Unit History – 5th Alabama Infantry

10 05 2022

Completed its organization at Montgomery, Alabama, in May, 1861, and proceeded to Virginia. Its companies were from the counties of Barbour, Clarke, Lowndes, Talladega, Dallas, Sumter, Monroe, Greene, and Pickens. At the battle of First Manassas, the 5th was part of General Ewell’s Brigade, but was not actively engaged. During the balance of the war it served under Generals Rodes, O’Neal, and Battle. The unit was prominent in the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia from Williamsburg to Cold Haror, then fought with Early in the Shenandoah Valley and the Appomattox operations. During April, 1862, it had a force of 660 men, but lost 27 killed and 128 wounded at Seven Pines and forty-one percent of the 225 at Malvern Hill. The regiment reported 24 killed, 133 wounded and 121 missing at Chancellorsville, and of the 317 at Gettysburg, more than sixty percent were disabled. It surrendered with 4 officers and 53 men. The field officers were Colonels Josephus M. Hall, E. Lafayette Hobson, A. C. Jones, C. C. Pegues, and Robert E. Rodes; Lieutenant Colonel John T. Morgan; and Major Eugene Blackford.

From Joseph H. Crute, Jr., Units of the Confederate States Army, p. 7





Pvt. Matthew S. Ramsey, Co. D, 5th Alabama Infantry, Before the Battle

17 01 2022

From the Seat of War.

For the Beacon.

Farr’s X Roads,
Near Fairfax C. H., Va.,
July 15, 1861.

Col. Harvey – Dear Sir: – I guess you think our correspondence is about to cease entirely. We are not allowed to furnish any news now for publication. Orders to this effect are continually being read before the Regiments of the Brigade. We are on the advance line of General Beauregard’s army. Our station is fifteen miles from Manassas Junction. We do not know when an engagement will take place here. I am altogether in doubt as to that now. Our Regiment is filled now by a fine looking Company from Barbour county, Ala., Capt. Blackfort. The Flying Artillery Company has not been released from Pensacola. We are now very anxious to have them here.

The ”Greensboro Guards,” who are here, are now very healthy. – We learn that Messers. Miller and Bulger, at Culpepper C. H., are yet pretty sick. These are the only serious cases we have had. – come good men and soldiers will have to be discharged from the service in consequence of prolonged indisposition. I think Messrs. C. T. Briggs and James A. Loster have already been discharged.

On Friday last a scouting party composed of a Captain, a Lieutenant and 15 privates, marched nearly into the enemy’s camp unconsciously. They were immediately nearly surrounded by the enemy in pretty large numbers, who attempted to out-flank and cut them off. The Captain, knowing there was no use in making any resistance, ordered his men to make their escape as quickly as possible. They have all come into camp except three, viz: Robt. Paulding, of the “Greensboro Guards,” Fiquet, of the “Warrior Guards,“ and Walker, of the “Pickensville Blues.”* This is Monday, and we have heard nothing from them. – Paulding, who is the son of Major Paulding, of Marengo county, was one of the best soldiers in our Company. He was brave and daring. He always did his duty cheerfully, and never missed a drill on account of sickness. He was liked by all the members of the Regiment who knew him.

I have no time to write more now. We have received the Beacon pretty regularly since we came here.

Yours truly,
M. S. R

P. S. Judge Moore’s Regiment is ordered and gone to Winchester. Captain Van de Graff’s Company from Gainesvillle is at Manassas Junction. Mrs. Gen. Kerr is at Culpepper attending our sick. She will long be remembered by the “Greensboro Guards.” She is acting nobly. I would like to tell you more about our position, &c., but if any one communicates this, he would lay himself liable to be court-martialed; besides, it would do no good for our friends to know the circumstances by which we are surrounded.

M. S. R.

*A letter dated the 16th, from a member of the 5th Ala. Regiment, has been received here, which states that the tree missing members of this scouting party had been taken prisoners. – Ed.

(Greensboro) Alabama Beacon, 7/26/1861

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Roster of 5th Alabama Infantry

Matthew S. Ramsey at Ancestry

Matthew S. Ramsey at Fold3





J. H. C.*, Co. D, 5th Alabama, Before the Battle

16 01 2022

From the Seat of War.

