Pvt. Robert Welch, Co. H,  71st New State Militia, On the Battle

25 03 2022

The 71st N. Y. AT BULL RUN.

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It Suffered Quite a Heavy Loss.

Editor National Tribune: I am and have been very much interested in your history of the different armies. In your issue of June 6, I your account of the losses of Burnside’s Brigade, you mention the losses of the 1st and 2d R. I. and 2d N. H., but not of the 71st N. Y. S. M. As I have the published report of Col. Martin of the 71st, in my possession, I can add to your record. The report is dated Aug. 1, 1861, and gives the name of every man; Killed in action: 10; died from wounds, five; wounded, 36; prisoners, 19; missing, 5; total, 75. I was wounded and lay at the Sudley Church when the retreat was made from the extreme right flank. When Johnston’s reinforcements arrived Co. I, Capt. Ellis (afterwards Colonel of the 124th N. Y.) commanded the battery of two Dahlgren howitzers and did effective work. Gen. Beauregard, in his account of the battle, says that the two howitzers did more damage than the Parrott guns. As far as my judgement, after the experience of over five years later service, the battle of Bull Run was miserably managed. Several thousand troops were not brot into action, and, as you say, the battle was fought by piece meals. I can say this, that Burnside’s Brigade went in action as a brigade. As the brigade marched out of the timber beyond Sudley Church and was clear of it the order was given “By the left flank,” and the brigade went into action as a unit. When they arrived at the top of the knoll on the left flank of the enemy a volley was poured into the enemy, we receiving one in return, buy which I was wounded, then taken to Sudley Church Hospital, not knowing of any further action of the brigade afterwards. I look back on the battle of Bull Run as a small affair compared with what I was in afterwards, more especially during the siege of Port Hudson and Sheridan’s Shenandoah campaign and the Red River campaign.

—–Robert Welch, Co. H, 71st N. Y. S. M. 203 Tompkins avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y.

National Tribune, 7/25/1907

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Robert Welch at Ancestry

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Pvt. William R. Murray, Co. E, 71st New State Militia, On the Battle

25 03 2022

REMINISCENCES OF BULL RUN.

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The Men Wanted a Chance to Try It Over the Next Day.

Editor National Tribune: I receive weekly much gratification on reading the National Tribune, and oftimes find myself wondering if we old fellows do not sometimes compel our memories to sustain as facts many events that we have imagined. The impossibility of our placing our squadron, battery or company just where it was renders the effort to do so by another simply absurd. There is something to be remembered in Gen. Grant dedicating his memoir to the soldiers and sailors, because none knew them better than he; yet, the Memoirs are often contradicted by those who must confess that no pen had sone all more justice than hi who let them to final victory. When spoken of by veterans, commanding armies, as the “greatest living soldier,” he never forgot those who enabled him to prove himself the man who could be thus spoken of with truth. I am not going to contradict anything that has been said by another. I am going to state what my mishaps and seeings were in my first battle. The regiment was moving to the front by a wood road in “column of fours” when first subjected to artillery fire, several projectiles going overhead and one ricocheting along the flank of the regimental column, knocking up a dust. I then hear a command of caution. “The first movement will be by the left flank,” and sure enough by a left face we were in line and “forward” brot us out of the wood and to a ridge where a fence had been and beyond a ravine. Then we were facing the enemy. It was a good line, that fired by volley and then “at will.” I have never seen a better. One man I must find fault with; a Sergeant got thru the ranks, advance about three yards and must have masked the fire of four men at least. Fighting as a mob is a crime. I saw no running away. I have had occasion a number of times to tell some that I have my doubts of veterans who have never seen any soldiers but “whose who were running away.” I was thrown forward on my toes by what appeared to me an awfully loud report of a gun at the back of my head, which caused a ringing in my ears, but no damage. The firing ceased and I heard the clear, ringing voice of Col. Henry P. Martin: “It has been reported that we are firing on friends! Advance the colors!” Out went the Stars and Stripes, and the volley that Old Glory got, too high for most of us, settled the question of friends. We advanced to the colors and began again. This time a battalion in gray was coming up the slope led by a field officer with a red sash and on a bay horse. He was bringing up his regiment in good style, was quite near and was, I think, about riding around his right flank to the rear, when his horse gave a pitch forward and both horse and man went down. I have never known what regiment it was, but it quick followed that it was forcibly put out of the fight. The Rhode Island boys were busty to the left of us, and one man in a fence corner, in advance of the general line, was doing remarkably well. The New Hampshire men were near our regiment, and when seen by me were doing well and in good order. I did my level best to fire as fast and often as possible, for we all know it does disconcert one’s aim to be under a direct fire of cannon and musketry. I believe I thought more of that than of killing any one. My only mishap was the dropping of a percussion cap when pulling it thru the lining of lambs-wool of my cap pouch, my finger and thumb being unused to articles so small. Some one at the left and rear said: “I can’t get those —– —– —– men out of that ditch.” I did not turn to see who it was, neither did I see a ditch nor men in one. The firing ceased, and most of the men were sitting, when I strayed over to where one of our howitzers was being worked for dear life, and passed a man lying on his face, dead, I suppose, uniformed with white felt hat, red shirt, and white pants. I know not his regiment. He was on our line near our howitzer and a little to the rear of where the Rhode Island boys were fighting. I did wrong in straggling, but did not do it under fire; besides, I was in plain view and would be taken for a battery support. The Newburg boys of the Howitzer, Co. I, ceased firing, and I had a view of the field that was grand. In front, in the hollow, was a squadron of cavalry as immovable as statues. To its left the marines – I judged it was they, from their white belts – were deployed and going for the timer up the sloe on the opposite side of the hollow. There was nothing in front of us in sight and no firing. Away to the right of the New Hampshire men a caisson team at a gallop was coming obliquely towards our line. Just then a comrade accompanied by a Zouave called to me to come, and I went with them.

I can never forget my mortification and disappointment that night. A begrimed, dirty private, my blouse first wet with perspiration and then covered with dust, the dust making it look like mudarmor. Food in my haversack and no thought of eating. If we could only have another chance! I did than and while life doth last will sympathize with Gen. McDowell, my General, for what must have been his feeling, in comparison, from others not realizing at the proper time where victory was for the taking of it. I was near to committing suicide when in some troops near Fairfax Court House a soldier bawled “Coward!” I did not know the troops. They were closed en masse, resting. There was a quick facing to the left, a Springfield brought to a “ready,” the silence that reigned for a second can be imagined, and the poor, defeated ones passed on – the Zouave, my comrade, and myself.

The presumption that the “Enemy could have marched into Washington that night was brilliant, but void of execution on account of its impracticability.” The men who fought that day would have fought better next day. They would have dropped “well enough” and pressed every advantage gained, aided by fresh troops. Johnston realized it and said it. When one thinks of the military talent and fame acquired after by men who were in that particular battle, it would have been glory enough to have died upon that field – Bull Run.

—– W. R. Murray, 71st N. Y. S. M., Burnside’s Brigade, Hunter’s Division, Army of Gen. McDowell, Brooklyn, N. Y.

National Tribune, 7/25/1907

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William R. Murray at Ancestry

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Pvt. Lyman E. Stowe, Co. F, 2nd Michigan Infantry, On the March to Washington and the Campaign

23 03 2022

The 2d Mich. Declined the Protection of the Police – On to Bull Run.

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Editor National Tribune: I am reading the National Tribune and noting carefully everything in it, and find it so interesting I can hardly wait for the day to come around for its weekly appearance.

You will please excuse me if I am stirred to give a little of my experience as one of Dear Old Uncle Sam’s boys. I must, however, give it as a private soldier. I was not a General, Colonel, Lieutenant or even a Corporal, but am proud to say I was the first man in the city of Flint, Genesee Co., Mich., to enlist under Lincoln’s first call. I have often longed to see the statement in The National Tribune of how some of the boys came to enlist and how they felt on that occasion.

My father was an old time Whig. I have before me a circular letter, date 1848, from Zach Chandler and others, to my father in regard to what should be done to elect Gen. Winfield Scott. My father was bitterly opposed to slavery, and, of course, as a boy I heard much concerning it.

When five years old, or in 1848, a brother but five years older than myself, in talking to another boy, said: “This slave question will surely bring on war. I may not live to see it, but my brother here will,” pointing to me. Well, yes, I did see it, and he, poor fellow, did not. I write this to call attention to the feelings among the children in the North at that time. You see, I was born an Abolitionist, too young to vote, but sang in a glee club for “John C. Fremont is the man we want. He’s the man, too, who can wear the traces,” etc., etc,

I was also too young to vote for Lincoln in 1860, but when Fort Sumter was fired on it set ablaze every drop of blood in my veins, and when our militia company, the Flint Union Grays, called a rallying meeting, I made a little speech, and begged that my name be the first on the list of enlistment for the war from that locality. We were sworn into State service April 20, 1861, for three months’ service, and rendezvoused at Detroit, Mich. Meantime the Government refused to accept any more three-months men. As Michigan had already one regiment of three-months men in the field we were compelled to disband and go home or enlist for three years or during the war. Many went home, but many of us remained, and the skeleton of our company was quickly filled up and became Co. F, 2d Mich. Col. Dick Richardson was our Colonel. Afterwards Gen. J. B. Richardson, killed at Antietam. Had this grand man and noble soldier lived he would have been made Commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Our regiment left the State June 6, 1861, and with much anxiety and expectation we arrived at the Relay House near Baltimore, Md., near sundown, June 9. It has been claimed ours was the first regiment to go through Baltimore after the hard usage of the 6th Mass. Whether so or not I do not know, but I do know our Colonel drew us up in line, division of two companies front, and addressed us as follows.

“Second Michigan, we may now meet our first engagement. You will at the command load at will, and be careful none of you let the ball down first. Let every man keep his head. Do not get excited, and do not fire unless you receive orders. We will march through the city company division front, where possible; where not, break into platoons. As you march let the first four men on the right and left flanks watch the roofs and windows, and if attacked see that you bring down the assailant, be it man or woman.”

At this point the Chief of Police came up with a large squad of men, and said he came to escort the regiment through the town. The Colonel answered with these words:

“You can march ahead if you want to, but my men came here prepared to take care of themselves.”

After carefully loading our old Harper’s Ferry muskets the Colonel remarked:

“Now let them attack us and we will show them what a ball and three buck-shot will do.”

We had no occasions to fire a shot; in fact, we hardly saw a person except the police and railroad men.

We took the train for Washington on the other side of town, and were all night pulling through, arriving at Washington at 7 o’clock on the morning of June 10. In the afternoon we marched in review before President Lincoln and Gen. Scott.

I wonder if any comrade could ever forget such an experience; in fact, could any person who ever saw either of those men once forget the event. Or could he doubt that God Almighty raises up the right man in the right place when wanted?

We went into camp just below Georgetown, and two days later moved down to Camp Scott at Chain Bridge, where we lay guarding the bridge until we took up our line of march out the Georgetown road for Bull Run.

To Bull Run.

It was the 16th of June, 1861, the Army of the Potomac, under Gen. Irvin McDowell, took up its line of march toward Richmond, 30,000 strong, in four divisions commanded by Brig.-Gen. Tyler and Cols. Hunter, Heintzelman and Miles; Miles on the extreme left on the old Braddock road, which becomes the Warrenton turnpike after passing through Fairfax Court House. Heintzelman, with the leading portion of the left wing, took the Little River turnpike, while Hunter, with the center, took the Leesburg and Centreville road; Tyler, with the right wing, took the Georgetown road. There could not have been much secrecy in regard to the order of march, because private soldiers were discussing it together with other phases of the campaign.

Col. Richardson had been placed in command of the brigade consisting of the 2d and 3rd Mich. and 12th Mass. Regiments. We were a part of Tyler’s Division.

We did not break camp until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I having been sick with diarrhea since our arrival, but all the time doing duty, I was ordered to report to the hospital and remain behind, but after some pleading with my Captain, William R. Morse, he consented to let me go. We marched out as far as Vienna Station, where some weeks before Col. Hatch attempted to reconnoiter with a train of cars, and backed his train up and into a masked battery. Here was an experience, our first bivouac and our first field breakfast of coffee, hardtack and boiled salt pork.

When the sun was an hour high we moved out of Vienna and pursued our way toward Fairfax. About 1 o’clock we came in sight of Fairfax. As we came out of a woods road and onto a hill from which we could see a long distance, we saw troops moving in several lines, and to our right we saw burning buildings with great clouds of black smoke rising high in the heavens, and we could hear the crack, crack, crack of musketry in the distance. The burning buildings was Germantown. The division was drawn up in line of battle, bugles were sounding and a battery of artillery came dashing through a wheat field, where the wheat was cut and standing in shocks. The artillery drew into line and prepared for action. This was truly a magnificent sight. It was the spectacular side of war. But soon and Aid came dashing up to the General, and we then understood the columns to the left and in front were the left and center of our army, which had arrived at Fairfax ahead of us. The enemy had retreated, leaving every obstacle possible in our way, and many in their haste had left behind clothing, broken-down wagons, flour and a thousand and one things as evidence of their mad flight. To my mind this far exceeded the destruction of property by the retreat of our own army a few days later. We slowly moved on and finally went into camp three miles from Centreville. I must here relate the most ridiculous or funny experiences of my soldier life.

First Foraging.

After going into camp and a little before sundown, a Sergeant of my company was ordered to take a detail of men and go out and see if he could not pick up some fresh meat, as out wagon trains were not yet up. I very much desired to go too, but was not one of the detail, and the Captain refused to let me go. Finally the detail started, and I picked up my gun and stole out of camp in an opposite directions. After traveling some time I saw a barn in the distance, and made my way toward it. Noticing a small pen which contained a large fat hog, I fist thought of killing the hog, but upon thinking of how little of it I could carry to camp alone, I continued on to the barnyard. I now heard voices, and not knowing whom it might be, I stole cautiously along until I could get a view of the talkers, and there in the barnyard stood a fine, gentle steer and at his head were two boys in blue, one holding him by the horns and gently talking to him in a language I could not understand, but knew to be German, which told me those two men were some of our German-American soldiers. The second man seemed to be intently rubbing the steer’s throat with the supposed edge of one of the sheath knives Uncle Sam had furnished each soldier for the purpose of carving his meat, but was hardly sufficient an instrument for butchering and in that peculiar manner. The steer seemed to really enjoy the rubbing, for his stuck his nose out and stretched his neck as if to say, “Go ahead, boys; this is nice.” Well the boys went ahead until the old knife began to wear its way through the thick skin, when the steer’s tail and head went up and he gave a tremendous snort and bellow, and one soldier went one way, the other another way, but both rolling in the soft earth of the barnyard, while the steer sailed over a low bar and ran down the pasture bellowing at every jump. I stood laughing at this strange spectacle, until, hearing voices, I looked up and saw the Sergeant and his detail still in search of fresh meat. After expressing surprise upon seeing me and laughing at the recital of my story, I directed them to the pen of the fat hog, and we had fresh pork for supper.

Our camp was situated in the meadows on both sides of the road, my regiment on a little rise of ground where we could overlook the whole camp. I awoke just before dawn on the morning of the 18th. The horses and mules stood like statues, all fast asleep; not a soul of that vast camp was stirring. Long rows of men lay wrapped in their blankets, and the long rows of stacked arms seemed to be keeping guard alone, for if there was a camp guard there was not one that I could see. It is not possible for pen to describe such and imposing scene, much less the great transformation about to follow.

Blackburn’s Ford.

Away over on the other side of this camp was another eminence sill higher than ours. Here was pitched the General’s tents and the only ones to be seen. Midway between and along either side of the road the artillery and a company of cavalry were camped, while farther to the rear and right were camped the small wagon train we had with us, together with the ambulance. I saw a man step away from one of the tents and walk out to the edge of the hill, then lift his bugle to his lips and blow the reveille. The sound from his horn had not died away when bugle after bugle mingled their sounds with those of the cavalry and artillery and whinnying horses and braying mules. An army of men, like magic, seemed to be arising from the ground. The camp was full of orderly life and animation. When the sun was two hours high at the sound of the bugle this truly grand army seemed at once to be in motion, all taking their places in line, banners flying, bugles sounding and arms flashing under the bright morning sunlight. It was a sight once beheld could never be forgotten. Though I afterwards saw far greater numbers march in review, I never saw such an imposing sight as I beheld this July morning. And this was the armed mob we have read so much of since the first battle of Bull Run. We marched past Centerville and down the road to Blackburn’s Ford. Here we had our baptism under fire; though a mere skirmish, it was a pretty sharp one, and we lost a hundred men on our side. Where my regiment lay we could see a house with a rebel flag flying. I well remember how Ayres’s Battery came into position, and we were so close that we could hear Col. Richardson as he said, “Capt. Ayres, can you see the flag on that building?” “Yes sir,” was the reply. “Well, can you bring it down?” “I think so.” And he spoke to a Sergeant, and a gun was trained on the flag. The first shot went high, the second one went through the building and the third shot the flag went down. It was afterwards said Beauregard and his staff were at dinner in that house; whether so or not I do not know. While the skirmishing was going on our brigade was drawn up in line, expecting every moment to be called into action. Blackberries were thick all around us. We had been without dinner and were very hungry, and though bullets were spattering spitefully about us, we kept pretty busy picking and eating the berries, sometimes, of course, getting out of line; but there was no disorder that was not righted at the first command, notwithstanding frequent statements published to the contrary.

