Pvt. Thomas W. Colley, Co. L (Washington Mounted Rifles), 1st Virginia Cavalry, on the March to Manassas and the Battle

13 11 2018

The subject of this sketch, Thomas W. Colley was born in Washington County, Virginia, Nov. 30th, 1837 of poor but respectable “parentage.” I was sent to the old field schools [on the job training] until 14 years of age, when I was apprenticed to the “Blacksmith trade” at which I served for some two years and then by consent of my father decided to quit that trade and learn the Brick Masons trade which I continued to work at until April 1861. I learned to make & burn brick and to lay them up, and also learned the “Plasters business,” and became quite an expert in the Plasters part of his trade. The war between the States coming on in 1860 & 61 I volunteered on the 7th of April 1861 in a cavalry company then being organized at Abingdon, Va., the county seat of my county, by Captain Wm. E. Jones [William Edmondson Jones], {who had served] previously as a Lieut. in the Mounted Rifles U.S.A. In honor of his old command, Jones named this co. the Washington Mounted Rifles.

We were known as such until we merged into the 1st Regiment of Virginia Volunteer Cavalry [cavalry] first as Co. G and afterwards as Company D. This regiment was composed of companies from the upper and lower Valley of Virginia with one Co. from Amelia County and one from Maryland. At first the “Maryland Co” & the Washington Mounted Rifles formed the 1st squadron in the regiment and were armed with carbines and were used as sharpshooters. Afterwards all the companies were armed with rifles & the whole regiment were sharpshooters and continued in that line of service until the closing scenes around Appomattox C.H. April 9th 1865.

I was constantly with my command from the day I left home for Richmond until I was finally disabled and wholly unfit for any kind of duty. I was in the Valley of Virginia with my regiment in front of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston whose forces in June 1861 and up till July 21st were at Winchester. My command was on picket duty in the medical front [unclear the position Colley references as ‘Medical front’] and scouting in the country watching the movements of Gen. Patterson. [Major General Militia, Robert Patterson] Was on camp guard the morning Gen. Patterson advanced towards Winchester in his “first” movement to hold Johnston there, while he went to the aid of Gen. Banks [Major General Nathaniel Banks] at Manassas and in this advance , where I heard the first shell “fired” from an enemy gun; the thing most dreaded by raw recruits “the peculiar whizzing sound of those missiles of death” as they pass through the air caused the hair to rise on one’s head and a creepy horrible sensation run over his flesh and a great desire to be back at home with Ma. And at this particular time and place this horrible feeling seized almost the entire regiment and they started down the Pike, one co. actually going into Winchester 12 miles from the point they started from.

At the time the shell passed over us Co. D was drawn in marching order by 2, with horses heads turned toward Winchester. Captain Jones was on the front with the advance picket watching the enemy’s movements. Some of the boys were dismounted searching among a lot of blankets & other camp equipment that had been thrown away by a stampeded wagon driver. We had been hurried out of camp and left our baggage to the care of the wagoners. I was among the dismounted ones and would have sworn the shell that passed over the mounted mens heads some 50 or so feet in the air did not miss me 2 inches. This was a signal with out a word of command.

The whole mounted positions hit out down the pike. Captain Jones seeing or hearing the movements dashed up cursing the cowardly wretches for running away. Came in time to save me from running with the rest. Captain sent Lieut. Blackford [William Willis Blackford] after the boys, and he over hauled them and brought them back.

The captain gave us a lecture on the harmlessness of these terrible missiles, especially if they were as high in the air as that one was; in 12 months from that time the sound of artillery and the whizzing of shells would only lull a soldier to sleep. He ordered me to dismount and open a place in the fence so our company could be drawn up in line to oppose any forward movement of the enemy. General Johnston succeeded in deceiving Gen. Patterson after all his shrewd maneuvers and left him in the lower valley.

