routed and fled in confusion, yet no stain of dishonor or disgrace rests upon Vermont or any of her brave and noble sons on that day. We marched from the field and formed in the ravine from which we started, and made the best of our way to Centerville. I cannot close this letter, although it is too long already, without bearing testimony to our brave men on that day. In the first place no men in any battle or in any age of the world ever evinced more true courage and down-right bravery.

It would, perhaps, be invidious to call names, but I must be permitted to mention Captains Dillingham, Eaton, Hope and Randall, and Lieutenants Henry, Gregg, Campbell, Johnson, Howe, Tracy, Hugh and Tyler, as men who were under my eye during the whole battle. – With Captain Dillingham I have always been acquainted, and have felt a sort of pride in his success. I have watched him, and I saw him in the midst of the carnage on that bloody day. He was as cool and self-possessed as when on Company parade. I could hear him give his orders to his men; I noticed his face as he passed back and forth, speaking words of encouragement to his brave boys, and by his example inspiring them with courage and fortitude. In a moment I saw him fall! O, God! I sprang towards him and caught him in my arms, lifted him up, and, to my great joy, discovered that a Minnie ball had only just grazed his temple and stunned him for a moment. – I set him on his feet and left him in charge of his men, and started for my post on the left of the line, and scarcely had I gone ten paces then, with a voice that could be heard beyond the enemy’s lines, I hear him say: “They have not killed me yet; give it to them, boys!”

Capt. Drew, of the Burlington Company, fell out sick by the way before we reached the field of battle, and the company was led on to the field and fought under the brave and gallant Lieut. Weed, who conducted himself throughout that bloody day in a manner which did honor to himself and glory to his State. He was the only commissioned officer in company G on the field.

Capts. Smith, Fullam, Walbridge, Todd, and others, behaved in a manner worthy of Vermont, while Capt. Randall greatly distinguished himself by his cool courage and self-possession; he was determined not to leave the field, and did not until compelled to do so by the commander. Of the field officers, it is not for me to speak. One word about our Color-bearer: he is a man from Company G, I do not recollect his name. – He is 6 feet 5 1-2 inches high – he carried his banner upon the field and stood by it during the whole battle, like Goliath of old. Not a limb trembled or a muscle moved, while six of the enemy’s bullets pierced the sacred flag, not one touched the noble bearer. He is truly a brave man, and deserves to be remembered.

Of our surgeons, Drs. Ballou and Carpenter, too much praise of them cannot be said. – We all like Dr. Ballou, because he is always a perfect gentleman, and uses us so kindly, and that fatal Sunday he laid aside all fear of danger to himself, and thought only of our poor boys who were sick and wounded. We shall remember his bravery and repay him with our prayers and good wishes as long as we live. – Dr. Carpenter, of course, every body likes; he is always kind and attentive to our men, and does all in his power to cheer them up, and alleviate their sufferings. His extensive knowledge of his profession, qualifies him in an eminent degree to fill the post which he holds; and his conduct at Bull’s Run, when with revolver in hand, he stopped the crazy tide of the retreat, and made them take in our wounded, who were lying on the battle field, shows that he is a brave soldier, as well as a good surgeon. In connection with the doctors, we must mention our friend, E. Z. Stearns, our Hospital steward, who has greatly endeared himself to us all, by his kind offices and sharp repartees. He is well versed in his duties and performs them to the entire satisfaction of every body.

Our Quartermaster’s Department is managed on a scale not to be surpassed by any regiment in the service. Mr. Pitkin is untiring in his efforts to make us all comfortable, and he is nobly sustained by the Quarter-master’s Sergeant Cain, and the Messrs. Stone. Cain is a young man who thoroughly understands whatever he takes hold of, and his even temper and natural goodness of heart make him a general favorite of us all. We cannot but speak in the highest terms of praise of Mr. Hatch, the agent of the governor in New York. From the moment we arrived in New York, down to the present time, he has been with us like a guardian angel – only last night he was out here to our camp to see if there was not something he could do for us. We shall all remember him, for we appreciate his labors. He seems to possess the right business talent for this place, and devotes his whole time and attention to our wants and necessities. We are greatly indebted also, to Col. T. B. Bowdish of Burlington, and to Mr. Canfield for their kindness and the interest they have taken in our welfare. Our Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Smith, is laboring industriously for our welfare, and does us many acts of kindness, which will always be remembered.

