Pvt. William Boardman Reed, Co. C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford and the Eve of Battle

20 03 2022

Letter from 2d Regiment


Camp Near Centreville, Va.
July 19, 1861.

Dear Parents: – You will have heard before receiving this that we have had a battle, and knowing that you would feel concerned about my safety, I have thought best to write to you, though I think it is doubtful whether this letter can be sent to Washington very soon. Yesterday about noon some of our advanced regiments were drawn into and ambuscade where the rebels had a masked battery and several thousand men. This was in some very heavy timber where the underbrush was very thick and they had belled trees before it and so fortified their position that it was impossible to see either their guns or men. When the firing commenced our main army, some fifteen or twenty thousand men, were lying in camp about two miles back. We heard the cannonading distinctly, and occasionally the volleys of musketry I continued over an hour when our brigade (Col Sherman’s) was ordered to the assistance of those engaged. This brigade consists of the New York 13th, 69th, 79th, and our regiment. We formed into a line in a few minutes and proceeded towards the scene of action, going most of the way on a run. As we neared the place the cannon balls whistled over our heads and struck the woods all around us. We met the cavalry returning, saying that there was no chance for them to do anything in the thick woods. A little further along we met the ambulances bringing back the dead and wounded. One officer was lying wounded by the roadside, and as we passed him, his attendant begged us to give him a little water. One of the men stepped out and gave him some from his canteen. I tell you it was a dreadful scene for new volunteers to look upon, but we marched steadily forward as coolly as you could expect of us when cannon balls are falling all around us. One man whom we met riding a horse was wounded in the foot, others we could see lying and bleeding in the ambulances. When we got within a short distance of the scene of action we turned to the right into the woods and formed into line. There was not room in the woods for but a few to fight at a time, and we understood that we were to take the place of those who had been fighting and who were much fatigued. We waited then in the ranks for some time while cannon balls were whizzing over our heads knocking the limbs off trees and striking the ground both before and behind us. One of the La Crosse Company which is on the left of our regiment was struck near the knee by a cannon shot; his leg was afterwards amputated at the hip, and this morning at 4 o’clock he died. Two others of that company were wounded, one in the foot and the other in the face. The cannon ball came so near the eyes of the latter that he has since become blind. The woods were so thick that we could see but a few rods towards the rebel battery. Men were continually coming back past our line who had been fighting. We asked them how it was going; they replied that some of our regiments were badly cut up, that they came right upon the rebel battery before they knew where they were, and that the brush was so thick that they could keep no lines, and consequently they became scattered while the rebel batteries kept playing upon them, killing many of them. After we had been there exposed to their fire without being able to return it for nearly half an hour we retreated.

You will get much more reliable accounts of the battle from the papers than I can give you, for we have no means of hearing the exact number of men engaged or all the circumstances attending it, for the men are not supposed to know all these things. We retreated to our present camp, about 2 ½ miles from the battle field, last evening. We were reinforced last night by about fifteen thousand men, and some heavy artillery, and report says that Gen. Scott is here with them. I have not heard how many of our men were killed. A negro who came into camp to-day says that “dead rebels were lying about there as hail” and that the cars were running all night carrying them back to Manassas, which place is said to be about six miles from here. We hear that the rebels have about forty thousand men around here but this is probably much exaggerated. We shall probably attack their position again this afternoon or to-morrow, if we do we are bound to take it.

There are many exciting incidents which I could tell you about this battle if I had the time and space. Those who were in the battle say that when any of our men were wounded and fell near the battery the savage fiends leaped over the breast-works and stabbed them; this has so exasperated our men that some of them swear that they will never give the rebels any quarter.

The enemy has retreated before us all the way until we got here, and we should certainly have driven them from their batteries yesterday if we could have brought even on-fourth of our men to bear on them. When the firing first commenced one or two batteries of flying artillery started from the camp to their assistance, but after they had gone but a short distance they were ordered back, as there was no chance to use any more cannon than they had.

You never saw men in such high spirits as we were when we heard the firing. Every one inquired why they did not march us over there, so we could have a hand in. It was the first cannonading that most of us had ever heard and we could hardly continue ourselves; we were so anxious to see and fight the rebels. When we heard the volleys of small arms Jeff. Dillon remarked that it sounded like a lot of “darkies dancing on an oak floor.”

When we started for the fight we were carrying our blankets, haversacks and canteens, besides our belt and cartridge boxes and forty rounds of cartridges and heavy woolen coats. When we got to the top of a hill we started down on a “double quick” with loud yells and hurrahs; the road was crowded with dust and the air was sultry hot so that some of the weaker ones began to give out. Before we had gone far the boys commenced throwing off their blankets and haversacks and even their canteens until the road was fairly filled with them. Two or three of our company, one of whom was John Cahill, gave out entirely and sat down by the roadside. I carried all of my things until the balls began to fly around us when an order was given to throw off the blankets and haversacks.

I then threw mine off, but before I had got them fairly off the order was countermanded and I put them on again. Our position in the woods was a most trying one even for old soldiers, but we all stood it like majors. When the great six pound balls come near our heads some of our boys rather squatted to dodge them, and Col. Peck, who was riding coolly along before the line seeing them dodging the balls laughed at them and asked if they were afraid of a few cannon balls. Capt. McKee too, stood at the head of our company but a few feet from me apparently as calm and collected as he would be pleading law in the old court-house.

Col. Coon, our former Colonel, is one of the aids to Col. Sherman, the commander of our brigade; he came down our line once in a while with orders to Col. Peck; he showed more courage than we supposed him capable of, for he rode along in the most unconcerned manner possible, asking as he passed, how we felt; we replied that we were ”all right” and asked him how he felt; he answered that he was perfectly cool and hoped he would remain so. I have just heard that our loss was 25 killed and 40 wounded, the rebel loss must have been more than this, for our artillery kept up all most an incessant fire upon their battery for about three hours. And many of our riflemen assert that they concealed themselves behind trees close to their works and picked off many of their officers and men. It is said General Beauregard was there and directed the battle. I don’t know how true it is.

It is now about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and we have been lying here all day. We are sure that our Generals are at work. It is said that a part of our army had gone around towards Manassas to cut of the enemies retreat. We have now got some heavy columbiads and rifled cannon and arrangement for firing hot-shot and shell, so that without exposing our men to much danger we can soon make their position too hot for them. I expect this letter will last you a long time, for it is written so poorly that you cannot read it in a week, but you ought not to expect it to be very elegant for the paper has been crumple in my pocket for days, and then I have to write on a it of board, or cracker box or any thing else I can get. Our Col. and Major, are both writing letters, and I notice they do not have any more conveniences than I do; the Col. is sitting on the ground writing on a board placed across his knees; the Major is partly reclining upon the ground writing on a low box. I intend, if I can get it finished in time, to send this letter to Washington by J. F. Potter, member of Congress from Wis., who is in camp to-day; he is around with the bowie knife that he made to fight Pryor, with several pistols; for, as you may suppose, it is not very safe travelling the road from here to Washington without being well armed.

We have taken quite a number of prisoners along the road; three of the rebel cavalry deserted and came to us; they say that they were pressed into the rebel service. One of them has been furnished with a musket and has gone into our ranks. At one of the houses we passed I saw two rebel soldiers who were left behind sick; they did not seem to be near as intelligent as many of the slaves.

