We remained at Fairfax C. H. until the 17th of July, and I was sent with fourteen other men, commanded by Serg. Garret, three miles below Fairfax C H. on the Falls Church road to stand picket, and at 9 o’clock a. m. we found that McDowell was moving on Manassas Junction by three roads, viz.: Falls Church road, Little River turnpike, and Flint Hill road. Serg. Garret returned to notify the General of McDowell’s movement, but the Gen. had already learned from other pickets, of his advance, so he ordered the army to retreat immediately. As Serg. Garret did not return to us, Corporal McCue sent me back 3 miles to Fairfax C. H., and when I arrived our Adjt. told me of the retreat and from there I could see Col. Kershaw’s regiment already engaged with the enemy, so I had to return to notify the other pickets to join the command, which we could only do by a flank movement and came very near being cut off entirely by the enemy. When I returned I found that two of our pickets on the Flint Hill road, John Mays and William Mailer had been captured. We continued our retreat to Centerville and remained there until night. Gen. Beauregard’s plan was to throw sky rockets to let us know when to retreat further towards Manassas Junction, and when we called in the last pickets, we were, fired upon by the enemy and two of our horses were killed from under their riders, Edward Hayth and WilHam Walton.
During the night we marched across Bull Run at Mitchel’s Ford and laid down for the remainder of the night in front of the guns at Manassas Junction. We were awakened next morning by the fireing of one of the enemy’s guns called ”Long Tom.” As this was the first big gun I had seen fired, I remember well the appearance of that shell to me. It looked more like a gate-post flying through the air than any thing else I could compare it to. After hissing through the air about a mile it exploded and I told the boys I knew it had blown Manassas Junction to “kingdom come” and she would need no more protection. It wasn’t many days after this though, until we became more accustomed to the big guns, so we didn’t jump at such hasty conclusions and the fireing wasn’t so exciting or terrifying. I hadn’t seen much of the infantry until that day and when they began double quicking and crossing Bull’s Run at Mitchel’s Ford in order to meet the enemy, I imagined we had men enough to whip the North right there.
At 9 o’clock on the 18th, the two armies met and for two hours a raging battle followed and when the Southerners made a charge ‘all along the line, they drove the enemy back with considerable slaughter, into the timber back of the lowlands, where the battle was fought, and they remained there until Sunday, with ”Long Tom” occasionally saluting us. Our line of battle extended from Blackburn’s Ford up nearly to Stone Bridge, a distance of 10 miles.
Sunday morning at about 8 o’clock Long Tom began fireing and we all thought the enemy meant to renew the attack, but about 9 o’clock we heard fireing at Stone Bridge about six miles above Manassas Junction.
The cavalry was immediately ordered to make a force march to Stone Bridge and when we got their we found that the 8th Georgia Regiment, commanded by Col. Huntington, in trying to hold the ford had lost nearly all their men and their commander. The 2nd Va. Regiment arrived to go to their rescue, but failed on account of the thick pines. About this time Jackson came in and with Gen. Bee and others, turned defeat into victory. Gen. Bee rushed to Jackson and said ‘General they are beating us back,” and Jackson said “we will give them the bayonet.” Gen. Bee encouraged by Jackson’s response shouted to his men: “Look! there is Jackson and his men standing like a stone wall.” He was ever afterward called “Stonewall Jackson.”
Gen. Bee was killed in a few minutes after making the remark to his men. The enemy, under McDowell’s command, was driven back with dreadful slaughter to Washington.
As we of the 2nd Va. regiment were unable to get to Stone Bridge to aid in the battle there and were in a dangerous position, being between the fires of both armies. Gen. Beauregaurd ordered us to the rear. Just at that time Gen. Jos. E. Johnson, coming in from the valley, rode up to Beauregaurd’s head-quarters and took command, he being a senior officer. He immediately sent a courier to Col. Radford to halt the 2nd Va Cavalry. Col. Radford told the courier to go to the D – – that he was acting under Beauregaurd’s orders. We were not aware of Johnston being near, but as soon as Johnston saw we didn’t halt he galloped down and shouted : “In the name of Jos. E. Johnston I command you to halt.” Of course, it wasn’t any trouble for Col. Radford or his men to halt, then.
