“Pequot,” 2nd New York State Militia, On the Campaign

27 06 2020

Letter from Washington – The Great Battle Near Manassas.

Camp Powell (2d Reg’t N. Y. S. M.)
Washington, July 29, 1861.

Friend Irish: – You have probably heard or read so many statements in regard to the great battle at Bull (or Bloody) Run, that perhaps it is rather late for me to give my version of it, but as every one who participated has an experience to relate, I will give you mine, and as our regiment was in the same division and near the Connecticut boys throughout the eventful day, it may be of some interest. – Our march from our old encampment at Ball’s Cross Road to Vienna, and from thence to Fairfax and Centreville is what every correspondent has pictured. It was a very slow movement, owing to the many obstructions on the road. We came upon half made forts and entrenchments, abandoned camps with the food still cooking, and camp utensils lying about in confusion, and we flattered ourselves that the enemy were cowards and would not show fight. The sequel proved they were too sharp for us, and this apparent hasty retreat was only a bait to draw us still further into the trap.

We came before Centreville on Thursday, and with twenty thousand more Union troops rested on a hill-side all day, while less than three thousand men of Col. Richardson’ brigade were getting badly cut up by the Rebels at Bull’s Run, on the southern road. Just before sundown we were ordered up the hill and started at double quick, all “spoiling for a fight” and eager to avenge the slaughter of our brave friends of the N. York 12th Reg’t with whom we were neighbors for a long time in camp, but when we arrived in the town we found we were to take position on the northern road leading to Manassas, by the way of Gainesville, and about a mile from the battle field of that day. We bivouacked in a large field of oats, without any tents or protection from sun or rain, and worse than this, with half rations, (only one meal a day) until Sunday morning. The country seemed to have been cleared of everything eatable or drinkable, except a little stream near us called Rocky Run, and with hard bread (or iron crackers as the boys call them) and water, we were compelled to content ourselves. Hunger will make men desperate, and not withstanding the strict orders of Gen. McDowell, sundry cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs, &c, did disappear from the neighboring fields, and no one could account for them. We were ordered when starting, each man to take only his musket, canteen, one blanket and three day’s cooked rations. In this country, marching under a burning sun, no man can carry food enough for three days in addition to musket, blanket and a quart canteen of water, consequently much was thrown aside, and some water. Not until Saturday evening – four and a half day’s in all – did we see any thing more furnished by our venerated Uncle Samuel. Saturday noon we were informed by our brigade Quartermaster that we would be immediately served with rations for three day, which we must cook and pack to be ready for a march forward (and a probable fight) at 6 o’clock that evening. The order was a afterward countermanded, because we did not receive provisions until 6 o’clock, and then we had no utensils to cook with. But the junk beef, bacon, &c., was cut up and packed raw, coffee was made in our drinking cups, and agreeably with new orders we marched silently out into the road at about 2 ½ o’clock A. M. It was a bright moonlight night, and as we filed up the hill we could look back for a couple of miles and see the ten thousand bayonets of our division, with Col. Hunter’s division following. It was a splendid sight, and it was enough to inspire the weakest soul to see so many keeping step to the music of the Union; but with it came the sad reflection that so many of these brave soldiers would, never return. The truth is the officers on our side went into the fight with no confidence whatever in the result, but were careful not to say so to the men under their command. Most of the officers in our brigade at least, expected to be badly whipped, for an army never went into the field in worse condition for a successful fight. One trouble was our empty stomachs, and this probably influenced the result of the battle as much as any one thing except bad generalship. Our brigade was commanded by Gen. Schenck, and consisted of the 1st