We have slept out upon the ground for three nights and have lived almost entirely upon hard bread or crackers, and though the nights here are very chilly and the dew very heavy, we stand it very well. It is a grand sight to see our army over the hills and along the road; it might be called a river of bayonets flowing along glistening in the sun, seeming to one who is in the middle of it, to have neither beginning nor end. And then when we encamped for the night we are divided according to the brigades, each regiment being formed in a line by itself, the cavalry generally occupying one field, the artillery another, and as far as the eye can reach in every direction the fields are fill of men and horses, with the covered U. S. wagons scattered over the whole. It is indeed a grand view, and especially to us, who never saw a company of soldiers before leaving home. Our chief trouble on the march is want of water. Evey time we halt a few men are allowed to go from each company with a lot of canteens for water; they immediately break for the nearest well or spring, and on getting there never fail to find it surrounded by twenty or thirty soldiers, each one of whom tries to crowd himself as near the water as possible. If it is a spring, in less than five minutes it is converted into a regular mud puddle and the men ladle up the dirty with water an eagerness which can be only caused by thirst. If it is a well, one of the soldiers winds up a pailful, but before the bucket gets to the top a score of cups ae plunged into it, and the bucket is quickly drained. I have not suffered very much from thirst, for by standing my ground and gradually working my way into the crowd I have generally succeeded in getting a drink, though I was seldom fortunate enough to fill my canteen.

July 20 – It is said that Gen. Scott condemns most severely the action of Gen. Tyler in so needlessly exposing his men in the battle day before yesterday. Last night our company was detailed as part of the picked guard, and consequently I got but little sleep. We heard firing in the direction of our advance at intervals during the whole night. I have not heard what it was but presume that our flanks were pushing forward and driving in the enemy’s pickets. I have never seen our company in better spirits than they are now and in fact the whole army is composed of as jolly a lot of men as could be got together. Gen. Tyler and staff came riding along our line of ”gun stacks,” and as he passed where several of us were writing he remarked to one on his staff, “what a difference you see between this and the 69th (Irish) Regiment; these men are all writing letters.” He then asked us if we were writing home; we replied that we were; “tell them,” said he, “we shall have some good news for them before long.”

I want you to write to me oftener; I have received but one letter from you since leaving Madison; direct to Washington, the same as before. You will no doubt hear all kinds of reports about my being killed, &c., enough to keep you in a worry all the time if you believe them, but just consider them all false until you hear from me.

Your son,
Wm. Boardman Reed.

Grant County (Lancaster WI) Herald, 7/31/1861

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Pvt. Edmund K. McCord, Co. C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, On Preparations for the Campaign

4 03 2022

Letter from Second Regiment.


Arlington Heights,
July 12, 1861.

Friend Cover: – The coast is now clear; all’s well, and I must write you. We are all in good spirits to-day, as we have had a refreshing shower. It has been very warm for 3 or 4 days; in fact, too warm to drill. The prospect of a forward march, with a day or two, “enlivens all.” We have orders from headquarters to be ready to sling our accoutrements at a moment’s warning; thus you will hear soon that a rebels nest is broken up at Fairfax. It may be well for me to remark that we have been strutting about for a day or two with our summer uniform; it is light and durable and is an addition to our comfort one hundred per cent. It appears that Uncle Sam has taken some notice of us, as he has placed General McDowell over our Brigade, and is making ready to pay us up in gold, (not depreciated bills worth 50 or 60 cents on the dollar,) and too will soon give us the U. S. uniform. The uniform first received from Wisconsin is of no use to us now or will not be at the words “forward march,” for it is pronounced by Gen. Scott himself as a facsimile uniform of the Confederate States Army.

We are within 12 miles of Fairfax, where it is reported 4,000 rebels are fortified; yet some of our scouts are somewhat disbelieving. We are between Prof. Lowe’s Balloons, which is a grand sight, and whish we think represents the American Eagle to perfection, which he has a bird’s eye view of the enemy.

The invalids of the regiment were examined yesterday with a view to send home such as we were not constitutionally able to stand the trip. Four of our company were examined and pronounced sound. We want no exaggerations, such as we have received from home about us. Since we started no one has been killed, no one mortally wounded, and not a single fight, not even a fist fight; we are peaceable here. Doubtless when we move we will be one Regiment among 10 as an advance guard, and should we meet of force of 40,000 remember our backing. Our good Captain understands his place as well as we could wish, and thus our company moves off with even (?) with any of rest. Col. Peck is spoken of by the whole Regiment with praise; indeed! we are all proud that we can have so gallant a man as our leader. Hoping that all my friends will consider themselves indebted to me in Grant, wishing all to write, address, Company C, Second Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers, Washington, D. C., care of J. D. Ruggles, Quarter Master.

Yours truly,
E. K*. McCord

Grant County (Lancaster, WI) Herald, 7/24/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* McCord shows in the roster with middle initial K. He shows in records as Edward K., Edmund K., Edwin K., and Edmund H. His (likely) tombstone reads Edwin Kimball McCord.

2nd Wisconsin Infantry roster

McCord at Ancestry

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Image: Pvt. William Boardman Reed, Co. C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry

3 03 2022
William Boardman Reed (Source)

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Pvt. William Boardman Reed, Co. C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, On Preparations for the Campaign

3 03 2022

Letter from a Member of the Grant County Grays.


We are permitted to publish the following letter from W. B. Reed, of Capt. McKee’s Company:

CAMP PECK, near Arlington Heights,
Fairfax County, Va., July 14, 1861.

Dear Friends: – This is Sunday evening and I have just returned from dress parade, taken off my accoutrements and coat and placed my gun in the corner of the tent, with my belt and cartridge box hung over the muzzle, right where I can lay my hands upon them at any hour of the night. Our parade always come off every evening in the week, and since we have been here we have had our regular battallion and other drills upon the Sabbath about the same as other days. Last evening orders were published at parade which indicate that we are to march toward Manassas in a day or two at the farthest. The orders were relative to our baggage and rations; we are to carry with us our blankets, which are rolled into long, close rolls and sling over our shoulders. Our knapsacks, which must not weigh more than ten lbs., are to be either sent to Alexandria or left here with our tents with a guard of one hundred men. The cooks must be ready to cook three day’s rations whenever the order is given. In fact, this whole army is like a train of cars with the passengers all seated, with full steam up in the engine, the machinery oiled and the whole ready to thunder forward at a slight movement by the engineer. Our engineer is Gen. Winfield Scott; he has been laying his plans for months and now it is evident that he is about to strike the blow, and the rebels must either fight with certain defeat staring them in the face or ignominiously run. If they make a determined stand at Manassas, where it is said that they have extensive fortifications and a force of about eighty thousand men, the battle will necessarily be a bloody one. The result of this battle can hardly be questioned, as we have a much superior force, and it will probably be approached from three sides at once with three large armies. * *

A few days ago we saw a balloon over one of the regiments which is three or four miles in advance of us and apparently at the height of about two hundred feet; it remained but a short time, when it again descended to the earth.

Our regiment is unusually healthy now; when we first came here the men were a good deal troubled with dysentery, but no we have become more used to the climate and water and but few are complaining. I think it is very remarkable that our regiment has not lost a man either by disease or in any other manner since I enlisted; I don’t know that any had died before. The young man who was so severely injured near Harrisburg has since recovered and a few days ago rejoined the regiment. My health is excellent; in fact I never felt better in my life. The other Lancaster boys are well, I believe.

I must hurry to finish this as soon as possible for the roll has already been called and I am expecting to hear the drum tap for lights out. Our mail carrier starts for Washington about 6 o’clock in the morning.