Vermont Phoenix, 8/15/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Charles Herbert Joyce (future member of Congress) at WikiTree 





Pvt. George W. Doty, Co. F, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Battle

28 01 2015

Letters From The Seat Of War

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Second Vt. Regiment, Co. F.,

Alexandria, July 23, 1861.

Mr. Editor: – I take this opportunity to inform you and my friends in Lamoille County the facts, as I understand them, in regard to the late battle of Bull’s Run and Manassas Junction. I know that exaggerated accounts of the fight are rife in the Northern papers. I propose to give a correct statement, as I saw and participated in the battle. The Third Brigade, composed of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Maine regiments, the Second Vermont, and Ellsworth’s Zouaves as scouts, who were encamped 5 miles from this place, on the road to Fairfax Court House, received marching orders on the 16th, with what they called 3 days rations. It consisted of about 1-2 lb. of hard crackers and 1-2 lb. of salt beef. Gen Howard commanded the Brigade. We advanced and made a circuit of 20 miles to the left, and completely around Fairfax Court House, to Fairfax Station, where we arrived on the 17th at 4 o’clock P. M. Meanwhile another Brigade under Gen. Wilcox, came directly down on the Court House and routed 1100 rebels and took a great deal of provisions and munitions of war, consisting in part of 100 bbs flour and 4 tons bacon, &c., without firing a gun. Our 3 days rations were gone, and we received a portion of the spoils, and having no cooking utensils we took such old dirty kettles and platters as the rebels left, and cooked our flour as best we could. We captured all the nice fat beef we wished for from the rebel farms around us. We stayed at this place until 12 o’clock M. of the 18th, when we commenced our march towards Centreville. We arrived within 2 1-2 miles of the place at 12 o’clock at night, where we formed a line of battle and camped on the fare ground, in our places with our single blanket over us. Our company was detailed as a picket Guard, in the rear. We were fired into twice during the night, and returned the fire in good spirit. they did not hit any of us, and whether we hit any of them I do not know, as it was dark and we were stationed in the woods.

At day light we joined the Brigade and before night other Brigades came in and formed with us, a Division of about 30,000 men and 3 batteries of artillery, the whole commanded by Gen. McDowell. On the 19th the Massachusetts Brigade fired on a drove the rebels from Centreville with a loss of 8 killed and 24 wounded, they captured a small battery from the rebels at this place, and planted their own cannon on the heights around.

