Unknown Officer, Co. G, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, On the Battle

19 07 2021

The following letter from an officer in Company G, Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, giving an account of the battle of last Sunday, will be read with interest. It was addressed to a prominent citizen of this town. It seems that our Company passed thirty-six hours wholly without food, drink, or sleep.

Camp Clark, Washington, D. C.,
July 23d, 1861.

Friend ——:– I suppose, were this, you have heard of our battle and defeat; but thinking that you would like an account from an eye-witness, I will give it to you. We left our camp at Centerville at two o’clock on Sunday morning, and, after marching about ten miles, we engaged the rebels. The Second Rhode Island Regiment, was in the advance, two companies on each side of the road acting as skirmishers, and my own company was the advance company on the road, marching by the flank in four ranks. We were marching in the woods, and could not see where the enemy were, when Col. Hunter came riding down to us and said, “Now, Rhode Islanders, we expect much of you – give it to them!” We assured him we would do it. We then leaped over a fence and found the enemy drawn up in a line and ready for us. We rushed down upon them, firing as fast as we could, but they outnumbered us, and being armed with Minie rifles, cut us completely to pieces. Through some mismanagement, our regiment was engaged with the rebels thirty minutes before any other troops came on the field, receiving a most galling fire. Within the space of ten minutes, Cols. Hunter and Slocum, Major Ballou and Capt. Tower fell, which was a severe loss to commence with. Our men fought like bull-dogs. During the thirty minutes we were all alone on the field out men expended all their ammunition, and we had to rob the dead to last till we were ordered off to replenish. The rebels are armed with first-rate arms, and use them well. They would bring out an American flag in their line and keep it there until they could rally their men in the bushes, and then make a rush upon us. In this way they deceived us.

Our light battery worked first-rate, but was obliged to leave the field for want of ammunition. After a fight of about five hours we were ordered to retreat. On our way back the enemy opened a masked battery upon us, and killed a great many men and horses, and took the light battery, except one piece. The Rhode Island Second Regiment received the highest praise from army officers and the citizens of Washington, for the prompt manner in which they went into battle. The greatest compliment I heard was than of an officer of the army, saying, that if it became necessary to cover the retreat, he would be obliged to take the Rhode Island Regiments and the Regulars to do it, which I thought was very good.

Major Ballou was in the midst of the battle, acting bravely, when a cannon ball passed through his horse, shattering the Major’s leg to pieces, so that they had to take it off. Our retreat was so hasty that we left both dead and wounded. How they will fare the Lord only knows. The rebels are a blood-thirsty set.

You can imagine the shape the men are in at present, when you know that we marched from 2 o’clock in the morning, without any breakfast, ten miles, and immediately attacked the enemy without resting at all; and then our retreat was so sudden that we could not rest. The distance to Washington was thirty miles, which we were obliged to mad before we halted, all without any food except what we could carry in our haversacks, and this we were obliged to throw away. So you see we were on our feet without rest from 2 o’clock Sunday morning, till eight o’clock Monday morning, when we arrived at Long Bridge. The men’s feet are in very bad condition. I never knew what it was to suffer for water before, being obliged to dip it up in the road all muddy, and drink it mud and all. It does not become me to give my opinion of this battle and its management, but I have one and you will, after you have read the whole account.

You must excuse the manner in which this is put together, for I have been writing all day making reports, and thought I would write you, if it was late.

Warren (RI) Telegraph, 7/27/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Sgt. James A. Ward, Co. E, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle and Company Casualties

27 06 2020

Letter from Sergeant Ward.

Providence, July 27, 1861.

Mr. Webster – I am requested to send you a piece of the secession flag which was captured by our troops at Fairfax Court House. Also, the following extracts from a letter received last evening.

C. A. W.

Camp Clarke, Washington,
July 24, 1861.

I write to inform you that I am in the best of health. I will endeavor to give you a slight history of our march from the time we left Fairfax until our return to this place, which, I assure you, no one in the regiment regretted.

We left Fairfax at about 5 a. m., and marched about four miles, when we halted in a piece of woods, and stopped four or five hours. We again started and marched about 6 miles farther, where we encamped for the night, which made us, as near as I can find out, thirty-two miles from Washington. We stopped about two and a half nights, leaving Sunday at two o’clock a.m., and starting for Manassas Junction, marching in a round-about course, twenty or twenty-five miles, when we came upon the enemy at a place called Bull’s Run, some miles beyond Manassas from where we started. The reason we went beyond was, we expected they would be attacked in front, and in case they retreated, we were to cut them off. It was rather a bad “cut off” for us.

Company E was a flanking company, and we were extended out on one side of the road, to a distance of about half a mile in some places. We could not tell exactly, as we were in a dense piece of woods. As we emerged from it, we came into an open cornfield, in which were hidden about three hundred secessionists, who fired upon us as soon as they saw us. We were all alone, no other company being nearer than a quarter of a mile. Our company received the first fire, and returned it three times before we were reinforced. We have had the praise of doing bravely, and we think the Second Regiment ought to have the praise, as we did the most of the fighting.

As we were advancing at one time, with Col. Slocum at our head, he was struck with a piece of shell in the head, which was the cause of his death. How long he lived afterwards, I know not, but should not think more than twenty minutes. By losing Col. Slocum, we lost a great deal. – Some of us think that Gen. McDowell was but a tool in the hands of the enemy to lead us into a well set trap, to be cut all to pieces. He was seen to hold up his hand on the battle-field, and soon after was wounded and carried off the field. What is more singular, he was only wounded in the hand.

It was a sad sight to see men fall on every side, pierced with the fatal ball. One poor fellow I saw was shot under the right arm. There was a hole made large enough to put your finger in, and every time he tried to breath, as he was dying, the blood would ooze out. It was the only case that moved me. I felt as cool as though I were performing an every day duty.

Company E has lost four killed, certain, and two are missing, besides our Second Lieutenant, Isaac M. Church, who was either taken prisoner or killed. Among the killed is one corporal and three privates, and one corporal missing. They are Corporal Stephen Holland, Privates W. H. Nichols, J. C. Rodman, Henry L. Jaques, killed, and Corporal E. B. Smith, missing. The balls fell around us like a perfect shower of hail.

When we arrived back at Washington, we were the hardest looking lot of men you ever saw, having in our retreat, which was done in the greatest confusion, marched over forty miles without halting more than an hour or two, and had nothing to eat, being glad to get rid of our haversacks on the battle-field. I consider I am good for one more battle.

We have not done much duty for the last two days, and hope not to have any to do for several days more, as we are all tired out.

I send you a piece of the secession flag which was hauled down a Fairfax Court House by our troops. It consisted of three stripes and seven stars. I could only get one color.

Yours Truly,
James A. Ward.

Providence (RI) Evening Post, 7/29/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster

James A. Ward at Ancestry 

James A. Ward at Fold3