The Retreat from Fairfax C. H. – The Battle of the 18th – The Great Battle – The Killed and Wounded – The Captured Arms and Munitions – Our Wounded.
Virginia University, July 24.
Mr. Editor: On Wednesday last the Federal forces made their appearance in sight of Fairfax Village, upon which information Gen. Bonham made hasty preparations to five tem a warm reception, though as soon as the rifle companies of the 2d Regiment had reached the position they were to occupy as skirmishers, it was ascertained that the enemy were attempting to flank and cut off the Regiments at the Village, the order to retreat was given which was reluctantly obeyed by 4 Regiments of Carolinians. It seems that the enemy were marching to Fairfax in four or five columns of ten or fifteen thousand troops in each, and the arduous task of covering a retreat devolved upon the 2d Regiment. The retreat was conducted in an orderly, military and masterly manner, with only one or two missing and one to die en route. Though many weary limbs had given way to the hot and fatiguing double quick march, and on reaching Centreville our company mustered only forty-five men; among the absent was your correspondent who completely exhausted had been taken up behind our gallant and kind Commissary, Vellipigue. At Centreville our forces halted until midnight, when they again took up the line of march for Bull Run, on reaching which place our boys quickly repaired to the entrenchments which had cost them such hard labor a few weeks previous.
About 7 o’clock Thursday morning it was ascertained that the enemy were approaching, our company and the Palmetto Guards were sent out about one mile with Capt. Kemper’s battery to five our foe the breakfast welcome at Bull Run, and here our boys were first taught to quickly embrace the earth on the sound of a shell or cannon ball. Their balls passed harmlessly by while a dozen well directed volleys from Capt. Kemper’s battery mowed down their columns like so many pond weeds and caused them to change their plan of attack. The cannonading was soon stopped at this point and about 11 o’clock an exchange of musket shots began about a mile below our position accompanied by heavy cannonading, which was vigorously and actively continued for four consecutive hours, after which the enemy were put to flight with much loss of life and with three pieces of artillery left upon the field. Our loss was small, about six killed and forty odd wounded, while that of the enemy is variously estimated at from five hundred to three thousand in killed and wounded. The troops engaged in this battle were about three thousand on our part, the Washington Artillery, and Gen. Longstreets Brigade, the enemy are supposed to have had about ten thousand in the engagement. This ended the first battle at Bull Run with victory perched upon the Southern standard.
After dusk on the same evening it being believed that the enemy would not make an attack at the direct ford our Regiment was ordered to a weak point on the creek towards the left wing, where we remained upon arms during the following day. On Friday night an attack was momentarily expected and our men still retained their position in rank, while our company was ordered to the defence of Kemper’s battery, but the night passed in quietude save the interchange of a few picket guard shot; Saturday and night glided by in the same state of peace and quietude, but the harmony was broken s Sunday morning by a heavy fire of artillery on the center of our forces and on the extreme left wing. Our company was again sent out a mile and a half to ascertain in what direction the enemy were moving, but our mission was too late, the great body of their troops had been removed to the extreme left the night previous and the cannonading in the centre was only to deceive us as to the point of attack. While on the scout we were greeted with a goodly quantity of shell, balls and grape, thought they passed harmlessly over our heads. On returning to our camp we found that the regiment had been hastily despatched to the scene of battle and in haste we followed after them, though we were unable to find our Regiment, not knowing their position on the battle ground, so we attached ourselves to a Louisiana Regiment and went into the scene of action a the enemy only rallied twice after our arrival. – While going to our position in battle three hundred yards we were warmly peppered with Minnie musket balls, wounding Mr. Harrison of our company and killing several of the Regiment to which we were attached. on approaching near the enemy and preparing to charge bayonets a few volleys from one of batteries dispersed them to rally no more. After the flight of the enemy we were dispatched by our Captain to look after Mr. Harrison whom we found severely wounded in forearm and knee. Our troops pursued the enemy for miles, slaughtering and capturing them, and we understand that the Secession Guards took a respectable number of prisoners. The battle was terrific and strongly contested during the whole day, though the entire and complete route of the enemy somewhat alleviates the cost of so many gallant sons. The enemy attacked the wing of Gen. Johnson who had just completed his brilliant movement from Winchester to Manassas and for seven hours his wearied soldiers gallantly struggled with the heavy columns of the enemy when Gen. Beauregard came to his relief and after a few hours of hard struggling gained a signal and brilliant victory.