He commanded us to cross Bull Run and go toward Cub Run Bridge to intersect the enemy’s line as it passed on retreat, and to shoot all the horses drawing the artillery and wagons. There being 1,000 of us. we held the road for nearly a mile, coming on their right flank and being so near before they knew jt that we succeeded in capturing 24 pieces of artillery and the men commanding same. The road was lined with dead horses for nearly a mile, a sight no one would want to witness again, but we were only carrying out orders
Our captain ordered the fences to be pulled down and 3 other men and I dismounted and tore them down on both sides. When we mounted we happened to look to our left and saw a house with a crowd of men standing around a well. I proposed to these three comrades that we could go up and fill our canteens as it was such a hot day. When we arrived, there were 60 or 70 of the finest looking men I ever saw. about middle-aged and finely dressed. More gold-headed canes, gold glasses and gold teeth than I had ever seen before on that number of men. We asked them to fill our canteens, which they did and just as they filled the last canteen, one of the men said to us that our command was retreating and I road around the house to where I could see our line and it had passed nearly out of sight. Just then two guns that we hadn’t captured with the other 24 pieces of artillery, and a regiment of infantry also, opened fire on our regiment, and Capt. Radford of 2nd Va. regiment and Serg. Ervin were killed and several others wounded
Just as we four men arrived to recross the road, a cannister of grape shot passed down the road striking two of our horses. We rode on about a half mile under a heavy fire, but they were over shooting us, just stripping the leaves from the trees, when one of the horses fell dead from his wound and the other one was still running on three legs. I took the saddle from the dead horse and carried it on my horse that was called the “Flying Artillery” and wouldn’t carry two men, and another comrade took the rider of the horse that was killed.
We overtook our regiment just as they were ready to recross Bull Run, and were held in readiness the remainder of the day, but no order for action was given and near night fall marched back to our camp ground of the proceeding night.
Just after dark a heavy rain began and continued all night and about half the next day, so we were thoroughly drenched by this time. Shortly after day break we started toward Centerville and our skirmish line captured several prisoners on the way. We moved very cautiously through the woods in the downpour of rain, thinking the enemy was at Centerville. But instead of the enemy being at Centerville, we found the homes deserted. Tables were set with the most delicious victuals, fine drinks, etc , having been prepared for a general jubilee after the supposed victory. Some of the houses were locked, but the majority were so that we could easily enter and some of the owners soon returned, so we enjoyed a bountiful repast that was intended for the northern soldiers. After the victory at Stone Bridge and the capture of the artillery at Cub Run Bridge, as they were retreating, the enemy rushed on to Washington panic-stricken. Had we realized the condition of the enemy then, as we afterward knew it to be, we could have pursued them and easily captured them, but we didn’t know the conditions.
*The 2nd Virginia Cavalry, while formed in May of 1861, was known as the 30th Regiment Virginia Volunteers until the end of October, 1861.
WITH THE SECOND VIRGINIA CAVALRY AT BULL RUN – RECOLLECTIONS OF A FIGHTER WHO WAS IN THE EARLY BATTLE.
WRITTEN FOR SUNDAY REPUBLIC
I have never seen a more beautiful sunrise than that which occurred on the 21st day of July, 1861.
The approach of the “King of Day” on a midsummer morning, is hardly announced by [?] beautiful blushes on the eastern horizon, before his bright rays begin to dart through the trees and convert the dew-drops on the grass into sparkling diamonds. The limp dress of nature has been freshened since she torrid heat of yesterday, and the smiles in inexpressible loveliness at the approach of the morning light. What a pity this beautiful panorama is of so short duration! But the sun climbs so rapidly toward the meridian that we soon are panting again for breath. I can never forget this particular sunrise.
We left our camp at Fairfax Court House early on the morning of the 17th, marched slowly up the grade through Germantown on the Warrenton Pike. We were green and raw in military matters and threw away our ham and bread to lighten the load of our horses. How we wished got them before the long day’s march was over! But dewberries were ripe and, during the frequent halt, we found means of appeasing the urgent demands of our appetite. We passed Centerville in the early evening, and late at night crossed the since famous “Bull Run.” As we passed up the long hill on the south of the stream a weird sight was presented by the silent ranks of Bonham’s South Carolina Brigade stationed near the foot of the hill. A little higher up the hill was a battery of artillery, the pieces all unlimbered and pointing toward Mitchell’s Ford which we had crossed in our march from Centreville. The ropes at the end of the rods (linstocks**) were ignited and ready to “light off” the cannon, should the enemy attempt to cross the ford during the night.