Whilst Johnston was rushing the whole force to Manassas to join Gen. Beauregard [Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard] Gen. Stuart [at the time, Colonel James Ewell Brown Stuart] took all the companies of the regt. and pressed on with Johnston except our co. under Captain Wm. E. Jones. We were left to hover around the front of Pattersons army and keep up a bold front until the line was joined at Manassas. We left for Manassas and arrived there Saturday, and were there, ready for the memorable 21st Sunday morning, a day never to be forgotten by any who participated in its terrible coverage. I shall never forget I know, until my eyes close in death. I was out on one of the advanced picket posts near Jermanna [Jermantown] Ford on Bull Run. Just as the sun was brightening the tops of the trees “the signal gun was fired.” A tremendous gun. I thought I never heard such a report and the whizzing and whining of that awful shell, “I thought it would never stop.”

It went far out across the Manassas Plains into the skirting forrest. I thought if we had to charge and capture such tremendous guns, there would be none of us left to tell the tale. But I was not permitted to summarize or reflect long on these terrible unforeseen results. The picket firing commenced all along the line and the cavalry were all drawn together and were moved here and there all day through clouds of road dust so thick we could not see the horse in front of us. We were finally ordered at about 2 pm to support Gen. Bartow’s [Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow] & Be Brigades [Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr.] near Stone Bridge, and arrived there at the time they were both killed. My stirrup leathers broke and I had to fall out of ranks and repair them. As I came over a hill I could see the enemy’s batteries and masses of infantry to my left. Farther up on the hill I saw two or three officers and I rode up to them and asked where my regiment was, and Col. Thomas G. Preston pointed out to me the direction they went, and I was satisfied it was a soldier’s duty to be with his command.

When the fight was on, and about that time of day it was on in all its fury and fearfulness, the face of the hill in my front was literally rent and torn with shells and shot. How I was ever to pass through that spot I could not tell, but my duty led in that direction and I must go. So I put spurs to my horse and ran the gauntlet safely and soon found my command drawn up in line in a small ravine. I had hardly gotten over my run before the Hampass Legion [Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s Legion] of S.C., whose officers had been killed and who were badly cut up and stampeded, came running down through a clump of pines and our company commenced cursing and abusing them for running. I asked who they were & they said South Carolinians. Damn you. You were the first to secede, now you are the first to run. It was always shocking to me to see a soldier run and especially at that time, our first fight. They said we are whipped and ruined, our cause is gone. We told them they were liars, we were not whipped there.

About this time Col. Stuart took 3 companies of our regt. and charged the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves, “Red Briches” fellows[.]

He broke their lines, and fresh forces were coming on through the night. They soon gone away, and the greatest stampede and run for dear life that was ever imagined since history commenced recording the events of the various ages. We were soon in the chase. The first fellow I saw on crossing Bull Run Bridge was an ambulance driver; his horses had ran away with him and straddled a tree, broke the breast yoke and smashed the front end of the vehicle up against the tree and smashed the drivers face up and tumbled him out insensible. He was just coming to when we run up on him and we wanted to know what he was doing over here invading our country. Some of the boys wanted to kill him and others thought best not to hurt the poor fellow. We had not learned then that wagoners and ambulance drivers were not at all dangerous. As belligerents we soon left him and went on after the fleeing blue coats [underlined in original].

We followed them to Cub Run and there the bridge crossing that stream was blockaded with wagons and other vehicles disabled by our artillery. If we had known as much that night as we did 2 or 3 years later, not many of the boys would have ever reached Washington D.C. That night it was getting quite dark and we were brought back over the battlefield. The excitement of the dog “gone” and now it was our time to see and hear the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying of both armies. I thought “oh horrors of horrors” is this war? It was a terrible scene. We could hear the awful groans and sighs and the calls for water and the torches going in every direction searching for friends. We were hurried on towards the junction where we started from.

From In Memory of Self and Comrades, pp.1-7

Contributed, annotated, and transcribed by Michael K. Shaffer

Thomas Wallace Colley at Ancestry.com

T. W. Colley at Fold3

Thomas Wallace Colley at FindAGrave





“M”, 2nd South Carolina Infantry, On the Retreat from Fairfax Court House, Blackburn’s Ford and the Battle

7 11 2016

Virginia Correspondence.

