Uncle of E. J. Goodspeed, A Civilian’s Eyewitness Account of the Battle

23 02 2012

Correspondence of the Daily Gazette.

Another Account of the Battle.


Messers. Editors: — The Following is the main body of a letter just received by the family of my uncle, which I copy and send to you. As it deeply interested me I think it may interest your readers, and send it on.

Respectfully yours,

E. J. Goodspeed.


Willard’s Hotel,

Washington, July 24th, 1861.

My Dear Son: — [Here follows a description of the appearance of our army in their entrenchments and of the general confidence of the troops that victory would be theirs.]

“Centreville is within one mile of the first battle ground.  The enemy held the ground and were encamped on the other side of Bull’s Run; ranging over an extent of about five miles. Centerville being a little to the left of the centre of their lines in front, with a glass I could distinctly see their several encampments on the slopes of the hills beyond, and still beyond the long range of the blue mountains of Virginia, ,stretching each way as far as the eye could see. The scene was most beautiful, and the contemplation of the conflict on the morrow most exciting. The certainty that hundreds of the brave boys of the magnificent army encamped around me, were building their last camp fires, and that anxious friends whom they had left and who were doubtless then praying for their safety in the coming fight, would be stricken with sorrow so soon, made it anything but pleasant to contemplate. We camped with the 14th of Brooklyn in the tent of their brave and lamented Col. Wood. I was recognized by several of the boys of the 14th. By two o’clock Sunday morning every regiment was ready for the march, each with two days rations in their haversacks. By three they began to move from about two miles this side of Centreville. My party and myself remained in Centerville and saw every regiment pass through. The sight was imposing and grand in the extreme. The boys were in good spirits, and, with us, were all certain of victory. I shook hands with many of them, and with Edward Appleton of the Vermont 2d, for the last time. His head was shot off before noon. He was from Bennington.

From the hills about Centreville, we had a view of the whole extent of the distant battle field, though the clumps of forest hid the combatants from our view. The smoke however from the cannonading told us of the positions of the contending forces; and the thick and lengthy clouds of dust away in the distance told us of the rapid approach of reinforcements to the enemy, and of the combination of the several divisions of our own forces. About 11 o’clock the cannonading seemed to be most fearful and rapid in the centre some three miles distant. — But all were hid from our view by the smoke. We could stand it no longer. My friend Watkin of the Express (N.Y.) and myself determined on a closer and more satisfactory view. By half past 11 we found ourselves with General Schenck and his staff, whose brigade was held in reserve, just on this side of Bull’s Run, and inside of one mile of the main battle ground, though hid from the enemy by a forest. We occupied a position which with our glasses gave us a full view of the battle, for at least 4 1/2 hours. We saw every charge of the glorious 71st, the 69th, the 14th, the Fire Zouaves, Sherman’s Battery, the Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, Rhode Island, Maine and Minnesota regiments. We were in constant receipt of the effect of their fire on our troops, by couriers who were going to Gen. McDowell and Schenck, up to four o’clock, at which time we were shelled out of our position and forced to an inglorious flight (I mean us civilians). Up to that time the victory was unmistakably ours, with a loss that could not have exceeded 300 killed. Our boys captured position after position of their murderous masked batteries until we supposed the victory was ours beyond a doubt. We distinctly saw their baggage train in full retreat, and cheered ourselves hoarse at our glorious victory. At this time a battery of five pieces, which had been pouring a cross fire into our boys on the other side of the Run, was turned upon us and gave us a more practical realization of the terrors of war. Several were killed very near me. I did not ask permission to leave, or stand upon the order of my going, but went at once. a half mile’s travel placed a heavy forest between me and their murderous shells, but not in season to prevent my being captured by the enemy’s cavalry, who had out-flanked Schenck’s brigade and who were just making a dash upon the hospital in front of me. As I emerged from the woods they drove us back and made a terrific sweep after the scattered soldiery and ambulance wagons in front of us. the 8th battalion of artillery opened a fire upon them and they were annihilated – horses riders and all – not more than six made their escape. This opened the way for me and several others to escape, and we improved it in double quick time. I left the woods mounted, though I entered on foot. I will explain when I see you. On reaching Centreville I found the entire baggage train in utter rout. I have no patience to describe the disgraceful scene and I will forbear. – On looking back from Centreville the ground over which I had just passed (Centreville is considerably elevated above the country intervening between it and the battle ground) I saw our victorious army in ignominious retreat – flight, rout, and no one in pursuit. I felt so outraged at this unaccountable panic that I determined not to leave Centreville until the disgraceful rout had passed on. – When they had all gone on, I left with the reserve brigade, composed of one battalion of artillery, the German Rifles, and the Garibaldi Guards, who marched on the Washington in perfect order – the rear guard of the Grand Army of the Potomac – with no one to pursue save a few scattering horsemen, the enemy being so badly cut up that he has not yet scarcely moved this side of Bull’s Run. I cannot explain the cause of this unexampled, shameful retreat. No matter what the newspapers say, do not believe that our loss in killed, wounded and prisoners will reach 1,500. The killed will fall short of 500, and for myself, I do not believe it will reach 300. So much for the first exploit of the army of the Potomac. I await with no little anxiety its further movements.”