Finally we were ordered back to Centreville. The attack had been made by Gen. Tyler without authority. We bivouacked at Centerville and remained until Saturday night, drawing and cooking rations. We again moved down toward Blackburn’s Ford, and remained until after sunrise on the Sunday morning of the 21st. Finally the whole army was in motion and every heart beating with excitement, for now a great battle was to be fought.

In that great army was there a single soldier who thought defeat possible? I do not think so. Had we not a greater army than Gen. Scott had when he took the City of Mexico? Besides, was he not our General? To be sure he was not with us, but we had every confidence in McDowell. I believe every private soldier understood that Patterson was expected to hold Johnston’s forces at Winchester, yet among the private soldiers there were expressions of doubt of the loyalty of Patterson and that he might fail to keep Johnston busy, and we would have his forces to fight as well as Beauregard’s army. Yet there were no doubts concerning the outcome. Maj. Williams, in command of our regiment, ordered us to leave our blankets, rolled in light marching order at his headquarters under a large oak tree, so we would be unencumbered when ordered into the fight. But all day long we lay listening to the battle on our right, expecting every minute to be called into action. Occasionally we would go out on a hill overlooking the battlefield, and while watching the battle, discuss the wisdom of the plan of battle, or, rather, lack of plan, for there really seemed to be no plan of action but the sending in of a regiment or brigade and a helter-skelter fight until it became necessary to relieve them by others.

About 2 o’clock in the afternoon we heard a continual whistling and thundering of railroad trains, and we knew that Beauregard was being reinforced by Johnston’s forces. Patterson had failed to entertain Johnston.

Retreat From Bull Run.

About 6 o’clock orders came for us to move, and we expected to be ordered into battle. We marched past the Major’s headquarters, and could easily have taken our blankets, but still expecting to go into battle, we marched past them and turned down toward the ford, when Col. Richardson came riding up and cried, “Maj. Williams, where are you taking that regiment? About face!” Only for this we should soon have been game for the masked batteries. The Colonel was hatless, coatless and without his sword, for Col. Miles, whose commission was two hours older than Richardson’s, had ordered Richardson under arrest. But Miles was drunk, and Richardson would not see his regiment led to destruction. We were ordered to about face, and by the left flank we double-quicked back to Centerville. It was intensely hot, and the dust was so thick one could almost cut it with a knife.

Arriving at the heights of Centerville, we could look back and see the whole army in disorderly retreat and being pursues by cavalry. Col Richardson seemed to be in command of the rear guard, for as far as we could see all seemed to be disorder except our brigade, and we under the command of an officer not in possession of his sword, but under arrest.

Richardson ordered a battery of artillery to take position on a hill and send a few shots into the pursuing cavalry, which sent them back in a hurry. Our brigade now marched over the hill, regimental front, down into a ravine; then by the left flank around the hill, where we again faced the enemy, marched over the hill with colors flying, again by the flank and so on, repeating the maneuver at least a dozen times. This no doubt was the reason Johnston did not pursue us farther, as his report, published in Appleton’s Encyclopedia, says that because of his men being worn out and the Federals massing large forces at Centerville he did not think it expedient to follow the forces to Washington, what was well fortified and manned.

We now marched into a cornfield, and lay on our arms until about 2 o’clock the next morning. We then arose and in an orderly manner slowly marched out onto the road and stood until daylight, my regiment being the very last to leave the field; there was no running, no excitement, we never saw another reb in pursuit, nor was there any whirlwind retreat to Washington. There came up a light rain, and we marched very slowly back to Washington by the way of the Fairfax road, arriving at Arlington Heights at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, July 22. Col. Richardson was court-martialed for disobeying a superior officer, and was promptly promoted to Brigadier-General.

Lyman E. Stowe, 131 Catherine St., Detroit, Mich.

National Tribune, 1/4/1906

Contributed by John Hennessy

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Capt. (Acting Maj.) Thomas Francis Meagher, Co. K, 69th New York State Militia, On the Campaign (Part 3)

6 03 2022

LAST DAYS OF THE 69TH IN VIRGINIA.

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A NARRATIVE IN THREE PARTS.

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PART THE THIRD.

Retiring, by order of General McDowell, from under fire, the 69th halted on the road side, a little above the village of Centreville. Those who had haversacks opened them and shared their contents with their comrades. Several of the men, in impatient anticipation of coming into close quarters with the enemy, had freed themselves of these encumbrances, as they dashed down to the scene of action. They had flung them off along with their blankets. It was not the fault of the Commissariat that many of the men went to bed supperless. At the same time, it is not in the nature of an Irishman to fight with four or five pounds of boiled port and biscuit banging at his hip.

During this halt, the 79th and 2nd New York swept by us, heading for the enemy, so as to compel the latter to keep at a respectful distance from us, within his lines. Both of these Regiments looked staunch and splendid at that moment. There was Col. Cameron, at the head of his Highlanders, riding erect and resolute, with his broad-leafed hat, shadowed with a superb black ostrich feather, softening the outline of the strong, massive features, which the consciousness of his being on a noble service seemed to illuminate. There was Col. Tompkins, of the 2nd New York – young, calm, unostentatious, full of intelligence and perfectly dauntless – leading as bright and hearty a body of men as any Colonel in the Union Army has reason to be proud of. As with a swinging step, in compact ranks, they swept by, it was with a delighted heart I recognised my friends, Captain Huston, De Courcey, and many other generous and gallant fellows, and hurriedly shook hands with them.

The two Ohio Regiments came next, Col. McCook, radiant and jovial as though it were a pic-nic he was going to, being in command of the First. Mounted on a magnificent horse – black, fiery, solid, full of blood and power and beauty – the Colonel waved his had to us as he passed along, and wishing us all good-bye, and in a few seconds vanished from us in the dust and twilight.

The Ohio Regiments had passed us a little more than a quarter of an hour, on their way to Blackburn’s Ford, where the fighting had been all day, when the order came for the 69th to fall in and march. In something less than half an hour we were in the village of Centreville, on our way to the bivouac or camping-ground for the night, a mile beyond the village.

I have already spoken of this village as a dingy, aged, miserable little handful of houses. It is the coldest picture conceivable of municipal smallness and decreptitude. Set down on certain military maps in flaming capitals as CENTREVILLE, one is astounded on entering it, to find that a mole-hill has been magnified into a mountain. Southerners may sneer at New England – toss off their inspiring cock-tails, and contemptuously air the tips of their sensitive noses as they give vent to their disdain, repudiation, and defiance of the North; but in all of New England – in all the North – I wager there is not a village of shabbier aspect and such reduced resources, as that of Centreville. It looks, for all the world, as though it had done its business, whatever it was, if it ever had any, full eighty years ago, and since then, had bolted its doors, put out its fires and gone to sleep. Harry Lorrequer has never chilled us with so dismal picture of a denuded village in Ireland.

Most of the houses in Centreville are built with stone – rugged grayish, gloomily specked and mottled stone – and you follow them up and down two or three little hills and hollows, over a road or through a street which has ruts and rocks, boulders and pit-falls in it, enough t shake the shoes from off a thousand horses, and more than enough to rattle to pieces and disable a thousand waggons. Some of these houses retreat a little from the road or street, behind a dingy fence and two or three leafless and colorless and dwarfed old trees. Others break in with an uncouth and bold protuberance upon the road or street; and thus with a violent intrusion destroy the symmetrical effect of their more modest sisterhood.

There was, as usual, a rush of the 69th for the pumps. Utterly regardless and defiant of every remonstrance and warning, the soldiers broke from the ranks, and made fiercely for every door or gate-way that promised them an alleviation of their thirst. This was the mischief of the day. This the mischief of the two preceding days. It was impossible to keep the men in the ranks whenever they thought there was the slightest chance to slake their thirst. True it is, the distance they marched each day was not much over twelve miles at most; but each day’s march was under a seething and blistering sun, over a broken and rugged road, through clouds of stifling dust, after a comfortless and noisome night in swamp and dripping meadow, without one full and wholesome meal; and hence, mischievous as were the irregularities of the advance, they are easily to be explained and generously forgiven. Many a brave poor fellow of the 69th, who would have thrown himself against a rebel battery at that moment, and never given a thought to what the consequences to himself or his lonesome wife or his little ones, might be, used to expostulate with me, when, acting as I did as Major, and in that capacity endeavoring to keep the Regiment full and close, I used to urge and bid back those who threw themselves, every now and then, in search of water, from the line of march.

“Heavens! we’d die for you, Captain,” they used to exclaim, with agony, “but we can’t stand this drought.”

Exclamations such as these could find no answer, and certainly no rebuke; and hence it was that many a time I gave way, and silently, though vexed and maddened almost, suffered these outbreaks for water along the road.

General McDowell, in his report of the battle of Bull Run, mentions the few miles the Union forces had to march each day – lays particular stress, it seems to me, upon the fact, that General Tyler’s Division, of which the 69th was the pioneer Regiment, had marched 6 miles only from their bivouac at Germantown, to the intersection of the road from that village to the road from Fairfax, and that from this intersection there were but six miles and a half more to Centreville – mentions that he himself rode on and urged the advance that night to Centreville, and that, despite of all he could say or do, it was impossible for him to get the column to advance further than withing four miles of Centreville. All this is true. True as an honest, intrepid soldier – a gentleman and a chevalier, as Gen. McDowell unquestionably is – could write it.

But the General, whilst he enumerates, by the surveyor’s chain, the few miles we had to march, overlooks the scorching and disabling heat, the preparations for attack we had to make on our approach to and out-flanking Fairfax, the rush the 69th made to cut off the retreating Southerners – the halts, under an exhausting and deadening sun, whilst their barricades of trees were cut through and thrown aside – the fierce exposure to the same fierce sun which, drawn up in line of battle, the 69th had to stand in the fields after they had passed the abandoned earth-works of the enemy at Germantown – and, last of all, the frenzying heat, and dust and ruggedness of the road beyond the intersection of the roads from Germantown and Fairfax – all this Gen. McDowell overlooks, or considers it unnecessary to allude to, in his report.

For my part, I must say, that no soldiers could have rushed to battle with heartier elasticity and daring than did the soldiers of the 69th, on the evening of the 18th of July; and my admiration of them and my confidence in them were increased and intensified by the fact, that they had had the worst of treatment for five days previous, and that their Brigadier, Colonel Sherman, had no sympathy whatever with them. Despite of all their hunger, thirst, and exhaustion – keenly feeling, as Irishmen alone can feel, that they had been, somehow or other, played and trifled with and defrauded – that they had been precipitated into action when their term of service to the United States had expired – the 69th, bearing the Green Flag presented to them in recognition of their refusal to participate in the reception of the Prince of Wales – still heartily and enthusiastically pressed on. The 69th would not abandon the Stars and Stripes whatever injustice was done the Three Month’s Volunteers, or however violently interested parties, high or low, ambitiously or fearfully excited, expected or exacted their continuance in the campaign beyond the 20th of July. Those who left that day, however, I contend, have right and honor, and citizenship on their side. Is it manly, is it honorable, is it soldierly to force men into a conflict – into a fierce, desperate fight – into a fight which upsets their homes and unroofs and makes them desolate for ever – when they marched for one grand project alone – to defend the Capital – as the 7th, the 8th, the 71st – the very flower of the New York State Militia did – without the slightest hesitancy, persuasion or demur? But this is deviating from my narrative, and I must resume.

Leaving the village of Centreville a mile and a half behind us, we passed down the Winchester road, straight on for Manassas, and then struck into the fields on the left, stacked our arms and bivouacked for the night. Again, as on the first and second night of out advance, and all through those blistering and stifling days, there was not the least provision for our horses. There were cocks of hay and stacks of corn, to the right and left of the Division, as it flung itself off by regiments to this and the other side of the road; but, by a strange propriety, Brigadier Sherman forbade them to be touched. Two or three hours afterwards a few sheaves and bundles of fodder were hustled to the ground. But for this not a horse would have been able to stir the next day. Gen. McDowell speaks of the rations dealt out adequately and liberally to the men. But there is not a word in his report about the horses; and of this there can be no questions, that the Cavalry of the Federal Army flung themselves into the conflict in a starved condition. My noble little horse had not had one good feed for three days, when a spherical ball from the Southern batteries tore him to pieces. Hundreds of horses were in like condition. Col. Corcoran’s was greedily eating newspapers, in front of his hut, before he mounted him, the morning of the 21st. Col. Burnside, of the Rhode Island Regiment, has truthfully and emphatically told the story. In his speech at the Fillmore House, at Newport, he says that he protested against the attack on the 21st of July, advising patience and a more effective concentration of forces before such an attack was made – advising, indeed, a delay of six months, rather than what appears to have been, with all its impediments and checks, a vain and headstrong precipitation.

After the toils and perils of the day – our exposure to a blistering sun and a fire still deadlier – we slept soundly that night of the 18th of July, stretched in the deep, coarse grass the other side of Centreville. Captain Carlisle’s battery occupied the field on our right, across the road, and was protected by the 2d New York, under Colonel Tompkins. The 79th, Highlanders, lay in advance of us, a little to the right – the Wisconsin being in our rear – the Thirteenth, Rochester, immediately in front. During the night a few shots were exchanged between the outposts of both armies. They failed, however, to provoke any general alarm; and those who heard them took them for granted – as inevitable indications of approximating hostilities on a magnificent scale – and, thus satisfied, fell off to sleep again.

Friday, the 19th, dawned. And Friday faded into twilight, and night came on and blotted it out altogether, and left us where we were the night before – in that sloping meadow, buried in that deep, coarse grass, lazily and stupidly waiting for some new and pleasanter development of events. Nothing, however, was done that day. It was a dense stagnation in every camp. There was the Blue Ridge glowing and melting on the horizon. There were the beautiful and ample woods, spreading themselves between us and Manassas, covering in their green depths lines of the deadliest batteries and legions of fierce enemies. There were deserted farm-houses, few and far between, breaking through the sylvan scene, and reminding every one of home. It was a wearisome, hot, drawling, idle day – just a day to relax the staunchest nerves and make dolts and cowards of us all. Just such a day plays more mischief – breeds deadlier discontent and insubordination – amongst soldiers, than hours of storm and havoc. And this day to have been repeated! Saturday to have been just as vacant, just as listless, just as deadening, just as dreamily and sluggishly exhausting as Friday was!

Were it not for the visit of Father Scully, the young and devoted chaplain of Col. Cass’ Irish Regt. from Boston, who, having heard of Thursday’s fighting, dashed across from Washington, over five-and-thirty miles, to see and learn all about us, it would, despite of the glaring sunshine, have been a gloomy day indeed. His hearty words and presence lit up afresh the life and fire of the 69th; and he came in good time, and most kindly staid long enough, to relieve our own beloved chaplain, Father O’Reilly, in his duties at the confessional. There were few of the 69th who failed to confess and ask forgiveness on that day. Every one, officers as well as privates, prepared for death. Sincerely and devoutly they made their peace with God. This is the secret of their courage, and the high, bright spirit with which they bore all the hardships, the privations, the terrors, and the chastisement of the battle. It was, in truth, an affecting sight – that of strong, stalwart, rugged men – all upon their knees, all with heads uncovered, all with hands clasped in prayer and eyes cast down, approaching, one by one, the good dear priest, who, seated at the foot of an old bare tree, against which some of our boys had spread for him an awning of green branches, heard the confessions of the poor fellows, and bid them be at ease and fearless. Long as I live, I shall never forget that scene. It was not less impressive than that of Father O’Reilly’s passing along our line, as we knelt within range of the enemy’s batteries on one knee, bayonets fixed, expecting every instant to be swept upon, and the final benediction was imparted. Father O’Reilly has told me since, that the earnestness and devotion with which poor Haggerty received that benediction, singularly struck him, and that the attitude and expression of this truly honest and heroic soldier, at that solemn moment, could never leave his memory.