W. B. Reed

Grant County (Lancaster, WI) Herald, 7/24/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

2nd Wisconsin Infantry roster

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Unit History – 2nd Wisconsin Infantry

2 03 2022

Second Infantry . – Cols., S. Park Coon, Edgar O’Conner, Lucius Fairchild, John Mansfield; Lieut.-Cols., Henry W. Peck, Duncan McDonald, Thomas S. Allen, George H. Stevens, William L. Parsons; Maj., George H. Otis. This regiment was organized in May, 1861, and was mustered in June 11, with a numerical strength of 1,051. It left the state on June20 and was the first regiment of three years men to appear in Washington. It was brigaded with three New York regiments under command of Col. W. T. Sherman, Col. Coon being detached for staff duty. The regiment participated in the first battle of Bull Run, losing 30 killed, 125 wounded and 65 missing. It was transferred from Col. Sherman’s command to that of Brig. Gen. Rufus King, commanding a brigade consisting of the 5th and 6th Wis. and 19th Ind. infantry. Co. K was detached permanently and organized as heavy artillery, a new Co. K being mustered. Later Gen. King was succeeded by Col. Lysander Cutler and from Dec., 1861, the history of the regiment is merged with that of the famous “Iron Brigade” until it was detached in May, 1864, its loss being the greatest in proportion to numbers of any regiment engaged in the Civil war. The “Iron Brigade” consisted of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wis., 19th Ind. and 24th Mich. At Bull Run the end regiment bore the brunt of a determined onset by “Stonewall” Jackson’s entire division on the Warrenton pike until the brigade could be moved into position and the enemy repulsed. The brigade held the line of battle until the army had passed on the road to Centerville, and was in a later engagement on the Warrenton and Sudley roads. It stormed the enemy’s position at South mountain, the 2nd leading on the left of the road and the 6th and 7th on the right, routing the enemy: At Antietam the brigade dislodged the enemy after a severe conflict. At Fredericksburg it held an exposed position, subject to heavy artillery fire. At Gettysburg the regiment led the marching column and was the first to meet the enemy, (Heth’s division), advancing upon it and receiving a volley that cut down over 30 per cent of the rank and file. Dashing upon the enemy’s center, the 2nd held it in check until the brigade came into line, when the enemy was routed. At Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Gaines’ mill, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and in numerous skirmishes, the “Iron Brigade” added new luster to the Union army, the 2nd Wis. bearing well its part. The regiment became so reduced in numbers that it was permanently detached from the brigade May 11, 1864, and employed as provost guard of the 4th division, 5th army corps until June 11, when it was sent home, the last company being mustered out July 2, 1864. The members who joined subsequent to its original organization were organized into an independent battalion of two companies June 11, 1864, under command of Capt. Dennis B. Dailey. The battalion was assigned to provost duty; took part in the advance and assault on Petersburg and the skirmishes at Yellow house; was transferred to the 1st brigade, 3d division for guard and picket duty; fought at Hatcher’s run; and on Nov. 30 was transferred as Cos. G and H to the 6th Wis., with which it remained until mustered out. To its original number was added by recruiting, drafting and reënlistment 215, making a total of 1,266. The death loss was 261; missing, 6; desertions, 51; transferred, 134; discharged, 466; leaving 348 to be mustered out.

From The Union Army, Vol. 4, pp. 44-45.

2nd Wisconsin Infantry roster

Lt. Col. J. P. Pryor, Aid to Brig. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, On the Battle and His Captivity

11 02 2022

From the Richmond Dispatch.]


Richmond, Aug. 10, 1861. – Owing to a severe illness, from which I have not yet recovered, my promised statement has been delayed to this time. It is with diffidence I obtrude upon the public even now, and should certainly not do so, but that I know that everything in any way connected with the great battle of Manassas is still read with unabated interest, and that it is also necessary to my own vindication from certain mis-statements which have been copied into our newspapers from Northern resources. I shall make it as brief as possible, confining it mainly to the facts, and denouncing, in advance, as false and unfounded, anything in conflict with it which may have appeared in the journals of the United States.

The day before the fight, (Saturday,) the regiment to which I was attached, (the 19th Mississippi, Col. C. H. Mott,) was on the way from Winchester to Manassas, waiting at a railway station called Piedmont, for a train to convey it to the vicinity of the [?] of action. – I was on horseback and was that day acting as Assistant Brigade Quarter Master to Maj. Jas. H. Anderson, of Mississippi, and also as volunteer Aid to Col. C. H. Mott, who was then acting as commander of the Brigade in place of Brigadier General E. Kirby Smith, who was acting in place of General Johnston. Saturday morning I had ridden on, six or seven miles from Piedmont, by the dirt road, in the direction of Manassas, when Maj. Anderson requested me to go back and attend to some business in his department which he supposed had been neglected. In order to ride as light as possible I gave my rifle and baggage to a servant and told him to await my return – not expecting to be gone more than two hours. On my return to Piedmont I was detained by Col. Mott four or five hours, and consequently when I started back toward Manassas I was unable to overtake either the Quarter Master’s train or the servant with my arms who, of course, despairing of my return in time for him to catch up with the train before dark, had gone on. I rode on, however, to Haymarket, a village distant, I believe, ten miles from Manassas Junction, and somewhat nearer the battlefield.

At Haymarket I stopped for the night, being completely knocked up by the fatigue of the day and of the previous march from Winchester to Piedmont. Sleeping the next morning – the glorious Sunday, the 21st – late at least for a soldier, we were at breakfast about 7 o’clock, when it was announced that the battle had begun, as the quick recurring discharges of cannon were distinctly heard. It was at once perceived that a party of us, all of whom were strangers to war, should proceed to the battle ground. I was unarmed, but such was my desire to see a battle, particularly such as I knew this promised to be, I acceded, and away we went, under the guidance of some of the neighboring citizens, who said they knew all of the by ways of the vicinity. They led us by a tortuous route, and it was not till half past ten that we reached the field; and when we got there, I was completely “turned round,” and, as I found out afterwards, was on the left wing of our line of battle, instead of the right, as I then supposed.

The part of the battle ground upon which we entered had not been very hotly contested previous to our arrival, but, instantly after coming up, it became and continued to [?] hours the “[?]” part of the field. The persons who came with me I saw no more after reaching the area of the conflict. Unable to find any of our Mississippi people that I knew, I was thrown in with a regiment which I was afterwards told was from North Carolina – probably the 6th – which just then was making an ineffectual attempt to form on a ridge in point-blank range of a large battery of the enemy, then playing on that of our lines. The regiment, however, fell back a little way to the left and formed in good order behind a farm-house and the adjacent buildings. – About this time a piece of our artillery came upon the scene at that point, and after some delay opened fire upon the enemy in beautiful style. I sat on my horse near this gun for some time, the enemy’s shot and shell whizzing by and falling thick and fast around. The shot from a rifled cannon makes a peculiar music, which, to be appreciated, must be heard – it cannot be described. The bursting of bombs in the air, too, is a sight to see – the long drawn out whirl of a Minnie ball – of a hailstorm of them – the small [?] like report of many thousand muskets – all made up a concert well worth going a thousand miles to attend. And yet, strange to say, I was not in the least apprehensive of danger to myself. All sense of fear was swallowed up in the one grand idea we had that day – before us an enemy who, whatever his numbers, must that day be whipped.

After tarrying awhile by the side of our troops at the point whence I first smelt the powder and heard the roar of a real battle field, I descried on the hill in front of me – the hill where, farther to the left, stood the house so terribly riddled afterwards by the [?]shot of the enemy, in which they killed the old woman, notwithstanding the hospital flag then floating over it – another regiment, which I hoped might be one from Mississippi, I immediately formed the determination to join it. I started down the hill under a cross fire from a battery to the left and another in front, which I now suppose to have been Sherman’s, such was the incessant roar of its guns and the explosion of its shells and hissing of its balls, all around and above me. I had, however, advanced only half way up the opposite hill, when I was met by the regiment I was seeking, rapidly falling back but in good order. Many of the men were wounded, and many came down the hill with their faces all streaming with blood and begrimmed with powder. This regiment, I am informed, was the Fourth Alabama, which suffered so severely and acted so nobly through out the entire day. I proceeded to form, if I am not mistaken, along with the North Carolina regiment, behind the crest of the hill and beyond the range of the enemy’s guns.

All this time the rattle of rifles and musketry, as well as the grander music of artillery, was unceasing. It was observed by many old soldiers, after the battle, that they had never before known the discharges of musketry to be so sharp and continuous throughout so long an action – an action that lasted from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening. And, this, too, notwithstanding the now well established fact that there were six distinct bayonet charges made by the Confederates during the day.

