Image: Corp. Benjamin F. Smart, Co. D, 2nd Maine Infantry

11 07 2017
BFSmartPic

Corporal Benjamin Freeman Smart, Co. D, 2nd Maine Infantry (see this site)

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Corporal Benjamin Freeman Smart, Co. D, 2nd Maine, on The Battle

10 07 2017

Alexandria, Virginia – July 23, 1861 (Tuesday, 7 AM)

Dear Father;

After fighting one of the hardest battles that we ever fought in America, your son was not hurt in any way. It is true that we are defeated, and our army routed, but it was not the soldiers’ fault, for never did the soldiers fight harder, or bolder than those engaged in that battle. I think I tell the truth when I lay it to poor Generalship. I am sorry to say anything about or against our General Tyler, but I believe, and it is the belief of many, that he worked for the interest of the South instead of the North. That is a hard saying, but I feel so. If McClellan had conducted that noble army, I believe we would have routed them, although their number was greater than ours. I will say for the Maine boys, that they did nobly. The enemy were entrenched and behind the strongest batteries that could be made, and that stronghold which is just this side of Manassas was what we endeavored to take. I feel proud to think that I am a soldier of the Maine 2nd Regiment. They fought like tigers, and made one of the boldest and most daring charges that was ever made. They were twenty rods nearer the battery than any other Regiment.

Now for a very short detail of our operations. At 1 o’clock Sunday morning we left our encampment at Centerville and moved on. We then halted and let every Brigade pass us. Our Brigade consisted of three Connecticut and the Maine 2nd under Colonel Keyes, a U.S. Officer. But soon the order came to advance without any load except cartridges and belts. We stripped for the fight, and marched onward. We soon came into Sherman’s battery which was throwing ball and shell at a rapid rate. We then moved onward “Double Quick” for two miles. It was at that moment that we ascertained why we were kept in the rear. It was to be fresh for the boldest attack. We came within a short distance of the battery when we formed in the line of battle under a small hill. Maine boys attacked the front, and the Connecticut – each wing, and one Connecticut at reserve. The order came to forward march. Then came the order from our noble Colonel to forward guide center double quick march, Then came the tug of war.

One howl passed along the line, and the bold boys of the 2nd Maine dashed forward like lightning, firing as fast as possible. Our men began to fall like hail stones, but that did not discourage them. They rushed onward and were led by the most gallant officer that ever fought. We were quite near the battery, from which came ball, shell, grape & chain shot, also rifle and musket. Balls flew like hail stones among us, with every volley taking its number of bold men, but still unflinchingly the Maine boys dashed onward, showing neither fear nor cowardice. But our Brigadier General soon saw that the enemy was too strong for us. He rode to the left wing and gave the order to fall back to the woods on our left. This was our third charge, he gave the order twice before our heroic Major gave it to his men. I was on the right of the left wing, but when they turned toward the woods, I looked about. I beheld the Stars and Stripes and my beloved Colonel on the right. I said to myself – I never will leave that flag unprotected. I rushed for it, leaving my company there. I found our Colonel cheering his men he himself in advance of them all. Oh, Father, words are inadequate to express my love for the Patriotic hero, he deserves the praise of every living being in Maine, oh yes, and the U.S.