For the Beacon.

Fairfax Court House, Va.,
July 14, 1861.

Col. Harvey – Dear Sir: – Thinking that a letter from the Greensboro Boys would not be uninteresting to the readers of the Beacon, I concluded to write a few lines concerning our whereabouts and what doing. We are near Fairfax Court-House, pleasantly situated, having excellent water, which heretofore has been quite a rarity. We fare finely upon the fattest of mutton, beef, chicken, ducks, &c., which we furnish, of course, ourselves. Our duties are none too severe, though we have plenty to do. Our guard duty is worst of all, especially picket guards, as we have so far to walk, and over very broken and rough roads. Our drills occupy about five hours of the day, but the weather being very pleasant, they are not so fatiguing as they formerly were. We often think of the burning sands of Pensacola, and rejoice that we are so fortunate as to be ordered here.

We have had some pretty rough times since we bid adieu to the sunny clime of Alabama, but we went through them cheerfully, and “nobody’s hurt.” We had one march of seven miles from Manassas Junction to Stone Bridge, better known as Bull’s Run. We remained there only three days, then marched to this place, a distance of twelve miles, which was a very fatiguing march, having to march the whole distance at night. We, however, all got here safely. We did nothing the next day but pitch our tents and sleep. I think the Yankees would have worried us considerably had they attacked us at this time, for I assure you we were nearly broken down. We have been here three weeks, and have encountered no enemy yet, though we know not at what moment we may be attacked. Various rumors are in circulation concerning the advance of the enemy, – some that they are within six miles of us and still advancing, others that they are not less than ten miles from us. Some of our scouts were out yesterday, and found none closer than ten miles. We know very little of what is going on, even in our army; and if we did know, we are not at liberty to make it public. We are certain of one thing, and that is, we intend giving them a warm reception when they do come. I never saw so determined a set of men as we have. Every one is anxious for an encounter with the enemy. We have the most implicit confidence in the courage and good judgement of our officers, as well as in our ability to scatter Old Abe’s band of mercenaries to the four winds of heaven. Our Colonel has no superior in the Southern army, and will lead us on to victory in every encounter. The Greensboro Boys are the life of the Regiment, always in fine spirits, (I don’t mean ardent spirits,) singing and dancing nearly every night. They are now in better spirits than usual, for yesterday was pay day, and we walk about with our hands in our pockets with all the dignity of one who was worth a million dollars and had no poor kin. We had the addition to our Regiment of another fine company of Alabamians from Barbour county, Capt. Blackford. They look the same as all other Alabama Boys, brave and ready to repel the invaders of our sacred soil.

There is not much sickness in camp at this time, the measles have pretty well given out, there not being enough to go all around. – Very few deaths occurred in the Regiment, three since we have been here, and they from the imprudence of considering themselves well too soon after an attack of measles. We have Divine service every Sabbath, which is always well attended, and great interest taken in it. The boys to-day are variously occupied – some collecting in groups discussing the news of the days, others singing, and still others, and by far the majority, pouring forth the contents of a full heart to those loved ones far away – parents, sweet-hearts and friends. We often think of them and wish to see them, but knowing the cause in which we are engaged, we cheerfully submit to the toils and privations of a soldier’s life. We wish them all well, and if it should fall to our to never again to return to the dear ones at home, let them take consolation in knowing that we fell in defence of all we held most dear to us, and died face to face with the enemy.

J. H. C.

(Greensboro) Alabama Beacon, 7/26/1861

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*Likely Pvt. John Henry Cowin, also a diarist.

Roster of 5th Alabama Infantry

John Henry Cowin at Ancestry

John Henry Cowin at Fold3

John Henry Cowin at FindAGrave





James D. Webb*, Acting Quartermaster, Co. D, 5th Alabama Infantry, On the Retreat to Bull Run and the Battle

15 01 2022

From the Seat of War.

For the Beacon.

Head-Quarters, 5th Regiment,
Ala. 12m Vol., Union Mills Station,
Fairfax Co., Va., July 29, 1861.