It was now about 1 o’clock, and as the troops I happened to be with seemed to be waiting for reinforcements, and as I was unarmed and there was no prospect of getting arms where I then was, I concluded to go again in search of a Mississippi regiment, knowing the gallant Second, under the command of my now renowned friend Faulkner, to be somewhere on the field. For this purpose I started off as I then thought, on the side of the field near Manassas. Unfortunately, I was mistaken in the course, and knowing nothing of our line or order of battle, I rode in the direction of Centreville. On rising the next hill, a shell struck a rock within a few feet of me, and exploding, threw the dust over me and my horse in a way that was not very compatible with one’s notions of safety, but was still exciting, especially to the horse, who bounded into the air as if he had been struck with a fragment of Yankee iron. This shell must have been thrown at me by Sherman’s Battery, then probably a mile and a half distant.

Riding forward a few yards further, I perceived in a glen or ravine a party of soldiers, numbering, I suppose about forty, dressed in uniforms exactly similar to many of those worn in the Confederate service, and all armed with the improved Springfield musket.* Of course, I did not dream for an instant that they were other than Southerners and Secessionists. Riding directly up to, and accosting them, a brief colloquy ensued, of which the following is the substance:

“Well, boys,” said I, “I believe those batteries over yonder are, for the present, a little too much for our people on the hill.”

“Oh no,” replied one of them, “we are carrying the day everywhere.” (And so they were up to 1 ½ P. M.]

“Well,” said I, “who are you, and where are you from?”

“Where the devil are you from?” was the quick response, in true Yankee fashion.

Seeing I was in for it, I replied promptly and proudly, “I am from Mississippi.”

Instantly an officer sprang up and shouted, “Take that man,” and the whole forty cocked their guns and surrounded me. There I was in their midst, totally unarmed. What could I do but surrender me a prisoner of war? I did so. I was dismounted. They searched me for arms but found none. The officer of the detachment got on my horse, and when the panic came ran away with him! But I understand that both horse and man were killed by a cannon shot from one of our batteries in the rout. So much for the gallant bay who bore me through what little I saw of the immortal filed of Manassas.

My captors carried e by devious ways to a strong detachment of their troops, probably [?] strong, posted in a neighboring wood. – From thence they were ordered to convey me to their rear, which they proceeded to do, treating me kindly and politely by the way. Indeed, I may here say, once and for all, to the credit of the great Yankee nation, except in a single instance, I experienced nothing but polite and respectful treatment while I was a captive in their hands. The single instance referred to was of a very common soldier, wo, it seems, had just lost his brother that night, and who came up, and pointing to me, said he wanted to shoot “that d—-d secesh.” My guards sternly ordered him off, and even threatened to shoot him if he did not at once absent himself. But this is anticipating, for the incident happened after we reached the rear.

The rear of the enemy’s forces to which I was next conducted was then at a point a mile and a half to two miles on this side of Centreville at a farm house beyond and to the right of which lie extensive fields. To the left there is a skirt of woods sufficiently extensive to screen a brigade and a battery of four guns. But of this further on.

Arrived at the rear, we found there a large body of men, amounting, I judge, to near 10,000, scattered over the field and in the grounds around the farm house, all in disarray and all elate with the victory which they then deemed assured. They brought out a chair for me, and a large crowd gathered around, asking innumerable questions, but at the same time politely assuring me I need not answer unless I chose. They asked m how many men we had in the field that day.

I told them I did not know, and that if they did I should not tell them. However, I added, I shouldn’t be surprised if we had at least 60,000 men on the ground, and as many more only a few miles off. They said they had 40,000 in the field and 40,000 in reserve. They asked me if Jeff. Davis didn’t ride a white horse, and was he not on the field? I replied that President Davis rode a white horse at Richmond, and that if not then on the field, he would be there in ample time to turn the tide of battle, if it was really running in their favor, as they said it was. They said they did not care a d—n for the nigger – that they were simply fighting for the flag, and asked me what we were fighting for? I told them they were very candid; that while we were fighting for the same great principle our and their forefathers fought together for side by side through the first revolution, the right to govern ourselves in our own way, without let or hindrance from the outside world, they acknowledged that they were merely fighting for a tawdry piece of bunting, worth about fifty cents a yard – while they were fighting for a simple conventional symbol, we were fighting for our homes and firesides, and every good and holy thing that man holds dear. Much more of the same sort passed, but not a word was said by me (as their reporters wantonly write,) about our having “two full negro regiments” in our Confederate States Army.

During the [?], a great crowd numbering several hundreds gathered around me, (still sitting in my chair,) [?] officers on horseback being on the outskirts and [?]. Tiring somewhat of their countless questions, I politely remarked that if they would [?] their [?] questioning I would make them a comp[?] the whole [?] between the Confederate States and the United States as I understood it, and as I believed every [?] and intelligent man among them would view it if he were only properly enlightened. To this they assented, and I proceeded to do my best under the circumstances. Of course, I cannot here give even an outline of my remarks on that interesting and critical occasion but this much I remember and will not withhold: After going over the main points of Southern Scripture in reference to merely political [?], States Rights, etc., I told them frankly that, although they could outnumber us, we could outfight them; that a vast majority of our people were as brave as Caesar at the head of his conquering legions, while the majority of brave men among them was probably not so vast, that we had the best Generals on our side – Davis, Beauregard, Johnston, Lee, Magruder, Albert Johnston, Ben McCulloch and others – while they had only Scott, whose sands of time are nearly run, and who is altogether too slow for such a “trial of conclusions” as our Generals have [?]; and that as long as we could bring 200,000 men into the field, (and we can do that forever,) the question of victory or defeat is a mere question of generalship. Finally, I told them, that God Almighty, the Supreme, All-wise and [?] Ruler of the Universe, was on our side. That was evidenced by the military [?] of the old Union, which for the last eight years, had required large quantities of arms and munitions of war to be transported to Southern and Southwestern forts, arsenals, armories and other military and naval depots. That it was evidenced at Fort Sumter, when God raised a great storm and scattered their provisioning and reinforcing fleet to the four winds of the sea. Just as the bombardment began. That it was evidenced at Bethel, where it seems that the very stars, in their courses, fought against you Siveras of the North, in that you got on fighting and slaying among yourselves, even before the battle began, demoralizing your forces and thus assuring us an easy victory against the most desperate odds. That it was further abundantly evidenced in the unexampled food crops with which the good God has blessed us, thus forever thwarting your expressed determination to starve us out, by blockading us from Cairo all the way round to the sea. And, finally, I should not be surprised if some signal interposition of Divine Providence should not be exhibited in our favor here at Bull Run today.

All this, and more like it, I substantially said, and yet they did not slay me where I sat. The truth is, I thought I was doomed to a long and dreary imprisonment or exile at least, and, perhaps, felt a little desperate. They heard me politely, and, so far from mocking or hissing, seemed rather to like, if not the matter, at least the exceeding novelty of my remarks, and the intense strangeness of “the situation” generally.

Nearly all the time I was with them the Yankees were particularly severe on our “masked batteries,” sneeringly asking, “How many masked batteries have you?” I told them we had them almost everywhere, and particularly in places where they would least expect them. I knew not that even while I spoke one of our batteries was moving up behind the skirt of woods to which I have alluded, for the purpose of giving them a surprise such as the world has rarely seen.

