Lt. William Brockenbrough Newton, Hanover Light Dragoons, 30th Virginia Cavalry, On the Campaign

14 05 2016

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.

Your husband,

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)





Bull Run Articles in New “Civil War Times”

3 05 2016

Just a heads up: there are not one, but TWO new First Bull Run articles in the new (July 2016) issue of Civil War Times. The cover-story is yet another Hugh Judson Kilpatrick psycho-babble hit piece (at least, that’s what the cover would lead you to believe), but inside you’ll find two, yes TWO articles on The Only Battle That Matters (TOBTM). I can’t stress how very rare this is. Run out and get it now, before it’s replaced by an issue on Gettysburg.





The Ride Home – Things Along the Way

28 04 2016

On the way home from this past weekend’s tour of the First Bull Run battlefield, my friend Mike and I stopped to take in a few other Civil War sites we didn’t cover on Saturday. Here are the Bull Run related sites:

Stone Bridge

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West Side of Stone Bridge

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West Side of Stone Bridge

Blackburn’s Ford – Site of the fight of 7/18/61 that would first be known as the Battle of Bull’s Run (the battle on the 21st was for a time known as the Battle of Young’s Branch)

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Blackburn’s Ford Looking South

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Blackburn’s Ford Looking West

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Blackburn’s Ford Looking East

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Blackburn’s Ford Panorama Looking South

Piedmont Station (Delaplane, VA) – Where much of Johnston’s Army boarded trains bound for Manassas

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Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On Blackburn’s Ford

4 08 2014

Camp – 1 m. West of Centreville

26 from Washington

July 19, 1861.

Dearest Ellen,

I wrote to John yesterday, asking him to send you my letter that you might be assured of my safety.  Thus far the enemy has retired before us – yesterday our General Tyler made an unauthorized attack on a battery over Bull Run – they fired Gun for Gun – and on the whole had the best of it – the Genl. finding Centreville a strong place evacuated, followed their tracks to Bull Run which has a valley deeply wooded admitting only of one narrow column. I was sent for and was under fire about half an hour, the Rifled Cannon shot cutting the trees over head and occasionally pitching into the ground. 3 artillerists – 1 infantry a & 3 horses in my Brigade with several wounded – I have not yet learned the full extent of damage – and as it was a Blunder, dont care – I am uneasy at the fact that the Volunteers do pretty much as they please, and on the Slightest provocation bang away – the danger from this desultory firing is greater than from the Enemy as they are always so close whilst the latter keep a respectful distance. We were under orders to march at 2 1/2 A.M. – the Division of Tyler to which my Brigade belongs will advance along a turnpike Road, to a Bridge on Bull Run – This Bridge is gone – and there is a strong Battery on the opposite shore of the River – here I am summoned to a council at 8 P.M at General McDowell’s camp about a mile distant – I am now there, all the Brigade commanders are present and only a few minutes intervene before they all come to this table.

I know tomorrow & next day we hall have had hard work – and I will acquit myself as well as I can – with Regulars I would have no doubts, but these Volunteers are subject to Stampedes[.] Yesterday there was an ugly stampede of 800 Massachusetts men – the Ohio men claim their discharge and so do others of the 3 months men – of them I have the Irish 69th New York which will fight.

I am pretty well, up all night and sleeping a little by day – Prime [,] Barnard, Myers & others of your acquaintance are along – Prime slept in my camp last night.