and 2d regiments of Ohio Volunteers, 2d regiment N. Y. S. M., and Carlisle’s battery of 2d artillery, – in all about twenty-five hundred men, and we were the advance of the army. About two miles from our starting point we were deployed into the woods n our left in line of battle, and advanced in this way, preceded by skirmishers for about two miles, occasionally getting a sight of a rebel picket running from us. In our rear were the 69th N. York, the 1st, 2d and 3d Conn, while the 2d Wisconsin was thrown into the woods on the right of the road. We were on what is called the Warrentown turnpike, a northern road to Manassas, and about two miles north of the battle ground of Thursday, but on the same creek or run. Col. Hunter’s division, consisting of the N. Y. 71st regiment, the two Rhode Island regiments, and others, took a side road, taking them still farther north so as to come round and attack the enemy on the flank, for we had ascertained that they were intrenched on the opposite side of the creek. The battle was commenced by shots from our long Parrott gun which throws 32 lb balls and shells. We were ordered to lie in the woods out of range or fire, and to be ready for a charge. About 10 o’clock we were ordered to advance into a pine grove, but o getting into it by a nice little road evidently cut for us (as we afterward ascertained) we were met by a tremendous discharge from a four gun masked battery, which we could feel but not see. It was barely two hundred yards from us, and we could distinctly hear their officers giving orders and cursing the damned Yankees! The fire was terrible, and we lost eight or ten men killed and as many wounded within fifteen minutes. This was all bourne by our 2d N. Y. regiment (the Ohio boys having gone forward to try and take the battery) and the General seeing that by remaining we must be cut to pieces, ordered us to retire. The sensation of lying flat on the ground to avoid a shower of shot, shell and canister cutting through the trees about breast high, is anything but pleasant, although very exciting. The third shot killed one of our lieutenants and a poor drummer boy, whose scream of agony as the shell tore him in pieces still rings in my ears. The men were firm and did not flinch, and I think exhibited other qualities surpassing courage, that of endurance, for they lay down expecting a death shot every instant, and remained there until ordered to retire. The wounds our men received in the woods at this time were of a very severe kind, caused mostly by shell and rape shot. I had a very narrow escape while sitting in a group of four; one of them received a grape shot through the shoulder and breast, and another, one through the leg and ankle, the third had his hat cut into fragments, while your humble servant was untouched, save by the branches and splinters of a little tree which stood beside us. While we were out of the fight I crossed the road and witnessed the operation of the big gun, noting the effects of the shot upon the enemy’s entrenchments. From the top of the high hill I could see the whole battle field at a glance. The valley was full of our men, all pushing forward attacking batteries on the opposite bank of the river, and Hunter’s division, on the extreme north, were doing some tall firing, though a full view of their operations was obstructed by the woods. Long clouds of dust are seen to arise from the roads leading from Manassas, as well as from Winchester, and with a good glass it could be seen that a steady stream of reinforcements was pouring in to the aid of the enemy. The battle was now hotly contested and for about two hours the volleys of musketry were incessant – one long roll of firing broke in upon only by the thundering notes of the heavy cannon. Just then we were ordered into the woods to support a portion of Sherman’s battery, which endeavored to silence the saucy little masked battery just opposite. After a brisk firing of fifteen minutes our battery was forced to retire, having lost half of its men and horses. The General who ordered us in to the wood to support the battery, forgot to order us out, after the battery was withdrawn, and but for our commander taking the responsibility, ten minutes longer would have finished our regiment. As we came up into the road again we met the three Connecticut regiments going down into the fight. They were full of pluck and anxious for a chance at the enemy.