I observed that most of them seemed to be unaccustomed to the use of arms, handling them awkwardly, and showing very palpable symptoms of trepidation whenever even one of their own muskets or rifles was fired a short distance off. But when, as I have foreshadowed, our big guns (Kemper’s battery) backed by the South Carolina brigade, came up on them unperceived and commenced firing on them from their right flank, all scattered about the houses and fields as they were – oh, then you ought to have seen them break and run! The two rough-hewn fellows who had me in charge snatched me up by either arm and dragged me in the grand melee at more than “double-quick,” across an open field, for more than two hundred yards; and, when the fire grew hotter, and some of their men began to fall, they forgot all about me, dropped me and their muskets, and everything else they had about them that would encumber their flight – knapsacks, haversacks, cartridge-boxes, canteens and all – and ran for dear life. As did my guards in the matter of shedding their encumbrances, so did nearly the entire division. The woods and fields were strewed with the “spoils of war.” All this time the officers – or at least some of them – were shouting, “Don’t run, men; don’t run!” while they themselves were making quite as good time as their men. Very quietly I picked up one of my guards’ muskets (I have it yet), and taking a direction to the right across their line of racing. I was soon safely out of the rabble rout, and happily ensconced under a tree in a woodland hard by, where I sat down to await the chances of battle, already decided – though I did not then know it positively – gloriously in our favor.

It was, I think, not more than an hour before the skirmishers of a South Carolina Regiment came up, and after requiring me to give an account of myself, which being satisfactory, I went on with them a short distance, and a little after sunset saw the last gun fired by Kemper’s battery at the broken and disordered elements of the enemy as they scampered pell mell into and through Centreville on their way to Washington, and to everlasting disgrace. It was by use of these last guns, I suppose, that my gallant horse and the officer that commanded the detachment which took me prisoner were slain. Requiecsat in pace!

Returning that night towards the headquarters, the South Carolina Brigade, in whose hospitable company I found myself bivouacked at various places on the battlefield, until finally, about three o’clock in the morning of Monday, we arrived at the headquarters of Gen. Evans, where we laid down on the ground, and on [?] blankets, in the rain, until we got sufficiently wet to wake us up – about 6 ½ or 7 o’clock.

My captors belonged to a regiment of Wisconsin, the [?*], I believe. After they ran off and left me, dropping every portable thing they had, I picked up the fine military great coat of one of their officers – Lieut. W[ise?], I suppose, was his name, from an envelope in the pocket which I have yet, and which my baggage being at the Junction, was of especial service in shielding me from the cold and rain of several succeeding nights and days.

Begging pardon, Messrs. Editors, for having trespassed so long upon your patience.

I am, yours, very respectfully,

The (Huntsville, AL) Democrat, 8/28/1861

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* An account in the Baltimore Sun, reprinted in the Richmond Dispatch on 7/25/1861, identifies these as members of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, and the soldier capturing Pryor as Pvt. Hasbrouck. It also identifies Pryor as a cousin of Roger A. Pryor.

This account refutes, per other Southern accounts, claims in Northern papers that Pryor told his captors there were units of black confederate soldiers on the field that day. See this post by Andy Hall.

I suspect, but can’t state with certainty, that the author is John Pope Pryor, a journalist, who was later enlisted in the Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, and still later coauthored The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest’s Cavalry.

J. P. Pryor at Fold3

J. P. Pryor at FindAGrave

“A,” Co. I, 2nd Wisconsin, On the March, Blackburn’s Ford, Battle, and Retreat

7 02 2020

Letter from the Second Regiment.

Fort Corcoran, July 29, 1861

Messrs. Bliss & Son: I have delayed writing you anything in relation to the great battle, and great defeat as it is called, at Bull’s Run, supposing, in the first place, that some one else had written you, being desirous of getting information of the whereabouts of several members of our company who were missing. The full account with particulars you will find in the newspapers, most of which are nearly true. But there are many omissions of importance. For instance, in your paper of the 23rd, which we just received to-nigh, the 2nd Wisconsin is not mentioned as being in the fight at all. Now, the truth is, we were in both battles at Bull’s Run, on the 18th and 21st. But we did not spend $50.00 to hire reporters to blazon our deeds to the country through a venal press; and what is more, our officers actually refused to pay the $50.00 for doing so in one particular case.

I can only give you a condensed narration of our part in the proceedings,

“— quorum magna pars fui,” *

as I would say, had I the vanity of AEneas, when he told his story to the confiding ear of Dido.

We left our camp near this place on Tuesday, the 16th, in the afternoon, with three days’ rations in our haversacks and with no baggage except our blankets, which were strapped over our shoulders. We marched some fifteen miles and camped at Vienna, where the Ohio boys were attacked in the cars from a masked battery some weeks ago. Starting at daylight next morning we resumed the march, passing through Germantown, where we drew up for a fight, but one or two shots from our cannon sent the enemy flying in double quick time. Here we found batteries just deserted, and quite a quantity of provisions. The batteries, I must say, like most we encountered on the road as far as Centreville, seemed more to have been built to scare us than to injure us. The roads, however, were obstructed with fallen timber, which delayed us very much in removing. Here in Germantown, to the discredit of some of our troops, one or two houses were set on fire and consumed. We pushed on from here until within a short distance of Centreville, when we camped, and the boys had a taste of secession mutton, chicken, etc. The scene on the march, though tiresome, was gay. As far ahead and back as the eye could reach the road was crowded with men, horses, baggage wagons and artillery. It seemed the march of an army to certain victory.

We lay in this camp until 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, when we heard the booming of cannon in advance on our left. This was Gen. Tyler’s first introduction to the masked batteries of the rebels. About four o’clock a courier came riding up, his horse covered in foam, with orders for Col. Sherman to advance immediately with his brigade, to which we were attached. Of course we lost no time, and in a few minutes were on the march, and soon arrived on the ground above the battery, and were drawn up in line in the woods. The balls from the rifled guns of the rebels flew around and over us lively, crushing trees in their path and killing one of our men and wounding two others. Finding it impossible to dislodge the enemy without great loss of life, we were ordered to return to a camp about a mile in advance of Centreville, on the main road. Our boys had shown their courage and coolness under fire without returning it, and were highly complimented by Col. Sherman. We met while going down to the attack the 12th New York and 2d Massachusetts, puffing and blowing, saying they were all cut to pieces and had left at least half of their regiments on the field. Their fear lent wings to their fancy; the whole loss of all engaged being only some forty killed, but many scattered. There was no reason to complain of the Miners’ Guards, – all being ready to “go in” and take a hand, and only dodging the balls which passed over our heads.

We now remained in camp quietly awaiting reinforcements until Saturday evening, when we received orders to prepare two days’ rations and to be ready to start at 2 o’clock the next morning. At this time every man was ready, his haversack filled with hard bread and cold tongue, and silently as possible we took up our line of march, over a hilly and timbered county. On the way we encountered several of the “contraband” whose masters had deserted their homes, having been impressed into the rebel army. They said that the slaves were kept quiet by the story that the Northern men only wanted to get them to sell in Cuba. They did not all believe the story, however. They gave us correct information in reference to the rebel batteries, as subsequent events proved.

Of the first attack by the left wing, and of the flanking movement of the right wing, I have not time to speak. We were in the center, and from the position we occupied could tell by the dust and smoke the progress of the other divisions. At first, although, after we were drawn into a line on the edge of the wood, we could see a large extent of the country, where not a man could be seen, and it was only after our artillery began to play with thin[?] shells and cannister shot that the men began to swarm out of their hollows, all of which were densely crowded.

About 10 o’clock, after the left wing had taken the first masked battery, and Hunter and Heintzelman had made their attack on the right flank of the enemy, we were ordered to advance, which we did in double-quick time; and after fording a stream and climbing a precipitous bluff, we formed in line of battle. The first sight that met our eyes was the enemy retreating before the gallant charge of the New York 71st, who were slaying them like sheep. The slaughter was awful. But we had no time to lose. We advanced over a rise of ground and found ourselves directly in front of the rebel batteries on the opposite ridge. We marched forward under this fire until we reached a hollow, when we were partially protected from their shot, but not from their shell. A piece from one dented my word, and others hit several of the men, but nobody was killed. We were soon ordered to cross a muddy stream and charge up the hill in the direction of one of the rebel batteries. This was gallantly done, and the regiment drawn up in a road, flanking the enemy. The Fire Zouaves were fighting gallantly on our right. Our men now went to work with a will, and stood under the direct fire of a strong body of infantry for more than an hour, and fought with a spirit and determination which was much admired by their neighbors, the Zouaves, who cheered the Wisconsin boys, and several of them afterward remarked that the Zouaves themselves did no better fighting.