Mr. John G. Harvey – Dear Sir: – Since my last letter to you an order has been given by the General commanding the army that neither officers or privates must, for the future, write either for publication or private information the movements of the troops. This will circumscribe my correspondence, and prevent me from communicating to you much that would be of interest connected with the movements of our regiment. Our friends at home doubtless will be prepared to give a hearty acquiescence to the command, as it is for the good of our beloved country. Believing that it is not in violation of the order, I can give you, not in detail, however, our movements since I wrote you.

On the morning of the 17th our picket guard was engaged in a fight with the enemy. This engagement was on the Braddock road, some three miles from our camp at Farr’s X Roads. On the night of the 15th Capt. Shelly, of Talladega, with his command, was sent out to reinforce our picket guard. He was on his return to our camp, and was within a mile of the camp when he heard the fire between out pickets and the enemy’s advance guard. He immediately returned to their assistance. Before the fight commenced out pickets captured a Zouave of the enemy. He had with him a large New Foundland dog. He surrendered to a member of Capt. Fowler’s company. In this engagement W. L. Kennedy, of Greensboro, distinguished himself. He stood in an open field and took five deliberate shots at the enemy as they advanced. He killed two men and wounded two others. He was fired at by the enemy as they concealed themselves behind trees. They took eight shots at this noble and gallant boy. – Col Rodes announced him a Color Corporal as soon as he was informed of his gallant bearing. Two others of our company, who were of the picked guard, if not so successful were not less gallant in their bearing. George Nutting showed that he was brave and cool – his gun failed to fire – he stood unmoved by the fire of the enemy. The other was Joe Wright. He stood their fire and doubtless brought down his man. Since the fight of the 21st we have heard through prisoners taken in the battle, that we killed some 60 or 70, amongst the number several field officers, one Captain and two Lieutenants. The damage on our side was two men wounded – one a private in Capt. Shelly’s company, had the rim of his left ear cut off; the other a private of Capt. Fowler’s company, was wounded in the leg.

It will be borne in mind that Capt. Shelly and our picket guard made this fight – all honor is due to them – they checked the column of the enemy advancing on the Braddock Road. We were informed that in that column was 2,500 regulars and about 7,000 volunteers.

When the information reached the camp that the enemy was advancing on us, the men of our regiment struck their tents, loaded the wagons, and they were ordered, under charge of Sergeant S. Sowin, (who was lame from gout,) to move two miles to our rear towards Manassas Junction. The regiment then formed, and the Colonel gave to each company orders to march off to meet the enemy at a place some ¾ of a mile from our camp, on the Braddock Road, where we had thrown up a breastwork, all of which was done with as much coolness and deliberation, by officers and men, as they would attend a Battalion drill. As each company moved off, three hearty cheers were given for our gallant Colonel. As the last company moved off Col. Rodes ordered the writer to go to Fairfax Court House and report to Gen. Bonham that he would await his orders at out breastworks. On reaching General Bonham he gave order that Colonel Rodes should retreat. On my return to the regiment the enemy had been checked in their advance on the Braddock Road. Our men received the order to retreat with great reluctance. – As they marched off they gave many long lingering looks behind, hoping that the enemy would overtake us. – The retreat was conducted to McLane’s Ford, on Bull Run, about 5 miles from Manassas Junction. At that place we reported to General Jones, and he ordered us to this place to guard the ford on Bull Run at this point.

On the 18th the enemy advanced on Mitchell’s Ford, on Bull Run. They were repulsed three times, and retired to Centreville, a small town on the turnpike road leading from Alexandria to Warrenton. On the 21st was the great fight near the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run – the bloodiest fight ever made on American soil. Never before was an army so thoroughly and entirely equipped and prepared for the field as the army that advanced on us at the Stone Bridge. In all its detail it was complete. They came believing that in numbers they would overwhelm us. In a few short hours this immense force, with all its armaments, was overwhelmed, shattered and scattered before our forces, like the chaff before the wind. It will tax credulity to take in the facts. This glorious victory was won by the valor of our men. The 4th Regiment Alabama Volunteers, under command of Col. Egbert Jones, bore an important part in the fight. We mourn the loss of many a brave son. – They won a name for Alabama that day of which the most ambitious may be proud. It would be impossible for me to give you an idea of this great battle in the limits of a letter. The enemy fled in terror of our men. They left their dead and wounded, and to this hour have never looked behind them. To their shame be it recorded that they left their wounded to be taken care of by the enemy, and their dead covering acres upon acres to bleach the field red with their blood, or to be buried by the enemy. I could never have believed that American men would have been guilty of such brutality. We captured prisoners without number, officers and privates, and amongst others a member of Congress from New York, Mr. Ely, who came to witness the victory. We took 71 pieces of cannon, some 200 wagons, horses ambulances, arms, ammunition, blankets canteens, and, in short, every thing. As this force, in perfect dismay, fled before our troops, they ran to Arlington Heights and reported that we were immediately behind them. As the roar of the retreating forces reached Arlington Heights they were fired upon by their friends.

