“Blockhead,” Co. D*, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

21 02 2023



Correspondence of the Union News.

Washington, July 23d, 1861.

Friend Benedict, – I am writing to you to-day from the District Committee’s Room in the Senate wing of the Capitol, after one of the fiercest battles and most disastrous defeats ever known to the armies of the General Government. Although our Regiment has not even an honorable mention in the papers this morning, yet ’twas the first in the field, holding it for an hour and a half without any support, and was utterly cut to pieces before the remnant retreated, which we did when our Col. fell. But I will give you the things as they occurred, and you may judge for yourself whether we deserve any praise or not for our conduct.

Well, to commence where I left off when last I wrote, the 20th. That night our company (Capt. Rodgers*) was drafted for picket guard. When about midnight we were called in, the Colonel having received orders to march to Manassas Junction. In about an hour we were on the road. Two and one half miles brought us to a town called Centerville, which was already in the hands of our troops. After passing Centerville one and one half miles perhaps, we took a road leading to the right, and passed through one of the Southern oak forests, about eight miles in width, when we came to an opening, where, on the distant hill-side, we saw a line of secession troops, upon which our Cavalry gave chase, but did not go far, for the enemy’s batteries of rifled cannon opened upon them, when they retired to a cover of woods on the left. The main body of the enemy were stationed on a ridge of land about two miles from where the advance met, separated by a small stream known as Run. Our Regiment (the 27th) was then ordered to advance, which did so on a double quick for two miles; we were all out of breath, and the cannon shots were tearing away at a great rate; my hat was shot off the first thing. Then the Captain ordered us to throw off our haversacks and blankets and many of them did their coats, when we charged on them down the hill-side, and drove them to the other side of the stream. Our lines were broken in climbing a fence, and it took the officers some minutes to rally and get them into order, amid such an incessant firing from the hill opposite. – Numbers of the boys were shot down here. Our ranks were soon formed, and our noble Colonel shouted, “Come on boys, let us silence that battery – come strike for your country and your God.” We hastened to obey, when about 3,000 rebels issued from the woods from the left, and we had to turn our attention to them. We did not know at first whether they were enemies or not as they had a small Union flag with which to decoy us, and they succeeded pretty well, as their uniforms are nearly the same as the Washington Greys of New York. One of their men came over to us and proposed to surrender, as they had concealed their guns. Our Col. ordered the Adjatant to ride over with a white signal. he waved his handkerchief and rode within five rods of them, when half a dozen fired upon him, but he, by a dexterous move to one side of his horse, avoided the shots, which went over him. At that one of our men ran his bayonet through the rebel who came with proposals of surrender; they then fired a volley without much effect, which we returned and run up the hill, although they were two to one of us. While this was going on, a strong detachment of rebels, 1500 strong, commenced firing upon us from a ravine to the right, and they were so effectually covered by the trees and bank, that we could not return it with much effect. They thinned out our ranks terribly, and after we had lost nearly one-half our men, the Colonel, for the safety of the rest, ordered a retreat back to the top of the hill. I was the last but one to leave the ground, and the rebels advancing shot and run their bayonets through our wounded. ‘Twas more than I could bear; there were two muskets loaded (with their owners dead beside them) which I siezed, and, at a distance of six rods, cooly shot the foremost as they proceeded in their damnable work. Can God grant success to such diabolical acts against his atributes of mercy?

One instance, in particular, came under my observation, which shows their hearts; Two men of the 69th Reg. took a prisoner. One of the boys were wounded as well as the prisoner severely. The rebel asked for some water and the sound man of the 69th gave him the last drink of water in his canteen; he happened to turn around, when the rebel drew a knife and stabbed the wounded soldier in the back, which killed him on the spot. When the other saw what had been done, he ran him through with his bayonet.