A constant fire was kept up, only interrupted for an instant by the cry of some traitor in the camp, “Don’t shoot your friends!” The hoisting of the stars and stripes by the rebels deceived many until the delusion was dispelled by a volley of musketry. Soon a movement was discovered on our right which proved to be a reinforcement of fresh troops from Manassas. Up to this time the victory was with us. The enemy were giving away in every direction, and had lost several of their best batteries. We were now ordered to fall back for the purpose of reforming our line and renewing the attack, and at the same time evading the flank fire. We had now had over twenty men killed and some sixty wounded. The regiment fell back to the opposite ridge, and under the fire from the battery was thrown into some confusion, like all the others on the field. But the order was given to fall in, and a large number was collected around the flag under one of the regimental officers, who conducted them down the hill where the panic had commenced, and then without any officer they made their way with the crowd in the wake of the “glorious 69th” to Centreville. Near here the regiment was re-organized by several of the company officers, and marched in obedience to orders from Gen. McDowell to camp at this place, – a tedious march of thirty-five miles, after fighting and marching from 2 o’clock in the morning. We did not arrive here till 10 a. m. on Monday morning., having rested only two hours at Fairfax. Thousands were in camp before us. What caused the panic, I do not know. The newspapers may tell. I think it was a want of officers to rally the men. It certainly was not a want of courage in the men, for they had shown the contrary; it certainly was a want of organization that caused a disastrous retreat, after having at one time gained a glorious victory.

The loss of the Miners; Guards was small compared with that in two or three other companies. This was owing to the fact that Lt. Bishop was detailed, just as we started to make the charge, with thirty men, to assist in manning and putting in position the big thirty-two pound Parrot gun, and who found it impossible to rejoin the company under the raking fire to which they would have been exposed. They did good service, however, where they were.

William Owens, of Dodgeville, was killed by a shot through the head; Lieut. LaFleiche was wounded by a shot in the shoulder; Lieut. Bishop was injured internally by his exertions; Philip Lawrence was wounded by a shot in the breast; Emile Peterson was wounded by a shot in the hip; Christian Kessler was also wounded, and is yet among the missing. James Gregory, George W. Dilley and Walter P. Smith have not been heard from, and are probably taken prisoners, as they were well when last seen. They are brave boys, and we hope to see them again soon. The wounded are all doing well and will soon recover.

Of course, the boys were tired, and the more so that they stood around the whole of Monday, in the rain, waiting for accommodations at the Fort. They are recruiting rapidly now, though quite a number are unwell. They will go into the next fight with more coolness, but not with more courage. They fought like old soldiers, and won the praise of all spectators, hundreds of whom were looking on.

I neglected to mention the fact, that, soon after crossing Bull’s Run, on the retreat, the cavalry charged on the regimental colors. The Wisconsin boys rallied around and drive back the cavalry after emptying eight or ten saddles. The colors were not afterward disturbed.

We are now encamped within the walls of Fort Corcoran, ready to assist in the defense of the capital, which lies constantly in sight. How long we shall remain here we do not know. We hope to do our duty wherever we are, and to have a share in the good work of delivering our country from the conspirators who are seeking its destruction.

Hoping to have leisure to continue this brief correspondence, I must retire to my wearied pillow, as the snores of my companions remind me it is high time.


Mineral Point (WI) Weekly Tribune, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* Translated “In which I played a great part.”

Hains Related Questions Answered?

24 06 2013

Hains Gun

Illustration from 1911 Cosmopolitan article

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y annotating a 1911 Cosmopolitan article written by Peter Conover Hains, The First Gun at Bull Run. Fresh out of West Point, at First Bull Run Lieutenant Hains was in command of a 30-pdr Parrott rifle, detached from Company G of the 1st U. S. Artillery. The gun, generally referred to as Long Tom, was chosen to fire the opening shot of the battle of July 21st, and did so right around 6 A. M. (accounts of the precise time vary.) While just about every study of the battle written after 1911 relies to varying degrees on Hains’s memoir, there’s a lot wrong with it; some things just don’t jive with the facts. So I’ve decided to not take anything Hains writes in this piece at face value. Including this:

I was assigned to train a gun-crew over at what is now known as Fort Meyer, Virginia, just across the river from Washington.  It was a great gun – a thirty-pounder Parrott rifle,  drawn by ten horses as green as could be, horses from the farm that had not been trained even to pull together.  There were five riders or drivers, one man to each pair, and six men rode the caisson and limber as cannoneers.  Two wagons followed, carrying the ammunition.   Some two hundred men were attached to the gun to escort it, to help it along, and to render whatever aid I needed.  In all two hundred and fifty men filed out with the gun in July when I received orders to report to General Tyler  at Alexandria, Virginia.

Two hundred men attached as escort? Why so darn many? Well, it’s not as odd as it may sound, all things considered:

We sallied forth.  The roads promised much, and at first the gun behaved very well indeed.  But we soon came to a hill.  The ten horses threw themselves into their collars.  The gun started up a bit, then the pace slowed, paused, and – then the giant gun began slowly to drift backward down the grade.  We quickly blocked the wheels , and there were no brakes.  I rode up and down the line, cheering on the men.  The drivers yelled, and lashed their horses; the ten animals strained and tugged – but the gun remained motionless.

“Get out the prolonges ,” I ordered, and these lines, of about three-inch rope and knotted together to about a hundred feet in length, were quickly hooked to the axle of the gun. Two hundred men instantly trailed onto them.  With wild yells and cheers they started that gun forward, the ten horses and two hundred men soon dragging it upward to the crest.  It was great.  And most of us were very young indeed.

That makes sense. But, who were these 200 men (though I can’t figure out how you get 200 men to pull on a 100 foot rope)? It’s likely they were infantry. So, from what regiments were they detached? I’ve been keeping an eye out in letters for some mention of the detachment here and there of small groups, or even one or two large ones. But I did stumble across one reference, in Alan Gaff’s history of the 2nd Wisconsin at First Bull Run, If This is War pp. 186-187:

Captain Ayres’ battery unlimbered well in front of Captain Stevens’ Company A behind a screen of bushes and trees, while the thirty-pound Parrott rifled cannon, manned by a detachment under Lieutenant Peter C. Hains, was positioned right in the road. The Parrott gun had proved to be almost impossible to manage, requiring large detachments of horses and men to manhandle it over the hills and valleys. While the Wisconsin regiment occupied the position in support of the artillery, Lieutenant Tom Bishop and thirty men from Company I were detailed to assist Hains and did not serve with the main body during the remainder of the day.

Image of 30-pdr blatantly stolen from http://markerhunter.wordpress.com/

Image of 30-pdr blatantly stolen from http://markerhunter.wordpress.com/

Gaff cites the Daily Wisconsin 8/21/1861; Milwaukee Sentinel 7/30/1861; Wisconsin State Journal 7/30/1861; Mineral Point Tribune, 8/6/1861; a letter in a manuscript collection; and Tyler’s report (which doesn’t mention the detachment) for the above. I’ll try to find the two newspaper letters, maybe in the Quiner Collection. But it would appear that detachments of infantry were assigned to assist Hains at various points. But in the case of the 2nd WI, it was as support.

Also in If This is War I found a reference to another nickname for the 30-pdr Parrott, The Baby-Waker. I first heard the term during a tour years ago, but haven’t run across any other use except for this in Gaff, p. 187:

“At precisely 6 o’clock” Lieutenant Hains ordered his gunners to fire the monster Parrott rifle, dubbed “President Lincoln’s Baby-waker” by the Badgers.