At 3 o’clock we were ordered to take a new position down the road in full view of all the enemy’s batteries, ostensibly to support a battery of two guns, but in reality to draw the fire from our enemy’s batteries so our storming parties could have a better chance of success. The tow Ohio regiments were somewhat sheltered by a cleft in the road, but ours was terribly exposed. Grape shot, shell, round shot and canister were rained upon us without mercy. Great gaps appeared in our ranks caused by three missiles; four of our men were torn in pieces and as many wounded by the explosion of a single shell! Grape and round shot struck all around in front and behind us; in fact we seemed to be a target for two batteries, and how any of us came out alive from such an infernal cross-fire no man can tell. But flesh and blood could not stand it and we were ordered out of fire again. Up to this time we had not an opportunity to fire a single musket. We now began to see stragglers come up the hill from the battle, and by half past four the remains of the different regiments commenced filing past us in retreat. We saw the 69th with the brave Col. Corcoran at the head looking sad enough. He said he thought 500 of his boys were missing. Our regiment with the three Connecticut regiments were posted along the road covering the retreat, when suddenly above us a terrible panic was created by a charge of cavalry which had outflanked our lines, and came along the road sabreing and shooting every body. We tried to rally, and did give them a good many shots, but were obliged to retire into the woods followed by the troopers. Here legs did their duty, and a good pair saved one life as I can testify. Picking up a loaded rifle laid beside a dead secessionist, your friend took careful aim at the waist belt of one of the troopers and pulled the trigger, and it is a matter of firm belief with the undersigned that the said trooper will ever make another charge. (The rifle was covered with secession blood when I took it, but I have had it carefully cleaned and will send it to you as a souvenir. I took it from a dead Georgian. His revolver I have also, which I retain for future operations.) After our run from the cavalry we cleared a high fence and came upon an open field. We saw the Zouaves running a mile ahead of us, pursued in some cases by the horsemen. I first saw Col. Terry with the Connecticut Second emerging from the woods, and joined him with a number of our men, and shortly our men headed by our Lieut. Col. came out with both colors flying (state and national.) which were received with cheers. The 1st Conn. came out headed by Col. Burnham, and we formed in three lines of battle and marched in good order to Centreville.

The road to Centreville was a scene of the wildest confusion and disorder. Baggage and ammunition wagons loaded, were thrown over the embankments; ambulances filled with wounded soldiers were pushed aside, heavy pieces of artillery were lying by the road, the gunners having cut loose the horses and ridden them away, and the ground was covered with muskets, knapsacks, haversacks, blankets, canteens, &c. The rout was complete, and all discipline was lost. Every impediment to flight was cast aside, and it was every man for himself.

Our brigade attempted to rally at Centreville protected by the skirmishers of Col. Mile’s division (who although armed with Enfield rifles had acted as a reserve all day, while those in the hottest of the fight had nothing but smooth bore muskets,) but our General was missing, and we had no other alternative but to continue our retreat. When we arrived at Fairfax Court House our body of fugitives numbered about three thousand and was constantly increasing. We took a different route and I arrived at camp between two and three o’clock a. m. Provisions were immediately cooked for our famished men, who after being somewhat refreshed were ordered to march to the city the same day in the midst of a pouring rain.

We are now located in a camp at 7th st, about two miles from Pennsylvania Avenue, and the 2nd and 3d Connecticut regiments are within a stones throw of us. There are some twenty thousand troops in camp here, within two miles of us. I see Capt. Chapman daily, he is well and his company also.

We find in footing up our losses (2nd reg.) that we have 23 killed, 25 wounded and 17 prisoners, and about 100 missing – among the killed are our Surgeon and 2 first lieutenants, our two assistant Surgeons are prisoners. The soldiers bestow great blame on General Tyler, who may be brave but certainly lacks judgement and places little value on the lives of his command. A captain of the 2nd informs me that in the retreat the General threw away his sword – travelled off as fast as his horse could carry him. Certain it is, (for I saw it myself,) the cavalry and artillery of the regular U. S. Army was the first and foremost in the retreat. Gen. Miles commanding the reserve is said to have been beastly drunk all day. He is under arrest. This battle learned us all a lesson – that we have underrated the means and spirit of the south; that we went into battle without the precautions for a safe retreat if repulsed, which is quite as likely to be necessary as preparations for advancing; also the bad policy of sending half starved and exhausted soldiers into a battle under leaders in whom they have no confidence. I deeply regret that the most unpopular general officer in this locality is from Connecticut, and bitter threats are made against him for the failure of the battle on the 21st.

But I see I have spun this out to an unendurable length and it will tire you to read it. The story could be condensed in a few words, ”We went, we saw, and we were badly beaten.”

Pequot.

New London (CT) Weekly Chronicle, 8/8/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

82nd New York Infantry Roster (the 2nd NYSM became the 82nd NYVI)