My best love to all – my faith in you & children is perfect and let what may befal me I feel they are in a fair way to grow up in goodness and usefulness. Goodby for the present yrs. ever

Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 118-119

 





Ezra Walrath Court of Inquiry

24 03 2014

As concerns Col. Ezra Walrath, 12th New York Infantry, and the results of his efforts for a Court of Inquiry into his command of the regiment at Blackburn’s Ford to which he alluded in his correspondence here and here, I was able to locate this unidentified news clipping from this site:

NEW YORK VOLUNTEERS.—Hon. George Geddes only delays his acceptance of the Colonelcy of the Twelfth Regiment until his physician shall assure him that his health will admit of active service. The commissioned officers of the Twelfth were unanimous in selecting Mr. Geddes for commander. The Syracuse Journal says he is the only man now left in the county, whose education and ability fit him for the position. The Twelfth has now about 400 men left, all of whom have served six months, and are said to be under good discipline. Col. Walrath having resigned, and Major Louis having been killed, the regiment is sadly in need of a head, and it is hoped that Mr. Geddes will soon determine upon his course in the matter.

—Col. Walrath, of the Onondaga regiment, (12th) has been entirely cleared of charges cowardice and incompetency, by the verdict of a Court of Inquiry, which awards to the Colonel high praise for his conduct at Bull’s Run. Capt. Locke, of the same regiment, was charged with giving the order to retreat, unauthorized. This charge was not sustained before a Court of Inquiry.

—The commissioned officers of the Onondaga Regiment (12th) have unanimously chosen Hon. George Geddes for Colonel, in place of Walrath in whose hands the regiment has fallen into a deplorable state of demoralization. Desertion has reduced the number from 780 to two or three hundred available men. Recruiting for it has actively commenced, and Col, Geddes will restore the regiment to efficiency if any man can.

Once I’ve identified the newspaper and date, I’ll move this to the resources section. As always, any help is appreciated.





Col. Ezra L. Walrath, 12th New York Infantry, On Blackburn’s Ford (2)

24 03 2014

A STATEMENT FROM COL. WALRATH.

HEAD-QUARTERS TWELFTH NEW-YORK

VOLUNTEERS, CAMP OF THE ONONDAGAS,

ARLINGTON, July 24, 1861.

To the Editor of the Washington Star:

After my arrival from Bull Run with my Regiment, I perused the daily papers published in Washington giving accounts of the recent battle, and was astonished to find such an account of the affair published in your paper from a “special correspondent,” reflecting in severe terms upon the courage of my Regiment, both officers and men, on that occasion. The whole matter as reported to your paper is untrue, and it would be doing justice to all concerned that you give publicity to the following statement of facts as they transpired. More could be said of the affair that ought to be made known to the public, but it would implicate certain officers of high positions in the service, and would be contrary to rules governing the inferior towards his superior. However, a court of inquiry will bring the facts before you. At about noon of the 18th inst., our Brigade was posted in rear of Sears’ battery on a hill overlooking a thick wood, in which, the enemy were hidden from view and waiting our attack.

After, considerable cannonading from our battery, which was replied to by the rebels, driving the skirmishers from the woods in double-quick time, two companies of the First Massachusetts Regiment were ordered to attack them in the woods on their left. They marched gallantly to the attack, and were repulsed with considerable loss. Two field-pieces, under command of Capt. BRACKETT, were then sent in, and met with such a deadly reception that the pieces were in danger of being lost. One of their men being shot, one of the men of my regiment immediately advanced and took his place at the gun. My command was then ordered to form near the woods in line of battle, on the left of a body of cavalry which was drawn up under cover of another piece of woods near the scene of action. A person in citizen’s dress, with shoulder straps, then rode up from the woods in great haste, and urged us forward to sustain his battery and prevent its loss. I had no Lieutenant-Colonel present, and was near the right of my regiment. The Adjutant, who was near the centre, asked him who he was, and he replied that he was Capt. BRACKETT, commanding the battery. At that moment I saw Col. RICHARDSON, commanding the Brigade, approaching, and I replied to Capt. BRACKETT that if it was Col. RICHARDSON’s orders to advance, I would do so. Col. RICHARDSON addressed us, saying: “Move forward, New-Yorkers, and sweep the woods.” I immediately gave the order to “Forward,” when the battery came rushing out of the woods, and broke through our line, followed by grape and canister from the enemy.