We were not in the fight, but were ordered to the battle field late in the afternoon, and reached there after a rapid march of seven miles just as the enemy commenced their retreat. Soon after we reached this bloody field we were ordered back to this place, it having been reported to the General that the enemy was advancing on this Ford. We hastened back and took our position. It is the hardest service we have seen. For four days wand nights we were in the woods without tents or cooking utensils, hourly expecting an attack. On Sunday night it commenced to rain, and continued to pour down all day Monday and until a late hour Monday night. All that time we were without shelter, not even a blanket, and with nothing to eat but hard bread and meat that was broiled on the fire. Our boys stood it well – not even a murmur. On Tuesday we put up our tents, and since then have been quite comfortable. Here we are awaiting orders, and know not where we are to go, or when we will have orders. Our young men are doing well. While some of them have not entirely recovered from the effects of measles, we are gaining strength every day. Our friends may continue to address us at Manassas Junction. Col. Syd. Moore is camped about six miles from us, neat the battle field. He reached Manassas Junction on Monday after the fight.

Our friends must bear in mind that I write under the limits prescribed in the order referred to in the commencement of this letter.

It is not inappropriate that I should say that shoes can procured with great difficulty. Clothing, too, will be hard to get here. The State of Virginia is one military camp. It would be well that thought should be taken as to the way in which our men in the field should be provided with hats, shoes, and a warm suit of clothing by winter. I see that out Court of County Commissioners has appropriated $3,000 for our companies; judiciously expended, it will be of great service.

Very truly yours,
J. D. Webb

(Greensboro) Alabama Beacon, 8/9/1861

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*There were two James D. Webbs in Co. D, one, a corporal, listed as Jr., and another, listed as Acting Quartermaster (AQM). Due to the address as “Head-Quarters” and commentary on supplies in the close of the above, the letter writer is assumed to be the elder (43-year-old) James D. Webb.

Roster of 5th Alabama Infantry

James D. Webb at Ancestry.com

James D. Webb at Fold3

James D. Webb at FindAGrave





Pvt. Matthew S. Ramsey, Co. D, 5th Alabama Infantry, On the Retreat to Bull Run and the Battle

13 01 2022

From the Seat of War.

For the Beacon.

Union Mills, Va., July 30, 1861.

Col Harvey – Dear Sir: – I guess you have heard all about the conflicts between the two armies in Virginia. – You have also learned, perhaps, that the 5th Regiment of Alabama “opened the ball” at Farr’s X Roads, near Fairfax Court House. Our pickets engaged their advance guard on the 17th of July, four miles in advance of our camp. The Regiment soon marched to our breast-works, not yet finished, expecting to meet them every moment. Company E, scouting under the gallant Capt. Shelly, was sent to the aid of the guards. These parties exchanged many fires with the Vandals, and retreated behind our fortifications, having suffered little injury. We were already ordered to retreat, and finding the troops who supported us, right and left, had gone, the order was executed. We marched in quick time down the Braddock Road, in the direction of Centreville, and reached McLane’s Ford, on the Bull’s Run Creek, about 3 o’clock P. M. Pretty hard march. We removed that night to this place, where we all slept that night without tents, and many of us without blankets. Uon this march, Colonel Rodes promoted Mr. W. L. Kennedy of the “Greensboro Guards,” to a position in the “Color-bearers staff,” for having performed some deed of bravery – killing, I think, as many as two Yankees. On Thursday we were holding our position near this place, and could hear the sharp fighting in the “little fight” at Mitchell’s Ford. On Sunday, the 21st July, we marched upon the field just as the enemy was in full retreat. We were first ordered to flank them, but some mistake made in issuing the orders, caused us to proceed rapidly to the scene of action. If Gen. Ewell’s Brigade had been permitted to open a heavy fire upon the disordered columns of the flying enemy, the route would have been complete. We will not regret this, however, as our brave army had gained glory enough for one day.