As we reached the top of the hill, our Colonel was shot; two men and myself carried him into the woods and called medical aid; then we immediately formed with our fearless Major to lead us, but just at this time two more Regiments came to our relief. We were ready to sink with fatigue, (what there was left of us,) but the boys (many of whom could hardly crawl) were calling on their officers to lead them on. But our wounded Colonel sent orders for us to retire immediately, saying we had done our part for the present, and we should not go and be cut to pieces without he was with us. We accordingly retired, [??] fighting for two hours before any more force was brought to relieve us. In the course of the afternoon, fifteen Regiments took part in the engagement. The enemy were three times driven from their batteries and as often retaken. Our troops fought like tigers, but who could hope for success. I could not when I saw that they not only understood their business but had a least three to one in the engagement, together with a larger reserve than our whole force. By some mistake, McDowell, the Gen. of our Division, commenced one day too soon, and the Divisions of Patterson and McLeland did not arrive in time to engage in the fray. Beauregard commanded the right of the rebel force; Pes’t Jeff. Davis arrived at noon and took command of the center in person. The name of the commander on the left of their line, I could not learn. Their whole force could not vary much from 90,000 men after Johnson arrived with his reinforcements. What could our little Division do, only between 14,000 and 15,000, with such an army and strongly entrenched at that? At about seven o’clock, nearly every man’s ammunition was spent, and also, all the shot and shell were disposed of, and ’twere worse than suicide to think of staying on the ground. Major Bartlett drew the remnant of our regiment up into line on the top of the rise of ground, opposite the enemy’s works, twice, (to make a show of fight to scare the advance of the enemy back,) after we had not one load to put in our guns, that we might cover our retreat. We all left the ground in midling order considering the magnitude of the movement. After marching about eight miles on our retreat, the rebel cavalry fell upon our rear, and a bridge broke through and stopped their passage. – They captured six of the guns of the Rhode Island Artillery and lost a few men. At Centerville, the troops stationed there formed into line and protected our retreat. After leaving Centerville we were not attacked, although we expected it at every moment. We reached Washington at 8 o’clock yesterday morning, more dead than alive, having marched from our camp at Fairfax to the battle field, 14 miles – fought half a day like tigers, and made a forced retreat to Washington, just 40 miles from the field of strife, going forty hours with nothing to eat – you can imagine what sort of men we are to-day. Howard of Maine, Whittlesey and Van Dusen of union, come out of the field uninjured. They are lick men. The sun is setting and I can write no longer now; but more anon.

Yours respectfully, BLOCKHEAD.

Union (NY) News, 8/8/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*H. C. Rodgers was captain of Co. D, 27th New York Infantry.

“Blockhead,” Co. D*, 27th New York Infantry, On the March to Bull Run

20 02 2023

Correspondence of the Union News.



Camp of McDowell’s Brigade,
Three miles from Centerville,
Fairfax Co., Va., July 19, 1861.

Friend Benedict, – I have tramped about the city considerable and visited most of the public buildings, but then your readers have had a better description of them, no doubt, than I could give, therefore I will pass them by for the present. If there’s any one thing more deserving of note than another, I think Mills Statute of Jefferson deserves that notice.

Nothing however transpired in camp worthy of note except our daily rations of paving stones and salt pork, until the 16th, when, we being on drill parade, &c., at 1 o’clock. P. M., we received orders from head quarters to march at one hour’s notice, with nothing but bread and bullets. All was excitement in camp. Our able bodied men were all on hand except Dixie, of the Republican, and some friends who were with him. They had stayed already three hours longer than their pass allowed. I don’t know whether they heard of the order to march or not. I always considered them men of blood, and don’t wish to charge them with staying down town to get rid of going out. Well, we were on hand at the hour, and marched through the city, crossed the long bridge (two miles) over the Potomac, and at 4 o’clock we were on Virginia soil, secession ground. However, our troops have possession there at present and have extensive fortifications erected, with cannon mounted, commanding the river and all the surrounding country within four miles. The works are swarming with soldiers. We marched two miles, perhaps, when we had to halt to let a Regiment of artillery come in ahead from the North side of the river. There were thirty-five Regiments on the move to-day – The road was four files deep with soldiers for about eight miles in length.

Until to-day, the rebels had possession of the road to within seven miles of the Capitol. However, the pickets retired as we advanced, and we did not get a sight of a rebel. For the first day we marched seventeen miles, and arrived at our camping ground at eleven o’clock. We had not even an overcoat to cover us. You may thing we did not need one, but the nights are colder here than in that latitude, and there has been but three oppressively hot days here since we came from Elmira. The rest of the time a man was comfortable with a coat on.

Well, we stacked our guns – threw ourselves upon the ground, and slept sound as bricks. In the morning we ate our rations of dry sour bread and raw fat bacon, and started again, rather sore from our march the previous evening. As we came near Fairfax we were divided into platoons to flank the enemy, but before we could be brought up, the rebels fell back about four miles and made a stand. We were wearied with marching and went not farther yesterday, the 18th, but took possession of the town and rigged up our camp. The rebel troops went out in such a hurry, they left behind them about fifty stand of arms and a quantity of military stores.

There was a shameful waste of private property by the second Rhode Island regiment ant the Zouaves. A number of houses of Secessionists were sacked – one in particular – Ex Senator Thomas’ house was completely gutted, through revenge, I suppose, as Mrs. Thomas was a sister to Jackson, the man that shot Ellsworth at Alexandria. Maj. Gen. McDowell has ordered the arrest of the ringleaders. He has also issued an order, threatening punishment, of the severest kind, to any one medling with private property in any instance.