There he stood like one that knew not fear. He dashed on with the remainder of the Regiment, and went very near the battery. Had we been reinforced at that moment, the battery would have been ours, but was then impossible. I rushed to the Colonel’s side. He said: “Has the left wing of my Regiment fled?” I then told him how bravely they fought, and how they received orders twice from Colonel Keys before they fell back. A smile then lit up his countenance. He then drew his men together and fell back to the road which formed a breastwork for us. Our brigade was divided about 200 rods apart. All of the Connecticut Regiment, and the left wing of ours on the left, and the right wing of ours on the right, and not an officer of either part knew where the other was. The Colonel came to me and asked if I knew anything about the remainder, and it happened that I was the only one there that did know. He asked me if I could go and deliver a message to Colonel Keys. I knew what a dangerous undertaking, but of course your son said yes, and while the others lay concealed, I seized my gun, and rushed by the very cannon’s mouth for 100 rods without any shelter. When I came to the middle of the field, the cannon and musket balls flew all around me. I don’t see what saved me. Three cannon balls struck within three feet of me, and the rifle balls whizzed by me like a swarm of bees. It seemed to me that they saw me, and knew my errand. I neither paused, nor looked around, but dashed forward ’till I came to the left wing. The boys all cheered me as I went by. The Connecticut officers ordered me to lie down. They said I was exposing their whole Regiment. I said to them, “I know my business, and shall perform my duty.” I dashed along to the left of their line. There I found the Commanding officer, and delivered my message. He cheered me, and gave me orders for Colonel Jameson, but would not let me go back as I came, but told me to go down a ravine and through a piece of woods. I asked him twice to let me go as I came, but he wouldn’t consent for he said he didn’t want me to get killed. I soon found the Colonel who was watching for me. He waved his hand when I came in sight. I sprang forward, and was soon at his side. I felt proud to think that I had done him a little good. The officers rushed to me as if I was a lion. The Colonel then ordered his men to follow him, and me to act as a guide. I led them around through the same ravine. Many of them said I must be going wrong, but the Colonel ordered them to follow. I ran ahead ’till I came to the main body of our Brigade. I then jumped up on a fence and waved my cap until they came to me. Then they found that I had led them just right. I then reported myself to the General. He ordered me to fall back and rest, for he saw that I was nearly exhausted. I asked him if I should not act my pleasure, and he said yes. Well, said I, I will be in the ranks in ten minutes. He smiled, and I turned away. I got some water, and wet my head and drank a little, seized my gun, and fell in my place. I feel that I did my whole duty, and my officers give me praise.

Our Regiment was cut up badly. I think half or more of those noble boys are gone. There appear to be but a handful of them left. Our Regiment retreated in fair order, but this whole Army was broken up. There were too many for us, as we were led by our General. But we will wipe them out yet. In retreat we marched 32 miles, and I am very weary, but I stand it finely. I am ready to try them again any moment. “By the eternal” I will fight them until they recognize the Constitution of the U.S.

Our Regiment is so broken up that it will take some time to recruit. Our Captain was injured, while crossing a bridge in the retreat, across the chest. I led him along until I found a baggage wagon. Then I put him into it, and stuck by him all night. He was very grateful to me for my kindness. When morning came, I secured a horse for him, and guarded him until he was safely landed in this place.

One of our Corporals is probably dead, and another wounded, and about half of our Company are gone. It is hard, but then it is honorable to die for one’s country. All of our Field Officers are living. One or two Captains and several Lieutenants were killed or wounded. Some taken prisoners. I think our Chaplain and Surgeon are in the hands of the enemy, besides many others. I had no fear at any time. I was greatly excited and willing to do anything. I do not think there was a coward in the whole Regiment. We brought off all our flags in good shape. The bearer of the largest one was the first man shot.

I saw Major Nickerson yesterday, also Colonel Marshall and Captain Cunningham. They are all well, and send their regards to you. Captain Bean and Lieutenant Bird of the Brook Company were slightly wounded. Captain Sherwood was wounded in the arm, may lose it. Lieutenant Walker is all right. He behaved nobly, so say his men. I am going to see him soon. Mark Dodge and Daniel Nickerson are both well. Our Officers all behaved like patriotic heroes, and deserve the praise of all of Maine. Maine need not feel ashamed of her officers or men, for no others fought more bravely but the 2nd Regiment is ahead of all the others. No man behaved more heroic that Lieutenant Garnsey of our Company. I have not time to write more. Excuse the composition, spelling and writing, for I am so hasty that I think I have left out about half.

Yours in haste, from your son, B. F. Smart

Source (this site includes more information and writings of Smart)

Contributed by John Hennessy