The sources for the above paragraph are the Wisconsin State Journal of July 30, 1861 and the Milwaukee Sentinel of the same date, and a letter in a manuscript collection. More work to do!

UPDATE: Reader Jonathan Soffe, who hosts a great site on First Bull Run, contributes the following:

Two companies of the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, under the command of Captain J H Davis, Company B, were assigned to escort Hains on the march to Centreville on 16 July, 1861.

[This is from] A Narrative of the Formation and Services of the Eleventh Massachusetts Volunteers, from 15 April, 1861, to 14 July, 1865, by Gustavus B Hutchinson [p. 22]

“When the regiment arrived at the road leading to Fairfax, Companies A and G were left, under the command of Capt. Davis, to escort a detachment having in charge a thirty-pound Parrott gun, which, on account of the bad road, they were unable to bring up until the next morning.”

Sgt. Lyman H. Smith, Co. E, 2nd Wisconsin, On the Battle

25 07 2012

Interesting Letter from a Wisconsin Boy.


Below we publish an extract from a letter written by Lyman H. Smith, an Orderly Sergeant in the Second Wisconsin Regiment to his sister, Mrs. Williams, of Richford, Vermont. Mr. Smith formerly resided in Richford from whence he went to Wisconsin some six years ago, and as a member of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment was engaged in the sanguinary conflict at Bull Run on the 21st of July:

Headquarters Second Wisconsin Reg’t.

Fort Corcoran, July 24, 1861.

Dear Sister: I was happily surprised to receive a letter from you, it being the first for a long time. I am glad to hear you are well. You will probably learn, ere this letter reaches you, of the terrible battle which has been fought near Manassas in which our Regiment took a prominent part, and suffered a severe loss. It was the greatest battle, I think, ever fought in the United States, and I trust the hardest that will be fought. We started from camp at three o’clock in the morning and marched on the enemy. At eight o’clock we met the enemy and commenced firing. The battle was hotly contested for nine hours with but little intermission. When the action commenced we had only twelve thousand troops on the field while the enemy had seventy thousand. At eleven o’clock we had apparently fairly won the day. About this time we discovered a large force advancing in the direction whence we expected reinforcements, which, however, proved to be reinforcements of the rebels. These fresh troops fell upon us, and our men fell like sheep at the slaughter, but our brave troops stood their ground, expecting help, until seven o’clock in the evening, when not receiving reinforcements we were obliged to abandon the field and retreat. When we had retreated about a mile I was informed that my messmate had been wounded and was left upon the battle field. I went back to the field determined if possible to find him, but after searching in vain for half an hour, was obliged to run for life amid showers of shot and shells. In the meantime the Regiment had got out of sight and I was left alone to make my escape as best as I could. In a short time I came up with the wagons containing our dead and wounded. About this time the rebel cavalry charged upon us. We escaped to the woods, a distance of thirty-five miles, without anything to eat, arriving here at Fort Corcoran at eight o’clock the next morning where I remained with the two New York Regiments. I never passed through so much in any three days of my life as on that day. Just think of standing right under the cannon of the enemy for nine hours, their shot falling like hail among us! I received two shots, one grazing my head the other my ear; they did not hurt me much, only enough to make me fight harder.

When our Regiment had fallen back to let another take its place, I went with the Fire Zouaves and we charged upon a battery, when we succeded in getting inside. Such a sight as was there presented I never wish to see again – the dead piled in every direction. This time we fairly drove the enemy from their guns, but their overwhelming force was more than we could stand. I have read a great deal of the horrors of the battle field, but one from reading, can imagine nothing of its real horrors. There were the dead and dying in every direction; some calling to be relieved from misery by being shot; others imploring help; while others were urging their comrades on to battle. One young fellow from Massachusetts lay dying his comrades trying to shoot him. He said to them, “Go on and save Massachusetts; don’t stop for me I shall soon be out of trouble. I expect we shall have to fight again to-morrow. We suppose there is fighting going on to-day about twelve miles from here, as cannon are heard and two Regiments have been sent from here to-day to assist our troops. Our men are nearly worn out and can hardly walk, but we must fight. You as if we have plenty to eat? No! we do not have half enough and what we have is very poor; but we are soldiers now, and not human beings!

St. Albans Daily Register, 8/2/1862

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Lyman Smith on Ancestry.com

Contributed by John Hennessy

“C.”, 2nd Wisconsin, On the Battle

22 02 2012

From the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Interesting Letter from the Second Regiment.


Camp Corcoran,

Monday Night, July 22, ’61.

Once again, we are back in the vicinity of Washington, having passed through a battle that will ever have a full page in the history of battles. The full report of it you may have seen, and my work will be to give only a few scenes connected with the Second Wisconsin Regiment, which from the many who narrowly watched us, has received not a few encomiums.

On Sunday morning, July 21st, at 2 o’clock A. M., our camp near Centerville, was aroused by the cry of “Fall in to march.” – The men were ready and eager to be up, it being supposed that the commander-in-chief of the division had made preparations for us to go on and complete a victory which we felt sure was before us. The Second Wisconsin, 79th, 69th, and 13th New York, with Sherman’s battery and Capt. Thompson’s troop of 100 horse, formed one brigade, while two Connecticut and two Ohio regiments, with company E. U. S. artillery, and a troop of 100 horse, formed another. Both were under the command of Gen. Tyler, and formed the centre of McDowell’s grand army. The right wing was under the command of Gen. Hunter, and the left, under Gen. Heintzleman. The right and left were to close on the wings of the enemy’s fortifications, extending to a distance of six miles, while the centre was to attack their principal fortresses.

Our wing waited until nearly daylight before starting, as the others had a much longer distance to go; but at length we were under way. To Bull’s Run was only a distance of three miles, which was soon reached. Here we felt ourselves in the midst of the enemy’s works. The ground we were approaching was known to be full of masked batteries but a few days before, and now the march was necessarily slow and tedious.

The 2nd Wisconsin and the 79th New York to the right of the road and filing off through the woods, flanked with the left on the road, while the balance of the brigade took the left hand side, and Sherman’s battery, with “President Lincoln’s Baby-waker,” as a large 32-pound rifle cannon was called, took the road, the infantry acting as a support to the battery. The column, in this order, worked its way up gradually to the edge of the woods, and came to a halt. Just beyond the woods was an opening some 500 rods in extent; then came Bull’s Run, a deep ravine, and beyond this, high up, rose the natural fortifications of the rebels. No better place could have been selected, and no other natural fortification so easy of self-support could have been found.

On the enemy’s side, as we drew near, nothing out of the usual course of events could be seen. All seemed as natural as though the roads were not alive with armed men and filled with masked batteries.

After reconnoitering a while, the large rifle cannon began picking out some good marks. Sever shots were made, but they were not returned, when some one suggested that in a deep ravine, which could be seen, was a good seclusion. A shot directed there, sent forth into the open field at least 500 cavalry, who scattered like chaff in every direction, but soon returned. The big gun continued its work, and the riderless horses that came flying out, several of which came over to our lines, showed that it was no idle play. Sherman, too, opened his battery, and, at the same time, a masked battery, almost within musket shot of the Connecticut regiments, opened upon them, and then battery after battery poured in, and the shower of lead came out from every clump of trees.

The men threw themselves upon the ground, with their arms ready to come to a charge, and although the fire was hat and heavy, only one man was killed and two wounded, both of the Connecticut. The fire of the big gun and of Sherman’s and Co. E batteries was directed against those of the enemy, and in a remarkably short space of time, so accurate was the aim, they were all silenced.