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.

M

The Abbeville Press, 8/2/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John J. Hennessy





James Conner’s Hampton’s Legion Letters

27 10 2011

The transcription of this letter, sent to me by Eric Wittenberg, included the following note:

This letter, very lightly edited, was published in the Atlanta Constitution, 21 Apr [18]95, p. 22, c. 1, 2, under the title “Who is the Author?”  For some reason, the published copy has the salutation “Dear Sir,” and does not include a signature.  According to the article, it was found in a tru[n]k purchased at an estate sale in Lincolnton, N.C., and the editor solicited comments as to the authorship.  Two persons quickly responded, contending that the author was James Conner.  Id., 28 Apr 95, p. 12, c. 1-7; Id., 2 May 95, p. 7, c. 4.  The authorship was confirmed by Louis Von Standenmayer, the nephew of Conner, who stated that he sold the contents of the house in Lincolnton, but did not know that private family papers were being inadvertently sold.  Id., 14 May 95, p. 4, c. 5.  The bulk of the Conner papers are in the South Carolina Historical Society; this letter is the only item of wartime correspondence of Conner in the separate collection at South Caroliniana.

Interestingly, this 7/22/1861 letter appears to be an earlier version of this one written two days later. In many ways they are similar (in fact, one similar in its misspelling of “ate” as “eat” to other letters I’ve posted from unidentified members of the Legion), but note what Conner says in the first letter:

I have written in a great hurry, on my lap, and only for yourself and the family.

I think it likely that the second Conner letter was a cleaned up version of his first, fit for publication, or at least for distribution to other than family.

James Conner Portrait, South Carolina Statehouse

Here’s a brief sketch of James Conner, who at the time of the battle was acting major of the Legion, but was technically captain of Company A, the Washington Light Infantry:

James Conner: born 9/1/1829, Charleston SC; graduated South Carolina College 1849; pre-war lawyer, U. S. District Attorney 1856-1860; Captain, Hampton’s Legion, 5/61; Major, 7/21/61; Colonel 22nd NC 3/26/62; wounded at Gaines’s Mill, VA 6/26/62 – fractured left leg; JAG 2nd Corps AoNV 10/8/63; Brig. Gen. (special) 6/1/64; commanded McGowan’s Brigade/Wilcox’s Division/3rd Corps AoNV 6/64 to 8/64; Lane’s Brig/Wilcox’s Div/3rd Corps AoNV 8/64; Conner’s Brigade/Kershaw’s Div/1st Corps AoNV 8/64 to 10/64; wounded at Fisher’s Hill, Va. 10/13/64, left leg amputated; no record of parole; resumed law practice in Charleston, SC; Attorney General, SC 1876; commanded “rifle clubs” during Wad Hampton’s 1876 gubernatorial campaign; died Richmond, VA 6/26/1883; buried Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC.





Capt. James Conner, Hamtpon’s Legion, On the Battle (2)