We proceeded to the summit of the hill and bivouacked on the open plateau of the crest. Our position commanded a full view of the heights on the north side of the stream and as we were not on duty, we spent the next day watching for the approach of the Army of the North. It was several miles from our position to the top of the hill on the other side. In the afternoon of the 18th, we could discern the enemy debouching from the road where it came into open view from the woods.
In a short time a puff of smoke was seen and in a few moments a cannon ball hissed past, high up over our heads, and struck in the open plateau behind us. Again, another hissed past and then another. Under the circumstances, it was difficult for them to estimate how far their balls overshot our position. But we were soon called to the woods below the road where soon we could not be exposed to the view of the artillerists. Pretty soon the booming of cannon from both armies was heard and not long after, volleys of musketry were added to the display of war at the fort below use (Blackburn’s) * * * All was quiet the next day, which was spent in restless lounging by our men. It was hard to get a drink of fresh water. There was a very faint stream, or, rather, ooze of water from the side of the hill, and it required a deal of patience to wait until a small excavation in the mud should be sufficiently filled with muddy water to enable us to dip up a cupful to drink. Captain Radford spent the day apart from us all. He had a presentiment that he would be killed in the approaching battle and wrote letters and papers most of the time.
On the 20th we were sent to do picket duty for General Cooke at the ford above us. So, Sunday morning, July 21, found J. Pleasant Dawson and myself stationed under a large water oak in the edge of a green meadow that skirted “Flat Run” near where it entered the “Bull Run.” It was hard for us to resist the temptation to dismount and loll on the carpet of green verdure spread so temptingly beneath our feet.
As the sun rose on this beautiful spot, so calm and so peaceful, our thoughts reverted to our homes, our loved ones and our neighbors, then to “Old Trinity” back in Bedford County, the church we had attended for worship all of our lives. We spoke in low and tender tones of our girl friends who would be likely to attend church that day, wishing from the bottom of our hearts that we could be there in person as we were in spirit; and then we grew silent, for our talk had conjured up a multitude of sweet memories of the past on which our hungry hearts silently feasted with delight.
A call to camp put an end to our entrancing reveries – love, peace and beauty must soon give place to the horrors of battle. We had hardly gotten to camp and taken our place in the regiment before the booming of cannon was shaking the earth and balls were tearing and whizzing through the pine woods in which we were concealed. Several hours were spent in ranks, during which it was hard to banish the thought of the terrible havoc one of these deadly missiles would make should it pass from front through to the rear of our column. As the day advanced cannon began to boom northwest of us, and those that annoyed us ceased. We then formed in line in the open field on the crest of the hill.
Ever fresh in memory is the sight of a South Carolina regiment that passed by to take a position in the line in rear of the fort. In their ranks was the tall figure of old Mr. Ruffin, who fired the first shot at Fort Sumpter. His long snow-white locks hung down below the collar of his coat from under the fur (silk) hat so often worn by elderly gentlemen of that day. The regiment passed in silence and the firm and stately tread of the men showed that the spirit that animated every bosom was of the “do-or-die” type.
After we had been in ranks for some time with the noonday sun beating down upon us from the cloudless sky, we were allowed to dismount and stand by our horses. We strained our eyes toward the northwest, where the battle was now fiercely raging, and tried to see some hoped for signs of victory for the noble band of Southrons but there was little to encourage us, although our painful interest in the scene made us forget the intense heat that enveloped us. We had no means of knowing the time of day, but the sun had some time passed the zenith, when the clear ringing voice of Colonel Radford gave forth the cautionary command, “Attention!” Then “Prepare to mount!” and then, “Mount!” We were well-drilled and the simultaneous rattle of sabers showed that we were all in the saddle. “From the right by fours, gallop, march!” In a moment, the whole column of 700 or 800 horsemen shook the earth in their gallop towards the battlefield. The dust was so thick that we could not see our file leaders, but our horses kept us right and we rapidly covered the distance between our camp and the Lewis House. Before we reached that point our gallop had been changed to a trot, so that we could pass the regiments of infantry which were also making their way to the scene of battle. A regiment of Tennessee troops attracted my attention as we passed. They were of the race of “Ana[?],” tall muscular men, with mouth firmly set, nostrils expanded and faces lit up with the light of battle, they gave us a lofty inspiration for the work we expected to be called upon to perform in a few moments. I must not forget to say that in one set of fours a jet-black negro, as large as the white giants with whom he marched, filled his place with all the dignity and determination of a born soldier.
