Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Retreat

12 04 2012

In leaving the position in the road, we observed that everybody seemed to be going, and, in crossing a little rise of ground, we were fired on by some of the advanced skirmishers of this new force, but I do not think that there was a shot from those with whom we had been contending.

This new enemy – we then supposed – was the advance of Johnston’s forces from the Shenandoah Valley, but we have since learned that it was the last of them, under command of Kirby Smith, and that we had been fighting Johnston’s forces all day.  And that this force had got off of the cars at Gainesville and marched towards the firing at an opportune time. Without them, the story of Bull Run might have been a very different one.

After passing the rise, we were sheltered from this musketry fire, but the battery off at the right was throwing shells almost directly down the little valley.

After crossing the stream, which was neither deep nor wide, we started to go up the hill to the point where we had come in, and were again exposed to the batteries which fired on us going down. There was much haste and confusion going up the hill. It was a ‘go as you please’ until we reached the top, where we were out of the range. A hospital had been located at the Sudley Church; an effort had been made to get the wounded there; and both of the surgeons – Stewart and Le Boutillier – were there. Some of the wounded were being assisted up the hill at the time, and I helped carry Joe Garrison on a blanket a part of the way. At the same time, Corporal Schofield was being helped by some of the others of the company.

After we reached the top of the hill, I think there was but very little more firing. There were portions of a number of regiments and some batteries there, with guns in position for firing, but there did not seem to be anyone that knew just what to do. As many as possible of the regiment were assembled here, and an attempt made to find the other companies. After a little delay, we were directed to the ford across Bull Run, where we found what remained of the left wing of the regiment.

It was the first time we had seen or been in close connection with them since forming in line at the beginning of our fighting, and we now learned something of their part in the fight. It had been a terrible experience. Following Ricketts’s Battery – with the left very near the guns – they had come into line and faced the woods. At almost the same time, they saw a force coming out of the woods, and there was uncertainty as to their identity, which caused them to hold their fire – until fired upon. Almost the same time, they received fire from the batteries, which Colonel Franklin says were only about 1,000 feet away.

This was a very destructive fire – killed and wounded many men of the regiment and practically disabled the battery, as it was able to fire but a few round. The regiment returned this fire with such effect as to drive back this force, but their position was untenable on account of the enemy’s artillery. They were obliged to retire to the shelter of the hill, which position they maintained until ordered to withdraw, but – in the meantime – they took part in one or two other attempts to recover the guns. These attempts were failures – but all attempts of the enemy were also failures. If we could not remove the guns, neither could they so long as our forces remained in the shelter of the hill to protect them.

It was after we had reached the top of the hill and were nearly ready to march away, when a large force came out of the woods and charged on the deserted guns, swinging their hats and cheering. Whether these were some of the troops that had been there during the fighting – or some of those who had just come up – of course, I do not know. This was just at the time that the battery near us – Arnold’s, I think it was – limbered up to leave. I saw no other display of their infantry, except those that were coming across the fields on our right.

When we left the position on the hill, both of the surgeons remained with the wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy. This was voluntary on their part.

When we joined the regiment on the other side of the stream, we found several other regiments – or parts of regiments – there, but all were without orders. About this time, Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island joined his regiment and brought the news that our forces were retreating. It was decided by him – or someone else – to return to the bivouac at Centreville.

I do not know the time, but I judge it to have been between four and five o’clock in the afternoon. It was not far from 12 o’clock when we first came under fire. If it was four o’clock when we recrossed Bull Run, then it was probably three or later when we left the cut in the road where we did the last fighting. This is the best estimate we can make of the time, and, if correct, we were confronting the enemy – within musket range – three hours or more. If that was all, then we lived an awful long time in three hours.

When getting ready to march, Colonel Gorman offered the regiment for service as rear guard, but Governor Sprague claimed this for his regiment. This brought on a little discussion as to which was senior in rank – which involved command of the troops present. They were unable to agree, but Sprague settled it – at least to his own satisfaction – by claiming his rank as governor.

With this matter settled, we started for Centreville with the Rhode Island regiment in the rear and ours next in order. In this manner we marched until overtaken by a body of our cavalry – when we were considerably broken up by their hurriedly passing through us, obliging us to take to the sides of the road.