27 10 2011

Manassas Virginia
Monday Night
July 22nd, 1861

My dear Mother,

Yesterday was a glorious and a sad day.  We have gained a great victory but lost many noble men.  Fortunately I came out of the battle unhurt.  On Friday morning we received orders to march the next day at 9.  At 12 the orders were given to leave by that nights train.  We packed up and started – marched into Richmond at 6 – but the cars were not ready, piled our arms and lay down in the streets until 12 – traveled all that night, all Saturday, all Saturday night and reached Manassas at 6 Sunday morning, starving all that time we had but one meal.  The cars should have made the trip in 12 hours – 7 is the usual time and we were ordered to take one meal cooked with us.  That of course gave out and we reached Manassas worn out from travel, and being cooped up in box cars, and hungry.  Fortunately I had started with 300 loaves of bread, (I fed the men with them on the road, that is my Company), and I also had four shoulders of raw bacon.  Sunday morning as soon as we landed I started fires, had the bacon cooked, gave the men a little, and a very little it was, breakfast.  We then had orders to move as the battle had begun, and while we eat our mouthful of food, the cannon were roaring in the distance.  We marched about 5 miles and were halted by the Colonel just under the brow of a hill.  I was sent forward to view the position or rather the Colonel permitted me to go.  Standing on the hill, I could see the battle going on in the valley below.  A battery of Artillery moved up at a gallop on our left and commenced firing on the U. S. troops.  This drew their fire in our direction and as we lay down behind the hill the grape shot and round shot came singing over our heads – sometimes so close you could feel the air as they passed.  The fight at this point was altogether an artillery one, and finding that we were exposed without doing any good, the Colonel ordered us back to the shelter of some woods.  We then moved forward some distance, when we received orders to advance to the support of some Georgia regiments.  They had been forced back, and we met them, and formed in front of them, we laying down behind a fence and commencing to fire at the Yankees.  At this moment a body of Yankees were seen moving around, and endeavoring to turn the flank of the army and get in our rear.  The order was given to us to outflank them and we moved down a lane running at right angles to that in which we were.  It was a yard lane or country road, with deep gullies on either side.  The troops opposed to us were Infantry, supported by Artillery.  I could see their numbers but could not estimate them.  Gen’l Beauregard told Hampton today that they were at least 4000.  As we commenced the movement, they opened a terrible fire of grape, canister and musketry.  The balls flew like hail, knocked the flint rocks whistling all around us.  I was in advance – my Company heading the Legion.  We faced to the right and ordered the men into the gully and under the cover of that and the fence on top of the bank, returned the fire.  It was here that we had the hardest fighting and met the heaviest loss.  At the very commencement of it, poor Col Johnson was killed, shot through the head.  He was in line with the 1st platoon of my company.  He threw his sword up, and fell back lifeless.  Hot and heavy the fire fell all around us.  By this time, I had gotten the rest of the men – the companies – down into the gully and at work, but for the first four or five minutes, maybe on half of that time, the Light Infantry were alone in the lane, and receiving the whole fire.  Hampton was in the centre, and I on the right, the men in the gully and he and I on the top of the bank, looking out at the enemy and cautioning the men to keep cool, and aim deliberately, and take resting shots, and above all to deploy out and not crowd.  Hampton’s horse had been shot under him and he was on foot.  Barker alone was on horseback, and he kept dashing between Hampton and me, carrying orders.  Theodore behaved splendidly; his conduct was above praise.  It was glorious, and how he escaped being shot was a miracle.  Once he reeled in the saddle as he went down the lane and I thought the poor fellow was gone, and I ran after him, taking one of my men with me, but found that it was his horse slipping on the rocks that had made him reel – neither he or his horse were hurt and yet his grey charger was always in the thickest of the fight.  All the Legion are loud in his praise.  How long we held the position I cannot tell, but we checked the flank movement of the enemy.  They then advanced from another point and we were in danger of being surrounded and fell back 100 or 150 yards under cover of a farm house.  Here again we made a stand and had an awful fight – the old body and the new body of the enemy opening fire upon us.  It was terrible and the men were falling all around us and fearing that they would be surrounded.

