Sgt. Harrison Dewey*, Co. E, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the Campaign

29 06 2020

INTERESTING ACCOUNT OF THE SECOND REGIMENT IN THE BULL RUN BATTLE
By a Member of the Turnbridge Company.

Bush Hill, Va., Aug. 5, 1861.

I will endeavor to give you a true and faithful description of our march from Washington to this place after the battle at Bull Run. We left our encampment at Capitol Hill July 16th, and encamped at Bush Hill. At the time of our encamping here we were in the most advanced post on this line in Virginia. We were here formed into a Brigade with the 3d, 4th and 5th Maine regiments, under Col. Howard of Maine. We remained here but a few days when our Brigade were ordered to gain the rear of Fairfax Court House, for the purpose of cutting off the retreat of the rebels from that place, while a more powerful force advanced against it in front. We started at 4 o’clock P. M., and marched until w A. M. We then encamped about two hours. During this march we passed an unfordable stream about thirty feet wide, on a single string-piece. It is said 15,000 troops crossed at this place in two hours. The army here divided; our brigade and one other marched to the rear, the remainder to the attack in front. After marching until 1 o’clock P. M., and gaining a good position in the rear of the rebels, we learned that they had evacuated the place about two hours previous. After resting a few hours, we took up our march for Centreville, where we arrived at 9 o’clock P. M. We here encamped in the open air, as we had done for the three previous nights. Here we remained three nights. Saturday evening we were ordered to be prepared to march to Bull Run at 2 o’clock the next morning. We were all ready before the hour appointed, and every one appeared at least to be eager for the fray. We did not get under way until some time after daylight. About six o’clock, A. M., we heard the roar of cannon. The sounds were like a shock of electricity throughout our regiment, and all seemed to exert themselves to gain the battle field. After marching 4 miles from Centreville, we were halted in a woods three miles from Bull Run. We were now within two miles of the nearest combatants, whose guns and cannonading made the earth tremble where we were halted; but notwithstanding our eagerness to press forward, we were detained here nearly two hours. Had we been permitted to have pressed forward against their right flank, as we afterwards did against their left, the battle would have been decided in our favor. But we lost the opportunity by this unjustifiable delay. At length a messenger arrived for us to march on to the field with all possible dispatch. When the order arrived, at least one-third of our brigade were asleep; but the alarm sounded and in four minutes we were in line and on our march. From this place to where we commenced firing, was three miles, and we marched most of the way on double quick time. On arriving within about one hundred rods of where we formed our line of battle, the rebels threw a tremendous sight of anon balls and bomb shells among us, the shells bursting in our midst scattering death and wounds on all sides. – The orderly sergeant of Company H, who was marching by my side, fell with his right arm broken in two places. One of the color guards was badly wounded in the leg, and a private by the name of Streeter was wounded in both legs. All these wounds were from the same shell. This, however, was but one of the many shells thrown amongst us. It was perhaps as destructive as any one. All the above wounded are missing. We did not slack our march in the least until we arrived on the field, which was already strewn with the dead and wounded. We formed our line behind a hill and marched on to the lines, which were formed within about forty rods of the rebel lines. After our second fire, the rebels hid themselves in the wood and behind stumps and trees. We stood our ground without flinching until we were ordered to retreat. The right wing of our regiment immediately obeyed the order, but the left wing still maintained their ground until they were twice more ordered to retreat. Our guns were now too hot for use, and we left the field.

During the battle the rebels displayed the Stars and Stripes, and also made our private signals when we were ordered to cease firing, but quickly discovering the mistake, we fired a volley and the rebel bearer of the Stars and Stripes fell dead, as did many others. A spent musket ball struck me on the right knee, but did no injury. As we walked (not run) up the slope that carried us up to the plain where the first shells burst among us, I was by the side of Capt. Smith. We heard a cannonball in our rear, when we both sprang aside, the ball passing between us, and not more than fifteen or eighteen inches from either of us. It struck the ground but a few feet forward of us. I picked it up, intending to save it, but it was too heavy to carry.