When we reached the main road, we found carriages, hacks, wagons, and artillery on the road, and all the moving – or trying to move – in the same direction we were, Some were stalled and some were broken down. There were frequent collisions and several wrecks, and we saw one runaway – a pair of horses attached to a hack. Of course, it was not possible to march in regular formation under such conditions, and we were too tired to attempt more than was necessary and make our way the best we could and as fast as we could. At one point, the road passed over a hill that was in range of the enemy’s artillery across Bull Run, and they were throwing shells in that direction. This added to the confusion and hurried matters, also, along that stretch of road.

It was getting dark when we reached Centreville and went to the place where we had spent Friday and Saturday nights and where some wagons had been left – with regimental and company property and some Negro cooks. I think that about one-half of those who had gone out of there that morning had returned. Not more. Where were the rest? At that time, we had no definite knowledge of the others and were anxious to learn the fate of absent ones. We sat or laid down on the ground, and for a little time there were inquiries about this and that one – when and where they had been seen last – but nature asserted herself, and it was but a few minutes before the majority were sleeping soundly.

It seemed but a moment – though it might have been an hour – when we were awakened and found a supply of coffee and crackers awaiting us. I do not know as I had realized that I was hungry, but the smell of that coffee made it evident at once. We drank an unknown quantity of the coffee, but it was not a small quantity, and we felt greatly refreshed and strengthened. We also filled our canteens. It was now quite dark and threatening rain, but we again laid down to sleep.

It was not long after this that we were again called up and told that we were to march soon. This was a surprise to us, as we expected to spend the night there. No one knew where we were to go. It was now raining a little and very dark. We had had no opportunity to recover the blankets we had piled up in the woods, and the rain and night air were chilling. I do not know what became of the blankets we left, but I have been told by a Massachusetts comrade who was in the field hospital at Sudley Church that our surgeons sent and had many of them brought in to lay the wounded on.

When we fell in, we marched down to the Warrenton Turnpike and formed on the left-hand side of the road, and we began to consider the probability of our going back. Up to that time, I do not think there was any expectation of a general retreat. I do not know who organized the order of march, but it was a pretty complicated arrangement for a dark night. In the main roadway there was a line of wagons and a line of artillery, side by side, and a line of infantry marching in fours on either side. Our regiment with others was on the left, and on the right was the Jersey Brigade, a body of troops which had not been actively engaged. I knew that the New Jersey men were on the opposite side of the road, and that there were wagons between, but it was too dark to see.

Everyone who made that terrible march knows that ‘confusion worse confounded’  was produced in large quantities that were painfully evident to all of the senses but seeing. When we started on the march, it was raining hard and so dark that you could not recognize the comrade with whom you touched elbows. It was, I judge, ten o’clock or later.

Since leaving the bivouac 20 to 22 hours before, we had marched 25 to 30 miles, under the scorching heat of the mid-summer sun, much of the way through smothering clouds of pulverized clay, which covered our clothing and filled the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and was breathed into the lungs. Added to these were the excitement and mental strain of the battle and the bitter, humiliating results: defeat and disaster. To all of these was now to be added another march of 25 miles or more. None of us – of the ranks – really knew where we were going or what distance it was intended to march. All we actually knew was that we were headed back over the road we had come, and that it was dark as Egypt and raining diligently.

When this ‘mixed multitude’ of men, mules, horses, and wheels was set in motion, the situation was intensified. Wagons collided or got off the pike into the ditch; teams balked, and drivers swore and called for assistance; we of the infantry  blundered along the sides of the road as best we could – bumping into each other and everything else bump-able – tired beyond all previous experience and in anything but an amiable frame of mind. After vain attempts to keep some kind of a formation by touch and calling each other’s names or the company letter, all efforts in that direction were given up, and we just plodded along in the pouring rain as best we could.