Of subsequent incidents and events, the world, by this time, has heard enough. Concerning the advance from Centreville, the battle, the retreat, the alarm and confusion of the Federal troops, columns and volumes have been filled. I can add nothing to the history of the day but my testimony, that wherever the Federal troops had a fair chance – wherever, indeed, they had the slightest opening even – there and then they whipped the Confederate forces, utterly overwhelmed and confounded them. In every instance, where the Federal infantry came in contact with the Seceding States, did this occur. In no one instance, not for a second, did it happen that the Federal forces were driven back by, or received the slightest check from, the Southern infantry. We yielded to their batteries, and despite of every effort and determination were compelled to do so. It was impossible for men to override that tempest. Three times, having plunged head-foremost into its deadliest showers, was it hurled back. We beat their men – their batteries beat us. That is the story of the day.

Repulsed the last time from the enemy’s works, following the Regiment as it was fiercely driven out, I was knocked head over heels and fell senseless on the field. A private of the United States Cavalry, galloping by, grasped me by the back of the neck, jerked me across his saddle, and carried me a few hundred yards beyond the range of the batteries. When I got upon my feet, I found myself in a group of Fire Zouaves and a number of the 8th and 71st, New York, who very quietly, without the least flurry or trepidation, were retracing their steps to the camping-ground at Centreville, I walked with them until an artillery wagon came up, when, from that out, until we came to the stream which crosses the road between Centreville and the field of battle – half-way between these two points – I had as hard a jolting as any one could well endure.

Here I was pitched into the water, one of the horses of the wagon being shot by the Black Horse which dashed upon us from the woods on our left, and the wagon tumbling over. Here, too, it was that the panic took place. Up to this point, there was no fright, no alarm, no confusion, not the least apparent uneasiness. These fragments of Regiments were coolly and steadily returning to the fields from which they had set out – as coolly and unconcernedly as though they were strolling along the Bloomingdale road on a Sunday evening in the Fall – when, all of a sudden, down came Commisariat wagons, ambulances, hospital carts, artillery forges, and every description of vehicle, dashing and smashing against each other, and with one fearful wreck blocking up the river. A few yards off, there were two or three hundred of the Black Horse sweeping into us with their carbines. But for a couple of guns of Ayre’s battery, which, dashing up from the crowd, were thrown with the quickness of lightning into position, and which flung on the enemy a torrent of cannister, there would, I believe, have been a terrible havoc wrought at that bridge and ford. As it was, the only dark episode of the battle was written there.

Struggling through the river, however, I fell in again with the throng of retreating soldiers, and soon after reached the field where we had encamped the three previous nights. Here I found Dr. Smith and about fifty of the 69th. Learning that three or four hundred of the Regiment were on the road to Fairfax, I hurried after them to ascertain their intentions, Dr. Smith having insisted on my taking his horse for the purpose. They were bound for Fort Corcoran – the Colonel, wounded and exhausted, had passed ahead in an ambulance – Colonel Sherman had told them so – and wherever the Colonel of the 69th was, there the 69th should be. At 3 o’clock, the morning of the 22d July, weary and worn, famished and naked almost, the 69th passed through the familiar gates of their old quarters, and after a battle which lasted for eight hours and more, and a march of five and thirty miles, laid themselves down to sleep.

Last Days of the 69th in Virginia

Thomas Francis Meagher at Wikipedia

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Capt. (Acting Maj.) Thomas Francis Meagher, Co. K, 69th New York State Militia, On the Campaign (Part 2)

5 03 2022

LAST DAYS OF THE 69TH IN VIRGINIA.

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A NARRATIVE IN THREE PARTS.

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PART THE SECOND.

Defiling through the deserted earthworks at Germantown, our Brigade bore off to the left, taking position in line of battle in the open fields spreading northward from the village. Skirmishers were thrown forward, and the village also being found deserted, the march was renewed, the position of the Regiments being altered – the First Wisconsin taking the right and the 69th bringing up the rear of the Brigade.

Over the streaming bayonets, through the swaying colors and clouds of dust rolling densely upwards from the trampled earth, riding at the head of the 69th beside our Colonel, I saw a handful of little wooden houses, known as Germantown, rise up and dilate before us. One house, however, particularly struck me, even at the distance, and notwithstanding the dust, confusion and tumult through which I noticed it. A two-storied house, well proportioned, with a white, cheerful face, roses and woodbine, as I took them to be, coiling and clustering about the trelissed porch, young ornamental trees in front of it, a clear and handsome feature in the clouded picture against which we were moving – it was the first pleasant object, of the quieter and friendlier order of things, we had fallen in with since we pushed on that morning from Vienna.

“That house is on fire,” Father O’Reilly, our Chaplain, hurriedly observed as he whipped his horse up beside the Colonel.

The words had scarcely fallen from his lips when a round mass of black smoke rolled out of the windows of the house and buried it in darkness. Another moment, the red flames were leaping through the smoke, and the crackling of timbers, pieced and rifted with the fire, was heard distinctly above the tramp and tumult of the march. The only ornament of the village, in hot haste and fury, was plunging into ashes. In half an hour it would be, at best, a heap of smoldering charcoal. Whose was the scurvy and malignant hand that fired the deserted homestead? It is for the Regiments of the Brigade, in advance of the 69th, to answer. With them rests the responsibility of this savage riotousness and mischief. The house was doomed irrevocably when the 69th came up. The Irish Regiment swept by the blazing ruin, cursing the ruffians who had played the barbarous prank, and maddened with the thought of the disgrace it would bring upon the Federal Flag.

Nor did the wickedness of the moment content itself with the destruction of an unprotected dwelling. Pigs were shot down and cut to pieces, the dripping fragments being pounced upon and carried off in triumph by the butchers. Turkeys and chickens shared the same fate. Everything left behind them in the village by the retreating inhabitants, whether useful or otherwise, was seized and swept away. I saw a private of the Wisconsin Regiment stumbling along with a feather bed across his soldiers. I saw another with a sledge hammer taken from a vacant forge. A third had a large looking-glass under his arm. A fourth had a patched quilt or counterpane wrapped about him – a curious piece of needle-work, gaudy enough to please a Carib prince, and sufficiently heavy for a winter’s night in Nova Scotia. A frenzy of depredation seemed to have seized many of the soldiers in advance of us; and the wanton passion appeared to grasp at everything with an utter disregard of its usefulness or absurdity. In vain did the officers of the offending Regiments strive to check the lawlessness of the men. The raw levies looked on Germantown – the abandoned bantling of a village – as their lawful prey, and the flames of the burning house, widening rapidly and fiercely, alone compelled them to desist.

Hurrying past the scene – leaving the house a bursting pile of smoke and fire, for it was impossible for us to save it, and having assured two South Carolina soldiers, who lay in an adjoining shed, sweltering in the dirtiest of blankets and deadly sick with measles, that they should have our protection and whatever relief we could render them, and to fear no harm – the 69th in a few minutes gained the road from Fairfax to Centreville. It was now close on one o’clock – the sun was fierce – the dust blinding and stifling – we had been trampling it since a little after sunrise – tramping it on the paltriest allowance of biscuit and coffee – no time for any further refreshment had been allowed – and here, parched and blistered, most of their canteens empty, not a drop of water within reach, the men were ordered to close ranks and in double-quick time sweep ahead. The belief that the Confederates were not more than an hour, at most, the better of us, and that following them this rapidly and incessantly, we should soon be up with them, alone encouraged the soldiers in that headlong pursuit and held them to work. But for that belief, hundreds of them, at all events, must have staggered from the column and thrown themselves against the trees and fences, either side of the road, utterly baffled and overpowered. As it was, hundreds used to break from the ranks whenever a farm-house held out to them the promise that water was at hand, and not merely disregarding, but defying, every effort of their officers to restrain them, made fiercely for the spot where their agonies were to be assuaged. In many instances the poor fellows were ruthlessly doomed to disappointment, the retreating Southerners having cut the ropes which held the buckets in the wells, or broken the chains, as the case might be. It was enough to force hot tears from the sternest eye to see the sufferers, panting and breathless almost after their wild race, looking hopelessly down those dark, deep wells, the forbidden water glimmering sixty feet or more below, and the fevered and crusted lip quivering with a redoubled pang. Nevertheless, it was a splendid panorama, those four miles of armed men – the sun multiplying, it seemed to me, the lines of flashing steel, bringing out plume and epaulette and sword, and all the finery of war, into a keener radiance, and heightening the vision of that vast throng with all its glory. The sun which parched those quivering lips, which drew the sweat in streams from many and many a scorching brow, which drank the blood of thousands on that desperate march, and bred from van to rear a mutinous thirst – the same stood there above us steeping all those swaying banners and all those haughty arms in a flood of splendor, and blending in one long wonderous wave of dazzling light all the gay deceptions and the worst privations of a soldier’s life. Most of the Regiments were accompanied by their bands; and as the bold music sprang up at intervals along the line, many a drooping heart leaped up with it, and despite of the heat and dust and thirst, it was, after all, a cheerful crowd that sped along.

About five o’clock in the afternoon, the toils and troubles of the day were at an end. Before the sun went down, and army of 12,000 had stretched itself to rest in a wide, deep valley, in the shadow of lofty woods which held it in a perfect zone.

Batteries of flying artillery – troops of cavalry – huge weapons with white awnings – ambulances and hospital carts – a farm-house here and there – these, dispersed at different points throughout the valley, relieved the monotonous masses of infantry with which the ground was darkened. A cool and abundant stream flowed through the sloping meadows over which these masses were extended, to the right and left of the road to Centreville; and the long fresh, covering the meadows, furnished a luxurious bedding for the heated and harassed forces of the Union. The night, however, was not without its discomforts and alarms.

There was a very heavy dew, which, though not as dense and drenching as the one we had to sleep through in the marshes outside Vienna, was bad enough for the toughest soldier to endure. It was all the worse for us, inasmuch as many of the 69th had that morning, during the flanking movement upon Fairfax, which they went through with a rush, flung off their blankets, whilst several of them flung off their coats as well. How these poor fellows managed to keep their bones from aching, and how, with light hearts and lighter limbs they leaped into the ranks next morning, as though they had been comfortably housed instead of being wringing wet all night, it would be difficult for me to say. That two or three men were violently seized with cramps, and that the doctor had to be hunted up and the regimental medicine chest explored, just a little after midnight, and that there were moans and writhings mingled with the healthier snorings of that densely crowded and encumbered valley, from that out till sunrise – all this I know, for I myself felt sick and restless all that night, and failed to have one hour’s unbroken sleep.

It was, also, a little after midnight, that one of the horses belonging to a Commissariat waggon broke loose, and, dashing furiously through the camp, heedless of where he struck, sent hundreds of stacked muskets rattling and flying along the lanes or rows in which our soldiers lay. In an instant, five thousand men were on their feet, ready to grapple with the cavalry of the enemy, for that a dash of dragoons had been made against the federal camp, and that they were tearing and slashing through it, a thousand strong at least, was the conviction which at first flashed through the startled ranks. The jingling of the bayonets, as the stacked muskets tumbled one after another, confirmed for a few minutes this conviction, the sound was so like that of sabres slapping against the heels and spurs of charging troopers. The darkness of the hour, moreover, and the difficulty of discovering what to guard against or what to strike, heightened the alarm and threw the camp into the vaguest and wildest uproar. Several shots were fired at random – the trumpets of the artillery and cavalry rang out clear and piercingly through the agitated valley. It was fully half an hour before the alarm passed off – an hour, at least, before the disordered troops sank into deep sleep again.

The thick, gray vapor one always sees in lowlands in hot climates, was still sluggishly rising from the bed of the valley, and the air was still damp and raw, when a squadron of United States dragoons trotted out briskly on the road to Centreville, heading the division under General Tyler, of which the First Wisconsin, the 13th Rochester, the Sixty-Ninth and Seventy-Ninth Regiments formed the Second Brigade. In less than two hours – our march having been through those same interminable woods we had known the last two days – the column halted. To the right and left of our Regiment were marshy bottoms and coarse meadow-lands, flanked by lofty thickets and seamed with running waters, clear and sweet and plentiful; and sweeping right before us in a bold curve were the high hills, on the southern slope of which, looking towards Manassas, lay the dingy, aged little village of Centreville. To the left of the road stood what seemed to be a large and massive house. Between this house and the road – a space of three hundred yards – a formidable earth-work frowned upon the advancing troops. To the right, cresting the hills of Centreville, were the huts of the Confederate Camp; and just above these withered structures, but miles away, blending softly and glowingly with the richly-tinted sky, the loftier undulations of the Blue Ridge met the view. The Brigade, under Colonel Hunter, from Alexandria, pouring down the valley from the belt of woods behind us on the extreme left, with its varied uniforms and waving colors, suddenly threw a glittering stream of life into the solemn picture where it was needed most. Every part of it was now lit up – lit up with broad veins of bayonets – lit up with sacred ensigns studded with the symbolic Stars of the Republic – lit up with the glorious sun which seemed to turn everything in the vast landscape into gold – the green woods, the brown waters, the red hills, the yellowish wastes of wilted pasturage and meadow which formed the valley, in the heart of which we halted, awaiting the return of the dragoons who had galloped towards earth-works on the hill.

A shout, hearty and prolonged, soon told us that Centreville, also, had been vacated. The huts, creating the rising ground on the left, were stripped to the very leaves and branches of which they had been built. The redoubt between the house and the road was emptied, too, nothing falling into the possession of the Federal troops but a few ammunition boxes. It was a clean sweep the Confederates made, as they fell back, abandoning position after position, until they fiercely stood their ground in that fatal labyrinth bristling, four miles a-head, between us and Manassas. It was there they wanted us; and their abandoned positions – at Vienna, at Fairfax, at Germantown, at Centreville, wherever they had been grouped between Bull Run and Fall’s Church up to the evening of our advance – were but so many artifices, elaborately arranged along our line of march, to entice us headlong, breathless and breadless almost, to destruction.

At noon, the 18th of July, the Stars and Stripes were flying over Centreville. The regiments under Colonel Keyes, accompanied by Brigadier General Tyler, moved down the southern slope of the hills already mentioned and disappeared. Sherman’s Brigade broke into the fields to the right of where we halted on the road – arms were stacked – haversacks and canteens were brought into play – and the sore-footed volunteers, their blankets spread above them on rails and muskets, so as to shade them somewhat, enjoyed a lunch of biscuit and hot water, and four hours’ repose.

Little they seemed to heed the cannon which at long intervals – intervals of from ten to twenty minutes – when it first began to boom, off there in the hazy woods below, told them the enemy was found at last. One might have thought that every man of the 69th had been a hardened and callous veteran, so coolly, so indifferently, so lazily did they take those dread intimations that death had commenced his havoc amid the lightenings and with all the pomp of war. Not a pulse seemed to quicken – not an eye to flash – not a heart to quail – not a mirthful thought or word to falter – as those subdued thunders rolled upward from those enormous masses of foliage under which hill and valley, ravine and river, lay buried about four miles in advance of it, for a league at least. Nor was it that the fatigue, occasioned by those swealtering marches of the last three days, had deadened them so thoroughly that they had become insensible to the excitements and dangers of the conflict now actually begun, and were incapable of emotion or activity. Harrassed, indeed, they were. Weakened, too, they were for want of sufficient food, it being impossible for them, on such a stretch of road as they had to take with such rapidity, to carry their three days’ rations far – the more especially as once or twice upon the march they were ordered to prepare for action, and with the instinct of their race – as, for instance, when bearing down on Fairfax – they stripped themselves of everything but their muskets and cartridge boxes for the fight.

The fact is – what with constant alarms at Fort Corcoran, forced marches and precipitate expeditions two or three times a week, being under arms upon the ramparts every second night or so, lying in ambuscade at the Alexandria and Loudon railway from midnight until dawn, and undergoing all the hardships, violences, and most of the shocks of war – the men of the 69th had become familiarized by anticipation and analogy with the scent which, at that moment, was being played out with such terrible effect amid the beautiful green trees of Virginia, and on one of the oldest high-roads to her capital. Hence the strange coolness with which they heard those deep bellowings of the conflict, awaiting the summons that would fling them into its fierce currents, and whirl their banner into the blackest and wildest eddies of the storm.

