James D. Webb*, Acting Quartermaster, Co. D, 5th Alabama Infantry, On the Retreat to Bull Run and the Battle

15 01 2022

From the Seat of War.

For the Beacon.

Head-Quarters, 5th Regiment,
Ala. 12m Vol., Union Mills Station,
Fairfax Co., Va., July 29, 1861.

Mr. John G. Harvey – Dear Sir: – Since my last letter to you an order has been given by the General commanding the army that neither officers or privates must, for the future, write either for publication or private information the movements of the troops. This will circumscribe my correspondence, and prevent me from communicating to you much that would be of interest connected with the movements of our regiment. Our friends at home doubtless will be prepared to give a hearty acquiescence to the command, as it is for the good of our beloved country. Believing that it is not in violation of the order, I can give you, not in detail, however, our movements since I wrote you.

On the morning of the 17th our picket guard was engaged in a fight with the enemy. This engagement was on the Braddock road, some three miles from our camp at Farr’s X Roads. On the night of the 15th Capt. Shelly, of Talladega, with his command, was sent out to reinforce our picket guard. He was on his return to our camp, and was within a mile of the camp when he heard the fire between out pickets and the enemy’s advance guard. He immediately returned to their assistance. Before the fight commenced out pickets captured a Zouave of the enemy. He had with him a large New Foundland dog. He surrendered to a member of Capt. Fowler’s company. In this engagement W. L. Kennedy, of Greensboro, distinguished himself. He stood in an open field and took five deliberate shots at the enemy as they advanced. He killed two men and wounded two others. He was fired at by the enemy as they concealed themselves behind trees. They took eight shots at this noble and gallant boy. – Col Rodes announced him a Color Corporal as soon as he was informed of his gallant bearing. Two others of our company, who were of the picked guard, if not so successful were not less gallant in their bearing. George Nutting showed that he was brave and cool – his gun failed to fire – he stood unmoved by the fire of the enemy. The other was Joe Wright. He stood their fire and doubtless brought down his man. Since the fight of the 21st we have heard through prisoners taken in the battle, that we killed some 60 or 70, amongst the number several field officers, one Captain and two Lieutenants. The damage on our side was two men wounded – one a private in Capt. Shelly’s company, had the rim of his left ear cut off; the other a private of Capt. Fowler’s company, was wounded in the leg.

It will be borne in mind that Capt. Shelly and our picket guard made this fight – all honor is due to them – they checked the column of the enemy advancing on the Braddock Road. We were informed that in that column was 2,500 regulars and about 7,000 volunteers.

When the information reached the camp that the enemy was advancing on us, the men of our regiment struck their tents, loaded the wagons, and they were ordered, under charge of Sergeant S. Sowin, (who was lame from gout,) to move two miles to our rear towards Manassas Junction. The regiment then formed, and the Colonel gave to each company orders to march off to meet the enemy at a place some ¾ of a mile from our camp, on the Braddock Road, where we had thrown up a breastwork, all of which was done with as much coolness and deliberation, by officers and men, as they would attend a Battalion drill. As each company moved off, three hearty cheers were given for our gallant Colonel. As the last company moved off Col. Rodes ordered the writer to go to Fairfax Court House and report to Gen. Bonham that he would await his orders at out breastworks. On reaching General Bonham he gave order that Colonel Rodes should retreat. On my return to the regiment the enemy had been checked in their advance on the Braddock Road. Our men received the order to retreat with great reluctance. – As they marched off they gave many long lingering looks behind, hoping that the enemy would overtake us. – The retreat was conducted to McLane’s Ford, on Bull Run, about 5 miles from Manassas Junction. At that place we reported to General Jones, and he ordered us to this place to guard the ford on Bull Run at this point.

On the 18th the enemy advanced on Mitchell’s Ford, on Bull Run. They were repulsed three times, and retired to Centreville, a small town on the turnpike road leading from Alexandria to Warrenton. On the 21st was the great fight near the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run – the bloodiest fight ever made on American soil. Never before was an army so thoroughly and entirely equipped and prepared for the field as the army that advanced on us at the Stone Bridge. In all its detail it was complete. They came believing that in numbers they would overwhelm us. In a few short hours this immense force, with all its armaments, was overwhelmed, shattered and scattered before our forces, like the chaff before the wind. It will tax credulity to take in the facts. This glorious victory was won by the valor of our men. The 4th Regiment Alabama Volunteers, under command of Col. Egbert Jones, bore an important part in the fight. We mourn the loss of many a brave son. – They won a name for Alabama that day of which the most ambitious may be proud. It would be impossible for me to give you an idea of this great battle in the limits of a letter. The enemy fled in terror of our men. They left their dead and wounded, and to this hour have never looked behind them. To their shame be it recorded that they left their wounded to be taken care of by the enemy, and their dead covering acres upon acres to bleach the field red with their blood, or to be buried by the enemy. I could never have believed that American men would have been guilty of such brutality. We captured prisoners without number, officers and privates, and amongst others a member of Congress from New York, Mr. Ely, who came to witness the victory. We took 71 pieces of cannon, some 200 wagons, horses ambulances, arms, ammunition, blankets canteens, and, in short, every thing. As this force, in perfect dismay, fled before our troops, they ran to Arlington Heights and reported that we were immediately behind them. As the roar of the retreating forces reached Arlington Heights they were fired upon by their friends.

We were not in the fight, but were ordered to the battle field late in the afternoon, and reached there after a rapid march of seven miles just as the enemy commenced their retreat. Soon after we reached this bloody field we were ordered back to this place, it having been reported to the General that the enemy was advancing on this Ford. We hastened back and took our position. It is the hardest service we have seen. For four days wand nights we were in the woods without tents or cooking utensils, hourly expecting an attack. On Sunday night it commenced to rain, and continued to pour down all day Monday and until a late hour Monday night. All that time we were without shelter, not even a blanket, and with nothing to eat but hard bread and meat that was broiled on the fire. Our boys stood it well – not even a murmur. On Tuesday we put up our tents, and since then have been quite comfortable. Here we are awaiting orders, and know not where we are to go, or when we will have orders. Our young men are doing well. While some of them have not entirely recovered from the effects of measles, we are gaining strength every day. Our friends may continue to address us at Manassas Junction. Col. Syd. Moore is camped about six miles from us, neat the battle field. He reached Manassas Junction on Monday after the fight.

Our friends must bear in mind that I write under the limits prescribed in the order referred to in the commencement of this letter.

It is not inappropriate that I should say that shoes can procured with great difficulty. Clothing, too, will be hard to get here. The State of Virginia is one military camp. It would be well that thought should be taken as to the way in which our men in the field should be provided with hats, shoes, and a warm suit of clothing by winter. I see that out Court of County Commissioners has appropriated $3,000 for our companies; judiciously expended, it will be of great service.

Very truly yours,
J. D. Webb

(Greensboro) Alabama Beacon, 8/9/1861

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*There were two James D. Webbs in Co. D, one, a corporal, listed as Jr., and another, listed as Acting Quartermaster (AQM). Due to the address as “Head-Quarters” and commentary on supplies in the close of the above, the letter writer is assumed to be the elder (43-year-old) James D. Webb.

Roster of 5th Alabama Infantry

James D. Webb at Ancestry.com

James D. Webb at Fold3

James D. Webb at FindAGrave