He adds that the boys he has met since the conflict are eager for another engagement.

Janesville Daily Gazette, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Andrew E. Elmore, On the 2nd Wisconsin After the Battle

8 12 2011

“Outsider,”(who is reported to be Andrew E. Elmore,) writes to the Wisconsin again, under date of July 24th. He says that Lieut. Col. Peck has resigned. The 4th regiment is at Baltimore, and arms have been sent to this State for the 7th and 8th regiments. The following incident is narrated:

“The men who returned this morning to Capt. Randolph’s Camp say that they got lost in the woods and getting starved out, in vain endeavored to get to Washington; they concluded to give themselves up as prisoners, and the first man they met they went up to and told him that they were United States soldiers, had got lost and were there to deliver themselves up as prisoners. He said he did not want them, and there (pointing to some rifles) are guns that do not belong to me, and you can take them if you choose. They each took one, and he pointed out to them how they might avoid the pockets and get to Washington. – They followed his suggestions and got safe to camp. This statement is very curious to say the least; but it is believed to be true.”

Janesville Daily Gazette, 7/30/1861.

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Elizabeth Blair Lee

14 11 2010

 The author of this letter in the Resources section, Elizabeth Blair Lee (left, 1818-1906) was the daughter of Francis  Preston Blair, middle sister of Montgomery and Frank Blair, and wife of Union naval officer Samuel Phillips (Phil) Lee (right, 1812-1897).  These portraits were done by noted artist Thomas Sully.

Elizabeth wrote to her husband nearly every day while he was away on duty.  Phil would rise to the temporary rank of rear-admiral during the war, and attain that level permanently again after the war.

Elizabeth and Phil lend their name to the combined Blair-Lee house across the street from the White House – it currently houses visiting heads of state.  The left half of the house was first a wedding gift from Blair Sr. to his daughter and son-in-law.  I wrote a little bit about the Blairs and the house here and here.

You can read a more detailed biography of Elizabeth here.

Elizabeth Blair Lee on the Battle

27 10 2010

To Samuel Phillips Lee, Her Husband

Silver Spring, MD

July 17, 1861

Entries for July 17, 18 & 20 omitted

July 19.  We have been on tiptoe of expectation all day Father returned late saying that our advanced brigade had been repulsed and the Bull Run Battery of the Enemy – Genl Scott ordered the army to stop – rest reconnoitre – & he says nothing can happen until this evening – that at ten olk tonight he will have dispatches from Genl McDowell – This he said to the President – who replied – Genl it is your duty to report to me every movement & action – “The General look up to find he had a superior officer & promptly replied – “Yes sir & in that & as in all else I’ll do my duty” This the P. told Father – who repeated it confidentially to Govr Gibbs wha has known Genl Scott intimately for years – & who after a long silence – Well Mr L knows him & knows how to manage him -”

There is a good deal of skirmishing in Missouri  Frank – Apo – Betty – the Martins – Evy & Troop – go tomorrow down to Fort Monroe – & return Monday  I suppose Frank goes on business Congress adjourned until Monday & the Members are off to the battlefield tomorrow – Mother & I have as usual been quiet at home – from which She won’t go – & I really feel loth to leave her so much alone so I staid home today – I have not taken Blair to the City for a month or more

July 21st Sunday  A day long to be remembered in the annals of the world  This morning at dailight the morning guns seem very loud to me – & when the[y] continued to rumble I grew too restless – & got up about nine  After breakfast I begged Maria to go walk hoping the woods would stop the roar in my ears – but down at the Grotto – I heard it plainer & then spoke of it to Maria told her it was the Battle at Bull Run – 30 miles off  She soon distinguished the sounds & on our return to the house – All the house soon became listeners  Brother & Mr Dennison came out early & said that Genl Scott had sent word to Mr. Lincoln that the attack would commence with dailight – It was some time ‘ere Mr. Dennison could distinguish in the Vally by Violets spring – the belchings of the Cannon & strange it was not heard in the city – but just as plain – oh so torturingly plain to me – all all this long day – When last news at 5 olk came in our side were victorious 3 batteries taken – the Confederate lines broken – & they retreating to their entrenchment at the junction – but at 8 olk – as I was rocking our boy to sleep I heard that dreadful roar still – & it ceased – or I to hear it from about 15 minutes after eight  Oh what a sad long weary day has this sabbath been to me –

Becky went to church & I had to look after Blair as well as the house – & as so often in his precious life – he was such a stay & comfort to me – My duty in looking after an[d] amusing him just kept me wailing & weeping over the terrific scene of carnage of my own kindred & countrymen – within my hearing –

Washington July 22nd I enclose you a note from John – Father when we first heard of the fearful rout of our army said Betty Blair Appo & I must go north at 2 olk  I sent for John – as in yr absence I never feel willing to ought of moment without your Brother’s counsel  He said go at first & then with me the enclosed when I sent word Father said I might stay to consult John over again  So here I am – going to stay  Our army was overcome by numbers they have ascertained that one hundred & ten thousand troops in battle – John says this defeat cements Maryland in the Union

[Laas, Virginia Jeans, ed., Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee, pp 63-66]