The 4th Alabama suffered severely in the contest; yet they acted nobly, fighting after the field officers had been all killed or wounded. I learn that Col. Jones has died since the battle. Maj. Scott is not seriously injured. In the language of President Davis, “This was a glorious but dear-bought victory.” Many noble sons of the South fell on the 21st of July – a day long remembered in the Southern Confederacy.

Thus you see the Fifth Regiment, or, as the Yankees call us, the “Bloody Fifth,” has been for the last two weeks subject to advance and retreat without ever yet being brought into actual service. We have learned, since our retreat, that Lincoln’s troops boast of having whipped the 5th Ala. Regiment with the loss of twenty-seven men, – Glorious victory, that!

The “Greensboro Guards” are pretty well at present. Mrs. Gen. Kerr, who has shown us so many favors, has just arrived in camp. She is from Culpepper Court House, where she attends our sick.

Yours truly,
M. S. Ramsey

(Greensboro) Alabama Beacon, 8/16/1861

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Roster of 5th Alabama Infantry

Matthew S. Ramsey at Ancestry

Matthew S. Ramsey at Fold3





Capt. Josephus Marion Hall, Co. A, 5th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle

12 01 2022

Letter from Capt. Hall.

Near Manassas, July 29, 1861.

Dear Daffin: I received your letter several days since, but times were too hot to reply then. It was the day after the great battle – and truly it was a great battle. Those at home who prate about Yankees not fighting, should have witnessed that battle. Many of their regiments stood until we had literally cut them to pieces. They never gave back until we put the bayonet to them, then they could do as pretty running as any men you ever saw. Our men gave the New York Zouaves their especial attention. Those rascals fought until their regiment was destroyed by the Louisiana Tigers, who charged upon them with Bowie Knives. The Zouaves were astonished and stood still until the Tigers closed with them, then such cutting, hacking, yelling and screaming never was enacted this side of Bedlam. Not more than 200 escaped with sound bodies. As the Tigers closed with them they shouted, ‘Look out, Zouaves;’ which caution the latter would have done well to have heeded.

Wash. Williams was the only man of my Company in the fight. He became separated from the regiment in our retreat from Far’s Cross Roads, fell in with the 4th South Carolina Regiment, and fought from 8 o’clock until 4. He says one gets used to the whistle of bullets very soon. He fired 17 rounds and then supplied himself with cartridge from a dead Yankee’s box.

Our regiment is under Gen Ewell, whose brigade was on the right. The attack was made on the centre and left; and therefore we were not in the fight. We were intended to flank the enemy’s left and attack his rear. About 1 o’clock, we commenced the movement, marched 3 miles and reached a position entirely behind him, when we were ordered to hasten to the aid of Gen. Beauregard. – From this you can see how closely our left wing was pressed. If we could have gone on we would have captured almost the entire army, as we would have been in the rear with about 7000 fresh troops. I think we would have caught Congressmen enough at Centreville – we being on the direct road for that place – to have broken up old Abe’s Congress. All now bitterly regret the order that deprived us of such a glorious chance of hurting the Vandals with almost no danger to ourselves. We marched up the creek to the scene of action, and reached there, after marching about 14 miles in 4 hours, only in time to see a long line of dust made by the enemy on his rapid retreat. If we could have pursued him, we might still have done great execution; but we were too completely exhausted. No one thought the defeat so disastrous until the next day, in fact most of us prepared for a hard fight the day following. We knew they had heavy reserves at Centreville, and supposed the army would rally there. But they were so frightened that they never stopped running from our cavalry until they crossed the Potomac. We took almost every thing they had – 74 cannon, some 500 wagons, hundreds of horses, thousands of muskets, and millions of ammunition, numerous ambulances, &c. – The property we got could not be replaced short of 3 to 5 millions. The field the day after the fight beggars description. – Heads, legs, arms, dead bodies, wounded, &c. lay in one confused mass for miles. Where the Tigers met the Zouaves, that latter were piled five deep in many places. Many of the wounded Yankees lay two days in a cold rain and chilly air, before assistance could be rendered them. Their friends deserted them and we had to provide for them.