My command moved steadily forward into the woods and low thick pines and brush, which vailed everything in front beyond a few paces, and had proceeded some 20 or 30 rods when a murderous fire of musketry, grape and canister was opened on us. We returned the fire, and I ordered my command to fall, and load and fire lying. They did so, returning several volleys. The enemy continued to pour in their fire from a force which must have been quadruple our number, to say nothing of their battery. Yet my men returned the fire, till one of the line officers gave the command to retreat, when the centre and left rapidly fell back. As soon as I discovered the mistake I tried to rally the men on the colors, but the murderous fire being kept up, they would not obey, and actually ran over me. I followed, and entreated the men to rally on the colors, and partially succeeded several times, but was unable to make a permanent stand. Gen. TYLER at this time rode forward and denounced us all as cowards. He did not inquire the cause of the retreat, but at once censured us in severe terms. Several companies on the right — A, I, and part of E — remained until the firing ceased on the part of the rebels, when they, by order, formed a retreat in good order into the field in front of the woods.

At this time I had the regiment nearly formed on the hill near the woods, by the road, and left it in charge of the Major until I went back to see about the wounded, and when I returned, the word had been given for the brigade to retire to Centreville. I see, by the articles referred to, that “I mounted my horse and did not stop running until I was safely behind a pile of rocks.” Now, Sir, this is false in every particular. Our former Lieut.-Col. GRAHAM, (now Quartermaster of the regiment,) was mounted on a gray horse that resembles mine very much, who did ride to the rear in quick time. I doubt not but he was taken for myself when retiring from the battle-ground. I feel that I have been wronged and ask of you to publish this statement, and by so doing you will do justice to myself, my regiment, and my friends. I am so confident that I done my duty on that occasion, that I would repeat it if I should be placed before the enemy under similar circumstances.

E.L. WALRATH,

Colonel of the Twelfth N.Y. Volunteers.

New York Times, 7/31/1861

Source

 





Pvt. Richard W. Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, On the Withdrawal from Fairfax and the Fight at Blackburn’s Ford

3 09 2013

Bulls Run, Virginia

Saturday July 20th 1861

I have but one more piece of paper, so I will tell you what I have to say in as few words as possible.

At Fairfax, where we were stationed, early in the morning of Wednesday the 18th of July, firing was heard in the direction of the pickets, also the booming of a few cannon shots in the same direction. About 7 o’clock A.M. the army of the enemy came in sight. The glistening of bayonets as they approached appeared like a sea of silver. Fairfax was slightly fortified only; the enemy numbered 50,000 or 60,000, while we had only some 8,000 or 10,000. It was their intention to cut us off from the main body at Manassas, some 14 miles distant. At nine o’clock A.M. we marched up to the breastworks, the enemy only a short distance from us on our flank at next Manassas. Our baggage in the meanwhile had been sent on to Bull’s Run. By shifting the regts from position to position we kept them at bay until about 10 o’clock when the retreat began.

Such a retreat was never known before. Our men had been double-quicked for two hours before the enemy appeared, and having all their baggage to carry, were nearly broken down before we started. The day was excessively hot and the road hilly and rocky. Men began to throw away their knapsacks before we had gone a mile. It was a mournful sight to see the soldiers on the way. Some fainted in their tracks, while others fell from their horses. Some dropped on the roadside with scarcely breath enough to keep them alive, but only one man died, he from the effects of a sun stroke.

In an incredibly short time we came to Centreville, 7 miles from Fairfax. There we were again drawn up in order for battle. Our company was detache as a picket guard, and on that account we laid upon our guns from the time we got there until 12 o’clock at night when we were again roused and continued the retreat. By that time the enemy had nearly cut us off from the main body again. (Let me here tell you that we had been sent to Fairfax and ordered to retreat as soon as the enemy appeared to induce them to follow us to Bulls Run where it was intended to give them a warm welcome. This plan succeeded admirably.) We got to the Run four miles further about daylight and took position for the fight.