It was the only time in the day that the men looked dashed.  Hampton ordered the colors to the front, and I moved my Company up, met them [the colors] and all my boys came right up to them, moved up to the head of the lane, and exchanged fires.  Some artillery came up when we were nearly wiped out and relieved us – breaking and dispersing the new body which had advanced.  We then reformed – gathered the companies up, moved on, and halted in a deep hollow, thickly wooded, here another regiment, I forgot what, was attached to us or rather moved up to it.  It was a Virginia Regt, so my boys said.  Satisfied that we would not be moved, our men were there at least twenty minutes, and hearing that there was some water in the neighborhood, I had given my men leave to break when one of their officers came up and begged me for God’s sake not to break, else he could not hold his men together.  All the while the rattle of musketry and artillery were going on.  So instead of breaking, I detailed ten men to take all canteens.  You can’t imagine how we suffered for water.  I was hoarse with calling and parched with thirst and as I walked along picked blackberries to moisten my throat and tongue.  The men did the same, and when we could not find blackberries, we chewed grass.  We then advanced about half a mile and again engaged the enemy, driving him out of a farm yard, and taking possession of it myself.  They returned to retake it and the Light Infantry fight was hot and heavy.  Here it was that Hampton was shot. We were fighting from the house and behind the thick hedge and paling fence of the garden.  They brought up Artillery and we in time were driven out.  I was at this time in command of the Legion, and we fell back, closing well on the colors at the bottom of the hill and reforming.  We had got all mixed up in the scrimmage around the house and garden, and here it was that the flag was nearly shot away, the ball cutting nearly half way through the staff.  I reformed the Legion and we were supported by Withers’ Alabama Regiment, and then charged up the hill, drove the Yankees out of the house and garden, and drove back their artillery.  Advancing and leaving the house behind us, we kept forcing them back.  They broke and scattered as Kershaw’s Regiment came up, and I united with Kershaw, and sent Barker back for orders to Beauregard.  He told us to reunite with Kershaw.  It was now about 4 o’clock, the enemy in full retreat and Kershaw determined to pursue.  We were almost dead beat out, and only 160 strong.  We had gone into action in the morning 600 and more.  I could no longer form companies.  I massed the six companies and formed 3 divisions of them.  We pursued the enemy about four miles, he halted as we pursued him hard.  Kemper’s battery galloped up the road, and took position on the crest of the hill.  Wheat fields on each side of the road.  Kershaw’s and ours on the right of the roads, Coal’s S.C. regiment on the left, the Palmetto Guard thrown out as skirmishers.  The artillery opened and played havoc with them, and the cavalry came upon their flank and were preparing to charge them.  When they fled and the Cavalry captured 21 pieces of artillery and a lot of baggage.  We were then ordered by Beauregard to cease pursuit and fall back.  We fell back about 5 miles and bivouacked all night in a wheat field without anything to eat or drink, not even water in plenty.  Luckily we had captured some blankets which the Yankees threw away all about the road in their retreat, so we wrapped up in them and slept.  At daylight it commenced raining and we marched back in the rain, wet, weary, and dead beat out with a 7 mile march before us.  We reached camp and had breakfast.  I was so stiff and foot sore I could hardly walk, but a cup of coffee and clean socks helped me much, as I related to Hampton who was very complimentary to me individually and to the Company.  Spoke in the highest way of the manner in which the company had behaved.  Told me that Beauregard and Davis had both been to his tent to express their great delight at the way in which the Legion had acted in holding their position against a force so far superior, and supported by Artillery.  I ten got a horse and rode back to the battle field to look after my dead and wounded.  Raining all day and I came in about 5 o’clock, wet through after a days work as painful and infinitely more trying than yesterday.  A battle, the day after a battle, is a horrid sight.  Then you realize what war is.  I went of course through all the hospitals.  The most of our wounded are at Culpepper C. H.  The general Hospital is there.  I could not get there today.  Charlie Hutson is wounded, not mortally though – poor fellow.  I was within three feet of him when I saw him roll over, his face covered with blood.  I thought he was killed, but the ball went too high.  I had him moved to the rear.  Thompson was shot through the leg, but he refused to leave the ground and fought the battle out limping on one leg.  Poor Middleton was shot in the garden in the second fight.  I caught him as he fell – he is in a house near the battle ground, and I fear will die tonight.  I have been sad all day, doubly sad when I think of poor Col Johnson.  What a noble soul he had and how we all loved him and he was such a splendid officer.  All the men loved him and nick-named him the old Colonel and he pretended to dislike it but he knew it was the sweet indication that the men loved him.  We have lost a generous, gallant officer, and the State one of her wisest and best men.  Hampton rode up to me, his whole frame shook and his eyes filled with tears as he shook hands with men and said, “Have you seen Johnson?  Great God, how can I write home to his family.”  We sent his body down to Richmond today.  It is well.  I cautioned JM against rumors, for when I returned to camp this morning I found it generally reported that I was killed and Barker too and Spratt had telegraphed this fact to the papers.  Some of my own men it was said had seen me fall.  I at once telegraphed you, and made Spratt telegraph contradicting his report.  I hope the contradiction got there in time.  The whole thing arose from a disposition to magnify everything.  I was struck by a spent ball, which merely bruised me without even breaking the skin, and which I forgot five minutes after it occurred.  The blow was rather sharp, and knocked me back a little and the men reported I had been struck, then somebody added that I was shot, and then somebody said I was shot and killed and Spratt, eager for an item, had me down.  He also had it that the Legion was cut to pieces.   We did lose heavily but are good yet.  If we had had our cavalry and artillery we would have done better.  I do not know when I will have chance to write again.  I am in command and have a great deal to do, but will try and drop you a line if only to say all well.  I have written in a great hurry, on my lap, and only for yourself and the family.  As I was moving from the battle field with the Legion this morning, I got your letter sent by private hand from Richmond.  Love to all.