When the rain began to fall, it was cooling and refreshing, but – as it saturated our scant clothing and poured over us in a continuous shower-bath fresh from the clouds – it became the reverse of agreeable and added much to our discomfort. The accumulations of dust on the road became sloppy mud very quickly, and the gathering water ran in little streams across the road or along the sides and collected in the depressions. Unable to see where we should go, we waded through these – often over our shoes in water and mud. The day’s operations had left a liberal deposit of dust, sand, and gravel in our shoes, and the addition of water increase the discomfort and added to the abrasions of our tired, blistered feet.

To start on such a march, under such conditions, after the efforts of the day, was a great undertaking. While the darkness lasted, it was each man for himself. When men felt that they had gone as far as they could, they turned aside in the woods and, finding a place where they could rest against a tree or stump, went to sleep. When awakened by the pitiless, drenching rain – as soon or later they were – they roused up by sheer will power and forced their stiffened, benumbed limbs to carry them onward.

Personally, that is the way I covered the distance between Centreville and Fairfax. I did not know where I was or what the hour of the night when – after a little debate with myself – I decided to rest awhile and think the situation over. With a comrade, I went a little ways into the bushes, curled up, and went to sleep without doing any thinking.

Daylight was coming, and the rain had almost ceased, when I awoke. We heard voices and knew that men were passing. Satisfying ourselves that they were not enemies, we went back into the road – though so stiff and sore that it was with difficulty we could walk. Groups of men, here and there, had made fires and were boiling coffee, and others were moving along. Going a little ways, we found two members of the company and several more of the regiment at a fire, making coffee in their tincups and little pails. Of course, we joined them at the same occupation, realizing that we were hungry.

After drinking a pint or so of strong, hot coffee and eating crackers and salt pork, we felt refreshed and continued our march. Many groups were marching, and others were halted – cooking – and we soon found others of the company and regiment and, naturally, we kept together. We soon came to Fairfax, where we found some of the wagons and artillery. From Fairfax, we took the road to Alexandria where our tents and the detail had remained. It was nearly twelve miles, but we made the distance before noon.

Here there was found food and drink and a warm welcome from those who had kept the camp. Some had come in before us, and others arrived later. Some water to wash our begrimed faces and something to eat, and, meantime, there was a general inquiry for the missing ones. In my tent, I was so fortunate as to have left a blanket, and I had a shirt and some underclothes, but I did not stop to change then. In a very few minutes, I was sleeping. I had slept, seemingly, but a little time when I was ‘stirred up’ and told that an order had come to move.

It was now well along in the afternoon, and more of the company and regiment had come in. Tents were struck and – with all the other company material – were loaded into the wagons, and we fell in for the march – we knew not where. The rain had ceased during the day, but as night came on it was threatening again. As we passed through Alexandria, it seemed impossible that it had been but a fortnight since we first marched through the city. It seemed like months.

When we reached Fort Runyon, near the Virginia end of the Long Bridge, it was getting dark and raining hard. Here we found more of the company and regiment, and there were glad greetings for some that it was feared were dead or in the hands of the rebels. I do not mean by that that there was anything like rejoicing in the general sense of the word. We had marched out in confidence, expecting a victory, but we had suffered a defeat which had wilted our pride – very much as the great physical efforts had exhausted our strength. We were sincerely glad the price in blood was no greater.

After a short halt, we crossed the Long Bridge and marched to Pennsylvania Avenue. Here and there was another halt. It rained furiously, and the only shelter we had was an iron picket fence. We got a splendid shower-bath, but we had all we wanted of that kind.

After what seemed a long time, we were admitted to some churches for the night. Food and coffee – plenty of it – was soon brought in. It was now getting quite late, and we could take our choice of sleeping on a seat or on the floor between two seats; only, there were not seats enough for all, and some must take the floor anyway. I was too tired to be particular, and gratefully glad to find shelter from the storm anywhere, and turned in on the pulpit floor. Before retiring that night, I found an opportunity to write a few words to my mother, and I think that evening or the next morning most of the boys managed to let their people know that they were still alive.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 23, the storm had ceased, and we again occupied the camp on Seventh Street out of which we had marched on the morning of July 3. It did not seem possible that but twenty  days had elapsed since we had left it. Neither did it seem possible that the 800 depressed, ragged, mud-stained, and foot-sore men who limped into camp and began the work of pitching their tents could be the same ones who had gone out from there less than three weeks before. We were a pretty hard-looking crowd. the blow had fallen with a heavy hand, and we felt its stunning effects. Mechanically, we went to work, but the interest grew as our work progressed.