At four o’clock in the afternoon that summons came. Sherman’s Brigade was ordered up to relieve the Regiments that had been under fire for five hours and more. The 69th led the way, and as they hurried up the hill, the elasticity and enthusiasm of their race seemed to pervade them thoroughly. Of those thousand men, sweeping on to battle, through choking clouds of dust and under that smiting sun, there was not one but carried himself right gallantly – not one who did not feel that the color of his race and its military character was staked that hour upon the conduct of the 69th, and who, feeling this and lifting his eyes in rapture to the Green Flag as it danced above the rushing column, did not swear to meet the thrusts of battle with a fearless heart. An hour’s rushing – for the marching of the 69th to Bull Run that evening cannot otherwise be described – brought the Regiment to the brow of the hill descending into the little meadow where the Federal troops, Regiment after Regiment, had faced and stood a tempestuous fire from batteries of rifled cannon – masked as well as naked batteries – the fire of rifle-pits – a downright torrent and whirlwind of balls and shot, all of the deadliest cunning and ripest pattern.

And here they encountered several of the 12th Regiment of New York Volunteers hurrying from the bloody arena in the woods below, some of them dragging dead or bleeding comrades along with them, others with bandaged heads or legs or arms, staggering through the dust and the vengeful storm from the rifled cannon which still pursued them. Here, too, they met the 14th Rochester on its retreat, this fine young Regiment having stood its ground until broken and overpowered. Seeing a body of men making through the woods from where the murderous hail was pouring in upon them thick and sharp and fast, and taking them to be the Southerners in pursuit of the 12th New York, the boys of the 69th instinctively brought their bayonets to the charge, and were on the point of plunging upon the 13th when Capt. Haggerty dashed along the line a struck the bayonets upward with his sword. It was the bold act of a cool. Strong, decisive brain, and in an instant it stayed the 69th with an iron hand, as it were, and held it in a masterly suspense. The next moment we were ordered to lie down in double file, in the wood overlooking the field of battle, with our faces and muskets to the road, and in that position, keeping perfectly silent and collected, to await further orders. For more than three-quarters of an hour did the Regiment keep its position there – without a word from the ranks – without a breath almost – whilst shot and shell, and every sort of hellish missile, swept and tore, whizzed and jarred, smashed and plunged through the trees all about and close to us, overheard in hurtling and deafening showers, on either flank, in front and rear.

In the meantime the troop of United States dragoons that had been sent down the hill to protect our battery, wept up the road back to Centreville at their top-most speed, and were quickly followed by the battery itself – that commanded by Captain Ayres – his ammunition having given out. For three hours did this gallant officer keep his guns hot upon the Southern batteries. For three hours did he sustain the heroic regiments, which in that deadly maze of forest relived each other, and swept on every side by the fiercest fire, held their footing against a foe, which visible nowhere, seemed to be thick as the very leaves that sheltered them. For us, it was fighting in the dark. Worse than this, it was fighting an enemy who had full view and command of us, whilst we had to strike at random, not knowing for a second even where he was. The battery lost two men, and had its flag shorn to a ribband with rifle shots. Captain Ayres’ Lieutenant was painfully wounded in the foot. I spoke to him as he quietly rode back to camp, the wounded foot dangling below the stirrup, stripped of its boot, bandaged and bleeding freely.

Whilst we lay under the torrent and hurricane of round-shot, spherical ball, shell and cannister, which rent and spilt the sturdiest trees all round, struck deep into the earth, and harrowed it far and wide, knocking over the Wisconsin men who were drawn up in line across the road at right angles with the left of the 69th, and shaving the ear clean off one of our own boys – whilst we patiently submitted to this butcherly rain, Captain Haggerty stood upon our extreme right, contemplating with undisguised satisfaction the perfect coolness and subordination of the men, the Colonel taking it just as coolly in the centre as though he had been dictating some unimportant order in his imarqueei at fort Corcoran, with a pitcher of ice water close at hand. On the left of the Regiment stood Paymaster Kehoe, Quarter-Master Tully and one or two other officers of the Staff, smilingly commenting upon the perplexities and chances of our situation. In the meantime, the Surgeons, Doctors Pascal Smith, Barron, and Nowlan, were to be seen at their post, a few yards in the wood, above the left of the Regiment – Father O’Reilly standing with them – the poor fellow who had lost his ear, moaning on a mattress in the rear of the ambulance, his wound dressed and every comfort possible at the moment given him – while adjutant McKeon, who had been all day completely disabled by an attack of gastric fever, was making the best of his way down the road to take his share of whatever was going. In the meantime, moreover, Gen. Tyler, accompanied by his Staff, used now and then leisurely ride past our line, and pulling up just about where poor Haggerty stood, bend in the saddle, raise his field glass to his eyes, pry into the raging woods, and then, grinning very curiously, as leisurely ride back. Colonel Sherman, too, used to take and observation at moderate intervals, and having satisfied himself – or rather having failed to satisfy himself – used to ride back up the road a-bit, grinning likewise, and apparently giving way to a private and exclusive snarl. Between six and seven o’clock, General McDowell came upon the ground with a brilliant escort, including the young and chivalrous soldier, Governor Sprague, of Rhode Island, and he, comprehending at a glance the situation of affairs, the sheer deadliness of the conflict and the utter fatuity of attacking the hidden enemy in his lair, ordered the 69th to return to the hill overlooking the little village of Centreville, and there await further orders, which would be forthwith issued.

Last Days of the 69th in Virginia

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Capt. (Acting Maj.) Thomas Francis Meagher, Co. K, 69th New York State Militia, On the Campaign (Part 1)

4 03 2022

LAST DAYS OF THE 69TH IN VIRGINIA.

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A NARRATIVE IN THREE PARTS.

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PART THE FIRST.

As far back as the 12th of July, if I recollect rightly, the 69th received orders from General McDowell to hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment’s notice. Knapsacks were to be packed, as well as trunks, and together with the rest of the heavy baggage of the regiment, were to be marked with the name of the company, and so forth. These were to be sent to Alexandria and there stored until the return of the regiment. The men were to get themselves into light marching order, taking with them sixty rounds, at least, of buck-and-ball cartridge, and three days’ rations, whenever the order to march was given. Such were the general orders or instructions, and they served as notes of preparation, and as very ominous signs and admonitions of something war-like looming in the future, and that not far off.

The aspect of the Camp, within and without Fort Corcoran, all this time, though animated, full of exciting and picturesque life, such as one finds in a camp, and that on the eve of battle, was not without its mournfulness and solemnity. In every tent men might be seen – some seated on kegs, others on their knapsacks, others again on rude blocks, and two or three on drums – writing their last letters home. Hundreds were sending to their wives and families, through Father O’Reilly, their beloved Chaplain, the greater portion of their two month’s pay, which they had just received – and in this way $25,000 were sent to New York by the regiment – whilst morning and evening hundreds were slowly passing through the little chapel within the Fort, making their confession and receiving absolution. The men, too, had come to love the Fort, the huge walls of which they had cemented with their sweat. They had become familiar with it, and with all the deep ravines and beautiful woods and streams around it for a circuit of -three miles – their constant scoutings and out-post duties, generally speaking, being within that range – and hence it was with a prevailing gloominess of heart that they prepared to bid good-bye to it, perhaps for ever.

The evening of the 15th of July – the regiment being drawn up in close column on parade – Colonel Corcoran read the special order for the next day’s march. The regiment was to march at 2 o’clock, p.m., – blankets were to be rolled up close and slung over the left shoulder under the right arm – muskets were to be in the best order – cartridge-boxes full – each man to carry three days’ rations in his haversack – the rations to be delivered early next morning. All that evening up to tatoo, the brave fellows busied themselves with their preparations, and did so with laughing hearts; and long after that, when the lights were extinguished throughout the Camp, and the Stars and Stripes, damp with the heavy night dews swayed heavily on the tall flagstaff above the ramparts, and the lone sentinels paced to and fro in the clear full moon-light, many a suppressed voice came from the hushed crowd, laden with memories and hops and prayers sacred to the homes that were left forlorn and sorrowful far away; and yet again these voices, more than once gave way to cheerier ones, rudely musical with all the proverbial spirit of the Irish soldier, his pride, recklessness and love. Snatches of songs – mostly those that Davis wrote for us – broke at times through the subdued buzz and hum of those darkened ranks, and it was close on dawn when all was still.

The first news the morning ushered in, however, was that we were to march that day at 12 o’clock. This, of course, took the regiment by surprise, and the last preparations for the march were violently hurried. Nevertheless, at the appointed hour the 69th left the Fort by Companies, and assembled on the parade-ground – a fine rolling meadow fronting it – a thousand strong, not including officers. An hour after, the regiment was on the road towards Fairfax, the Corps of Engineers, under the command of Capt. Quinlan, being in advance. This splendid body of men – intelligent, muscular, active and thoroughly hardened to the roughest work – presented a very striking appearance, indeed, each man being uniformed in a reddish gray flannel blouse, and having a large forest axe slung over his back. Lieutenants D’Hommergue and M Quade accompanied the Engineers, both being officers in the Corps. Next came the drummers, ten in number, the eldest not more than twenty, and the youngest little more than eight years old. Two or three fifers – jovial, reckless-looking old fellows – preceded them, and both together rattled us out on the road, and for miles along it, as though it were to a fair or a dance, or something else of the sort they were leading us – so brisk and saucy and get-out of-the-way-Old-Dan-Tuckerish was the music. After the drummers and fifers acme the Colonel, the Rev. Father O’Reilly, the Chaplain of the 69tj; Doctors Smith and Barron, the accomplished Surgeons of the Regiment; and the writer of this narrative, who had been detailed as special aid to the Colonel. All these officers were mounted. The main body of the Regiment immediately followed, the several companies – ten in all, and numbering one hundred men each- being under the command of their respective officers – Captain Haggerty acting as Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Nugent acting as Adjutant, both well mounted, bringing up the rear.

Striking the Fairfax turnpike, immediately on leaving the parade-ground, the Regiment moved on to the village of Fall’s Church – a mile from Fort Corcoran. The camps of the First Wisconsin and 13th of Rochester looked dreary enough – both these regiments having preceded us, leaving only a small guard behind them in charge of the tents and other regimental property – and beyond these again, at intervals of two, three, five and seven miles, the camps of the Second New York, of the two Ohio Regiments, of the two Connecticut and the First Maine, wore the same desolate look. These three latter Regiments had taken the lead under Acting-Brigadier Keyes, Colonel in the regular army.

Four miles this side of Fairfax, Sherman’s Brigade, t which the 69th Regiment were attached, turned off and leaving Fairfax well to the left, hastened on to Vienna, which village, after an exhausting march, they entered an hour and a half after sundown. A mile outside the village, we were delighted to find Acting-Major McKeon, and Paymaster Kehoe, galloping up to the Regiment. Under the misapprehension of the hour the Regiment was ordered to march, they had gone to Washington on business, but hearing there that the 69th had left the Fort, swept after us as fast as their horses could carry them. Passing through Vienna – a straggling dozen or two of cottages, with a church, a tavern, a store, a pump and a forge here and there – the Regiment, under the direction of Brigadier Sherman, struck into a swampy field to the left, and were ordered there to stack arms and bivouac for the night.

It was a damp, cloudy, mysterious night – the first night the 69th felt they were in for a bloody conflict, and yet knew not, nor could they in the least divine, where or how soon the impending blow would be struck. All round us was the deep hum of a camp of 10,000 men – for Schenck’s and Tyler’s forces had passed through Vienna in advance of us and bivouacked in the fields further up the road – and when one looked up from his reeking bed in the marsh, to which the 69th had been politely shown for the night, there were the bivouac fires burning luridly through the shifting darkness, and the dense exhalations of the sunken lands in which we lay. After such a night’s prostration in mud and fog, it was absolutely refreshing for us to hear the reveille, and be set upon the march again. Our poor fellows, as they rose from the long dripping grass and rushes, looked as though the blood in their veins had been turned to water, and their bones been frozen into stones. They had been assigned by Brigadier Sherman the very worst position for their bivouac – the dampest and the rankest – and that many of them did not suffer severely and immediately from this cruelty, is to me the vaguest wonder. Yet, as they rose, rolled up their blankets, unstacked their muskets, rubbed them dry, and then hastily partook of their rations of hard bread and coarse coffee, there was the rollicking laugh, the sharp joke, a hundred queer and humorsome sayings breaking and flashing in every direction in the ranks, just as if they, our boys, had had the driest and warmest of lodgings for the night, and had yawned up to the most satisfactory breakfast imaginable.

Taking me one side, while the men were at their bread and coffee, Father O’Reilly told me the 69th were to lead the Brigade on that day’s march, and that in two hours, perhaps, out work would begin in earnest as there was a formidable battery little more than two miles or so ahead, which it was imperative for us to take in our line of march. At this moment, the several regiments forming in the fields beyond us and all round – the trumpets of the cavalry ringing piercingly and thrillingly in the sunny air – the lifted colors at various points glowing through the crowded scene – the field batteries rattling and rumbling up the road – the bands striking up the “Star Spangled Banner,” and rousing every heart – the dark and towering woods frowning all along our left and beyond us, far as the eye could reach – contributed to form, on a bold and sweeping scale, a picture far more stricking and exciting than any I had ever seen. War, assuredly, has its fascinations as well as its horrors, and there is and enchantment in these brilliant and exhilarating preparations for the conflict which blinds one utterly to the ghastly penalties that have to follow them, and some emboldens and spurs the tamest into heroism.

It was fully 10 o’clock, the morning of the 17th of July, when the 69th came in sight of Fairfax Court House, the road along which the Regiment passed being obstructed, every half mile almost, with enormous heaps of fallen trees, which the Confederates had levelled and massed together, and which had to be cut through by our axe-men, before the slightest progress could be made. It this rough and dangerous pioneering, the Engineers of the 69th, under the command of their high-spirited young Captain, did quick and clear work, splendidly maintaining their character with the Regiment for usefulness, promptitude and boldness. Arriving in sight of Fairfax Court House, and within an easy cannon-shot of it, the 69th, leaving the Ohio and other Regiments drawn up in line of battle along the road, striking off at right angles to the left of the main line of march, passed on so as to flank the village and cut off the retreat of the Confederates.

Proceeding in the execution of this movement, we came in sight of a portion of the enemy, apparently from 1,000 to 1,500 strong, drawn up in line of battle outside the village in a field directly fronting our line of march. The order to halt was promptly given, the right wing of the 69th was thrown into the fields to the left, and uniting there with the 2d of New York – as vigorous and spirited a body of men as any one would wish to see – moved rapidly upon the enemy. As they neared him, however, he retreated into the village, and then out of it towards Centreville, leaving it to be peacefully entered, a short time after by the forces from Arlington House, and the encampments between that and Alexandria, and beyond it. The fine battery of the 8th, N. Y. S. M., sent three or four complimentary adieux, in the shape of shell and round-shot, upon the retreating Southerners, which, I learnt afterwards from ex Governor James Lynch, who modestly and manfully served with the battery as a private, seemed to quicken their departure from Fairfax. Two or three shots, also, were dropped into them from Ayer’s battery, which rattled up from the rear of our brigade, past our regiment, for the purpose: and the same splendid battery threw two or three more discharges of cannister and grape, right and left, into the woods ahead of us with the view of starting any skirmishers or pickets that might be lying low in so suspicious and entangling a quarter. Nothing, however, turned up, and the enemy having retreated from Fairfax, the line of march was resumed, a considerable deviation to the right and southward of this town being observed.

It was one of the short halts on this march that Captain Breslin was severely wounded in the right shoulder, a stack of muskets being accidentally overset, and the full charge of one of them striking him as he stood within a few feet of them. At first it was feared, from the dreadful appearance it made, that the wound was a fatal one; but the surgeons hurrying up from the right of the regiment as fast as their horses could carry them, allayed our fears, whilst they did all in their power for the sufferer. The wound being dressed, the ambulance was ordered up, and from that out until the evening preceding the last battle at Bull Run, poor Breslin was jolted along to Centreville in the rear of the regiment – an unnecessary torture, it seemed to us all, which he bore most patiently and bravely, and for which our Brigadier, Colonel Sherman, a rude and envenomed martinet, is alone responsible – he having, with the utmost spitefulness of tone and feature, forbidden the 69th more than one ambulance, and it being vitally necessary that this solitary one should follow the regiment, and keep close to it wherever it went. Had there been a second one allowed, Captain Breslin might have been easily taken back to Fairfax, and thus been spared the agonizing jolting he was forced to endure. Whatever his reasons for it were, in this and other instances, Col. Sherman exhibited the sourest malignity towards the 69th. Hence he was hated by the regiment just in the same degree his predecessor, Colonel Hunter, was loved – a gentle, high-bred, noble gentleman, in every respect the bright reverse of his successor.