Yours affectionately,
James Conner

Source:  James Conner to Mother, 22 Jul 61, MSS letter (copy), James Conner Collection, South Caroliniana.

Notes (1)

Notes (2)





More Hampton’s Legion

26 10 2011

Today I happened to look at some older computer files and emails, and turned up a few (well, quite a few) letters and such that I’ve collected and have yet to post. The transcription of this letter written by Captain James Conner of Hampton’s Legion (he started the day filling in for Major J. B. Griffin who was back in South Carolina with the Legion’s cavalry, and ended it in command of the unit) was sent to me by fellow blogger Eric Wittenberg. Eric also sent along another of Conner’s letters written two days earlier, and I’ll post that next. Thanks to Eric and to all you readers who have passed such great stuff along. That’s what Bull Runnings is all about – assembling this material for the use of enthusiasts and researchers.





Capt. James Conner, Hampton’s Legion, On the Battle (1)

26 10 2011

July 24th, 1861, 10 thirty P.M.

My dear Mother:

At twelve o’clock the orders came to leave by that night’s train.  We packed up and started, marching into Richmond at six o’clock, but the cars were not ready.  We piled our arms and lay down in the street until twelve o’clock, traveled all night, all Saturday and all Saturday night, and reached Manassas at six o’clock Sunday morning.  The cars ought to have made the trip in twelve hours, seven hours is the usual time, and we were ordered to take one meal cooked with us.

We then had orders to move, as the battle had begun, and while we were eating our mouthful of food, the cannon were roaring in the distance.  We marched about five miles and were halted by the Colonel just under the brow of a hill.  I could see the fight going on in the valley below.  A battery of artillery moved up at a gallop on our left end, and commenced firing on the United States troops.  This drew their fire in our direction, and as we lay down behind the hill, the grape and round shot came singing over our heads, sometimes so close that you could feel the air as they passed.

We then moved forward some distance, when we received order to advance to the support of some Georgia regiment.  They had been forced back, and we met them and formed in front of them, we were lying behind a fence.  At that moment, a large body of Yankees were seen moving round, endeavoring to turn the flank of the army and get to our rear.  The order was given to us to outflank them, and we moved down a lane running at right angles to that in which we were.  It was a broad lane, or country road, with deep gullies on either side.  The troops opposed to us were infantry, supported by artillery.  I could see them, but could not estimate them.  General Beauregard told Hampton today that there were at least four thousand.

As we commenced the movement, they opened a terrible fire on us of grape and canister and musketry.  The balls flew like hail and knocked the flint rocks, whistling all around us.  I was in advance, my company heading the Legion.  We faced to the right, and I ordered my men into the gully, hid under cover of that, and the fence on top of the bank, and returned the fire.  It was here we had the hardest fighting and met the heaviest loss.

At the very commencement of it poor Colonel Johnson was killed shot through the head.  He was in line with the first platoon of my company; he threw his sword up, and fell back lifeless.