A small battery was also taken at Bull’s Run the same day, with a small loss on our side. At 2 o’clock, A. M., of the 21st the long roll of each regiment was beaten and the whole Division commenced the advance, the Third Brigade bringing up the rear. The advance commenced the fight about 7 o’clock, A. M., on the pickets 1 1-2 miles in front of the fort at Manassas Junction. The main body of enemy were entrenched and strongly fortified with plenty of cannon and ammunition with 60,000 men, armed with Sharp’s and Minie rifles, on the highest point of land in the whole country, and surrounded by heavy timber. The land we had to pass over to get them, excepting in front was open ground for miles, exposed to their batteries. The Third Brigade was detached from the main body about 10 o’clock and put through on double quick time, and made a circuit of about 8 miles, and came up on the left of the enemy about 1 o’clock, P. M. At this time our men had driven the rebels one mile. Our Brigade passed over this ground, covered with the dead and dying, every rod of which presented some awful spectacle, and showed the ground had been given up only by inches. Wagon after wagon load of poor wounded prisoners were carried off to be cared for by the different surgeons of the regiments. They appropriated the secession houses for hospitals. The cry of the wounded was “Oh for God’s sake a drop of water;” “don’t step on me, boys;” and like expressions. Our Brigade marched in line of battle with charged bayonets, the smoke and dust was so thick that we could not see a rod ahead of us, the cannon balls and shells from the enemy’s battery fell thick around us; I speak no more particularly of the Vermont Second. We kept a good line, not a word, only from our officers, was heard the whole length of the line; we met parts of regiments coming away, they would say “God bless you boys, you are in time, we have fared hard; give it to them another 1-2 hour and the day is ours.” As we left the bushes and advanced over the hill on double quick time, within 1-2 mile of the battery, they poured in to us a storm of iron hail such as is seldom faced. The Vermont boys yelled, “Hurrah for the victory and glory of the Old Green Mountain State.” We got within about 40 rods of the battery, on the side hill, where we halted and formed a perfect line, during which time the rebels, about 4000 advanced within about 30 rods of us and commenced firing on us; the word was given us to fire; we fire under, then we were ordered to fire 2 feet above their heads, we did so, and noticed the effect. They commenced retreating. About this time our batteries ceased, as afterwards proved, for want of ammunition, and commenced retreating; this encouraged the rebels who fired on us with renewed vigor, but the Vermont boys stood their ground and drove them 1-2 mile; but their batteries then opened on us anew, and the order was given us to retreat. We were mad, however, and fired three volleys after the order was given, when Major Joyce run his horse down the line and said “Vermont boys, you have done well, but for God’s sake retreat, the artillery have run out of ammunition.” We slowly turned and picked up our wounded boys, but had to leave our dead on the bloody field. We had a good many wounded but only a few killed, considering the good chance they had of us. The main body were by this time under headway on the retreat. We retreated in good order until we got to Bull’s Run, where a narrow pass, a bridge and a deep creek, obstructed by our artillery, caused the line to halt. The bridge constantly covered with heavy cannon and horses gave way, making a perfect loss of 2 batteries. Most of them were disabled so as not to do the enemy any good. At this time the enemy came up in rear and fired a good many shells and grape shot, which cut us up dreadfully; and here among the rest, a carriage was taken, containing several wounded ones, among the rest was Orderly Sergeant U. A. Woodbury, of Fletcher Co., who had his hand blown off in the first charge, by a cannon ball. It was amputated by our surgeon, and he was doing well, but was too weak to walk. He is now, if alive, a prisoner among the rebels. Also Capt. Drew, of Co. G., from Burlington, and I presume many others. At this point the regiment broke up and companies followed their respective captains. Capt. Randall, of Co. F., showed great bravery and coolness, during the whole. He encouraged his men during the fight, and in one instance came in front of them, and told us to fire higher, we were doing well. At the bridge he said, “boys follow me, we won’t be taken prisoner,” and jumped into the creek above his middle, followed by his boys who stuck to him through the whole march. We kept up our march back to this place, a distance of 35 miles. We arrived here yesterday about 10 o’clock A. M., a hard looking set of fellows, covered with dust, powder, and blood. We are now quartered in the market house of Alexandria. We shall probably stay until we are sufficiently recruited to march again. Do not think that the rebels have retaken the ground we passed over; not by any means. There are bodies of men stationed all along the road to keep places we have captured. It is reported that Gen. McDowell made a premature attack, that he had ought to have waited the advance of Gen. Patterson; but wishing all the glory for himself, made the attack on his own hook. The result is not counted either a victory, or a defeat. I will say nothing of myself, but this: I was not shot in the back, nor front, that I know of, though hot lead flew a little nearer my head than was agreeable. Four of us, pretty good friends, stood in the front rank, and shouted, “give them a specimen of old Ethan Allen’s bravery.” I can form no estimate of the killed, but the loss must be heavy as the action lasted nearly all day. Only one of our company was killed; 10 are missing. As I am very tired I will close by saying: I am good for a good many more fights for Liberty and the Union.

Truly Yours,

George W. Doty.

Lamoille (Vermont) Newsdealer, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

George W. Doty on Ancestry.com





Unknown, Co. K, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Battle

5 02 2014

Letter from the 2d Regiment

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The Late Battle.

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[A friend allows us to pint the following private letter, which was written by one who was in the battle at Manassas. Although have already given a good deal of space to this battle, this letter from one who participated will be read with interest by all.]

“At this late day, amid the thousand and one exciting things I have had to think of, I am wholly unable to tell whether I have written you since the great battle or not. Since we returned to Alexandria we have not had much to do, and indeed we are so tired and lame that we could not do much at the best. Such tired, hungry, worn out boys never were seen before as the troops were when they returned. You have probably had all the accounts of the battle ere this, ‘by our special correspondent,’ or by an eye-witness, and have got more real information undoubtedly than an actor in the strife could boast of.