Our Regiment was nearly starved out when it reached Fairfax, so the boys drove in a three-year-old bull, fourteen pigs, 100 lbs. each, and about fifty fowls, and we lived one day I conclude. But there was a stop put to our appropriating to our use every thing we could lay our hands on. We left Fairfax yesterday afternoon, expecting an engagement at this place, but here we achieved another bloodless victory. They might have made a successful stand against us at Fairfax, I think, as they were 10,000 strong, if they had artillery, and I don’t know whether they had or not. The town was defended on every side by raised embankments that covered every entrance. However, they have concentrated all their forces at Manassas Junction, and as near as I can find out, they are 60,000 strong, and better fed and equipped than the Government troops. It is estimated that the different divisions of the Federal Army, which have the rebel troops now surrounded, can muster 125,000 troops, yet the rebels have the advantage of position, and the fight to come off to-morrow, the 20th, will be the biggest and fiercest that was ever known on the Continent.

We are all eager for the contest, yet none can tell how many of us will live to see another day. There has just been a squad of rebels brought in a sergeant, and eleven privates. The sergeant was taken once before and released on taking the oath of allegiance. He will probably be shot tomorrow morning. The has two more batteries arrived at this moment, making twelve in this, McDowell’s division. I have just read in a Southern paper, the fact of the total annihilation of the Union New York Regiment, but the fact is the main body of the Regiment has not been in action yet.

I cannot help but notice the difference in the powers of endurance, between our Regiment and the United States Marines, with their West Point Officers. In marching here yesterday in their company of 340 men, 28 of them fell out of the ranks from the effects of the heat, while in our Company of near 1000, no one gave out, although half of them are troubled with the black diarrhoea. Ours is a bully Regiment however, and we make as good an appearance as any in the brigade. What has become of the boasted Southern Tier Regiment of Elmira, that started before us? They are camped about four miles North of the Capitol, while we are on the scratch every time. We have come in before over thirty Regiments that have been laying around Washington, Arlington Heighths, and other places for months.

Our friend, W. H. Gates, came to Elmira and swore into the service of the United States for two years, but when we left for Washington he slipped the train, and has not been heard of since. Bully for him.

I have a chance to send this to Washington. Remember to send a paper to Maine, to my address. If I live through to-morrow, I will write again soon. – Whittlesey is well and spoiling for a fight.

Dixie has just arrived in camp with his friends. He was badly worked up at being left behind. His blood is up, however, and his is with us every time.


Our correspondent Blockhead, at the time the above was written, Friday, July 19, supposed the battle at Bull’s Run and Manassas Junction would take place on Saturday, July 20, but, as our readers already know, it did not take place until Sunday, the 21st. – Ed.

Union (NY) News, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*”Blockhead” is mentioned in this letter of L. H. Whittlesay, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry

Pvt. Lucius H. Whittlesay, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

17 02 2023

Correspondence of the “News”

Battle near Manassas


A Letter form L.H. Whittlesey


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

Mr. Benedict – Probably ere this you have heard of the Battle near Manassas Gap and the result. I was one of the participants, and, although in the warmest of the fight, came off uninjured. On the morning of the 21st (Sunday,) our Regiment was ordered to march to some point not mentioned, and at 2 o’clock on that morning, we joined Gen. McDowall’s Division and started from our camp, seven miles West of Fairfax Court House. Our Regiment was the 4th in the division, and so we were in the first part of the column. We marched until 10 o’clock, passing through woods about seven miles in length – the distance being about 15 miles – when we heard a heavy and distinct firing to the south west. – Most of the Regiment was nearly “tuckered out” by the rapid march so that, under any other circumstances, we could have gone no further; but as we were “aching” to engage in anything like a fight we pushed ahead, at double quick – the distance remaining being about five miles. We came in sight of our batteries, on the top of a hill, in about an hour, and were nearly the first on the battlefield, for such it seriously proved to be. The enemy was stationed on the opposite hill side, concealed in thick heavy woods, with their batteries well protected on the top of the hill beyond them. Our guns were already at work, and theirs kept up a steady response. Col. Slocum, our leader, conceived the idea of taking the enemy’s batteries with his regiment, and accordingly the order was given to forward – and forward we went.

In the valley was a stone house. and our Regiment filed to the right, no enemy as yet being seen. As we advanced, a steady fire was opened on us from the forest, which we were unable to return. Facing it as best we might, we formed in battle order in front of the building. While we were doing this, a Regiment of the enemy marched into line directly opposite, and waved the American Flag. One of the number then advanced to our lines, and informed Col. Slocum that the Regiment wished to surrender. Our Adjatant seized a havelock, and riding a short distance, waved it in the air repeatedly. The rebels answered by waving handkerchiefs, which they continued until the Adjatant was quite near them, when they opened a most destructive fire upon our front. This took us by surprise, and quite staggered us; but recovering under the order of the Col., we answered with a well-directed volley from our old Harper’s Ferry muskets, which caused considerable confusion in their ranks. The first volley from them brought Asa Park, our
second lieut., to the ground – the ball passing through his heart. I stood immediately by his side and was engaged in ramming down a bullet at the time. He barely gasped, “Save me,” and dropped to the ground. I forgot everything then, and calling for aid from one or two of our boys, I succeeded in getting his body out of the reach of bullets. I returned to the front for my musket, but could not find it, and so appropriated a dead comrade’s, who was killed while engaged in loading it.