One of the most splendid displays in this or any other battle was the charge made by the Black Horse Cavalry, supported by the Texas Rangers, upon the Ellsworth Zouaves. They were about 500 strong, the Zouaves nearly 400. They rushed upon them at the height of their speed and with horrible yells. The Zouaves formed themselves into a hollow square and received them at the point of the bayonet. For a few moments it appeared as tho’ the Zouaves were being cut to pieces without mercy. The firing on both sides ceased and the greatest anxiety was apparent; but in less than five minutes the splendid body of cavalry was more than half stretched out in death. The Zouaves were not satisfied, but continued to make partial attacks upon them until not fifty of the cavalry remained unharmed. It is stated that the most deadly hatred existed between the cavalry and the Zouaves, and that they were determined to destroy them or die themselves, and the result is as above stated. I notice contradictory accounts in the papers respecting the above cavalry, but no doubt exists here but they are, as above states, the Texas Rangers.

We continued our retreat across the plain where the first shells and balls were fired at us. As we passed over this plain, if it were possible the balls and shells fell thicker and faster than when we passed over it in the battle, but no flinching or dodging was visible among the officers and men. We passed the plain, however, without extra loss. I did not notice a single gun fired by the retreating soldiers after they commenced their retreat, which is something very remarkable. I have heard that in some regiments they did fire [?] to the rear.

It is very gratifying indeed to reflect upon the bearing, steadiness and bravery of our regiment on the field of battle. No troops ever stood firmer. I did not see one that went on to the field tremble or flinch in the least. Capt. Smith was as cool, apparently at least, as when sitting in his own house, but not more so than were Lieutenants Whitney and Bixbey. After retreating about 4 miles we were suddenly attacked on our right flank by the enemy’s cannon. The excitement now became intense in the extreme and and the panic and confusion was inextricable. The rear was cut off and fled in confusion to the left. I was in the rear of our company at this time and did not see it again until the next Friday night. I continued to bear to the left until about eleven o’clock p. m. with two others. We then lay down on the ground until 3 o’clock a. m., when we started for Centreville, but soon learned that it was in the hands of the rebels. I see by the papers that I was last seen at Centreville*. This is not correct, Wiggins and Godale fled with me and continued with me until we arrived in Washington. At the time of our separation from the regiment we had two days rations for one man, making six meals, when we ought to have had forty. The remainder was supplied with black and blue berries which grow in great abundance. About 8 o’clock Monday morning it commenced raining and continued over twenty-four hours. I may here remark that the storms and nights here are very chilly. We were exposed to this long rain without going under any kind of shelter whatever. We dared not go to any house for fear of armed rebels, nor into any barn or shed in the night because of dogs; so that we did not go under any cover whatever until we arrived in Washington. When we left the regiment we were about fifty miles from the Potomac, but the course we traveled to get there could not have been less than 125 miles. The last day we traveled 23 hours, and the last 8 hours did not even halt. The first thing I recognized was the Capitol at Washington, and I assure you it was a beautiful sight to us. We arrived at six o’clock p. m. on Thursday. I immediately recognized a gentleman in the street from something particular about him; he took us home with him and treated us in the kindest manner until Friday. I then left for the camp at this place, (the others stopping in Alexandria.) where I arrived in the evening, when I was received by the company with hearty cheers, the Captain giving the order. On our journey to the Potomac we were six times headed off by the rebel cavalry and obliged to turn back and flee. I am now detailed as Clerk of a Court Martial and must close but will write again as soon as I can find time and give farther particulars and incidents.

Vermont Watchman, 8/30/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* Harrison Dewey of Co. E was reported as “last seen at Centreville” in the letter of “T. H. C.”, published in “Waltons Daily Journal (Montpelier, VT), 7/29/1861. The letter also mentions Wiggins and “Goodale.” Thus the extraordinary assumption that the letter writer is indeed Sgt. Harrison Dewey. See transcription here.

2nd Vermont Infantry Roster 

Harrison Dewey at Ancestry 

Harrison Dewey at Fold3 

Harrison Dewey at FindAGrave