I was on guard Saturday last (20th July) at our camp near Bull Run. At 2 A. M. of Sunday we started on our march. There were the same long lines of soldiers that I have spoken of, but this morning we took different roads. It was pleasant in the morning’s uncertain darkness, to watch the wide spread array of camp fires where hot coffee had been made for thousands of men in the various encampments. The joyous shouts of the men rang out upon the air, the hoarse commands of the officers would ring in, and the pattering of the horse’s feet, rear and front, right and left, made a scene of bustle and confusion that was calculated to excite and arouse one if anything would do it. Those long lines with gleaming arms, banners bright soon returned, tarnished, tattered and torn. We did not make much advance for some time, and the light began to grow more and more certain. At last dawn broke in the east. Officers and men were loud in the denunciations of a delay, but the cause soon became known: the battery in front could get no good position to open fire upon the first rebel battery at Bull Run, whose vicinity and effect had been tested the Thursday before. This stopped the whole line of infantry this side of Centreville, but at last the loud opening peals of cannon told that the scene of death and havoc had commenced, – the gauntlet had been thrown down and the fortunes of the world in one sense were staked upon the issue of the hour, – upon the burning of gun-powder and the clash of steel. We were not in the main divisions by which the fighting was to be done, but were to go around and attack them in the rear. Our brigade numbered five regiments: three from Maine, one from Vt., and Ellsworth’s Zouaves. We did not mix in the heat of the battle but took a round about road and all day the heavy roar of cannon sounded in our ears and we could see our brother soldiers in deadly strife. You may imagine the anxiety with which we listened to the roar of the guns. We could see that the enemy was falling back by the onward movement of the roar of battle, and occasional couriers would bring us good news from the field. The reports were favorable to our side, but the march was very hard; we ran five or six miles going out on the double quick and in the afternoon when we finally got into the field we were so exhausted that we were far from being what we otherwise should have been. About the middle of the afternoon we were rushed into the field. We passed directly by one of the batteries of the rebels that had been captured by our troops, and from there to the field, about a mile and a half, it was an indescribable scene. I never saw such a site before and if such a thing could be, I wish never to see anything of the kind again. We met many returning from the battle wounded and dripping with blood, asking pitifully for aid and for water. Ambulances were passing filled with those unable to walk and the dead, some mangled in a most shocking manner, but we turned neither to the right or the left, but on we marched; soon the balls began to whiz; we could not only hear the guns but see them, and see the effects also; we were in a dangerous place; we charged up to a battery and stood the whole fire of the artillery for a long time, but bravery was no charm against shot and shell; the tide had turned, and the most desperate sacrifices now could not stay the current. – The enemy had retreated all day, three of four large batteries were deserted by them, until we got down upon their strong-hold close upon Manassas and they brought out their whole force, fresh and fierce, to meet us few exhausted infantry. For a long time we were upon a side hill in plain view of the enemy and in good rifle shot. I cannot commend their sharp shooters, they might have picked off every man of us seemingly, but their cannon shot and shells mostly went over and the rifle balls did but poor execution compared with what they might have done; ’tis a miracle that so many of us came off safe. I was hit by a spent ball upon the arm but it did no serious injury; my arm was senseless for a while and was blackened and burned, that was all.

By this time the ammunition for our artillery had given out, and their horses were disabled, the cavalry were fearful of meeting the Black Horse regiment, their hosts appeared countless and the folly of sending a few exhausted infantry had about played out, it was also known that one other division had withdrawn, and we slowly left the field and obtained shelter from the iron hail behind a hill. The enemy then made a flank movement with cavalry and light artillery which we successfully evaded, and we withdrew to the road. I was standing near Col. Howard, commander of the brigade, when McDowell’s order came to retreat to Centreville. I shall never forget the painful expression that passed over his face. He is a fine officer, but has had no experience, yet no one could have done more than he did in his place; the battle was lost before we were in the field. They showered down the cannon shot and shell like hail; we stood it until further exposing ourselves seemed folly and were among the last to retreat.

The rout that some papers have told do much about, I do not know of; the retreat was precipitate, but many regiments marched back in pretty good order. Stragglers ran wild everywhere like sheep; out of our regiment I think on-half were so tired that they could not go on to the field, but they were the fastest to retreat. If it had not been so serious it would have been quite amusing.

Just imagine how it must look to see thousands of men who have never met before, and who have no particular animosity against each other as individuals, rushing into the death field and mangling and hacking each other until you could hardly tell whether the object before you was made in God’s image or not; but it is the principle of the thing we are fighting for. A battle is a hard thing by which to decide the abstract question of right and wrong. I’m not growing cowardly, but the more I reason the more I see the folly of war. But there are men enough, and if the rebels can afford to stand it, surely when we have such a heritage to fight for we should not shrink from the meeting, be it amid the roar and clash of battle or in diplomatic halls where equal justice is dispensed.