Bull Run is the best natural fortified place in Virginia, and the fortifications extend for six miles along the banks of the creek. Our regt was stationed at an unfortified position. Thursday about 12 o’clock the enemy had come within about a half a mile of us, and planting their batteries, they began to pelt us with balls and shells shot from rifle cannon. It was amusing to see the men dodge them. At first they flew high over our heads, but they soon began to lower, then they whistled about us in earnest. Shells bursted in every direction. Our artillery could do nothing except fire a few scattering shots at them, which killed only a small number of them. After they had been shooting at us for an hour or so with their cannons (not having killed or wounded a single man), they sent about 10,000 men to flank our right. But Beauregard was a little too quick for them and sent a force of 4,000 to foil their plan. They met in a wheatfield and began work with the musketry. Volley after volley burst forth until all became mingled into one long continuous roar which seemed to shake the very heavens. They began to retreat, covering their retreat with their artillery, while our artillery commenced to fire upon them. We had about fifteen pieces. We do not know the number of theirs engaged. The cannonade lasted a long time, and in all the fight was 5 1/2 hours long. The enemy then fell back about two miles, where they are now.

The loss on both sides is variously estimated, but I believe all have now agreed that the number of Yankee killed was about 8 or 900, the number of wounded unknown. Our loss was 8 killed & 50 wounded. We took two common & one rifle cannon & eight hundred stand of arms, besides quantities of oilcloths, blankets, knapsacks, overcoats, and all kinds of army equipments. Yesterday (Friday) the enemy sent in a white flag to bury their dead, but they only half did the work & left about seventy unburied. Our men went over to the field yesterday to finish the work, but the stench was so great that they were compelled to leave it undone & so they were left. I forgot to mention that we took about 30 prisoners.

Synopsis – Wednesday & Wednesday night we were on the march & watch – Thursday all day we were drawn up in battle array & part of the time dodging balls and shells. Thursday night we were busy throwing up works for our company – Friday part worked & part lay on watch waiting for the general battle – Friday night (last night) was the hardest of all, for having had no sleep the two nights previous, we were wearied awfully – yet we had to sit in our entrenchments all night-kept awake by the firing of the pickets.

This morning we are still on the watch expecting the general attack. We were sure it would commence last night, but now we have no idea when it will commence. For two days & nights I ate nothing but seven year old sea biscuits.

Cousin Jim was among the number to break down in the retreat from Fairfax, but he was taken up on the wagons. I & Buddie [Taliaferro Simpson – BR] stood it finely excepting the blistering of our feet & shoulders where the straps of the knapsacks worked. Cousin Jim was sick before we left & has been ever since, but is much better now. Since Wednesday all the snatches of sleep were on the bare ground with nothing but the blue sky for our covering – but it was far sweeter than all the feather beds in creation.

The 4th Regt is now two miles above us. All our troops are ready or the fight. Patterson is coming or has come to join the Federal commander McDowell. Their army numbers about 80,000 string. I can’t say how many men we will have engaged – but I can say I know we will whip them easily. One of the prisoners taken at Fairfax says when their army came up & found the place deserted, they were completely thunder-struck & said “if we can run the gamecocks of the South that easily, we will go on, have a slight brush at Manassas, take Richmond, & there end the war.” We would have got them completely in a trap at Bull Run if a woman there had not told them we had stopped there & disclosed the position & strength of our breastworks. It was there they planned to flank us on either side, drive us back, & decoy our men from the center – then make a desperate rush with their reserve through our middle & thrash us outright. But lo and behold! our right wing defeated them & drove them back from their position & completely frustrated their grand ball at Richmond.

We are now much better prepared than before and are anxiously waiting for an attack. One of our Alabama regts killed about 20 Yankees before they left Fairfax.

Letter likely written to Simpson’s father.

Everson & Simpson, eds., “Far, far from home”: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Volunteers, pp 28-32

Richard W. Simpson at Ancestry.com








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