About half an hour after this accident to Captain Breslin occurred, the march was resumed, our destination being Germantown. As in the earlier part of the day, the road ran through lofty woods, the spaces between the trees being thickly overgrown with shrubs and under-brush. Skirmishers were thrown out, flanking the regiment three or four hundred yards to the right and left. And, as in the earlier part of the day, also, enormous barricades of fallen trees frequently interfered with our progress, and rendered it exceedingly slow and tedious. The Confederates had this most effectively provided for their retreat, so much so, that not a gun or cartridge even fell into the hands of the Federal troops. What added to the wearisomeness and exhaustion of this obstructed march, was the intensity of the sun and the billows of red dust which the tramping masses, of cavalry as well as foot, incessantly rolled up; the soldiers were often in the agonies of thirst, and when a pool of stagnant water glimmered in the ditches either side of the road, or in some mud hole in the road itself, it was impossible to retain them in the ranks. Spite of every entreaty, remonstrance, or threat, they broke loose, and, throwing themselves flat upon their faces, lapped and gulped the seething draught with the fiercest eagerness. At last, a tremendous shout was heard ahead, and word passed down the column that the enemy had abandoned their fortifications at Germantown and had fled still further on. This news instantly revived the poor fellows, and with an elastic step and bounding heart they pushed forward, utterly heedless of the heat and thirst, and all the other pangs of that broiling march. At 12 o’clock the Green Flag was planted on the deserted ramparts of the Confederates at Germantown, and the Stars and Stripes were lifted opposite to it at a distance of fifteen paces, and between the two beautiful and inspiring symbols – the one of their old home and the other of their new country – the 69th passed in triumph, hats and caps waving on the bayonet points, and an Irish cheer, such as never shook the woods of old Virginia, swelling and rolling far and wide into the gleaming air.

Last Days of the 69th in Virginia

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Capt. John C. Tidball, Co. A, 2nd U. S. Artillery, On Battle and Retreat

6 02 2021

As previously stated I was with Blenker’s brigade of Miles’s division, the duty of which was to guard Blackburn’s and other fords. Early on the forenoon of the 21st (July) I took post on a prominent knoll overlooking the valley of Bull Run. Here I remained in readiness to move my battery quickly to any point where its service might be required. Stretched out before me was a beautiful prospect. To the south, directly in front of me, distance about five miles, was Manassas Junction, where we could perceive trains arriving and departing. Those coming from the direction of Manassas were carrying Johnston’s troops from the Shenandoah. Around towards our right was the Sudley Springs country, nearing which the turning column now was. All the country in that direction appeared from our point of view, to be a dense forest, and a good of it was in woods, the foliage and buildings only were discernible. Among these were the Robinson and Henry houses, and the fields upon the plateau soon to become famous in history as the scene of deadly strife. Still further around to our right and rear, distant about a mile was Centreville, a mere village of the “Old Virginny” type. Through it ran the old dilapidated turnpike from Alexandria to Warrenton. By this road soon commenced to arrive a throng of sightseers from Washington. They came in all manner of ways, some in stylish carriages, others in city hacks, and still others in buggies, on horseback and even on foot. Apparently everything in the shape of vehicles in and around Washington had been pressed into service for the occasion. It was Sunday and everybody seemed to have taken a general holiday; that is all the male population, for I saw none of the other sex there, except a few huxter women who had driven out in carts loaded wit pies and other edibles. All manner of people were represented in this crowd, from most grave and noble senators to hotel waiters. As they approached the projecting knoll on which I was posted seemed to them an eligible point of view, and to it they came in throngs, leaving their carriages along side of the road with the horses hitched to the worm fence at either side, When all available space along the road was occupied they drove into the vacant fields behind me and hitched their horses to the bushes with which it was in a measure overgrown. As a rule, they made directly for my battery, eagerly scanning the country before them from which now came the roar of artillery and from which could occasionally be heard the faint rattle of musketry. White smoke rising here and there showing distinctly against the dark green foliage, indicated the spot where the battle was in progress. I was plied with questions innumerably. To those with whom I thought it worth while I explained, so far as I could, the plan of the operation then in progress. But invariably I was asked why I was posted where I was, and why I was not around where the fighting was going on. To all of which I could only reply that the plan of the battle required that we should guard the left until the proper time came for us to engage. To make my explanation more lucid I said if the enemy were allowed freedom to break through here where would you all be. Most of the sightseers were evidently disappointed at that they saw, or rather did not see. They no doubt expected to see a battle as represented in pictures; the opposing lines drawn up as on parade with horsemen galloping hither and thither, and probably expecting to see something of the sort by a nearer view of the field they hurried on in the direction of the sound of battle, leaving their carriages by the roadside or in the fields. These were the people that made such a panic at the Cub Run bridge.

Among those who thus halted a little while with me were several that I knew. One party in particular attracted my attention. This was Dr. Nichols, then in charge of the government Insane Asylum; Senator Wilson from Massachusetts, Chairman of the Senate Military Committee; “Old Ben” Wade, Senator from Ohio, and a wheel horse of the Republican part; and “Old Jim” Lane, senator from Kansas, and another political war horse. All of these were full of the “On to Richmond” fever, and were impatient to see more of the battle. I endeavored to dissuade them from proceeding further, that if they would only remain awhile they would probably see as much of it as they would care to see. But Old Jim was firey, he said he must have a hand in it himself. His friends not wishing to go so far as that tried to convince him that he could do no good in the fight without a gun. “O never mind that,” he said, “I can easily find a musket on the field. I have been there before and know that guns are easily found where fighting is going on. I have been there before and know what it is.” He had been colonel of an Indiana regimt during the Mexican ware, and this was the old war fire sparkling out again. Nothing could hold him back and off the parted started down the slope and over the fields in the direction of the firing. I saw nothing more of them until late in the afternoon.

About 4. P. M. an aid (Major Wadsworth) came hurredly to me with instructions from General McDowell, to hasten with my battery down the turnpike towards the Stone Bridge. I supposed this was simply in accordance with the developments of the battle, and that the turning movemt had now progressed so far that we could now cross over and take part in it. To get on the turnpike I had to go through Centreville, where I saw Colonel Miles, our division commander, airing himself on the porch of the village inn. By this time the road was pretty well crowded with ambulances carrying the wounded, and other vehicles, all hurredly pressing to the rear. Miles, evidently in ignorance of what was transpiring at the front, asked me what was up. I could only answer that I had been ordered to proceed down towards the Stone Bridge; and then I proceeded, but the farther I proceeded the thicker the throng because of wagons, ambulances and other vehicles. The road being cut on the side of a hill had a steep bank up on its left and a steep bank down on the left, so that I could not take to the fields on either side. My horses were scraped and jammed by the vehicles struggling to pass me in the opposite direction. As far as I could see ahead the road was crowded in like manner. Finally it became impossible for me to gain another inch, and while standing waiting for a thinning out of the struggling mass, a man came riding up towards me, inquiring excitedly, “whose battery is this.” I told him that I commanded it. “Reverse it immediately and get out of here, I have orders from General McDowell to clear this road” and added that the army had been ignominiously and was now retreating. He was curious, wild looking individual. Although the day was oppressively hot he had on an overcoat – evidently a soldier’s overcoat dyed a brownish black. On his head he wore a soft felt hat the broad brim of which flopped up and down at each of his energetic motions. But notwithstanding the broadness of the brim it did not protect his face from sunburn, and his nose was red and peeling from the effects of it. He had no signs of an officer about him and I would have taken him for an orderly had he not had with him a handsome young officer whom I subsequently came well acquainted with, as Lieutenant afterwards Colonel Audenried. Seeing this young officer was acquainted with my lieutenant, afterwards General Webb, of Gettysburg game, I sidled up to them and inquired of him who the stranger was giving me such peremptory orders. He told me that he was Colonel Sherman, to whom I now turned and begged him pardon for not recognizing him before. I told him what my orders were, but he said it made no difference, the road must be cleared, and added that I could do no good if I were up at the Stone Bridge. I then reversed my battery by unlimbering the carriages, and after proceeding a short distance to the rear, where the bank was less steep, turned out into the field, where I put my guns in position on a knoll overlooking the valley towards Cun Run. In the distance I could see a line of skirmishers from which proceeded occasional puffs of smoke. This was Sykes’ battalion of regulars covering the rear.

I had not been in this position long before I saw three of my friends of the forenoon, Wilson, Wade and Lane, hurrying through the field up the slope toward me. Dr. Nichols was not now part of the party. Being younger and more active than the others he had probably outstripped them in the race. Lane was the first to pass me; he was mounted horsebacked on an old flea-bitten gray horse with rusty harness on, taken probably from some of the huxter wagons that had crowded to the front. Across the harness lay his coat, and on it was a musket which, sure enough, he had found, and for ought I know may have done valorous deeds with it before starting back in the panic. He was long, slender and hay-seed looking. His long legs kept kicking far back to the rear to urge his old beast to greater speed. And so he sped on.

Next came Wilson, hot and red in the face from exertion. When young he had been of athletic shape but was now rather stout for up-hill running. He too was in his shirt sleeves, carrying his coat on his arm. When he reached my battery he halted for a moment, looked back and mopping the perspiration from his face exclaimed, “Cowards! Why don’t they turn and beat back the scoundrels?” I tried to get from him some points of what had taken place across the Run, but he was too short of breath to say much, Seeing Wade was toiling wearily up the hill he halloed to him, “Hurry up, Ben, hurry up”, and then without waiting for “Old Ben” he hurried on with a pace renewed by the few moments of breathing spell he had enjoyed.

Then came Wade who, considerably the senior of his comrades, had fallen some distance behind. The heat and fatigue he was undergoing brought palor to his countenance instead of color as in the case of Wilson. He was trailing his coat on the ground as though too much exhausted to carry it. As he approached me I thought I had never beheld so sorrowful a countenance. His face, naturally long, was still more lengthened by the weight of his heavy under-jaws, so heavy that it seemed to overtax his exhausted strength to keep his mouth shut, I advised him to rest himself for a few minutes, and gave him a drink of whiskey from a remnant I was saving for an emergency. Refreshed by this he pushed on. Of these three Senators two, Wade and Wilson, became Vice Presidents of the United States, while the third, Lane, committed suicide, ad did also, before him, his brother, an officer in the army, who in Florida, threw himself on the point of his sword in the Roman fashion. One of the statesmen who had come out to see the sights, a Mr [Ely], a Representative in Congress from [New York], was captured and held in [duress?] vile as a hostage to force the liberation of certain Confederates then held by the United States governmt.

Among the notables who passed through my battery was W. H. Russell, L.L.D. the war correspondent of the London Times. He was considered an expert on war matters through his reports to the Times during the Crimean war and subsequently from India during the Sepoy mutiny. Of average stature he was in build the exact image of the caricatures which we see of John Bull – short of legs and stout of body, with a round chubby face flanked on either side with the muttin chop whiskers. His, like all others, was dusty and sweaty but, notwithstanding, was making good time, yet no so fast that his quick eye failed to note my battery, which he described in his report as looking cool and unexcited. He bounded on like a young steer – as John Bull he was, but while clambering over an old worm fence in his path the top rail broke, pitching him among the brambles and bushes on the farther side. His report of the battle was graphic and full, but so uncomplimentary to the volunteers that they dubbed him Bull Run Russell.

Each of the picknickers as they got back to where the carriages had been left took the first one at hand, or the last if he had his wits about him enough to make a choice. This jumping into the carriages, off they drove so fast as lash and oaths could make their horses go. Carriages collided tearing away wheels or stuck fast upon saplings by the road-side. Then the horses were cut loose and used for saddle purposes, but without the saddles. A rumor was rife that the enemy had a body of savage horsemen, known as the Black Horse Cavalry, which every man now thought was at their heels; and with this terrible vision before them of these men in buckram behind them they made the best possible speed to put the broad Potomac between themselves and their supposed pursuers.

Learning that McDowell had arrived from the field and was endeavoring to form a line of troops left at Centreville (and which were in good condition) upon which the disorganized troops could be rallied, I moved my battery over to the left where I found Richardson had formed his brigade into a large hollow square. A few months later on I don’t think he would have done so silly a thing. McDowell was present and so was Miles, who was giving some orders to Richardson. For some reason these orders were displeasing to Richardson, and hot words ensued between him and Miles, ending, finally, in Richardson saying “I will not obey your orders sir. You are drunk sir.” The scene, to say the least of it, was an unpleasant one, occurring as it when we expected to be attacked at any moment by the exultant enemy. Miles turned pitifully to McDowell as though he expected him to rebuke Richardson, but as McDOwell said nothing he rode away crestfallen and silent.

Miles did look a little curious and probably did have a we dropie in the eye, but his chief queerness arose from the fact that he wore two hats – straw hats, on over the other. This custom, not an uncommon one in very hot climates he had probably acquired when serving in Arizona, and certainly the weather of this campaign was hot enough to justify the adoption of any custom. The moral of all this is that people going to the war should not indulge in the luxury of two hats.

What Richardson expected to accomplish with his hollow square was beyond my military knowledge. He affected to be something of a tactician and this was probably only and effervescence of this affectation. Looking alternately at the hollow square and the two hats it would have been difficult for any unprejudiced person to decide which was the strongest evidence of tipsiness. A court of inquiry subsequently held upon the matter was unable to decide the question.

Richardson, formerly an officer of the 3d. infantry of the “Old” army, was a gallant fighter. He was mortally wounded at Antietam. Miles was killed at Harper’s Ferry the day before Antietam, and his name had gone into history loaded with opprobrium because of few minutes before his death he caused the white flag of surrender to be hung out. He was neither a coward nor a traitor, but too strict a constructionist of one of General Halleck’s silly orders.

Miles’s division together with Richardson’s brigade, and Sykes battalion of regulars, and four regular batteries and sever fragments of batteries made a strong nucleus for a new line on the heights of Centreville, but the demoralized troops drifted by as though they had no more interest in the campaign. And as there were again no rations it became necessary for even the troops not yet demoralized to withdraw.

A rear guard was formed of Richardson’s and Blenker’s brigade with Hunt’s and my batteries, which, after seeing the field clear of stragglers, took up the line of march at about two o’clock of the morning of July 22d, (1861) The march back was without incident so far as being pursued was concerned. For some distance the road was blocked with wrecked carriages, and wagons from which the horses had been taken. These obstructions had to be cleared away, and it was not until sometime after daylight that we reached Fairfax Court House. This village the hungry soldiers had ransacked for provisions, and as we came up some cavalrymen were making merry over the contents of a store. Seizing the loose end of a bolt of calico or other stuff they rode off at full speed allowing it to unroll and flow behind as a long stream.

The Fire Zouaves were into all the deviltry going on; they had been educated to it in New York. The showiness of their uniforms made them conspicuous as they swarmed over the county, and although less than a thousand strong they seemed three times that number, so ubiquitous were they. Although they had not been very terrifying to the enemy on the battlefield they proved themselves a terror to th citizens of Washington when they arrived there.

The first of the fugitives reached Long Bridge about daybreak on the 22d. Including the turning march around by Sudley Spring and back again this made a march of 45 miles in 36 hours, besides heavy fighting from about 10 A.M. until 4 P.M. on that hot July day – certainly a very good showing for unseasoned men, proving that they had endurance and only lacked the magic of discipline to make of them excellent soldiers. Many of them upon starting out on the campaign had left their camps standing, and thither they repaired as to a temporary home where they could refresh themselves with rations, rest and a change of clothing. This was a temptation that even more seasoned soldiers could scarcely have withstood. It was a misfortune that the battle had to take place so near Washington. More than anything else this was the reason why the demoralized troops could not be rallied at Centreville.

John C. Tidball Papers, U. S. Military Academy

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Contributed by John J. Hennessy

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Corp. William Howard Merrell, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle, Wounding, Capture, and Treatment

16 01 2021

In compliance with the request of friends in Rochester, and in pursuance of a resolution previously formed, I propose to publish a few reminiscences of my involuntary sojourn in the “Old Dominion.”