After passing the Lewis House we began to see the effects of battle. The wounded men on the stretchers and in the “ambulances,” with cheerful voices would encourage us. “We are whipping them,” said they, “go on and make the victory a complete rout.” The stragglers, however dirty and dusty, and with down and out and rueful looks, told us their regiment had been cut all to pieces, and they were all that were left.
We rode rapidly forward and halted in column on the north side of Holkum’s Branch in rear of Stonewall Jackson’s command, and under shelter of the intervening hill.
The rising clouds of dust had given our movement and position to the enemy’s batteries and immediately they began to fire on us from the north, from the northeast and from the northwest. Shells burst on our flanks – our left flanks as we stood in column being toward the northwest.
After using shells for some time, they tried to reach us by solid shot in ricochet firing. These would strike the brow of the hill on our left and rebounding over our column would bury themselves with a dull thud in the hill beyond the branch. As we heard the hissing and screaming of the balls and shells, nearly every man would duck his head instinctively down the neck of his horse, which stood with that subdued and resigned look they always have when standing out in a thunderstorm or in the battle’s rage.
It seemed that we stood in that spot for many hours, but I know it could not have been actually much more than half an hour. Then the firing of musketry from Jackson’s line began. It would begin on the right, not in volleys but in succession and sounded as the grinding of coffee – only magnified a thousand times. Before the wave of reports would reach half way to the left flank, it would begin again on the right – the cannon of both armies playing a bass to the tenor of the musketry. Suddenly there was a yell – as unmistakable as the tocsin of the rattlesnake or the vindictive [?] of the bumble-bee as he thrusts his sting into you – and we knew the Rebels were charging the Army of Coercion. The terrible ordeal was soon over and we had to duck our heads no more. In a short time we began to march back toward the Lewis House. As our rear was approaching the top of the hill on the south of Holkum’s Branch, and old or elderly man called out: “General Johnson says ‘the cavalry must halt.’” We stood there some time. At length we were ordered to take position in a kind of natural amphitheater on the west of the Lewis House. While stopping on this hill several of our horses were wounded by bullets from parting shots of the retreating foes.
The tide of battle was now changing rapidly and our spirits were rising correspondingly. Cheer after cheer went up as Adjutant Burks told us that the “Sherman” and “Ricketts” batteries which had just worried us so much, had been captured. Then other and louder cheers when he told us a Virginia regiment had captured them. Presently Lindsay Walker and his “derringers,” as he called them, passed and took position on the hill northeast of the Lewis House, whence they fired with deliberation and regularity. In a short time, we were ordered to charge.