Your friend,
J. M. Hall

The (Grove Hill, AL) Clarke County Democrat, 8/15/1861

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Josephus Marion Hall at Ancestry

Josephus Marion Hall at Fold3

Josephus Marion Hall at FindAGrave





Sgt. John S. King, Co. D, 18th New York Infantry, On the Campaign

13 05 2020

The Part the 18th took in the Fight.
—————

We are permitted to publish the following letter from Sergeant King, of the “Walkill Guards,” showing what part their Regiment had in the fight at Bull Run:

Camp Myers,
Alexandria, Va., July 21, 1861.

Doubtless you are anxious to know what share the 18th had in the fight. I will give you a history of our movements in detail, so that you can judge for yourselves.

We left out Camp on Tuesday morning, with three days’ rations in our haversacks, and with buoyant hearts and spirits, marched for Fairfax C. H. Alas! how soon they were destined to be damped. We marched about eight miles, and then encamped for the night, wrapping our blankets around us, and disposing ourselves to sleep as best we could. We were aroused early in the morning, and were immediately on the march. We found the road greatly obstructed by trees felled across the road, seemingly done the day before. Our march, consequently, was very slow.

Within 5 or 6 miles of Fairfax, a firing was heard ahead, and an engagement was anticipated. We were destined, however, to be disappointed. The Rebels, after firing upon our advance guard, which was composed of two or three companies of the 18th, retreated, but not until the crack of the Enfield rifles had made some of them bite the dust. They were armed with Sharp’s rifles, and but for firing too high, might have done us considerable injury. As it was, however, we had one Lieutenant, one Sergeant, and three privates wounded – one private pretty severely. As we neared Fairfax intrenchments came in vie, and the word passed down the line, ‘Forward up the Eighteenth!’ No sooner heard than the words ‘Forward! Eighteenth, double quick!’ Past the column we went, and into the woods on a double quick, but no enemy was found. The intrenchments were deserted. The march the rest of the was to Fairfax was protected by companies of the 18th acting as skirmishers. Our company took the woods about two miles from Fairfax, to act as skirmishers. We advanced slowly, directed by the Lieut. Col., than whom there was no better officer in the army. Immediately before us, upon the brow of a hill, commanding the road, lay a splendid intrenchment; while immediately before it, and extending down for some distance, were piles of green brush four or five feet deep. We approached from the bottom, through the woods, and as we approached the outskirts the Colonel halted us. This was our Company alone, Company F being up on the other side of the road. We watched behind trees and stumps for about ten minutes, but no sign of an enemy could be seen. (This skulking behind trees and stumps is a part of the skirmisher’s drill.) Then the word forward was given, and we scrambled through the brush and started for the battery, catching up the blackberries as we went along. We reached the intrenchment but found it was deserted. They had left evidently in great haste, as we found warm bread in the ditch, and a knapsack belonging to the Tuscaloosa Volunteers. There were two letters inside which I meant to have sent home, but I have lost them.

We proceeded a short distance farther when firing was heard on the right, and “Rally on the right” immediately following. We at once closed up and prepared to receive a charge of cavalry, which was reported to be approaching down the road. It proved, however, to be our own men who belonged to another brigade, and had entered Fairfax in another direction. We proceeded within about a mile of the village and then encamped. We found a camp of the Fifth Regiment of the Twelve Month Volunteers, of Alabama, which had not been evacuated above an hour. Pistols, Bowie knives, coffee pots, chairs, camp stools, &c., were found scattered about in great confusion, and every volunteer had something or other on the end of his bayonet. We found a flag or banner of some sort belonging to the regiment, which was torn to pieces in a jiffy – a piece of which I enclose as a trophy of war.

We encamped here all night, and early in the morning took the road for Centreville, about 8 miles distant. We arrived there without molestation, and encamped within a mile of the village. We had not been encamped over an hour, when a heavy cannonading was heard to the west, followed by musketry, which lasted about an hour and a half. This was the first battle with masked batteries, the particulars of which you are doubtless better posted on than I am. I saw a great many of the wounded in Centreville the next day, and also some of the dead. I saw them bury a sergeant of the Boston Fusiliers. The grave was about four feet deep, and with a piece of carpet wrapped about him he was buried. The Fire Zouaves arrived the next day, and encamped in the field adjoining us. They are a hardy appearing set, and looked as though they could fight like the “Old Harry,” which was plainly made evident the next day.