The events which I am about to narrate are of so recent occurrence, that a retentive memory would suffice to recall them with all due exactness and circumstantiality; but were it otherwise, I have only to turn to a little pocket diary, which has been a faithful and indelible reflector of all important occurrences, as they transpired, during a five months’ imprisonment in the Rebel Capital.

In presenting this narrative, I claim for it nothing but TRUTHFULLNESS – “a plain and unvarnished tale,” wherein I shall

“Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice;”

and may safely appeal to my late prison associates for the confirmation of any statement that is likely to be called into question.

With a view to form a connected narrative, I shall relate events in the order in which they transpired, commencing with my personal observations at the battle of Bull Run; yet, as it is no part of my design to describe that memorable engagement, I shall wholly confine myself to facts and incidents relating to my own regiment, the 27th N. Y. S. V. This regiment was organized at the Elmira Rendezvous in the month of May, and was ordered to Washington on the 10th of July. It consisted of three companies from Binghamton, one from Rochester, one from Albion, one from Lyons, one from Lima, one from Angelica, one from White Plains, and one from Mt. Morris. The field officers were Col. H. W. Slocum of Syracuse, Lt Col. J. J. Chambers of White Plains, and Maj. J. J. Bartlett of Binghamton. The regiment had the reputation of being one of the best officered in the service, and notwithstanding that it was newly recruited and but partially inured to the hardships of camp life, it was believed to be as effectually disciplined as any volunteer corps in the army of the Potomac.

The 27th did not participate in the action of Thursday the 18th of July, but in that of the Sunday following their mettle was fully tested, and I believe that no impartial eye-witness of the battle of Bull Run will maintain that any regiment, whether regular or volunteer, exhibited a greater degree of gallantry on the field, maneuvered with better regularity or precision, were more exposed to the enemy’s fire, or suffered more severely from its effects, than the one which has been facetiously christened the “Mutual Admiration Society” of Elmira. Notwithstanding the unaccustomed fatigue of an early and protracted march on Sunday morning, the feeling of the troops was animated, and they literally went on their way rejoicing. The enemy seemed hastily to abandon every position as we advanced, and the fact that the progress of the Union army from Washington had been marked only by a succession of light skirmishes, the less reflecting felt assured that we should not encounter a sufficient resistance on the way to Manassas, or even to Richmond, to furnish an appetite for rations. Yet how sadly different was the result.

Glancing back upon the interminable line of the Grand Army, as its several columns crept gradually toward Centreville – the sunlight flashing upon the serried bayonets, the regimental banners fluttering in the morning breeze, and the huge masses moving steadily, noiselessly and with the beautiful regularity of a street parade – the view was grand and imposing in the extreme, and though momentary, seemed worth the sight-seeing experience of an entire life. But the eventful scenes were to come, and the predictions of those who assumed that the enemy were disposed to let us “onward to Richmond” without contesting our ability to force a passage, were speedily silenced by the sound of heavy artillery from the batteries to which we had been lured. There was no longer doubting the fact that we were approaching the field of battle. The roar of cannon was succeeded by the roll of musketry, which at every step became more and more audible, and it was easy to perceive that though not with us, yet elsewhere the work of carnage and of death had already commenced in earnest.

As I before intimated, I shall attempt no general description of our engagement, but rather confine myself in this connection to a narrative of events, as they transpired, in my immediate vicinity, and within the scope of my own observation.

It was my good fortune to be selected as one of the color-guard of the 27th. Soon after entering the field, we saw at a distance what appeared to be our National Flag, but which was in reality that of the enemy. While we were still in doubt, but advancing, Adjutant Jenkins rode forward, with the remark that he would soon determine whether they were friends or foes. He placed his havelock on the point of his sword, which he held aloft as a flag of truce, but as he approached them he was greeted with a volley of musketry. Unharmed, however, he rode quickly back to his regiment, exclaiming, with considerable emphasis, “Give ‘em —, boys.” The 27th responded by opening their hottest(!) fire, and the enemy scattered. We subsequently learned that they were the 27th Virginia volunteers.

We continued to advance till confronted by the 8th Georgia, who stood their ground manfully for a time, loading and firing with great rapidity. They could not, however, withstand the regular and accurate discharges of the 27th, and we finally drove them back to a considerable distance, where they were reinforced. We were then in turn repulsed, and took refuge under a hill, where we remained until another advance was ordered.

(It was while resting here that one of my comrades, William Hanlon, of Rochester, Co. E, was most severely wounded. He was struck in the right leg by a cannon ball, and was thought to be killed outright. He survived, however, a cripple, to become a prisoner at Richmond, and was released and sent home on the 6th of October.)

Soon after this event Col. Slocum, our gallant commander, was ordered to charge a battery stationed on a knoll to our left, and was fearlessly leading on his regiment, in the midst of a tremendous fire, when he fell, severely wounded, and was immediately taken from the field. The occurrence was a severe blow to the regiment, who regarded their brave commander with a feeling of boundless affection. Happily he was spared to receive the appointment of Brigadier General, and the 27th is still under his charge.

The first member of the color-guard who was “stuck” was Corporal Fairchild. The regiment had for a moment halted, when the Corporal staggered back, crying, “O, boys, I am struck!” Placing his hand upon his breast, with the expectation, as he afterwards said, of finding it “covered with blood,” he accidently felt the ball (a grapeshot) in his shirt pocket! He immediately pulled it out, exclaiming, “Thank God, I am safe!” It was a spent ball. The Corporal survived the battle to become a prisoner at Richmond.

In the meantime the action had become fierce and sanguinary, and every soldier in the ranks realized that his regiment was quite as severely “exposed” as the most ardent-minded and valorous could desire. Our numbers were greatly diminished, and though our discharges were rapid, they had become irregular, and the men loaded and fired promiscuously. An incident may be related in this connection of rather a novel character. Corporal S—-s, of Rochester, a young man, who, since his enlistment, had been somewhat distinguished among his comrades for a religious zeal, fought manfully with the “full assurance of faith.” With every load of his musket he uttered an audible prayer to this effect: “O, Lord, send this bullet to the heart of a rebel, and spare my life!” A Manxman, who stood beside him, and who was quite as energetically engaged in the “discharge” of duty, censoriously retorted: “Hoot mon – shoot more and pray less!” Shooting was evidently the most pressing business in hand, but our Manxman, was probably not aware that a Yankee seldom attempts to do one thing at a time, and that it was quite proper to put two irons in the fire when the conflagration was so general and so extensive.

The 27th Regiment continued to march unflinchingly forward, literally amid a storm of “leaden rain and iron ball.” Indeed, it seemed as though we were confronting an avalanche of bullets. Many were mowed down. I think that but one of our line officers then deserted his post of duty, and a few days since I met him in the streets of Rochester, wearing the uniform of a private. To my inquiring upon this subject, he admitted that he had been cashiered in consequence of his behavior on that occasion, and that he afterward returned home. “But,” said he, “I could not help it; I ran despite of myself, for we were marching into the jaws of death. I am not a coward, and I mean to prove it. Therefore I have enlisted as a private soldier, and if I ever participate in another battle, I mean to stand my ground.”

In less than half an hour after the fall of General Slocum, the ranks of the color-guard were reduced from nine to two. The colors were large and weighty, and Sergeant Freeman having become quite exhausted, and myself too much so to relieve him, Major (now Colonel) Bartlett, who perceived the situation of affairs, came to our assistance. Riding along the line, and waving the colors above his head, he shouted, “Boys, will you fight for this?” The response was general and enthusiastic.

A large number of the enemy were discovered in the front, and the 27th advanced towards them, Sergeant Freeman again being in possession of the colors. At this conjuncture, while my piece was leveled, I received a ball in the breast and fell, remarking to my comrade that I should have to leave him. The Sergeant gave me a glance so full of sympathy at my misfortune that I never can forget it, and with the regiment passed on to meet the enemy. I crept to a rail fence near by, and lay insensible about fifteen or twenty minutes, as I should judge, and upon regaining consciousness, discovered that I was surrounded by numbers of dead and wounded. The immediate vicinity was not then occupied by troops. The first notable object that excited my attention was a Union soldier, who was wounded in the left arm, which lay powerless at his side. He was standing beside the fence, his piece resting upon the rail, and which, after taking deliberate aim, he discharged at the enemy. He then dropped his musket, and came a laid down beside me. No more passed between us, but I imagined he had obtained “satisfaction” for his own grievances.

While still lying in my position, I beheld another Union soldier at a short distance, climbing the fence. He held his musket in his right hand, but while astride of the fence, and in the act of getting down, a cannon-shot struck the rail, shattering it in pieces, and sending its rider whirling and summersetting in the air, with a velocity that would have astonished the most accomplished acrobat. He gathered himself up with almost an equal degree of alacrity, and started on “double quick” toward our own forces. He had proceeded but a few feet, however, when he came to a halt. Casting his eyes over his shoulder, and perceiving that he was unpursued, he scratched his head thoughtfully for a moment, and then ran back and recovered his musket and started again for his regiment. I was in too much pain and bewilderment at the time to fully appreciate the comicality of this performance, but have since enjoyed many a hearty chuckle upon its reflection.

There was a great deal of skirmishing upon the field, and many instances of personal bravery particularly worthy of remark. I noticed, for example, one soldier leave his regiment, and crossing the field and leaping the fence, load and fire several times at a squad of cavalry. He was finally discovered, and three or four of their number rode down upon him. One who was in advance of the rest, came upon “our hero” as he was in the act of loading. He had driven the ball home, but had not withdrawn the ramrod. The horseman raised his sabre, and the next instant, as it appeared to me, the volunteer was to be short by a head; but suddenly inverting his musket, he dropped out the ramrod, and in the twinkling of an eye emptied the saddle and started back to his regiment. After proceeding a few rods, and finding that the enemy had given up the chase, he started back to recover his ramrod, and with it returned in triumph to his regiment, where he was greeted with rousing cheers.

But it is needless to multiply instances of this nature, so many of which have been already published by the press. The movements upon the field had in the meantime changed in such a manner that I found the spot where I lay exposed to the cross firing, and accordingly crept to the cellar of “the old stone house.” The passage was not unattended with danger, the rebels making a target of every living object upon that section of the field, (from which our troops had retreated,) and their balls whizzed briskly about me. The cellar in which I found refuge was already occupied by many other wounded Union soldiers, who had likewise sought its shelter. They were lying in the mud and water upon the ground. Upon entering, I discovered Corporal Fairchild, (above mentioned, of the 27th,) who was moving about among the wounded, exerting himself to relieve their sufferings by stanching their wounds, etc. Their distracted and agonizing cries would have moved the most obdurate heart to pity. “Water, water!” was the prayer upon every tongue, but it was unavailing. To linger upon such a scene is to recall one of the most painful experiences of my life, and one which no words can adequately depict. The floor above was also covered with wounded soldiers, whose cries could be distinctly heard. I was not then aware that my comrades, Clague and Hanlon, of Rochester, were among the occupants of the upper floor.

The cross firing of the troops continued, and the rattle of musket balls against the walls of the building was almost incessant. A number of them entered the windows, wounding three of the inmates.

A cannon-shot also passed through the building, but inflicted no bodily injury. Pending these occurrences, two rebel soldiers entered the cellar, one of them seeking shelter in the fire-place. They were both unwounded. The occupant of the fire-place, however, had not fairly ensconced himself when a musket ball passed through his leg. The other, who was lying by my side, was also severely wounded – fitting penalty for their cowardice and desertion.

Finding that the building was likely to be destroyed by the continued firing, one of our number went to the door, and placing a havelock on his bayonet waved it aloft in the air. This hospital signal was greeted with a shower of balls from the Confederates, and he was compelled to retire. Subsequently a yellow flag was displayed from the floor above, but it was likewise disregarded.

The wounded were perishing with thirst. At the distance of about two rods from the building was a pump, and one noble fellow (whose name I regret that I have forgotten) took two canteens and went out to obtain water. While do doing he received five or six musket balls, in different portions of his body, from the rebel forces – yet was not fatally injured. Though very low he was still alive, an inmate of prison hospital No. 2, when I left Richmond. He will ever be remembered with gratitude and affection by those who witnessed his noble conduct, and shared in the benefits of his exploit. It is my opinion that between fifty and sixty men fell in the immediate vicinity of the pump and “the old stone house.”

From the position in which I lay, glancing outward, I could discover the movements of troops upon the field, and at times with tolerable distinctness. The battle seemed general, but irregular, and I witnessed no bayonet charges, or murderous hand-to-hand conflicts. The thrilling pictures by “our special artist, taken upon the spot,” subsequently to adorn the pages of our enterprising illustrated weeklies, must have been “through a glass, darkly,” or in the heated imaginations of that ubiquitous class of correspondents who simultaneously indite at Hong Kong, Constantinople and Salt Lake City, and invariably reach the sanctum in time to read the proof of their own missives.

The observations and impressions of another spectator of the same field, are thus truthfully and graphically described:

I’ll tell you what I heard that day:
I heard the great guns, far away,
Boom after boom. Their sullen sound
Shook all the shuddering air around.

“What saw I?” Little. Clouds of dust;
Great squares of men, with standards thrust
Against their course; dense columns crowned
With billowing steel. Then, bound on bound,
The long black lines of cannon poured
Behind the horses, streaked and gored
With sweaty speed. Anon shot by,
Like a long meteor of the sky,
A single horseman; and he shone
His bright face on me, and was gone.
All these, with rolling drums, with cheers.
With songs familiar to my ears,
Passed under the far hanging cloud.
And vanished, and my heart was proud!

At length a solemn stillness fell
Upon the land. O’er hill and dell
Failed every sound. My heart stood still,
Waiting before some coming ill.
The silence was more sad and dread,
Under that canopy of lead,
Than the wild tumult of the war
That raged a little while before.
All nature, in her work of death,
Paused for one last, despairing breath;
And, cowering to the earth, I drew
From her strong breast, my strength anew.

When I arose, I wondering saw
Another dusty vapor draw
From the far right, its sluggish way
Towards the main cloud, that frowning lay
Against the westward sloping sun;
And all the war was re-begun,
Ere this fresh marvel of my sense
Caught from my mind significance.
O happy dead, who early fell,
Ye have no wretched tale to tell
Of causeless fear and coward flight,
Of victory snatched beneath your sight,
Of martial strength and honor lost,
Of mere life brought any cost.
Ye perished in your conscious pride,
Ere this misfortune opened wide
A wound that cannot close or heal
Ye perished steel to leveled steel,
Stern votaries of the god of war,
Filled with his godhead to the core!

While our forces were on the retreat, pursued by the rebels, a body of troops halted at the stone building, entered with bayonets, and demanded a surrender! They were to all appearances as much intimidated as though they had anticipated a successful resistance. None was made, however. No violence was offered to the prisoners, and in this connection, I may state that I saw no “bayoneting” whatever committed by the enemy at Bull Run. Our arms were delivered up, and a few moments afterward I was led and half-carried away to the quarters of Gen. Beauregard, situate at a distance of perhaps half a mile. Before reaching there, we encountered Gen. Beauregard, flanked by Johnson and Davis, riding across the field. Their countenances were illuminated with a mingled feeling of joy and exultation, and they could well afford, as they did, to salute an unfortunate prisoner. The head-quarters consisted of a large white house. It was filled with wounded soldiers, undergoing surgical attention. Fragments of human bodies were strewed upon the verandah and about the building, and large numbers of both Union and rebel wounded lay outside upon the ground.

On arriving at head-quarters, my guard, who was a private soldier, pointed me out to a “Louisiana Tiger,” and performed the ceremony of introduction by saying, “Here’s one of our Tigers!” – and – “Here’s a d—-d Yankee!” I expected a savage growl, not to say the roughest of embraces at the hands of the savage forester, and was not a little surprised when he approached me kindly, with the remark, “Are you wounded, sir?” I replied in the affirmative, when he resumed, “I am sorry for you. I hope you will soon recover, and be restored to your friends,” My companion, the guard, appeared to be quite as much astonished as myself; though less agreeably so, I have no doubt.

The case above may have been exceptional, for I was afterwards subjected to frequent insults from private soldiers, though kindly treated, in general, by the “Confederate” officers.