I had felt confident all day of the victory, because I supposed our head men knew that Manassas was the enemy’s strong-hold and that once taken the victory was almost done, and yet they rushed and hurried us on with nothing to eat, no cavalry, no artillery, and not one-tenth part enough to compete with their batteries. We had few men and nothing to support them when they gave out. – There has been some cool swearing among the troops since last Sunday. I hear McDowell has been placed in arrest for his gross mismanagement; there are dark whisperings about his loyalty; some say he has two sons in the southern army, but I doubt its truthfulness; one thing I know, with the unbounded resources of the North, it is a shame to suffer the reverse we have, we might just as well have had 10,000 men as 30,000; 10,000 cavalry instead of 300 or 400, and 200 cannon as well as the few guns we had. We had better been a month in battering down batteries and in making gradual approaches than to have lost the day. For my part, if my life would have turned the current of the battle, I would willingly have made the sacrifice. I trust you know me well enough to know that I never forsake my country in the hour of her adversity. I have no fears of the final result of this contest, but this has retarded the onward movement vastly. – Beauregard said himself that if Manassas had been taken, he could have done no more, ,the war would have been decided. I scarcely expect to live through; certain it is that my proud spirit can never stand another defeat – ’tis ‘victory or death.’ I had rather die than run again, and will do it.

McClellan takes command of this division soon and he is a man we can trust, and when we get organized again we will wipe out this stain. Our next battle will be a hard one and I shall not flinch from my post for friend or foe. I never came here to run.

I am disgusted with Virginia; the soil is nearly all red, the land level and covered for miles with low dwarf pines; there are some fine forests, but you may travel all day and not see a house, and the houses and villages are just the reverse of neat Vermont homes. Our defeat the other day was near the place where General Braddock suffered so severely in the early wars. If my memory serves me right, his attack was made on Sunday also; certainly he fell into the traps of the enemy much like McDowell. We are always in danger on Sunday – in truth those are the days they take for war purposes. Waterloo was fought that day and a hundred others I might mentions.

We know something of the little scenes exacted just around us in battle – the truth is no one sees a battle – we hear the roar and see the smoke and know when the death struggle is going on. The Generals get a little wider view, but they depend mostly on the reports of their aids and couriers. ‘Tis true no one sees except Him who sees all things. It must have been the direct agency of Providence to save so many of us from that fiery tempest that rained over us. As we came up among the whistling balls I took one long look at the sky and the smoking hills, then fixed my eyes on the enemy’s lines, looked at my gun and rushed in. I have no further recollection of any care for the world or personal safety. I never was cooler when firing at a target than I was aiming my old musket at the rebels. I may not have killed a man of them, but I pitched the some cold lead, I know that much. I lost all my baggage, except what I had in my pockets. Our wagon broke down and our baggage was abandoned by the teamster. In thinking of our defeat I have grated my teeth to the quick through very madness. Be the war one month or ten years, ‘I am in for it;’ have no fears for me, for I am well and in a fighting condition.

One of the ‘Tigers'”

The [St. Johnsbury, Vermont] Caledonian, 8/9/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





“W”, 2nd Vermont Infantry, Sets the Record Straight

15 01 2012

From the 2d Vt. Regiment.

In Camp at Bush Hill, Fairfax Co,, Va.

August 5th, 1861.

Messrs. Editors of the Free Press:

I notice some reports have gone to Burlington concerning the “Vermont Guard” not quite in accordance with the truth. For instance, the Times of July 26th says: – “Lieut. Sharpley carried the company into the battle and brought it off, showing throughout the contest the utmost coolness and self-possession. A cannon shot struck exactly at his feet on one occasion, plowing the earth and knocking him senseless; but on rising he went in again. He was ably seconded by Lieut. Weed.” I do not wish to detract in the least from the merits of Lieut. Sharpley. He has gained the reputation of being a brave and efficient officer, and he has the best wishes of all under his command. But as for his leading the company through the battle, I hardly think that Mr. Shaw (from whom the information purports to come) will admit that any member reported such a fact to him; nor will Lieut. Sharpley desire the reputation of so doing. Lieut. Sharpely did take command of the company when Capt. Drew became too exhausted to proceed farther, and led the company until rendered senseless by the cannon ball, when he was carried from the field by Mariam and J. S. Spaulding, and was not seen again by the company until it reached Centreville. Lieut. Weed took command after the misfortune to Lieut. S., and to him is due the credit of taking the company into battle and bringing it off, showing throughout all the coolness and self-possession ascribed to Lieut. Sharpley. He, certainly, was ably seconded by Orderly Bain. I would be unjust to Lieut. Weed not to give him the honor which he deserves. Lieut. W. is now in command of the company, and not a 1st Lieut. of another company, as another report says.