Hot and heavy the fire fell all around us.  By this time I had got the men of the other Companies down into the gully and to work, but for the first four or five minutes, maybe only one-half that time, the Washington Light Infantry were alone in that lane and receiving the whole fire.  Hampton was in the center and I was on the right, the men in the gully, and he and I on top of the bank, looking out at the enemy and cautioning the men to keep cool, aim deliberately and take resting shots, and above all, to deploy out and not crowd.

Hampton’s horse was shot under him and he was on foot.  Barker alone was on horseback, and he kept dashing between Hampton and myself carrying orders.  Theodore Barker behaved splendidly.  His conduct was above praise.  It was glorious, and how he escaped being shot was a miracle.  Once he reeled in the saddle as he went down the lane, and I thought the poor fellow was gone, and I ran after him, taking one of my men with me, but we found that it was his horse slipping on the rocks that had made him reel.  Neither he nor his horse was hurt, though his gray charger was always in the thickest of the fight.  All the Legion are loud in his praise.

How long we held the position I cannot tell, but we checked the flank movement of the enemy.  Then they advanced from another point, and we were in danger of being surrounded, and fell back about one hundred and fifty yards under cover of a farm house.  Here, again, we made a stand, and had an awful fight the new and old body of the enemy crossing fire upon us.  It was terrible, and the men were falling around, and fearing that they would be surrounded.  It was the only time of the day the men looked dashed.

Hampton ordered the colors to the front, and I moved my Company up with them, and all my boys came right up and moved up to the head of the lane and exchanged fire.  Some artillery then came up when we were nearly whipped out, and relieved us, breaking and dispersing the new body that had advanced.  We then returned and gather the companies up, moved on, and halting in a bottom thickly wooded, had another regiment, I forget which, attached to us.  It was some Virginia regiment, so my boys said.  We then advanced about half a mile, and again engaged the enemy, driving them out of a farm yard, and ourselves taking possession of it.  They returned to take it, and the firing was hot and heavy.  Here it was that Hampton was shot.  We were fighting from the house and behind the thick hedge and paling fence of the garden.  They brought artillery up, and we in turn were driven out.  I was at this time in command of the Legion, and we fell back, closing well on the colors, to the bottom of the hill, and reformed.

I reformed the Legion, and we were supported by Wither’s Alabama regiment, and we then charged up the hill, and drove the Yankees out of the house and garden, and drove back the artillery.  Advancing, and leaving the house behind us, we kept forcing them back.  They broke and scattered as Kershaw’s regiment came up, and I united with Kershaw and sent Barker off to Beauregard for orders.  He told us to unite with Kershaw.

It was now about four o’clock, the enemy in full retreat and Kershaw determined to pursue.  We were now only one hundred and sixty strong.  We had gone into action in the morning six hundred and odd.  We pursued the enemy about four miles.  They halted as we pressed them hard.  Kemper’s battery galloped up the road and took possession of the crest of the hill, wheat fields on each side of the road.  Cash’s South Carolina regiment on the left, Kerhsaw’s and ours on the right, and the Palmetto Guards thrown out as skirmishers.  The artillery opened and played havoc with them, and the cavalry came upon their flank, and were preparing to charge, when they fled, and the cavalry captured twenty-one pieces of artillery and lots of baggage.  We were then ordered by Beauregard to cease pursuit.

I am in command of the Legion, and have a great deal to do, but will try to drop you a line.

Yours, J.C.

Moffett, ed.,  Letters of General James Conner, CSA. pp. 40-43

Notes 1

Notes 2





Unknown, Hampton’s Legion [?], On the Battle (3)

11 09 2011

Further Particulars of the Manassas Battle – The Capture of Sherman’s Battery

We have some very interesting and authentic accounts of the battle at Manassas, from an officer who was in the thickest of the action, and who testifies to the extremely courageous and devoted action of the Hampton Legion, that held one of the most important positions in the fight, in front of the deadly fire of Sherman’s Battery.