Almost the same instant our battery commenced, that of the left wing opened in the stronghold we had attempted to take a few days before. They were soon silenced, and when the guns of Gen. Hunter’s wing opened, the other wings started on the march, the right pressing, formed in line, the center making the circuit around, in order to aid Hunter. On the route and in crossing Bull’s Run, fires from batteries opened on the columns, and in this movement several were killed. The rebels seemed to possess innumerable batteries. They had them everywhere, and no point where a gun could be planted to have an effect upon our column, seems to have been neglected. The column soon crossed, and we went up the mountain road, we could see the enemy flying in companies, in squads and in regiments, before Gen. Hunter’s men, towards a long and narrow piece of woods, while from the right they came pouring down in the same hasty manner before Gen. Heintzleman’s men. The ravine, against which fire had at first been directed, seemed filled with dead. Bodies were laying in every directions, showing that the loss from shot and shell was terrific. With a loud shout for the “stars and stripes” our boys pushed forward, in pursuit of the flying rebels until we reached Hunter’s command, it having halted to be recruited. The open plain before us had been the enemy’s camping ground, and muskets, blankets, knapsacks, canteens, haversacks and dead bodies, were lying about indiscriminately. Our boys threw off everything, down to clothing and cartridge boxes, when the battle line was formed so as to completely hem in the rebel stronghold.

Now the work commenced in earnest. — All along the line of woods batteries opened one after the other, and shot, shell, canister and grape poured in upon us. From the position we occupied it did but little serious damage, although it whistled with so shrill a series of noises as to startle the most brave. By some neglect we had little artillery with us, it having remained behind. — The Rhode Island battery opened on one of the enemy’s, but it had taken a position so near them that before it could be brought into actual service it was used up. Carlisle’s battery and Sherman’s opened a heavy fire, and as far as two batteries could be of use they were. They silenced gun after gun, and at length got out of ammunition. By this time the federal troops got ready for a charge at the point of the bayonet, the battle line being extended all along the enemy’s lines, with the regular cavalry and marines, together with Ellsworth’s Zouaves on the right. The Wisconsin Second occupied about the center of the line. They lay for some time under cover of a hill, while the shot was pouring over them, and then, when the charge was ordered, filed on up a narrow lane, and came into line, It was a dangerous position, as they were subject to a cross fire, and many of them fell wounded.

The grand body now moved forward at a double-quick, until they came within musket shot of the enemy, and the was poured in upon them a most murderous fire of musketry. Never was there anything like it. — Together with the musketry, three batteries were pouring in grape and canister, while our own batteries were silenced from want of ammunition. Had we had our usual amount of artillery, their batteries could have been silenced, but as we had no support from this source, the order was given to fall back, and the regiments fell back a few rods to rally, all in hopes that the enemy would withdraw from their ambush, and follow to give a fair fight.

The command to fall back was given by Gen. Tyler, who it is supposed acted from the order of Gen. McDowell.

The fortress behind which the enemy was entrenched was built of crossed railroad bars and logs, and behind these was an army of 70,00 men, arrayed so as fill up the whole line in front, the rear column loading and the front, two deep firing continually.

Before the order for retreat was given the battle was fairly won, and victory would have been surrendered to the federal flag, but as the rebels were about giving up, Gen. Johnston arrived from Manassas Gap, with 18,000 fresh troops. It was supposed that Gen. Patterson was close upon him, but such was not the case, he, for some reason, which I have not yet learned, having left the track.

When the order to fall back was given, the regiments of the army gave way, then rallied, and as the rebel troops showed themselves outside the entrenchments, poured in upon them volley after volley, but finding it fruitless to continue the fight, they received orders to give way, and take up their line of retreat. They did this by regiments and companies in admirable order, but hundreds fell out, and forming in squads fell behind, and seeking shelter, behind logs and trees, commenced an Indian fight upon the rebel cavalry, which came out of the woods, to the number of 1,000, to pursue the stragglers. They dropped from the saddle in squads under the fire. This Indian skirmishing was a protection to the retreating army; but many of those who were giving the aid, suffered in consequence, as they were taken prisoners, when they got down so few in numbers as to offer little resistance to the rebels.

Among the prisoners known to be taken is S. P. Jackson of La Crosse, a member of Co. B. He had his arm broken by a musket ball and was taken by the cavalry, together with t squad of seven Wisconsin boys. Then they were being taken off, a few of the boys rallied and fired into the cavalry, calling upon the Union prisoners to escape. They all did so but Jackson, who was taken off. Before the others escaped Jackson told the officer of the cavalry that he was useless to them, as his arm was broken. The reply was that he should be taken care of. “yes,” replied Jackson, “the same as our wounded men at Bull’s Run the other day. You bayoneted all our wounded men.” “It’s a lie,” replied the officer. “It is not,” replied Jackson, “you killed every one of our wounded men.” — “Our orders were to take care of the wounded, and we fight humanely. To be sure there are some d—-d rascals in every army who fight like tigers, and kill the wounded, but we prevent it when we can.” At this, one of them spoke up and said, “Not by a d—-d sight; we shall kill every hell-hound of them we take.” The New Orleans Zouave who was taken prisoner, also said, “You may kill me if you please, and you may win the battle to-day, but we will whip you to-morrow when our recruits get in, and then every one of you that falls into our hands will be butchered.” This appeared to be the general sentiment, that no mercy was to be shown, and that all who fell into their hands would have no pleasant situation.

Many of those captured afterwards escaped by a ruse or trick. Ruby, of the Oshkosh company, was kept some time, but escaped by playing Indian, while Whiting, of the La Crosse company escaped by yelling that the artillery was upon them, and they must retreat. The cavalry thought it one of their own officers who gave the command, and scattered, when Whitney escaped. A number of just such cases occurred. Capt. Colwell, of Co. B acted the hero all the way through. He rallied his men and led them on to positions where it would scarcely be deemed men could go. He captured one piece of artillery, he and his men taking the piece by main force and hauling it a long distance off, and then returned to the fight. The Wisconsin regiment was the last body off the field, and their run was caused by the rebel cavalry. Had they been less brave their loss in prisoners would have been greater, as they remained in squads and charged upon the cavalry every time they approached. The retreating column also had to contend against a raking fire of artillery. As they crossed the Run the rebels had a fine rake with their guns, and kept up a constant fire of grape and canister. The loss from this sortie, however, was not heavy.

The enemy did not follow up the retreat, which shows conclusively that they did not consider it a great victory. The retreat was continued to Centreville, when a halt was made for an hour’s rest. The regiments were then re-formed, and continued their march to their old rendezvous, some to Washington, others to Alexandria, and others to Fort Corcoran; the retreat being covered by two regiments who were not in the field.

It is certain that just before Gen. Johnston arrived with his troops, the rebels were whipped, although at no one time did the federal army have more than fifteen regiments in the field; and but for Johnston’s arrival, they would have left very suddenly for Manassas Gap. The federal troops are not disheartened at the result of the conflict. They feel that they have fought bravely, and that they had not well disciplined men to lead them on. After the conflict had commenced, but little was seen of them; but after the retreat was sounded, and while the column was marching until it had got beyond all danger, very few of the field officers were to be seen. Many of the captains and lieutenants of companies exhibited a courage and intuitive knowledge of military matters that was deserving of a better fate.

We lost most of our blankets, haversacks, &c., that were thrown off when we started to join Hunter, and we lost many of our muskets in the field, but their places were supplied with Sharpe’s rifles, with which the enemy were well supplied. I think the trade is about even. They were well supplied with fighting material, having all that is necessary, all bearing the trade mark of the United States.

Just as I am finishing the present, a member of Capt. Langworthy’s  company has come in from the enemy. He was taken prisoner, and set to work digging graves for the dead. Fearful are the preparations made, so immense is the number. All will be huddled together in common graves, friend and foe together, without prayers or service. It is asserted that a determination was expressed by many to bayonet such of our men who were badly wounded, and some proceeded to execute the threat, when stopped by an officer. Dr. Irwin, of our medical staff, is among them as a prisoner, and is looking after our wounded who are prisoners.


Janesville Weekly Gazette and Free Press, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy