W. D., 8th New York State Militia, On the Battle and Retreat

28 02 2023

Correspondence of the Times.

8th Regiment,
Arlington Heights, Va., July 25th.

Receiving orders on Saturday, July 20th, to prepare for marching on the following morning, we filled our haversacks with biscuit and pork, for three days rations, and got everything in readiness to move forward at two o’clock A. M. As the day wore away, I noticed that other Regiments in our vicinity, were making the same preparations, and rumor was busy, as to where our next halting place would be, it was expected that we should have a brush with the enemy, but we did not expect it to turn out as it did. As night came on, our boys threw themselves on the ground to get a little rest, before the march began; it was rather a cold windy night, and laying on the ground in Virginia, (where dews are heavy, is not very pleasant.) I endeavored to sleep, but being so cold, I arose, and building a fire, some dozen of us laid around till one o’clock, when we commenced to get things ready, to fall in. Rolling our blankets, filling our canteens with water, with our muskets bright, ammunition all right, we formed company and fell into line. It is a singular sight to see Regiment after Regiment fall into its alloted place, not a drum was heard, nothing could be seen but the Camp Fires of the different camps. And the forests of flashing muskets of out men. Taking the road through the village of Centreville, and passing several Regiments in reserve, the advance column, came to a small wooden bridge, a short distance from which the Rebels were supposed to have erected a Battery. The plan of the attack seems to have been to have attacked them on two points at the same time. The advanced column consisting of about 9,000 men, under General Tyler, was to take the mountain road and attack the enemy in front, while Col. Hunter’s division of 13,000 men were to take a circuit through the woods to the right, and attack them in rear. In the flanking division was the 8th and 27th, also the 14th and 71st of New York, 2d Regiment of Regulars, and battery of artillery. Halting for a short time, to give the first division time to advance to the top of the hull, which we could see from the Bridge, we for the first time, heard the report of artillery, which was the 32 pounder our advance column had with them, trying its range on a force of the Rebels, which they could see at a distance. Our division now crossed the bridge, and leaving the central column, struck to the right, through the woods. After marching four or five miles we came to an open field, and expected the enemy would open fire, but there were none to be seen, every thing was as quiet on that Saturday night as if there were not a Rebel within mile around, but they were drawing us on (as in ou retreat over the same ground, they opened fire from concealed batteries.) Crossing the open space, we again took to the woods, and after a fatiguing march of some eight miles, again came to the open country, it was now between 9 and 10 o’clock, and we were beginning to get tired out, and wanted some refreshments, as out last meal was 6 o’clock the day before, the sun now began to tell upon us, and at every hold our boys would run to the trees, or any shady place to shelter from its scorching rays. Constant reports of artillery could now be heard, and as we came to an eminence we could see the smoke rise from the batteries of the opposing forces, while still farther to our left could be seen clouds of dust, as of large bodies of men moving along the road, we were anticipating it was ‘Patterson’s Division,’ instead of which, it turned out to be Johnson’s. We were now halted down in a meadow and laid our muskets down, expecting we had out-flanked the enemy, and they would retreat that way, when we should be able to capture them, (pleasant delusion, but of short duration) we had just commenced to open our haversacks to get a bite, when the order was given to fall in, and off we started on the double quick, for the battle field, through a creek, up to our knees in mud an water, and down the Road we ran, As the sound of artillery now became louder, and more frequent, we passed on still faster, throwing our blankets and haversacks by the road side, and grasping our muskets tighter, we still pressed on. A United States officer now rode by and made the remark not to be too hasty, as we should have enough before night. – We now came upon the scene of action, a large open space, surrounded by woods, in which were concealed the enemies infantry, while in front were their batteries, charging over the field, we came upon the Rebels in a clump of woods, After leaving some of our men, we drove them out and back into their entrenchments; meanwhile the Rebels had got the range of us with their guns, and poured in heavy charges of grape and canister, killing and wounding our boys in a frightful manner. We now fell back, and took a position on the hill, facing the Rebel earthworks, a brisk fire of musketry was now kept up on both sides, fortunately the aim of the enemy was bad, most of their balls, going over our heads. The enemy still kept up a sharp fire, and seemed to have double the number of guns in play we had, but their fire was not so effectual as ours, we could see our shot and shell fall into their batteries, and towards the afternoon an explosion took place, which blew some of them into the air. Our Brigade was now ordered again to endeavor to capture the battery on our left. With others, we marched over the brow of the hill, and charged up towards the Rebels, when they opened with heavy discharges of musketry, which we returned with interest. Several of my comrades now fell; on we went till within short range of the Rebel guns, when they opened a terrific fire upon us, the round shot and shell ploughed through our ranks. Our Brigade was now badly cut up. The dead and wounded were lying around in all directions, dreadfully mutilated. It was a disheartening prospect before us, 40 miles to our camp in Arlington, with no refreshments, nothing but dirty water to drink, and not enough of that, with a sanguine and merciless foe upon us. As we retreated I found the Regiments all mixed up, and every man making the best of his way back, few officers were to be seen, most of them having left their men to get back as best they could. There were [?], such as Governor Sprague. If the officers had kept with their men they could have retired in good order [?…] orderly retreats. The road was narrow and partly blocked up with wagons and ambulance for the wounded. Some of the men (to their disgrace) threw away their muskets and ammunition, and placed on gun carriages. – After marching some 7 miles, some of the poor fellow’s began to give out, and crawled into the woods, where they were probably taken by the enemy. I could now hear the report of Rifled Artillery, and began to think the Rebels had cut off our retreat. – Still onward, was the road to Centreville. – Crossing the open space, which I mentioned before, I found the enemy playing upon our retreating forces, those that could, took to the woods on the left. While the long line of ambulances and wagons kept straight on the road. As night came I reached the open road, where we had left the centre column in the morning, with such exultation. What a change now, as we went to battle in all the pomp of war, we looked in fact, invincible, but were now returning a disorganized mass of humanity. We had brought nearly all our cannon from the battle field, but as we came toward the bridge, had to leave some behind. The enemy allowed us to pass in the morning without interruption, but were now hitting the bridge most accurately with shot and shell, while another battery was playing with grape and canister on our poor fellows, passing down the road towards the bridge, the dead and wounded teamsters were laying by, just as they fell from their horses, while some of the ambulances were upset, and the wounded thrown out to be left at the mercy of the enemy. Arriving at the bridge, I found it blocked up with broken wagons, dead men, and horses, so that we could not possibly pass. Most of the men made their way through the water, while over their heads rattled the cannon balls. Crossing the river we got into the woods, but were not safe from the enemy’s artillery, their shot and shell came down amongst us, and fell and exploded not a yard from me. Feet sore and exhausted, I at last arrived at our camping grounds of the previous night, – a little rest, and onward again. From Centreville to Arlington, is 22 miles, as the night wore on some of our boys gave out, some took off their shoes and stockings and limped along as best they could. I got into camp about 10 o’clock next morning, and was right glad to get a cup of coffee once more. We had marched from Centreville on Sunday night from 2 till 11 A. M., had fought 6 hours on the battle field, and retreated forty miles in thirty-six hours.

W. D.

Oxford (NY) Times, 8/14/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Unit History – 8th New York State Militia

19 03 2022

Col., George Lyons; Lieut.-Col., Charles G. Waterbury; Maj., O. F. Wentworth. This well known militia regiment, the ” Washington Grays,” dates its origin back to April 4, 1786. It was one of the eleven uniformed and well disciplined militia regiments called out during the first days of the war to hurry to the defense of the endangered capital. It was a New York city organization, chiefly composed of hard working mechanics, with families to provide for and with no money to spare, yet the regiment left for Washington, 950 strong, on April 23, and was there mustered into the U. S. service for three months on the 25th. For some time before the battle of Bull Run it was encamped at Arlington House, where it served as guard to the headquarters of Gen. McDowell until the army moved to Bull Run, where the regiment took an honorable part in the battle. being assigned to the 1st brigade (Col. Porter), 2nd division (Col. Hunter), Army of Northeastern Virginia. Its loss in this battle was 8 enlisted men killed, 17 enlisted men wounded, 4 officers and 9 enlisted men missing, a total of 38. Two days after the battle its term of service expired, and it returned to New York, where it was mustered out on Aug. 2. Many members of the 8th volunteered for service in other regiments, notably in the 47th infantry, and in the 1st and 2nd Ira Harris cavalry. On May 29, 1862, the regiment, 895 strong, again left the state for Washington, under command of Col. Joshua M. Varian. It was mustered in the U. S. service for three months and was on duty at Yorktown. It was mustered out at New York city, Sept. 9, 1862, having suffered a loss of 6 men who died of disease during this term of service. On June 17, 1863, the regiment again left the state, proceeding to Harrisburg, Pa., where it was mustered into the U. S. service for 30 days. Its field officers were Col. Varian, Lieut.-Col. Wentworth and Maj. Leander Buck. During its term of service in Pennsylvania it marched 170 miles over rough roads in inclement weather; was in line of battle five times, and did excellent service in holding the enemy in check. It was attached to the 1st brigade, 1st division, Department of the Susquehanna, and was mustered out at New York city on July 23.

From The Union Army, p. 238

On the Conduct of the 8th New York State Militia and Other Reported Acts of Cowardice

27 02 2022

Confessing their Cowardice

We find in the New York Times the following remarkable expose’ of the action of the enemy at Manassas. It will be seen from this that the Eighth New York Regiment, which was represented by some of the Northern papers to have been “torn almost to shreds by the enemy’s balls,” was actually not on the field of battle! Was there ever a more cunning, infamous falsehood? – and yet it is about as near the truth as all the Northern accounts of the battle. But we will let the Times itself tell its own story:

Washington, July 31

I am afraid the good people of New York are doing quite as much to demoralize our troops as did the battle of Bull Run. Idolizing runaways and making heros of cowards is not the way to grow true patriots and real heros. The ovation to some of the returning troops looks like a mockery of valor. For instance, I read in Saturday’s Times the following relating to the reception of the Eighth Regiment, New York State Militia, on their arrival at New York:

“Capt. Varian, with his troop of bronzed and hardy looking artillerist, were also on the pier, with their two guide colors, torn almost to shreds by the enemy’s balls during the late engagement.”

And again, I read of –

“Capt. Varian’s artillery corps, which was in the fight.”

Now I look at the facts. On the Saturday preceding the battle of Bull Run, Capt. Varian and his artillerists demanded their discharge – their time having expired. Gen. McDowell said all that a commander on the eve of a battle could say, to induce them to remain, but without producing any effect.

That day Secretary Cameron visited the camp, and the subject being referred to him, partly by coaxing and partly by truly representing the inglorious action which they contemplated, the artillerists were induced to notify Gen. McDowell that, “with the exception of seventeen, the company would stay with the division, until the time of the Regiment expired, on the 25th.” After Secretary Cameron returned to Washington, however, the company took a sober second thought, and late Saturday evening again demanded their discharge from Gen. McDowell. Of course, it had to be granted; and in addition to his other duties, the commander had to provide for mustering them out of the service and sending them to the rear.

They wanted to take their battery with them, but this Gen. McDowell refused – fearing the effect to be produced upon the moving columns, at seeing a park of artillery withdrawing to the rear as the infantry marched to the front. This artillery lay idle all day at Centreville, and was brought off by stronger hands from another State, and without even having fired one projectile. If the two guide-colors are “toen almost to shreds,” their artillerists must have halted on their march to the war and made their own colors a target, popping them with the pistols they had never yet fired at a foe. This statement of facts come from an authentic source and is literally true.

I saw, some days ago, a statement that a Captain of Lieutenant Alexander displayed cowardice on the field. I have seen since a statement from his friends that “Captain or Lieutenant Alexander was incapable of cowardice.” I did not see Alexander run, and he may be incapable of cowardice, but, if he will go to the headquarters of the Army of the United States, he will hear persons who hold equal or higher rank than himself very bitterly lamenting than an army officer, and a graduate of West Point, should have so entirely failed to do his duty on the field, and should have set an example of running which a raw recruit would be ashamed to follow.

There have been other acts of cowardice on the field of Bull Run – at least there are well-defined rumors of gross dereliction of duty. I cannot, however, yet get them so well authenticated as to justify my giving them publicity. It is not among the volunteers alone that such instances occur. The regulars themselves produce their full quota of instances; and men educated at West Point were as prominent in cowardice as men fresh from the workshops. It is not a pleasant thing to make these statements. It is much easier to commend for bravery than to broad for cowardice; but if the cowards are not branded, how shall the brave be honored?

The Charleston (SC) Mercury, 8/12/1861

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Asst. Surgeon Frederic de Peyster III, 8th New York State Militia

12 06 2021
Asst. Surg. Frederic de Peyster III, 8th NYSM (L), His Sister Estelle Livingston “Lily” de Peyster (R) Contributed by Ron Coddington
Frederic de Peyster III from FindAGrave
Frederic de Peyster III from FindAGrave

Frederic de Peyster at FindAGrave

Frederic de Peyster at Geni

Frederic de Peyster bio sketch

McDowell Orders 4th Pennsylvania Infantry and Varian’s Battery 8th New York State Militia to the Rear

3 11 2020



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, p. 745

Special Orders,
No. 39.

Hdqrs. Dep’t Northeastern Virginia,
Centreville, July 20, 1861.

  1. The Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, having completed the period of its enlistment, is hereby honorably discharged from the service of the United States. The regiment will, under command of the lieutenant-colonel, take up the march to-morrow for Alexandria, and on its arrival at that place will report to General Runyon to be mustered out of the service.
  2. Colonel Hartranft, Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, having volunteered his services, is assigned to duty on the staff of Colonel Franklin, commanding brigade.
  3. Captain Varian’s battery of light artillery, attached to the Eighth Regiment New York State Militia, having completed the period of its enlistment, is honorably discharged from the service of the United States, and will march to Alexandria and report to General Runyon to be mustered out of the service. The material of the battery will be turned over to the ordnance officer of this command.

By order of General McDowell:

Assistant Adjutant-General.

Cpl. John Fulton, Co. L (Engineers), 14th New York State Militia, On the Campaign

17 06 2020


Camp Porter, Arlington Heights, July 25, 1861.

There is no doubt ere this you have heard about the battle at Bull’s Run. I want to give you some idea about our regiment from the time we left Arlington until we returned back again. We left Camp Porter at half-past 3 P. M. on the 16th, and marched 12 miles where we came to halt withing 7 miles of Fairfax, when we laid down and had some rest. Nothing of any note transpired during our march. We took up the line of march at 8 A. M. on the 17th for Fairfax. About three miles on the road the rebels had cut down a large number of trees to obstruct our march, but our division took the fields. We arrived at Fairfax at 1 P. M. The rebels left Fairfax in double quick time two hours before we got there. We passed four intrenchments that they vacated. We remained at Fairfax until 4 P. M. of the 18th, then took up our line of march for Centreville. We passed a number of encampments that they had set on fire. They left all their food and camp utensils, so you can judge the hurry they were in. We had a good dinner of the fresh beef that they left behind. We came to a halt 1 ½ miles from Centreville; you must understand we had no tents since we left our camp, all we had was the clear blue sky above us. Thank God we had good weather, but the dear lord how hot it was, soaking wet all the time, but we stand it like men so far, not a man lagged behind and all feel anxious to meet the enemy. But last night was the hardest of all nights, such firing of muskets by the ‘great man’ I never heard before, we were up and down all night. We have in our Brigade the 8th N. Y. S. M., Mart Owens’ Regt. 27th New York Volunteers, one regiment of regular and 600 marines from the Navy Yard besides the gallant 14th; also Griffin’s West Point Battery and a troop of cavalry under the command of Brig. Gen. Porter; the division under Gen. McDowell. Tell Mart Owen that Abe Beatty was in our camp on the 19th; Babcock is sick yet, he is not with his regiment. On the 20th two regulars were flogged for desertion one got thirty-five lashes the other fifty, and in ten days to be drummed out of camp. Now comes the tug of war; we left camp at 2 ½ A. M., for Bull’s Run. Nothing of any importance transpired for about three miles, until we came to a bridge that the rebels hart partly destroyed; but we soon repaired it enough to cross. Shortly after we got on the other side of the bridge we met Gen. McDowell; he put us in quick time for two and a half miles, then came to a halt for about ten minutes, and sent scouting parties. Here we were within 1 ½ miles of the enemy – that is, on a line – but we were to march about six miles, so as to surround them. Here we heard the first gun about 8 A. M., and we kept scouting until we passed Bull’s Run stream. Here we saw Gen. McDowell again; we were within 2 ½ miles of the enemy. Now comes the hot time; the order was double-quick, which we kept up for some time, until, pretty nearly played out, we came to another stream, that we had to cross knee-deep. Here all hands took a drink and filled their canteens. We could hear the guns firing like the very devil only half a mile from the enemy; then double-quick again until we arrived on the field of battle; here we took everything off except undershirts and pants; while doing this, the balls were dropping around us like hail. Then it was double-quick again, until we were in front of the enemy. All out things that we left on the field are lost. Our regiment was ordered on the left flank of the enemy. Griffin’s, Sherman’s, and the Rhode Island batteries were doing good work. The 27th Regiment, New York Volunteers, were the first to engage the enemy’s infantry, but had to fall back; then came the orders for the gallant 14th; Gen. McDowell calls on us to charge the enemy, which we did, and drove them to the woods, where they had entrenchments for their men; our men followed them up to the woods; here a number of our men got wounded; then came an order to retreat, which we did in handsome style, but could not draw them from the woods. We now had a rest for about 15 minutes. Then came the 71st and 8th (the 8th reserve for the 71st), when they opened fire with their howitzers, two in number, on the woods where the enemy had retreated, and drove them out towards their masked battery; here was a complete slaughter-house. As soon as our regiment opened fire on their infantry, the masked battery opened fire on them; such slaughter I never want to see again; our men had to lay down to load and fire. Just before we got this position, a shell wounded John Smith and Dick Coles. Inform Louis Buckman about Smith; tell him he is wounded in the knee, but not very serious. Poor Music, I am afraid, is dead; he was seen wounded in two places, on the right shoulder and leg; this I got from one of his messmates, now in the hospital, also wounded. Our hospital is full of wounded. But to return to the battle – at the time our regiment were lying down loading and firing, the Marines were ordered to cover our men, but they made a hasty retreat and left our men to be slaughtered; but the 71st came up and gave our men a chance to retreat, which we did in good order. The fire was too strong for the 71st, and they had to retreat. Shortly after this our regiment was fired into, some say by the 71st, others say the 8th, and our boys returned it, and made them come out of the woods mighty quick. All this time we were carrying the wounded off the field, I had just carried a wounded man up to the hospital when there came news that our Colonel was wounded. Burtis, Briss, Connor, Ritchie and myself went and brought him off the field amid showers of bullets, but, thank God, we came off safe. It was at this time that our army began to retreat, and it became general throughout our lines. We carried our Colonel about two miles on a litter, when we became exhausted and had to set him down, and some of our men took him up and carried him to the bridge that we had repaired when the rebels cut off our retreat, and that is the last we saw of him. Drs. Homiston and Swalm were with him at the time, also Lewis Phillips, Charles Phillips’ brother, and that is the last we saw of them. Bob Webb had his rifle shot out of his hand at the same place. Thank God, our regiment did their duty, they were the last of our division to leave the field; they made 7 distinct charges on the batteries. Our regiment has not been represented in the proper light; I understand the Zouaves got all the credit; they made but one charge, and that was when the Black Horse Cavalry charged upon them, and that was the last. Some of their men were in our ranks and some in the 71st, and others in the 8th, all the rest were up to the hospital, and you could not get them on the field again; they said they would not go on account of having no one to lead them; that their officers were not worth a d—n, that was the expression of them all. Those that were with the 71st, it is said, did very well, but I did not see them. I must close this letter, for the mail is about starting for Washington. There are about 140 men that we cannot account for, and 60 or 70 that we can, which makes 210, yet we have some hopes that these figures will be reduced, and I hope they will. I suppose we will remain here some time to recruit.

John Fulton.

Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, 7/29/1861

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Clear Copy at Newspapers.com 

Contributed by John Hennessy

84th New York Infantry roster (the 14th NYSM became the 84th New York Volunteer Infantry 

John Fulton at Ancestry 

John Fulton at Fold3

Richard, 8th New York State Militia, On the Battle

7 06 2020

Account by an Officer of the Eight Regiment, New York State Militia.

The following letter is descriptive of the great battle at Bull’s run on the 21st inst., in which the Eighth regiment signalized itself: –

Arlington Heights, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father and Mother – We have had a pretty hard fight. The enemy were almost entirely hid in masked batteries and in the wood. The Eighth was called on to charge on the wood, which we did with a will, driving out the Third South Carolina regiment and a Georgia regiment. Our boys got so scattered that they could not form again. I was with a party composed of members of every company in the regiment. Others jumped in with the regulars, some with the Sixty-ninth and other regiments. We did not leave the field until our battery ran out of ammunition. We had them beaten. As they waved a flag of truce we ceased firing and advanced. Just then they received a reinforcement, and the fight commenced again. Taking into consideration that we were on the march from two o’clock in the morning – a march of at least fifteen miles, and on the last half mile going in on a double quick – we did well. The enemy were fresh and in covered positions, and their reinforcements came in on the cars, and came in by thousands. We supposed that the communications were cut off on our side. I escaped without any injury, as did most all our up town boys, two or three receiving very slight wounds. I am in a great hurry, and close.

Your affectionate son,

New York Herald, 7/25/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

8th New York Militia

18 03 2014