We are recruiting up now, and are occupied mostly on guard duty. We have now two companies each day for guard – one for a picket guard, and the other as a guard about the camp. Since Gen. McClellan has taken command, we have been kept very close, only two being allowed out of camp at a time, and then only with a written pass. Officer and men are debarred from the pleasure of going to Washington. On this account, intoxicating drinks have almost disappeared from camp. This produces a very beneficial effect upon the health of the men. We have but few in the hospital now.

Yesterday was a very sad day with us, rendered so by the death of Corporal Huntley of the Waterbury company. His disease was diptheria. Appropriate and very solemn exercises were held, and the corpse was started on its homeward journey. Today we are called to mourn another brother soldier – private Dow, from the same company, who died of the same disease. Thus have four of our number been laid low by this terrible disease. There are several others in the hospital suffering from diptheria, but none which are considered dangerous. The bodies of these young men have been sent home to their friends by members of the company.

Company G. has five men in the hospital at present; Sergeant Stuart and E. K. Sibley are in the camp hospital. The former was not wounded as you reported, but was sick with the measles at Centreville upon the day of the battle. By almost superhuman exertions he succeeded in walking to Alexandria, and has since been very weak. Sibley is down with the fever but is not considered dangerously ill. Nelson is wounded in the hospital in Washington, while we hear that Corporal Wilcox and private Bates are very badly off in the hospital at Annapolis; with these exceptions the company are enjoying good health.

Our regiment have not yet commenced work upon the entrenchments but we are employed rather as an advanced guard. Our pickets occasionally get a sight at those of the enemy, but no skirmishing of importance has occurred, nor do we anticipate any forward movement for some time to come. Indeed we are in no condition for such a move as we have half a dozen different kinds of guns and have but one shirt and one pair of socks apiece so that when washing day comes we are in a bad fix. Our fare is not much improved, but the boys stand up under all these difficulties much better than could be expected. How ling they will live with the miserable rations with which we are supplied is more than I can tell; yet we are promised better rations sometime, perhaps when we get back to Vermont. By the way there has been much excitement in camp for a few days past owing to the rumor, that we cannot be held out of the state more than three months, and that we shall then go home for the purpose of recruiting up. I think the boys are not homesick at all, nor are they discouraged, but they wouldn’t object to a short furlough.

All our grumbling about our guns bids fair to cease, as we have intelligence today from Mr. Hatch that he expects to procure rifled muskets for us. Gen. Davis and Lieut. Gov. Underwood, visited our camp to-day, undoubtedly for the purpose of finishing our equipment.

We have heard to-day that we are to move to the neighborhood of the 3d regiment, in a few days. At any rate you must not expect us to move to Vermont until Jeff. Davis and his rebel crew are no where.

W.

Burlington Free Press, 8/16/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





“W”, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the March to Manassas

23 12 2011

Resting Place, two miles from Centreville, July 19, 1861.

Messrs. Editors of the Free Press:

As we are having a few hours rest to-day, I will give you a short description of our march to this place, and whatever I may have of interest to write.