As we reached the top of the hill at the Lewis House and galloped down to the Lewis Ford, we could see the road to Centerville lined with the retreating enemy, whose pace was rapidly hastening to a run by the balls from Walker and the other batteries. The exultation of the moment reached the utmost limit of human endurance. Our men yelled and cheered as they galloped and the horses shared in the enthusiasm of their riders. As we came to the Warrenton pike a few scattering enemy were seen scampering about, and our men began to fire their shotguns, some at random into the air and some taking aim. The men so nearly beside themselves that I had to watch those behind me, to prevent being shot myself. Many men left the ranks to ride down those who were trying to escape. While I gazed on the confusion around me, I asked myself mentally, “Why all of our drilling and study of the ‘Manual’ if we were to do this way in battle?” Suddenly before I could make reply, in clear and clarion tones, the command was given by our Colonel, to “form and charge that battery.” About thirty men promptly took their position in line – the rest were too much occupied in chasing the fugitives. They did not hear the command. I looked up the road toward Stone Bridge and saw several pieces unlimbered. One or two were pointed toward us; the others down the pike toward Centerville. We were within a hundred yards, and they overshot our little knot of men. A terrific report like the noise of a train of cars passing over our heads almost deafened us and we left in full gallop. A run of half a mile brought me to the squadrons under our Lieutenant Colonel Munford, who was to strike the pike farther east. I took my place at the rear of his column and we advanced but the enemy finding that our cavalry had cut them off became panic-stricken and were scattered to the four winds [?] so we did not find any more of them in ranks. I captured a tall, lean and lank Irishman of a New York regiment and ended the day escorting him back to the provost guard. It was raining as I went back to camp the next morning. My “mess” were glad to see me for I had been reported killed. I learned with sorrow, that our noble captain Winston Radford, and our Color Sergeant the manly Edley Irvine were among the slain. Painful, indeed, was the loss of those princely spirits which went out with our first triumphant shouts of victory. But, “Their glory dies not and the grief is past.”
St. Louis Sunday Republic, 1900
Contributed by John Hennessy
* Unit designation determined by the narrative, which identifies the colonel as Radford, and the captain as Winston Radford. The 2nd Virginia Cavalry, while formed in May of 1861, was known as the 30th Regiment Virginia Volunteers until the end of October, 1861.
** Linstocks are rods, the ends of which can be fitted with lighted fuses, used to fire a cannon when friction primers were not available or otherwise not used. While we imagine their use in artillery of an earlier time, linstocks were part of standard U. S. artillery equipage as late as 1890. Hat tip to Craig Swain.
Centreville, July 22d 1861
My Dearest Wife,
For the last four days we have never been longer in one place than two hours – have slept every night upon the ground in good weather and bad, eaten nothing but hard crackers and fried bacon, and rested little at any time. For all of which privations, and a thousand others, we have been more than compensated – thanks to the just God who governs the courses of history, and decrees the destiny of nations – in the glorious results of yesterday. My last was from Fairfax Court House.
On the morning of the 17th we had received reliable information that the enemy were advancing, over 50,000 strong, and were not surprised at 5 o’clock in the morning to hear the fire of our pickets who were slowly retiring before the advancing foe. The order was given to pack – in ten minutes baggage was packed, tents struck, and the wagons driven to the rear, and the whole command formed in line of battle. In a few moments the glittering bayonets of the enemy lined the neighboring hills. From the heavy signal guns being fired at intervals along our line commencing at Germantown, and stretching along to Fairfax Court House, it was evident that the enemy were endeavoring to surround our little band. But our “little Trump,” as the men call Beauregard, was not to be taken by any such game.
Every preparation was made to deceive the enemy by inducing him to believe that we meditated a vigorous resistance – meantime our column defiled through a densely wooded road, and was for on the road to Centreville when the enemy discovered his mistake. He followed on very cautiously. Our troop, with Kemper’s battery, was assigned to post of honour, and charged with the duty of covering the retreat. We were the last to leave the village, and as we went out at one end of the street, his column appeared at the other. We halted at this place (Centreville) about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, again made show of battle, slept until 12 o’clock at the heads of our horses, and silently left the place, the enemy’s pickets being within talking distance of ours.
At daybreak we were across Bull Run, having marched very slowly to keep pace with the infantry. We found beds of leaves in the woods, wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and slept for an hour or two, until roused by the roar of the enemy’s guns, as he opened his batteries upon our lines. For two mortal hours, shot and shell flew thick along our whole line. This day’s work was evidently intended only to draw the fire of our artillery and show where our batteries were. In consequence of which, our gunners were ordered not to fire a single shot until within point blank range. After thus opening the ball, two dense masses of infantry were seen to defile to the right and left, to make two separate attacks. It was indeed a beautiful sight, as they came down in perfect order, and with the steady step of veterans. They came nearer and yet nearer, and yet no shot from our guns. Men began to mutter and say that we were preparing for another retreat. But, in a few moments, the appointed time arrived, a single shot from the Washington Artillery gave the signal of death, and for half an hour there was nothing but a continuous sheet of flame along the right of our line. The enemy fell back, rallied and charged again with a like result; again they rested and rushed forward; but old Virginia was true to herself, and the gallant 1st and 17th regiments met them, though twice their numbers, charged them with the bayonet, and drove them back in utter confusion.
The cavalry were held in reserved, and although within range of the artillery and continually experiencing the sensations which men may be supposed to indulge, who know there is a hidden danger hovering in the air, without knowing where it is to light, took no part in the action. Our time came yesterday, however. Our troop was for four hours in the hottest of the fight, and every man in it won the applause and approbation of the whole camp.
The action commenced at 8 o’clock of a sweet Sabbath morning. The enemy commenced with quite a heavy cannonade upon our right, which proved to be a mere feint to distract our attention, as his main attack was directed to our left wing. At ten o’clock the enemy had crossed the river on our left, and the fight commenced in earnest. From the hill on which we stood, we could see the smoke and dust, although at the distance of several miles from the fight waged on our left. Some thought our men had fallen back; others, that the enemy were retreating. It was an hour of painful interest.
At eleven o’clock, and aid-de-camp rode up in a gallop, and said our men were retiring, and the cavalry was ordered to the left. We were temporarily attached to Radford’s regiment. Ours was the first company, and mine the front platoon. On we dashed at a gallop. As we passed within range of a battery of rifled cannon, a ball was fired at us, and passed just between W___ and myself, knocking up clouds of dust. Without wavering in their ranks, the men and horses dashed forward at a gallop. As we reached the scene of action, the sight was discouraging in the extreme. The enemy had a first the advantage of every attacking party. He had concentrated all his forces for an attack upon one point. The 1st Louisiana regiment and the 4th Alabama were assailed in flank and center by 30,000 men, and literally cut to pieces. They refused to surrender but retired slowly, disputing every inch of the ground. As we rode up, we met parts of companies which had literally been overwhelmed, the men wounded, heir arms broken, while some of them were carrying off their dead in blankets. Every thing looked like retreat.
We were ordered up to within 500 yards of the enemies artillery, behind a hill which afforded some protection against their destructive fire. For an hour the firing raged with incessant fury, a ball passed over the hill and through our ranks, grazing one of our men; a shell exploded right under Radford’s horse, and every moment shot and shell were continually whistling by us. I can give you no conception of that awful hour. Not a man shrank from his post; two of our men were taken deadly sick, one fainting from heat and excitement; such calmness and composure I never witnessed. To make the matter worse, despondency, if not despair was fast writing itself on every face. The fire was evidently approaching us, and our friends were retiring, and the whispered rumour passed from lip to lip that our artillery ammunition was running low.
In a moment, however, a cloud of dust in our rear showed the approach of our wagons coming up at a dashing rate with a fresh supply. Our reinforcements now commenced pouring in. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi swept by in their glittering array with the calm light of battle on their faces, and their bayonets gleaming in the quiet Sabbath sunshine. No man faltered, no man lagged behind. Neither the groans of the dying, nor the shrieks of the wounded, as they passed to the rear in crowded ambulances, seemed to produce any impression, except to fix the determination upon the countenance of all – to win or die upon the field.
The tide now seemed to ebb just enough to keep us from despair. The firing did not advance, although the explosion of their shell was terrific in the extreme. A gleam of hope, too, gradually broke in upon us when Kemper’s battery, which had been posted in our centre, galloped up and opened a destructive fire upon our extreme left. The advance was evidently checked, when a loud cheer in the front told us that something unusual had happened. What was it? Was it the triumph of our enemies over our stricken friends, or was it some advantage gained in defence of right? The suspense was awful. Men stood straight in their stirrups and stretched their eyes as if they would pierce the rugged bosom of the barren hill which raised its sc[?]rred front before them.
An aid passes up – his message is written on his face, and, before he speaks a word, a wild shout breaks from the throats of thousands. When he speaks, another, and another, and another round of cheers told the story of our hitherto sinking hearts. The 4th Virginia regiment had taken Sprague’s Rhode Island battery of six pieces at the point of the bayonet. Scarcely had the echo of our cheers died upon the air, when again the noise of shouting broke upon us. What was it? Had the enemy rallied and retaken the guns? Fear struggled with hope. But, no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[?]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in Sherman’s battery. The firing of musketry and the rattling of bayonets was now terrific beyond description. For an hour there was an incessant crackling of rifles, without a single moment’s pause. The enemy were evidently retiring, and, unless reinforced from their left and centre, the day was ours.
To prevent this, our field telegraph had already given the signal for movement upon our own right, and a heavy fire of musketry and artillery told us that Bonham’s brigade, to which we had been attached in the morning, had crossed the run and were pouring it into the enemy’s centre. The South Carolina boys dashed up the hill, in the face of a murderous fire, bayoneted the gunners, and took quiet possession of their centre battery. It was now 3 o’clock, and the day was ours. The Washington Artillery galloped up the hill on which we were posted and opened a perfect Vesuvius of shot and shell upon the receding foe.
Colonel Lay now galloped up and told us the time for us to act had arrived – our whole force of cavalry – now rushed like the wind to the front. It was indeed a brilliant spectacle, as with slackened reins and sabres drawn, the whole command dashed past. The whole line resounded with continued cheering. The force was divided into different detachments. Col. Radford, with six companies, was ordered to cross a short distance below the enemy’s extreme right, and intercept his column; our company was in front, ,and I was riding in front of my platoon – when after crossing the swamp we came suddenly upon a detachment of the enemy concealed in the bushes, with their pieces levelled. The Colonel ordered the charge, and our boys dashed on. (1)
Poor E. F. was at my side when we rode over two of them, and they grounded their arms to E. W. just in our rear. We galloped on in pursuit of the rest, who retreated across a field toward the road on which the enemy was retreating. F. was just behind me; Saunders, a fine young fellow, just 24, and splendidly mounted, rushed past us. The enemy had concealed themselves behind a fence. We rode up and I demanded their surrender. They made no reply. I ordered Saunders to fire. Before he levelled his carbine, the whole squad poured in a volley. Saunders fell dead at my feet, and Fontaine reeled in his saddle, and exclaimed, “save me, boys, I am killed.” He was caught in the arms of his cousin, who was in the rear. Three of my platoon fired, and the two who had shot Saunders and Fontaine fell dead in their tracks. (2)
We were now in full view of the enemy’s line, passing in rapid and disordered retreat along the road, with two pieces of artillery, a large number of baggage wagons and some officers’ carriages. – Col. Radford, who is a soldier of experience, knew the strength of the enemy, and ordered a halt, commanding the men to form; but such a thing as forming was utterly impossible. The men seemed perfectly delirious with excitement, and with a wild shout of the guns, the guns,” our whole company rushed on pell-mell upon the battery, which proved to be another detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery. Such a scene of wild excitement I never witnessed.
My platoon had become detached from the company, and the company from the regiment. There were two caissons and two guns; the guns behind the caissons. My platoon, which was furthest down the road, rushed upon the men who guarded them – one fellow, standing upon the caisson, whipping the horses to make them run. They had become so much alarmed that they stood perfectly still and trembled. I made a blow at him with my sabre, knocked him off the caisson, and he was shot twice by our men before he hit the ground.
Meantime W., (who, by the way, performed admirably,) with the main body, crossed the road higher up and when the main body of the regiment came up, our company, with some of the Alexandria cavalry, had killed and wounded every man at the guns and driven their infantry supports into rapid retreat. When we left, we expected to be supported by infantry and artillery, and you may imagine our astonishment when, with not quite 300 men, we found that we had merely cut into the enemy’s column, and upon looking one hundred yards down the road, we found them preparing to open upon us with two guns, supported by six regiments of infantry. The Colonel at once ordered a retreat, so we shot the horses to the caissons, so as to block up the road, and retreated, not, however, before they had poured in upon us four rounds of grape and canister at 150 yards distance. How we escaped a perfect massacre I cannot say. Had they not been so close to us, the slaughter would have been terrible. Four of our men were killed, and Captain Radford, brother of the Colonel, was literally blown to pieces, I escaped without a scratch (as did all the rest of the officers), excepting quite a severe bruise, caused by my horse’s pressing my leg against the wheel of the gun carriage. We brought off several prisoners, a great many pistols, and several horses. (3)
Just ahead of the guns was an open carriage, very handsome; as soon as they saw us – such a rush you never saw. It is suspected, or rather hoped, that Wilson, of Massachusetts (who was, it is known, on the field,) was in it; for one of our men, Lindsay by name, took it into his head that Scott was in it, pursued and overtook it, and, at the distance of thirty steps, fired his musketoon, with eighteen buckshot, into the back window. (4)
As we returned to camp, a melancholy mistake occurred. B (our Second Lieutenant,) who was carrying poor F. to the hospital, with one or two others, met with a detachment of four of the Appomattox Cavalry, who hailed him. It is said that, instead of giving the signal agreed upon in our camp, by raising the hand to the top of the head, he took them for the enemy, and answered, Federal troops – they fired and he fell dead. (5)
Our company received, upon its return, the congratulations of every officer in General Bonham’s staff, to whom Colonel Radford had spoken of the conduct of our men.