I saw many brave fellows down on every side, some of whom were already dead and others nearly so. I tell you, Mr. B., that was a moment I can never forget. Friends, whose acquaintances I had formed in my short life in camp, were dropping on every side. Our party was considerably cut up; but still our Colonel was firm in his purpose. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he would cry out, “For God’s and your Country’s sake, men, if not for your own, take those batteries!” – Our men fought hard and bravely – cheered on by the zeal of the officers and earnestness of those who were wounded – and it was not until a large body of the rebels
appeared close at hand that we were ordered to retreat. We formed on top of the hill, and missed many of our bravest men. Just after the order was given to retreat, a Minnie ball struck our Colonel on the leg just below the thigh, breaking the bone and disabling him from further service.

A number of other Regiments now came up, and immediately marched to the place lately occupied by us. Among these was the regiment of Fire Zouaves, lately commanded by the lamented Col. Ellsworth. They marched directly in front of the batteries, and fought desperately enough. Two batteries were carried and more of our Regiments came up to their relief. – The Black Horse Cavalry – so noted in connection with the praise of Gov. Wise, – charged upon their rear, carrying the American Flag. At first the Zouaves were deceived, but shortly after, perceiving the deceit, fired into them. The Cavalry was 200 strong and every saddle but six was emptied! But the brave Zouaves suffered intensely. The fire of the batteries raked them severely – men falling at every fire. The New York 71st and other Regiments soon after came to their relief. There were eight or ten Regiments on the enemy’s ground, which were doing fearful execution, when a large detachment filed out from the woods in the rear of the enemy, where upon all the Federal troops retreated but a Regiment of regulars who dared not about. They would fall back into the woods and load their pieces and then sally out, form a square, and drop a score of men at every fire. The battle continued until [?] o’clock; when the army was ordered to retreat, which they did. We marched all night and until 10 o’clock a.m. the day following, when we reached Arlington Heights. The distance was 45 miles, making in all 65 miles steady march and a fight of six hours We did not sleep a wink for 60 hours and we felt considerably used up […?

?…] was in the rear of his men and that he received a severe wound in the leg. Our loss was about 700 killed and 1500 wounded. The loss of the enemy was as large – perhaps larger. I can attach blame to nobody. Our men all acted like heroes and retreated from
strength of force. There are 20 missing from our Company and others in the Regiment suffered as severely.

William Sampson, son of J.E. Sampson, of Binghamton, has not yet turned up. He was wounded on the field, and was probably afterwards butchered by the cavalry of the enemy, who killed every surviving man left on the field. Corporal Fairchild, Corporal Spencer and others are among the missing.

Sergeant Comstock was set upon by four cavalry men, when he shot the one nearest him, a second caught him by the hair of his head, and threw him over the saddle bow. He soon after came in sight of friends, and shouted to draw their attention, when the captor dropped him and fled. Others of our company met with narrow escapes, but I will not stop to write them here. Every body engaged in the battle says it was the fiercest and most terrible of any ever fought. I tell you to see the cannon balls and shells flying in every direction, and hear the whizzing of the bullets as they passed close to your head, created no very pleasant emotion. You can form no correct opinion of the affair.

We were kindly treated by the ladies of this place, upon our arrival. I was treated to a good substantial dinner by the family of a Mrs. Leake. I shall always remember them with the highest feelings of respect.

An attack is partially anticipated on Alexandria. The 23d (Southern Tier) crossed over Long Bridge to that place this morning.

Many of our officers may resign. If they do, the Regiment will probably be disbanded, but if they don’t, we will “recruit” to fill up. I will come to Union if I can.

Give my respects to all inquiring friends, and tell them I shall be happy to hear from them at any time.

Before long I shall write again. “Blockhead” sends his compliments this week. Both he, Asa Howard and Charles VanDusen are “alive and kicking,” though considerably used up.

Yours, HIB

Union (NY) News 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*Name appears variously as Lucius Heibbard Whittlesay, Lucius Hebard Whittlesey, and Lucius Hibbard Whittlesey

L. H. Whittlesay/Whittlesey at Ancestry

L. H. Whittlesay at Fold3

L. H. Whittlesey at FindAGrave