At six o’clock we received orders to be in readiness to march at two o’clock, the 18th being assigned the post of honor, the right. We were roused up at two, and at five commenced our march for the enemy, accompanied by Green’s battery, and followed by the 16th and 32d Volunteer Regiments of N. Y. We reached the point where the fight was about 7 o’clock, and the battery opened fire upon the spot where the masked battery was supposed to lie, but no answer was received. We were posted in the rear of the battery, to prevent a flank movement of the enemy to capture the pieces. We were supplanted by the 16th in the course of three hours, and were sent into the woods to head off another anticipated movement of the enemy. Again we were marched a mile or so “double quick” down the road. In fact, we were kept changing around all the whole day. Towards evening we heard firing in the direction where we were stationed in the morning, and an officer rode up and ordered us up to support the battery at a “double quick.” We had got about half way there, when we met them retreating. We ascertained that the battery had been attacked by a thousand riflemen, who had been waiting all day for a chance to capture them. In fact, we were within 600 feet of a masked battery when we were in the woods, but they did not fire upon us, not liking the looks of our rifles. After our withdrawal the attack was made, and our battery opened upon the riflemen as they came out of the woods, scattering them in all directions, the 32d firing one volley and then retreating, and the 16th not firing one. Col. Davis ordered the retreat, and the artillery had to withdraw, but with reluctance. The commander of the battery told Col. Jackson, “My God, Colonel, I which I had had your regiment there.” We received praise from every direction, and were the last regiment to bring p the retreat to Centreville. We were completely fagged out, and when we could get a chance we would drop to the ground. We were posted out of Centreville a ways as a guard, and we rested about an hour, but had to keep awake. We were then called up, and were kept upon a steady quick march until we reached Fairfax. We staid here about an hour, and then started for Alexandria, a distance on the whole of 23 miles. The way was strewn with baggage wagons, which were turned over, run into fences, and their contents strewn along the road. A panic, it seems, had seized the drivers, and they had overturned their wagons and started back helter-skelter. The regiment kept together until we reached Fairfax. After that they commenced to fall behind. The regiment reached Alexandria about 10 o’clock, a. m. – that is, about 200 of them. I did not reach there until about 5 o’clock, stopping along the road to cook some coffee. I could write on for any length of time, relating incidents and so forth, but I am pretty well tired out. By the by, to cap that climax, after we arrived here our whole Company was put on picket guard, and we did not get any sleep then except what we could steal. We suffered greatly for water on our march, drinking anything we could find along the way.

J. S. King

Middletown (NY) Whig Press, 7/31/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

John S. King at Ancestry.com 

John S. King at Fold3 





In Dreams: Romance In the Valley

9 08 2013

I’m still – STILL – reading Voices from Company D. Thankfully though, it is now January of 1865. The other night I came across an entry from Henry Beck, a company member who was on detached duty as a commissary clerk. It’s from December 7, 1864, while Early’s forces were still operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Henry’s duties required him to travel about a good bit behind the lines, and while staying with the Heller family in Harrisonburg he spent his time a-courtin’ and a-sparkin’ young Lucy Heller. Before he left town to rejoin his command, he proposed. The next day, he wrote (bold font provided by me):

After several questions on both sides, I received an answer in the affirmative. With what joy my heart received it, is beyond my power to describe. I felt that I was entering upon a new life, from which I could foresee nothing but happiness. After this interesting interview was ended, I retired, but only to wake & dream. It must have been near two o’clock before I went to sleep, only to dream again of the one whom I have learned to love so devotedly, also of the tobacco bag received in the morning.*

Priorities, Henry. FYI, by 1870 Henry and Lucy had three children and were living in Greensboro, AL.

And here’s a little something on dreams because, well, because who in their right mind can’t use a little Roy Orbison every now and again?