On Monday last we had orders to have three days’ rations cooked, and to be ready for light marching; that is, with rubber and woolen blankets, haversacks, and canteens – all our other camp equipage to be left in camp. Our boys went to bed Monday night, quite happy at the prospect of an advance. The long roll beat, and the regiment was called out, just before daylight next morning, and the first four companies – being A, I, D, and G – were led off a short distance from camp, where they awaited further orders. We had heard that our pickets were attacked and the telegraph wire cut, but after waiting an hour we went back to camp, rather down in the mouth, the alarm proving a false one. We soon received orders to march at twelve o’clock, but did not get started until nearly two. There were two brigades front in and two in the rear of us; and as we came upon an eminence now and then, and saw the long line of glistening bayonets, we could not but feel a sense of security and imagine ourselves a match for the whole rebel army. We came on in a westerly direction, by steady marching, until about sundown, when we had a hard march until about ten o’clock, moving in that time only about two miles. It seems the rebels, upon our advance, had burned the bridges across a stream some forty feet wide, and our whole division were obliged to cross in single file, upon a log, hardly wide enough to cross in the day time, much less in the night. You may imagine that it took some time for so many thousand men to  cross in this way. We marched along a couple of miles, where we found the brigades encamped.

It was one o’clock before our regiment arrived, and I think I never saw men so completely tired out. Many a poor fellow fell out by the roadside, preferring to be left behind in a hostile country than to go forward without rest. We were allowed only three hours sleep, and started again next morning at eight o’clock. We marched through  a country heavily wooded; indeed, we had to travel in the woods almost all the way, with the exception of the last three or four miles. Our journey was very much impeded all day Wednesday by trees which the rebels had felled across the road, and in some places our pioneers were obliged to build new roads entirely. On account of these obstructions, our march was rather slow.

About noon we reached a point in the road where we found a regiment drawn up in line of battle. The sight cheered us up, as we were told that an Alabama regiment of riflemen had crossed the road only a few moments before, on the retreat. They succeeded in escaping, however, leaving their camp with provisions enough to supply our whole division for two or three days. The rebels did not suffer from hunger, as they had all kinds of vegetables, with the necessary apparatus for cooking. We stopped for the night about a mile South of their camp, and men were immediately sent for provisions, as our three days’ rations had nearly run out. Two or three men from Company B succeeded in taking a prisoner, who had been out as picket guard and had been left. He was armed with a rifle and revolver, but gave himself up willingly. He seems to be quite intelligent, and says he volunteered thinking it was his duty to do so. He appears to be confident that we cannot get possession of Manassas Gap, and reports a great concentration of rebel forces at that place. He says that Gen. Beauregard has visited their camp several times within the past week. – We spent the day, yesterday at rest, within hearing of the cannonading, at Bull’s Run.

Our men were of course enraged when they heard the news of our repulse at that place, and are longing for a chance to blot out the disgrace of the disaster.

We did not start until five o’clock, when we moved on in a westerly direction towards the scene of the day’s conflict. Companies B and G, under Major Joyce, were left behind with the baggage and ammunition wagons as a rear guard. We did not have a very pleasant march, as we were obliged to carry our load of cartridges up a steep hill, the horses being too tired to do so, having come all the distance from Washington without feed. Our pleasure was not at all heightened when we learned that we were two miles in rear of the main body, with 800 rebels hanging upon our rear. We caught up with the main body at ten o’clock, having marched about six miles. We are about four miles from Bull’s Run, and six miles from Manassas Junction. An advance upon these places is expected to-night or to-morrow.

We have several brigades about us, with artillery and cavalry. I have been out a little ways, and come across our old friends the Minnesota and N. Y. Sixteenth regiments. Both regiments are in good spirits and enjoy general good health. Lieut. Pierce of the Sixteenth, Capt. Stetson’s Plattsburgh company, is quite sick in their camp, and is not expected to live. Our own regiment is enjoying first-rate health, with the exception of a few who are sick in our camp. We have come through without a single accident; while one of the Maine regiments has had two killed and two seriously wounded – all the results of carelessness. I hear somebody has sent home word that Capt. Drew is sickly. This is not near as bad as some have made it. He was quite unwell while we were at Camp Fairbanks, but only for a short time, and is now as well as ever. He will be found all right when we come upon the battlefield. As for “Father Sharpley,” (as he is called through the regiment,) he is as young and boyish as any of us, and is the life of the whole camp. Lieut. Weed had gone back to our camp with a strong guard for our wagons. We are awaiting orders to march to Centreville, but I hear we are to have reinforcements before we go on to Manassas Junction. I have no doubt but that we shall have a warm time there; but I imagine the rebels will find out that “the Yankees” will fight. We were visited today by Messrs. Canfield, Shaw, and Page, and a few days ago by L. G. Bigelow, Esq. Of course, we were much pleased to see Vermonters. I hope they will report us all right.

Yours Truly,

W.

Burlington Free Press, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy








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