To-day it has been raining all day. Our column pushed on this morning to this place. Our company was assigned the advanced guard; and this morning at 10 o’clock, I had the honor, with eight mounted men, of “occupying” the city of Centreville. The citizens tell us, that about 12 o’clock last night, the cry passed throughout the camp that the d—-d Virginia horsemen were upon them, when they left in utter confusion.
Our triumph has been complete. In two days our noble army has driven them back to Alexandria, captured 42 guns, many colors, and taken how many prisoners I will not venture to say. After we reached here we were ordered to explore the surrounding country in quest of fugitives. We took eighteen prisoners, and got back just at night, very wet. Such a collection of property left in their flight, you never saw. Hundreds of muskets, wagons, horses, gun carriages, thousands of knapsacks, oil-cloths, blankets, hogsheads of sugar, barrels of pork, beans – in short, everything you can conceive. We found to-day over five hundred splendid army over-coats in one pile, at one of their deserted camps, besides many tents, not struck. I helped myself to a magnificent officer’s blanket and oi-cloth to fit over the head, and the men all got over-coats.
The men are amusing themselves to-night with reading their letters, of which there are thousands left on the road. Many of them were directed to Mr. So-and so, expected at Manassas Junction. Some asked for a piece of the floor of the house on which Ellsworth was killed, with blood on it; others confidently express the belief that Beauregard’s scalp will be taken to Washington. When I tell you that we supped to-night on Yankee crackers – Yankee coffee, and nice beef tongue, actually left on the hearth of one of the officers quarters, in a kettle, ready to set on the fire – that this is written in pencil given me by one of the men, upon paper taken from their baggage wagons, that I am sitting on a Yankee camp stool, writing by a Yankee candle, you can form some idea of their utter route.
I send K a pincushion, picked up on the field, and L a needlecase. Tell W I have a nice sword for him, taken from one of the Vermont volunteers. I came very near taking a drum for him, of which we found six yesterday, but thought of the noise, and declined. (6)
Our troops occupy Fairfax Court House, to-night. – Good night; God bless and protect you, as I feel he has protected me in the last few days, in answer to your prayers. I hope I feel sufficiently grateful for my preservation.
W. B. N.
I had secured a beautiful Enfield rifle for uncle William, but it was paced in charge of one of the men, who has lost it. I will endeavor to procure another for him. Bowyer Brockenbrough, in command of a part of Pendleton’s battery, was knocked off his horse by a fragment of a shell, and slightly wounded. Raleigh Colston, who was a captain on one of the Berkely companies, had his pants perforated, and his leg grazed by a ball while advancing on Sherman’s battery. Willoughby Brockenbrough escaped untouched.
Richmond Daily Whig, July 29, 1861
From transcription in Civil War Times magazine, July 2007, Used with Permission. The letter was annotated by Joseph Pierro, who identified some of the lesser known or cryptically referenced individuals described by Newton, and they are listed below:
1 – Col. George W. Lay, Bonham’s AAG
2 – E. F. – Sgt. Maj. Edmond Fontaine, Jr.; Saunders – Pvt. Richard W. Saunders
3 – Captain Radford – Edmund W. Radford
4 – Wilson, of Massachusetts – Sen. Henry Wilson.
5 – B – Boldman H. Bowles
6 – K, L, & W – Newton’s children, Kate (3), Lucy (4), and Willoughby (7)