Hubbs, G. Ward, ed., Voices from Company D, p. 330





Returning Fire

18 07 2013

I’m still making my way through Voices from Company D: Diaries by the Greensboro Guards, Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia. I’ve written a little about it before. If you haven’t already read it, you should add this one to your list. It features multiple diaries from members of the same company (they were present at First Bull Run, however they were Company I at the time – I need to change that on the entries I transcribed.) Right now (where I am in the book, April 1863), the daily entries are comprised of entries by two diarists – typically the first tersely describes the day as having no significant occurrence, followed by about 1,000 words from the second. It’s an entry from the second diarist on April 12, 1864 that caught my eye this time. The diarist is Jaimie Pickens (JP), who was not a slave owner – though his family owned about 200, which again proves the fallacy of the “most southern soldiers didn’t own slaves” argument. It caught my eye because it reminded me of a ferryboat ride out to Ft. Sumter about 18 years ago, during which the recorded NPS narrative pointed out the positions from which Confederate batteries “returned fire.”

To-day 3 years ago (Ap’l 12th & 13th 1861) the Yankees fired on Ft. Sumter – the inauguration of the war of invasion of the South & its people.

Yikes! JP happens to have been a very well educated and eloquent young man who had attended the University of Virginia. His entries give valuable insight not only into how he viewed the war historically as it happened, but also his views on the prospects for peace and from whence it was likely to come (right now, he’s hoping for a third party to take power in the North.) I know of no other collection like this. Check it out.





“There are three grown negroes there doing nothing, and wants men to build him a kitchen.”

25 06 2013

I came across a couple of passages today that got me thinking, the way things get you thinking to the point where you can’t read any further until you sort those thoughts out a bit. Do something about them. My current read is the very fine Voices from Company D, a collection of diaries by members of the Greensboro Guards, 5th Alabama Infantry, edited by G. Ward Hubbs. It really is a must read for anyone studying the war. I’ve had it for a long time and am just getting around to actually reading it, as opposed to skimming. Currently I’m in January of 1863, and this entry by John Henry Cowin (who, despite being a doctor and graduate of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College, served as a private) got me to thinking (p. 138):

January 13, Tuesday…Col. Hall ordered today a detail from the different companies to go to Camp and build him a kitchen. Capt Renfrew refused to send him any man and Capt Williams sent him word that he could not get any more men for such a purpose. There are three grown negroes there doing nothing, and wants men to build him a kitchen.

This got me thinking on two levels (at least), one being that CW armies in many ways were not armies as many of us understand them today, whether that understanding comes from service, study, or simply watching dozens of movies over the years. Many of us tend to think that orders are orders, yet we run across so many instances of orders not necessarily being orders in Civil War armies of independent-minded citizen soldiers. (By the way, Renfro – inconsistent spelling – was arrested the next day, though Williams was not.) The Colonel detailing soldiers for manual labor of a personal nature while more “appropriate” personnel for such duty was available was seen as adding insult to injury. The passage gives the lie to the first line of defense of many who try to downplay the role of slavery as a cause of the war – that only fillintheblank percent of southerners actually owned slaves. As if actual ownership of human chattel was the single criteria for interest in seeing the institution perpetuated. This plays into one of my other on-going interests regarding how slavery as a character-molding fact of life in the south affected the efficiency and capabilities of the Confederate military.

Just three days later, another Cowin entry caught my attention (p. 140):

January 16, Friday…Last night about ten o’clock it began to rain and continued until day light this morning. Six of us were under a fly. (The tent being occupied by Britton’s Servant who is very sick with Typhoid Fever.) Our blankets all got perfectly saturated with the rain, and occasionally a large drop of water would fall in my face rendering all hopes of sleep vain. I could only lay there and amuse myself dodging from the drops of rain and wishing fro day light to come…Britton’s Servant John died today about half past twelve o’clock and was buried this afternoon. No coffin could be procured and he was buried as a soldier, wrapped in his blanket.

This second passage illustrates the complexity of viewing slavery with minds formed in the latter part of the 20th Century. It’s difficult to reconcile the inhuman nature of human bondage with the image of six white men huddled under a tent fly in a rainstorm while a servant, presumably a slave, lies dying as the sole occupant of their nice, dry tent, and with the fact that they  made an effort to procure a coffin for the man before burying him “as a soldier.” What do you think?