Night closed in with a pouring rain, and the wounded lay upon the ground unsheltered. I slept soundly, after these unaccustomed hardships, and was awakened by the sound of the morning reveille. My arm was stiff, my wound extremely painful, and my physical powers quite exhausted. A Lieutenant approached me and inquired as to my condition, and I begged him to find me a shelter. He absented himself for a short time, and then returned to say that there was but one place to be had, and that was a tent which was already filled with Confederate wounded, but if I was content to lay in the water for the sake of a shelter overhead, he would try to provide for me. I gladly accepted the offer, and soon found myself at the place indicated. As I entered, a wounded Confederate soldier, who had a blanket above and another beneath him, offered me one of them, which I at first politely declined. He however insisted, and I was soon enjoying its protection. Soon after, I observed a young man standing at the opening of the tent and looking within. As he glanced at me I nodded, and stooping down he kindly inquired if he could do anything to relieve me. After some conversation, I gave him the address of my wife, begging him to write and inform her of my misfortune, etc. He was, it appears, a Methodist student, and though a private soldier in the ranks of the rebels, was then acting in the capacity of Chaplain, and administering consolation to the wounded. I should occupy too much space in reporting our discussions at length. Before leaving, he kneeled in the water at my side and offered one of the most eloquent and moving applications to which I have ever listened. He soon after fulfilled his promise to notify my family of my condition, and subsequently, during my imprisonment, called upon me and placed in my hand five dollars and a copy of the Bible. I shall ever treasure it as a memento of our brief acquaintance, and of my heartfelt gratitude toward William E. Boggs, of Wainsboro, South Carolina.

While I was lying in the tent of the wounded “Confederates,” a private soldier who had just received his ration, (consisting of half a pint of coffee, a hard biscuit, and a small piece of bacon,) brought it to me, saying “You need this more than I do.” I at first hesitated to accept it, but he urged it upon me, remarking “We were enemies yesterday, in the field, but we are friends to-day, in misfortune.”

I would again state that these are exceptional instances of the feeling generally manifested by the rebels toward their prisoners, and the fact rather enhances my feeling of gratitude for the kind-hearted treatment, of which, at times, I was so singularly the recipient.

While the above was transpiring, a number of officers were standing near, convening, and one of them asked me how it was that men who fought so bravely could retreat, when the day was fairly their own? The speaker said it was at first believed to be a “Yankee trick” or the Confederates would have followed up their advantage! He solicited my opinion on this subject, and I assured him (of what I fully believed) that our forces would unquestionably return, and quite as unexpectedly as they had retired.

I was soon informed that all of the prisoners whose condition was such as to withstand the fatigues of the journey, would be immediately removed to Manassas; and soon after I was placed in a lumber wagon, beside one other prisoner and three wounded rebels, and we reached our destination after about an hour’s drive through a forest road. It struck me as rather significant that the direct road was avoided, and hence no prisoner transported in this manner was afforded an inspection of the enemy’s defenses.

The rain continued to poor in torrents, and without intermission. As we arrived opposite the depot at Manassas, I was afforded a glimpse of the place. The most prominent was the hospital, a large frame structure, opposite to which was the only battery to be seen in the vicinity. The only mounted piece was a shell-mortar. There were perhaps a dozen small frame buildings, which comprised the “Junction” proper. All of these seemed to have been appropriated to the accommodation of the Confederate wounded. Numerous tents had been pitched for a similar purpose, and temporary sheds were also in process of erection.

The Confederates were assisted from the wagon; my fellow-prisoner also descended and went off to obtain shelter, and even the guard and driver, thoroughly drowned out by the deluge, deserted their posts of duty, and left me to

“Bide the pelting of the pitiless storm”

in solitude. I finally managed to get out upon the ground, and crept along, “swimmingly,” to the hospital. There I was refused admission, on account of its over-crowded state, but finally prevailed upon the steward to let me within the hall, where with a number of others, I remained for about one hour. As formerly, when I had reached almost the lowest depth of despondency, I was so fortunate to secure a friend in a wounded rebel soldier. In the course of our conversation, he informed me that all of the prisoners were to be conveyed to Richmond. He was going as far as Culpepper, where his parents resided, and he assured me that if I desired to go with him, I should receive the best of medical care and attention. I accepted the kind offer conditionally, as I did not wish to be separated from my wounded comrades. He then – upon receiving my parole of honor – assumed the responsibility of my custody, and we were soon among the passengers of a crowded train, and speeding “on to Richmond.”

The journey occupied two days, the train being required to halt at every station from one to three hours. All along the route great crowds of people were assembled, consisting mostly of women and children, and at almost every place large numbers of Confederate wounded were removed from the cars, followed by weeping and distracted relatives. Some of these scenes were very affecting.

Davis, Lee, and other Confederate magnates, accompanied us as far as Orange Court House, and at intervening points the first named was called out upon the platform to speak to the multitudes. At some villages, the women thronged about the cars, offering refreshments to the wounded, both Union and Confederate, but more particularly to the former, whom they seemed to regard with mingled curiosity and favor. I suspected that the sympathies of some were even more deeply enlisted than they dared to avow. We were invariably addressed as “Yankees,” and there were frequent inquiries respecting “Old Scott, the traitor,” and “Old Lincoln, the tyrant.” The ladies generally expressed a benevolent desire to “get hold” of the hero of Lundy’s Lane, in order to string him up.

Arriving at Culpepper, the daughter of Major Lee, a young and beautiful damsel, came up to the window from which I leaned, and asked if she could do anything for me; and added, “What did you come down here for?” (This had become a stereotyped query.) I replied, “To protect the Stars and Stripes and preserve the Union.”

My questioner then proceeded, after the uniform custom, to berate Gen. Scott. “That miserable old Scott – a Virginian by birth – a traitor to his own State – we all hate him!” And the heightened color, the vindictive glance and the emphatic tones of the excited maiden, furnished assurance that her anger was unfeigned. But it quickly subsided, and after some further conversation, she took from her bonnet a miniature silken secession flag, which she handed to me, remarking she thought I could fight as well for the “Stars and Bars,” as for the Stars and Stripes. I playfully reminded her that she had just denounced Gen. Scott as a traitor to his own State, and if I should fight for the “Stars and Bars,” I should be a traitor to the State of New York! This trivial argument was evidently a poser. “Oh!” responded she, “I had not thought of that!” – But she insisted upon my acceptance of the emblem of disloyalty, and I still retain it as a memento of the occurrence, and with a feeling of kindly regard for the donor. She cut the buttons from my coat sleeve, and I consented to the “formal exchange,” though not exactly recognizing her as a “belligerent power.”

As Miss Lee retired, another young lady came forward, and glancing at my companion, the Confederate guard, addressed him as a “Yankee prisoner,” expressing her indignant surprise that he should have invaded their soil to fight them. He corrected her mistake, stating that I, not he, was the “Yankee prisoner.”

“No – no – you can’t fool me; I know the Yankees too well,” insisted the lady. I corroborated the assertion of my custodian, but it was some time before her prejudices could be overcome.

At almost every station on the route, one or more dead bodies were removed from the train, and placed in charge of their friends. The University at or near Culpepper, and the Church at Warrenton, had been fitted up for hospital purposes, and large numbers of the Confederate wounded were conveyed to them from the train. Of the six or seven cars which started from Manassas, there were but two remaining when we reached the rebel capital. We arrived there about 9 o’clock in the evening. After the cars had halted, I heard a low voice at my window, which was partly raised. It was quite dark, and I could not distinguish the speaker, who as evidently and Irish woman.

“Whist, whist?” said she; “are ye hungry?”

I replied that I was not, but that some of the boys probably were.

“Wait till I go to the house,” she answered, and a moment afterward I heard her again at the window. She handed me a loaf of bread, some meat, and about a dozen baker’s cakes, saying – as she handed me the first – “That was all I had in the house, but I had a shillin’, and I bought the cakes wid it; and if I had more, sure you should have it , and welcome! Take it, and God bless ye!”

I thanked here, and said, “You are very kind to enemies.”

“Whist,” said she, “and ain’t I from New York meself?” and with this tremulous utterance she retired as mysteriously as she had come.

This was the first “Union demonstration” that I witnessed in Old Virginia. I thanked God for the consolation which the reflection accorded me, as on the third night I lay sleeplessly in cars, my clothing still saturated and my body thoroughly chilled from the effects of the deluge at Manassas. I could have desired no sweeter morsel than the good woman’s homely loaf; and proud of the loyal giver, I rejoiced that “I was from New York meself.”

The following morning the prisoners were all removed to the hospital and provided with quarters and medical attendance.

From Five Months in Rebeldom; or Notes from the Diary of a Bull Run Prisoner, pp. 5-17

27th New York Infantry roster

William Howard Merrell at Fold3





Capt. Edward Porter Alexander, Signal Officer, Army of the Potomac, On the Signal Corps in the Campaign

9 07 2020

THE FIRST SIGNAL MESSAGE.
—————
It Was Sent at Bull Run by Gen. E. P. Alexander, C. S. A.
—————
BY. BRIG. GEN. E. P. ALEXANDER, C. S. A.
—————

In September, 1859, I was a Second Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army, and was on duty with the Corps of Cadets at West Point as Assistant Instructor in Practical Engineering. Here, on Sunday morning. I became acquainted with Dr. Albert J. Meyer, Assistant Surgeon, U. S. A., and learned from him of the system of military signals which he had devised and which he was then under order to develop and bring into practical operation.

Surgeon Meyer had been authorized also to select some young officer to assist him in his experiments, and our accidental acquaintanceship resulted in his making application for me to be relieved from duty at West Point and assigned to duty with him.

This was done, and I remained on duty with Surgeon Myer from Oct. 3, 1859, until March, 1860. The first three months were spent about New York Harbor, experimenting and perfecting our apparatus by daily and nightly signals, between Fort Hamilton, on the Narrows, and Sandy Hook, and Navesink Highlands. Then, everything being satisfactory, we went to Washington and exhibited the system to the Military Committees of the House and Senate, which resulted in the passage of a law creating a Signal Corps, of which Surgeon A. J. Myer was the head, with rank of Major.

I, at my own request, was returned to duty in my old corps, where I continued to serve until after the secession of Georgia, my native State. On May 1, 1861, I resigned, being then on duty at San Francisco, and I returned East via Panama, and arrived in Richmond on June 1.

WITH THE CONFEDERATE ARMY AT MANASSAS.

Confederate armies were being formed at that time in West Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, at Manassas Junction, at Yorktown, and at Norfolk. On my arrival I was promoted Captain of Engineers, and several applications were made for me for different positions; but President Davis had been Chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate when Maj. Myer and I had appeared before it, on a number of occasions, exhibiting the military signals; so he refused all applications to me, and after making me put in operations a little factory of flags, torches, etc., on July 1, I was ordered to take myself and my system of signals to the army of Gen. Beauregard at Manassas Junction.

On June 24, Gen. McDowell had submitted to the War Department a plan for an advance upon Manassas Junction, to be begun on July 8, which had been accepted. Most fortunately for the Confederates, however, the Federal army, with all its resources, was not ready to start until July 16. Twenty miles of marching, and a preliminary skirmish, and only on July 21 was the battle delivered.

ORGANIZING A SIGNAL CORPS.

On my arrival at Manassas, July 2, 1861, I really had much more time to install my system of signals than I expected; for “rumors of the foe’s advance” now swelled upon almost every breeze, and I lost no time. I had brought with me from Richmond all the necessary flags, torches, glasses, etc., and the first thing was to select men. I soon made acquaintances among the officers, and got the names of about 15 young privates who might later be promoted as Signal Officers, and I had them detailed and assigned to me for duty. They were at once put upon a course of instruction and practice.

Meanwhile I procured a horse, and between times began an exploration of the country which was to be our theater of action, to find out what facilities it offered to establish lines of signal.

The topography was very far from favorable; the country was generally flat and gently rolling. There were but few large bodies of woods, but very many medium sized ones, and very much second growth pine. Our line of battle had been chosen along the stream of Bull Run, about three miles north of Manassas, and the course of the stream was generally wooded and bordered with small fields and pastures, giving very few open stretches. I was not at all sanguine that I would be able to render any valuable service, but, fortunately, I had the time to make a thorough search of the whole country, and as will be seen, one line which I opened up disclosed the vital secret of the enemy’s strategy in time to allow it to be successfully met.

LOCATING SIGNAL STATIONS.

About a mile east of the little village of Manassas, on the farm of a Mr. Wilcoxen, I found a high, rocky point, covered with cedars, but having a good outlook over a valley to the north and west. I made this point a central station, and by clearing it off, and by some clearing at other points, I got two straight six-mile ranges; one northwest to a bluff over Bull Run Valley, on our extreme left, a short way above the Stone Bridge (by which the Warrenton Turnpike crossed Bull Run), and the other north to Centerville, about three miles beyond the Run, opposite our center. Another station was found near the Run, opposite our right center; and a fourth near our headquarters in the village. This was the utmost that the topography permitted, and I established them and set the men to practicing by day and by night.

It is not necessary for me to refer to the operations preceding the 21st. Early that morning McDowell’s turning column was approaching Sudley Ford, two miles above the Confederate left at Stone Bridge; and after a very early breakfast, Gens. Beauregard and Johnston, with their united staffs, started to the front opposite their center. They had sent orders to Ewell, on their extreme right, to advance and turn the enemy’s left, but these orders miscarried in some way, and were never received; consequently there was no action on our center, which was waiting in vain for the right to begin, and ample time was allowed McDowell’s turning column to complete its long march and make the fight upon our left.

And now I may introduce the incident which this paper records in detail for the first time.

As the rather large party, with an escort of couriers, moved down the road soon after breakfast, Gen. Beauregard called me to him, and directed me to take a courier and go to my central signal station on the hill near Wilcoxen’s house, and to remain there in general observation and to send him messages about anything that could be seen. I was far from pleased at the receipt of this order, for I had hoped to accompany the two Generals throughout the day, and the chances of seeing anything important from this place seemed infinitely small. There was no help for it, however, and Beauregard deserves credit for the thought of taking every possible means of acquiring prompt information. If we had had a balloon this would have been the time to send it up.

By rare food luck the Wilcoxen Hill had a particularly good outlook beyond the Stone Bridge. From it could be seen our signal station on the bluff in rear of Stone Bridge, six miles off, and then beyond that for miles the level valley of Upper Bull Run, with its fields, fences, pastures, etc., was foreshortened into one narrow band of green. I arrived on Wilcoxen’s Hill about 8 a. m. After a careful study, I fixed the glass upon the Stone Bridge station and got from the operator there some details about the developments of the morning.

M’DOWELL’S FLANKING COLUMN DISCOVERED.

While I was reading the motions of his flag, the sun being low in the east, and I looking toward the west, from up in the narrow band of green above the flag, the faintest twinkle of light caught my eye. My eyes were always remarkably quick and good, and I had had long training with a glass. It was but a single flash, but the color was that of brass, and the shape a horizontal line. It could be nothing but the reflection of the morning sun from the side of a brass gun. I brought my glass very carefully to bear exactly, and presently made out a little swarm of still fainter glitters, and I knew that it was a column of bright musket barrels and bayonets.

It was about 8:45 a. m., and I had discovered McDowell’s turning column, the head of which at this hour was just arriving at Sudley, eight miles away. I at once appreciated how much it might mean, and I thought it best to give Gen. Evans, in command at the Stone Bridge, immediate notice, even before sending word to Beauregard. So I signalled Evans quickly, “Look out for your left; you are turned.” Gen. Evans afterwards told me that the pickets which he had at Sudley, being driven in by the enemy’s advance guard, had sent a messenger, and the two messengers, one with my warning and one with the report of the picket, reached him simultaneously. The two reports coming together from different sources, thoroughly impressed him with the gravity of the situation, and he acted immediately and with excellent judgement. He left four companies of his command to occupy the enemy (Tyler and his three brigades) in his own front, and with the remainder of his force (six companies of the 4th S. C. and Wheat’s La. Battalion), he marched to oppose and delay the turning column, sending word at the same time of his movement to Col. Cocke, next on his right. In his official report Evans warmly thanks Col. Robt. Wheat (who had been an old Filibuster) for sound advice on the field, and I have no doubt that Wheat was consulted and advised with here. Poor fellow, he fought as well as advised, and fell shout through both lungs. He recovered, but in his next fight, Gaines’s Mill, 11 months later, he fell, leading a charge and could only exclaim: “Bury me on the field, boys.”

Having sent Evans my brief notice of his immediate danger, I wrote a note to Gen. Beauregard, which I can quote, I believe, verbatim, as it was framed after my idea of what the reports of reconnoitering officers should be – the exact mathematical truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I kept no copy of it, but its impression upon my own brain was very vivid, and it was about as follows: “I see a body of troops crossing Bull Run about two miles above the Stone Bridge. The head of the column is in the woods on this side. The rear of the column in in the woods on the other side. About a half mile of its length is visible in the open ground in between. I can see both infantry and artillery.”