The infantry companies of the Legion joined the line of battle about 9 o’clock in the morning, having marched seven miles, after a hastily-snatched breakfast, to take their part in the general action. In a few moments after the line was formed, Col. Johnson fell by a shot from the battery. He was instantly killed, the ball striking and tearing away the upper portion of his head. Colonel Hampton himself, assisted by Surgeon Darby and Adjutant Barker, bore the body from the fire.

At this instant, the men missing for a moment the presence of their commander, cried out “We have no commander.” Capt. Garey, who was commanding the left wing, suddenly called out, “Follow me, Hampton Guards, follow to victory.” The effect of the tones of the command was instant. The noble and gallant Edgefield company made a rushing charge towards the enemy, in advance of the rest of the Legion nearly three hundred yards, and so far on the left flank that for a moment they were under the fire of the Washington Artillery. The Guards advanced to within 1– or 120 paces of the enemy. Unable to maintain their position, they retired, falling back upon the column of the Legion. It was then that Col. Hampton, after a few thrilling words at the head of the Legion, ordered its fire to be opened upon the deadly battery that was mowing down his ranks.

Nobly and gallantly did his men respond. Firing by file and maintaining their position, they stood steadily until three o’clock in the evening, under the deadly fire of one of the most destructive batteries in the Federal army.

At this time of the day, the Legion fell back about 200 yards, when Gen. Evans, of South Carolina, rode up to the line, and making himself known to the men, added his noble and patriotic encouragements to those of their gallant commander.  A shout rises as Beauregard himself rides to the line, and in stirring words appeals to the Legion to hold its devoted position but a few moments longer, and the victory would be won.
The men were suffering horribly from the most aging thirst, when a number of officers and privates volunteered on the desperate mission of bringing water from a ravine near by through the fire of the enemy. But three returned from the gallant errand. Lieuts. Bates and Tompkins, of the Watson Guards, and private N. N. Cartlidge, and they just in time to join Col. Hampton’s last and desperate charge upon the battery.

The Legion had advanced about thirty paces, when the charge was joined by the 49th Virginia Regiment, under command of Col. Smith, who led the charge on foot – his horse having been shot from under him. Col. Hampton offered his own horse. At that time, when within about 150 yards of the battery, Colonel Hampton received his wound. He was struck by a ball in the temple. As he was raised, the cool and self-possessed gallantry of the brave man was exhibited. In calm and affecting words he exhorted Co. Smith to stand by the Legion and to help to support its flag. The words added a new spirit to the combined charge. The Legion advance to it with its right wing under the command of Col. Conner, and the left under that of Capt. Garey – the command of the intrepid Watson Guards, who had so distinguished themselves in the opening of the action, being devolved upon Lieut. W. D. Jennings, until joined by Lieuts. Bates and Tompkins, who had undertaken the brave mission of bringing water to the suffering men through the thickest of the fire.

The slaughter of the enemy at the battery, as the combined charge of the Virginia Regiment and the Hampton Legion swept over it, is said to have been terrific. The fugitives were pursued by the companies of the Legion to near Centreville. For four or five miles, the pursuit is described to have been over dead bodies, which strewed the retreat of the enemy.

The Legion reports about thirty killed and mortally hurt, with the immense number of nearly three hundred wounded – truly a gallant record. Neither its cavalry companies nor artillery arrived in time for the action; had they done so, quicker work would have been made by the Legion. As it is, with the gallant record it has made, and the compliments of Beauregard given it the day after the victory, it may boast, indeed, to have had a distinguished part in the glorious day.

The names of Captains Conner, Garey, Adjutant Barker and Surgeons Darby and Taylor are mentioned among those who distinguished themselves heroically in the fight.

The escapes of many of the men through the storm of fire are described as almost miraculous. The South Carolinians are better shots than the enemy. At three fires from one of the Corporals, J. W. Tompkins, two Yankees were seen to bite the dust; and at one time in the action, Lieutenant Jenkins, with a revolver, fired into the enemy a number of shots, nearly each one of which struck its man. Many of the Legion had their clothes torn through with bullets.

Richmond Examiner, 7/25/1861

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