The heavy odds against whom Johnson had been contending were soon scattered and chased by the gallant hero of Sumter, who would dash before the thickest and hottest of the fire – leading our men to a bayonet charge and then directing the enemy’s cannon upon their own columns. The victory though decisive was a costly one; Carolina has to mourn the loss of the brave Johnson of Hampton’s Legion, and of Bernard Bee. Other distinguished officers fell in the field. The whole Confederate loss may be estimated at 450 dead, 250 mortally wounded and 1200 wounded more or less severely. This is the best estimate I can make by rough guess – it may be too large. In my own Regiment only 6 were killed and 15 or 20 wounded; though we were not in the hottest of the fight. Among those who suffered most severely was the 4th Alabama Regiment, the 7th and 8th Georgia Regiments, Hampton’s Legion and Col. Sloan’s Regiment of our own State, they having to oppose heavy columns of the enemy four hours until reinforcements could be brought to their relief. Among the wounded in our Regiment may be mentioned the gallant Capt. Hoke of Greenville.
[?????] their final retreat the panic became so great that the whole army was completely disorganized. Gen. McDowell undertook to make a stand near Centreville though it was impossible to make a rally of them either at that place or Fairfax. The whole road from Bull Run to Fairfax was covered with dead, wounded and exhausted soldiers, it was also strewn with knapsacks and small arms, which were discarded by the Federals in order to facilitate their retreat. I have only heard of about 1200 prisoners among whom are several field officers, though none of them of higher rank than Colonel.
It is said that we captured over two million dollars worth of property. Over one hundred baggage wagons loaded with army stores fell into our position. Sherman’s, Carlisle’s, Griffin’s and the West Point Batteries numbering from 50 to 100 pieces, all fell into our possession. Also the 32 pounders rifled cannon and several thousand stand of small arms, also the Rhode Island battery. It was a mistake about the Yankees not fighting; they fought manfully and gallantly, and some of their regiments were literally destroyed. The Fire Zouaves, the 69th, 71st, 14th and 28th New York Regiments, and the Michigan Regiments suffered frightfully. The outfit of the enemy was splendid and extravagant. The knapsacks and haversacks of the soldiers were filled with eatables and comforts. The wagons and ambulances were stored with luxuries for the officers that would astonish any frugal, warfaring people, fighting for liberty. Notwithstanding the complete route of the enemy they are still in strong force and much hard fighting is yet before us.
Our wounded suffered greatly for the first day or two after the battle as there are no accommodations at Manassas, in fact only two or three houses were there which could not contain them. Though they have all been sent to this place, Culpepper, Orange, Richmond, &c., where they will receive every attention at the hands of surgeons, nurses and ladies – of the kindness to the wounded by the ladies I cannot speak too much in praise – they supply them with every luxury, comfort, and conceivable necessity. So all persons who have wounded friends at the hospital at this place need not feel the least anxiety as to their treatment, as they are better provided for than they possibly could be in the most comfortable home. Having deposited Mr. Harrison in the most desirable quarters, I hasten back to rejoin my company this morning, though I shall not soon forget to contrast one night’s comfort at this place to the privations of camp.
This letter is written in great haste and hurry though I think the accounts of the battle are generally acurate. However your readers will receive the official reports before this reaches you.
The Abbeville Press, 8/2/1861
Contributed by John J. Hennessy