When I had it written, it looked very tame for notice of the great event I took it to be: but I gave it to my courier and sent him off at a gallop, with some two and a half miles to go.

Untitled

SEASONABLE AND MATERIAL ASSISTANCE.

Gen. Beauregard, in his report of the battle, does not mention the receipt of this note, but says generally that I gave him “seasonable and material assistance early in the day with the system of my signals.”

Gen. Johnston is a little more explicit, and says: “About 8 o’clock, Gen. Beauregard and I placed ourselves on a commanding hill in rear of Gen. Bonham’s left. Near 9 o’clock the Signal Officer, Capt. Alexander, reported that a very large body of troops was crossing the Valley of Bull Run, some two miles above the bridge. Gen. Bee, who had been placed near Col. Cocke’s position; Col. Hampton, with his legion, and Col Jackson, from a point near Gen. Bonham’s left, were ordered to hasten to the left flank.”

Bee’s force comprised the 4th Ala., 2d Miss., and the 7th and 8th Ga. The Hampton Legion was one regiment, and Jackson had five regiments, the 2d, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33d Va. So in all, 10 regiments, with an average distance of about three miles to go, were now en route to reinforce Evans with his one regiment and a half.

I need proceed no further in the history of this battle, though it included the sending of several other signals, and other matters of interest which concerned our knowledge of what was taking place.

It is known of all men that the delay made by the troops above mentioned gave time for the arrival of the brigades of Early and Kirby Smith and two regiments of Burnham’s, and that their arrival changed the defeat into victory. As the sending of these troops to the left was caused by the timely warning of the approach of the enemy upon that flank; it must fairly be attributed to the operation of the system of signals. And as to the value of that victory in moral effect upon the Confederate army and people, those who have fully appreciated the immense power given by “morale” to any army, will realize that that victory laid a foundation of morale without which our subsequent victories – prolonging the war for four years – would have been almost, if not quite, impossible.

The National Tribune, 1/8/1903

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Lt. William Mack Robbins, Co. G, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle

25 11 2018

With Generals Bee and Jackson at the First Battle of Manassas

On the afternoon of July 18, 1861, the army of [Brigadier General Joseph E.] Johnston – about ten-thousand strong – which had been for some weeks manoeuvering up and down the [Shenandoah] Valley in front of [Major General Robert] Patterson and was then lying around Winchester, was hastily put in motion and marched off southeastwardly, going we knew not whither. Most of the men belonged to the class which may be described as “young bloods,” sons of planters, reared in ease and affluence – intelligent, merry hearted, high spirited, full of romance and enthusiasm. They had volunteered at the first call, not only from devotion to the cause, but love of adventure, and there was nothing they were so eager for as to get into battle, being somewhat tinctured with the idea that they “could whip at least three Yankees apiece,” and were rather afraid that the war might come to an end before they got the chance to prove it. In spite of their confidence in their general, they had been a good deal chagrined and disgusted at what they deemed his overwary strategy in not delivering battle to the enemy under Patterson. They were therefore greatly delighted to hear the general order which General Johnston caused to be read to each regiment as soon as we got well out of Winchester that summer evening. That order was about in these words: “Beauregard is attacked by overwhelming odds at Manassas. Your commanding general has full confidence in your zeal and devotion and asks every man to step out lively. You are going on a forced march over the mountains to reinforce your companions in arms and save the country.” Loud cheers welcomed the tidings. The prospect of an early encounter with the enemy loomed up ahead and stimulated the impatient spirits of the men to their best exertions. Heat, dust, and night-fall soon made the rapid march disagreeable enough, but it was pushed without a check till we reached the Shenandoah. This river, about waist deep, was waded at dawn of July 19, amidst songs, jokes, and general hilarity. The Blue Ridge was passed at Ashby’s Gap, and at evening of the same day the head of the column arrived at Piedmont Station on the Manassas Gap Railroad, whence Johnston’s forces were sent forward in detachments by rail as fast as transportation could be furnished.

So much has been said about Johnston’s troops appearing on the field in the nick of time after the battle had been long ranging that the impression extensively prevails that none of them were there at its beginning. This is a great mistake. Three brigades – [Brigadier General Thomas J.] Jackson’s, [Col.] F. S. Bartow’s and nearly all of [Brigadier General Barnard E.] Bee’s – were at hand when the battle opened and bore an important part in it all day. The Fourth Alabama and other regiments of Bee’s Brigade reached the Junction at noon of the twentieth and were among the very earliest in the conflict the next day. It was only the comparatively minor number of Johnston’s men under [Brigadier General Edmund] Kirby Smith and [Colonel Arnold] Elzey that leaped from the train when they heard the battle in progress, and, hastening down the Warrenton Pike, came in so luckily on the right rear of the Federals and caused the panic which gave the victory to the Confederates.

I have spoken of the eagerness of our inexperienced but enthusiastic soldiers to see and participate in the battle. The feeling did not diminish, but rather grew in intensity on this occasion, up to the time of actual engagement, and how much longer I cannot say; but one thing is certain – all of us by the time the day was over felt sufficiently amused. Thousands of soldiers on both sides know all about the experience of a first battle, and anything said on the subject would be but an old tale to them; but those who never took a hand, and especially young who have come up since the war would no doubt like to know how a battle looks and seems to a new soldier – its thrill, its thunder, its grandeur, its horror, and no lees its odd, absurd, and even grotesque features. I do not feel competent to paint an adequate picture and description of these things. I doubt if any pen can fitly paint them. A few hints about how this battle opened and proceeded – as the writer saw it – must suffice. The Fourth Alabama were busy with breakfast near the junction when the sudden boom of a gun in the direction of the railroad bridge over Bull Run drew our eyes that way and we saw for the first time the little dense round sphere of white vapor, high up in the air, produced by the bursting of a shell. This was quickly followed by others, the design of the Federals being to draw all attention to that part of the line while they were executing their shrewd flanking movement on our left. However, our regiment, with others of Bee’s Brigade, was at once moved at double-quick towards the Confederate left, to a position that had been allotted to us at one of the upper fords. But we had scarcely reached the designated point when we were again ordered to go at a rapid run for about two miles still further up the stream to meet the Federals – our commanders having just at that moment discovered that they had crossed the stream at Sudley’s Ford, entirely beyond the Confederate left, and were pouring down in heavy force on that flank. All depended on presenting a quick front to this unexpected movement. So we went  – a few battalions only – across the fields at out highest speed, and soon reached the plateau of the Henry House, around which the battle was afterward mainly fought. But Bee did not permit us to stop there. He marked that as the most favorable position for the Confederate line to form its new front on, but he knew his brigade alone could not hold it and he also saw that the enemy would reach it, unless checked and delayed by some means before an adequate force of Confederates could get there to oppose them. To gain the needed time it was necessary to risk the sacrifice of the two and a half regiments then with him by a bold movement still further to the front. He could not hesitate. So he ordered the Fourth Alabama, Second Mississippi, and Eleventh Mississippi (two companies) to move half a mile further forward to the next ridge to engage the enemy and delay them as long as possible. Down the slope we rushed, panting, breathless, but still eager because ignorant of the desperate crisis which had doomed us to probably destruction to save the whole army. As we passed the little rivulet below the Stone House, the duel of the artillery began and the shells of friend and foe shrieked wildly above our heads. Mounting the hill and entering the copse of timber north of the Stone House, we began to hear a sharp cracking of musketry ahead of us – a collision  between the Federals and some small bodies of Confederates we had not known were there before, among them [Major C. R.] Wheat’s Louisiana Tigers, wearing the zouave uniform.

As we emerged from the little wood we caught sight of these Tigers, utterly overwhelmed and flying pell-mell, most of them running off to our right and toward the stream (Bull Run). This and their zouave uniform, which we had never before seen, but had heard some of the enemy wore, for a minute caused us to mistake these “Tigers” for Federals and as they were flying in disorder, some of our men set up a loud yell and shout of victory, supposing the enemy were already routed and retreating, whereupon one ardent fellow of the Fourth Alabama, with his finger on the trigger and anxious to pull down on somebody before they all got away, burst out with: “Stop your darned hollerin’ or we won’t get a shot!” But the mistake was discovered just in time to prevent our firing on friends. A little way further up the hill beyond the timber and we struck the enemy and no mistake. Their long advancing line, with the Stars and Stripes waving above it (which made some of us feel sorry), began to peer over the crest, eighty yards in our front, and opened a terrific fire, which at first went mostly over us. It is proper to mention that the Mississippians, who had come with us, were halted at the edge of the wood behind us, and so did not get into the hot conflict that ensued, the whole brunt of which thus fell on the Fourth Alabama alone. On receiving the enemy’s first fire we lay down and waited till we could see their bodies to the waist, when we gave them a volley which was very effective, firing uphill. The Federals fell back and disappeared behind the crest. After some interval they advanced another and longer line; but the result was the same as before, only they held on longer this time and their fire hurt us badly. A third time they came on in a line which extended both our flanks, and now the conflict became bloody and terrible to us, their balls coming not only from the front but from the right and left oblique, cutting down our colonel (Egbert Jones) and stretching lifeless many a familiar form so recently full of hope and gayety. Then war began to show us his wrinkled front. But we thought of what they would say at home if we flinched and how ashamed we should feel if after all the big talk about whipping the enemy we let them whip us at the first chance. We could see, too, that they were as awkward at the business and enjoyed it as little as ourselves. Besides, it looked like they could hardly help killing every one of us if we got up and tried to run away. It seemed our safest chance to hug the ground and pepper away at them; and so from sheer desperation, as much as anything, we kept to it, until after awhile, to our great joy, the enemy fell back once more behind the crest, and their fire lulled. Our general, seeing we would be certainly overwhelmed at the next onslaught, gave us the order to retire, which we did before another attack. We had been at it for over an hour and had really rendered great service in gaining time for the Confederate army to change front and form the new line. But nearly one third of the Fourth Alabama had gone down in the effort and were left on the ground, including the colonel, mortally wounded. I should not omit to mention that the Seventh and Eight Georgia, of Bartow’s brigade, also came into our advanced position far to our right during our contest, and had a bloody collision with another column of the Federals, and though these Georgians were recalled some time before we were, they contributed materially to the delay of the Federal advance.

The two Mississippi regiments of our (Bee’s) brigade had also retired before us, so that the Fourth Alabama was going back alone. In this movement a bloody episode occurred to us. Retiring by the same route along which we had come, when we reached the little rivulet running near the stone house, we saw a regiment, in column by companies, marching down the rivulet toward us. Their flag was furled on the staff and so was ours. By the quarter we had just come from they thought us probably Federals, but were not sure. As for us, we felt the enemy had got so far around in rear of the place of our recent fight; their uniform also resembled that of the Sixth North Carolina, belonging to our brigade, and we hastily took them for that regiment coming to our aid. Thus encouraged we halted, faced about and reformed our line, intending with this supposed reinforcement to take another tilt with the enemy we had been fighting if they should pursue us as we expected. The unknown regiment also halted and deployed into line of battle at right angles with ours and less than 100 yards from our left flank. Their colonel signaled us with his handkerchief for the purpose of communicating  and learning who we were as it afterward appeared; but we never dreamed this was his purpose and made no haste to respond, feeling confident we knew him, and thinking of course he knew us. All this took place in a few moments. Having quickly rearranged our line, our flag was than unfurled and displayed – the Stars and Bars! Instantly a blaze of fire flashed along the line of our supposed friends (a New York regiment it really was), and an enfilading hailstorm of bullets tore through the Fourth Alabama from left to right, killing many and disabling more, among the rest Lieutenant Colonel [Evander M.] Law and Major Scott, leaving our regiment without field officers.

What does the reader suppose we did? We did not stay there. The position was too bad and the surprise too sudden. True, the enemy’s fire was once returned with considerable effect; but it is only frank to say that we resumed, without delay, our movement back to the main Confederate line, whither Bee had intended us to go when he first ordered us to retire. Having arrived there, even after all they had suffered, the Fourth Alabama still had pride enough left to rally again, and under the command of a captain fell in on the right of the line and fought to the end of the terrible day. I will not now attempt to detail all the incidents that befell the regiment in these later hours of the battle. I will give one, however, which will always be of special historic interest.

The position of our regiment being now on the right of the Confederate line as drawn on the plateau of the Henry House, and the leading design of the Federals during the entire day being to turn the Confederate left, the heaviest fighting gradually veered toward that flank. No one who was there can ever forget how the Federal musketry crashed and rolled in fresh outbursts as new troops poured in against the center and left. Farther and farther round its awful thunder seemed to encroach, as if it would never be stayed till it should rend and tear that part of our line to atoms. Our brigade comrades of the Sixth North Carolina, separated from us in the manouevres of the day, had rushed in single-handed and attempted to check it, but had been smitten as with fire by its overwhelming power and their gallant Colonel [C. F.] Fisher, with many of his men, were no more. Jackson, with brigade, was struggling desperately, and at length successfully, to arrest the Federal columns; but immovable as Jackson and his men stood, the surging tides of the enemy beating upon him with such a mighty momentum that it seemed as if he must give way. Just then the battle had entirely lulled in our front on the right. Our Brigadier, General Barnard E. Bee, at this moment came galloping to the Fourth Alabama and said: “My brigade is scattered over the field and you are all of it I can now find. Men, can you make a charge of bayonets?” Those poor battered and bloody-nosed fellows, inspired by the lion-like bearing of that historic officer, responded promptly: “Yes, general, we will go wherever you lead and do whatever you say.” Be then said, pointing toward where Jackson and his brigade were so desperately battling: “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall! Let us go to his assistance.” Saying that Bee dismounted and led the Fourth Alabama (what remained of them) to Jackson’s position and joined them on the right of his brigade. Some other reinforcements coming up a vigorous charge was made, pressing the Federals back. In this charge Bee fell mortally wounded. Bartow fell nearly at the same time and within a stone’s throw of the same spot. Before the Federals recovered from the impression made by this partial repulse they saw Kirby Smith’s men advancing down the Warrenton Pike upon their right rear, as before stated, and his unexpected appearance in that quarter struck them with an overpowering panic and caused their precipitate retreat from the field. The battle ended so suddenly that the Confederates could not understand and could scarcely believe it. When afterwards the doings of the day were recounted among is the above expression, uttered General Bee concerning Jackson, was repeated from mouth to mouth throughout the Confederate army, and that is how he came to be known everywhere as Stonewall Jackson.

In conclusion, as I have set down with an endeavor at entire frankness the achievements, the mistake and the misfortunes that day of the regiment to which I myself belonged (the Fourth Alabama), I may be pardoned for adding a word about how we looked back upon our experience after it was over as a curious illustration of the absurd notions of inexperienced soldiers. Our ideal was that we were to whip whatever we came across – no matter about numbers; many or few, we must put them to flight. To turn the back before any enemy would be disgraceful. Having, therefore, turned our backs to the enemy twice that day, as I have narrated, once under orders and once without, we of the Fourth Alabama, upon the whole, felt humiliated and rather ashamed of ourselves on reviewing what had occurred. It was some days after the battle that to our surprise we began to hear from our comrades if the army and to read in the papers that our regiment was thought to have distinguished itself greatly. Then we began to hold up our heads again and to recall the fact that we had lost more than any other regiment in the army. Finally, we go hold of the Northern newspapers and found where our gallant and generous adversary, [Brigadier General Samuel P.] Heintzelman, giving an account of what he termed our stubborn resistance in that opening conflict, which I have described, had praised us extravagantly, saying: “That Alabama regiment was composed of the most gallant fellows the world ever saw.” This restored our equanimity, and we concluded that if we had not come up to our previous ideas of our invincibility, maybe we had not done so badly after all, and perhaps our sweethearts at home would not scorn us as poltroons. One other profound inpression, however, was left on the minds, at least of some of us, by the events of that day, and especially when we came to gather up the mangled remains of so many of our late merry-hearted and beloved comrades – an impression which was not changed by all we saw in the succeeding four years, or by the lapse of time since, and that was – talk as men about great war-like deeds, heap plaudits on heroes and worship military glory how they will – war is from hell!

Transcribed from Peter Cozzens (ed.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 5, pp. 41-49. Brackets above are the editor’s. Per note therein, the original article first appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly Times, 2/26/1881, under the title First Battle of Bull Run.

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