Before noon, the tents were up, most of the boys had found another shirt in their knapsacks (or washed the one they wore), taken a bath, and presented a better appearance. Tents were stretched, rations were drawn, and the sun was shining and matters began to assume brighter hue. Our clothing had been a subject of complaint before we marched, and it was much more so now, but it was the result of the battle that lay nearest our hearts.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 58 – 64 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.

Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

3 04 2012

I am not sure what time it was when we were called, but it could not have been very long after midnight. My recollection is that the moon was shining when we formed for the march. Soon after forming, it was evident that there was some hindrance to the program of arrangements – whatever it was – and, after several attempts to move on, it was learned that some other troops (Hunter’s division) were crossing our line of march – apparently from our right to our left. We – being the flanking column with nearly three times the distance to march – should have had the right of way, but we did not get it, and I have never learned why.

While waiting here, we ‘rested at will’ and there was a mingling of the boys of other companies, who were getting acquainted, and I think also some from other regiments in the brigade. I recall that there was a feeling of dissatisfaction that we had been called so much earlier than was really necessary, but there was a general feeling of determination and hopefulness. I think none of us knew at that time that we were to make a long march to turn the enemy’s right flank. If we had, ordinary common sense would have suggested that we should not have been wasting precious hours on that hillside. We were all so new to the war – and absolutely inexperienced in battle – that we had no basis for a judgment, and our opinions were only reflections of our wishes.

Just when the coming light of day began to make things distinctly visible, while talking with Charley Harris, he was accosted by William A. Croffut, who was – or recently had been – connected with a Minneapolis paper, but who was there as a representative of some paper for the occasion. After an introduction, there was a short talk with Croffut, who questioned us as to the “state of our minds” at the near-approaching hour of battle. Neither of us could truthfully affirm that we were not somewhat disturbed as to our individual safety for the day – though we both tried to consider the matter hopefully and referred lightly to what might happen. We each left a message for our friends and, in case of “an accident,” requested a complimentary obituary notice. After that we shook hands and parted.

Charley got his obituary and – as it was a little premature – lived to read it. A privilege granted to but few. The long, anxious delay had tried us. It was sometime after sunrise, possibly six o’clock, when the road was clear, and we were fairly moving, following after some other division.

We marched for some distance in the rear of other troops over a good road, the Warrenton Turnpike. Soon after crossing a small stream, Cub Run, we turned to the right on a woods road. We – the regiment – were now at the head of the column and were followed by Ricketts’s Battery. Behind the battery were the 11th Massachusetts and 5th Massachusetts, completing the brigade. The 4th Pennsylvania, being a three months’ regiment and its time being out that day, had remained at Centreville or returned to Washington. It was said of them that they “marched to the rear to the tune of the enemy’s guns,” but their colonel, Hartranft, remained – acting as an aide on the staff of Colonel Franklin.

Soon after getting on this by-road, arrangements were made to deploy the first two companies – A and F – if desirable, but it was not found necessary. Our march was now much more rapid than it had been. The day was very hot and, in the woods, on the narrow roads, exceedingly close. From these conditions and out rapid marching, we were sweating profusely, and the march was taxing the men severely. About this time, we began to hear the report of a cannon occasionally, which continued for some time and increased in frequency. This firing seemed to be to our left and rear, and we appeared to be marching away from it.

When still some distance from the ford, near Sudley Springs Church, the artillery firing was heard again and increased to quite a rapid discharge. Musketry firing was also heard. About this time, our regiment was hurried forward at the double quick, and, when we reached the crossing, we were badly winded. As soon as we reached the ford, there was a rush to get water – wading in to fill our canteens and pouring it onto our heads. Meantime there was a pretty lively artillery fire going on and intermittent musketry firing.

There was but a short halt at the ford, when we reformed and waded the stream, following the road up a little rise, and then leaving it by turning to the left into a small, open wood. The other regiments of the brigade remained – for a time – on the other side of the stream, but the battery followed us over. During this time, there was rapid firing going on, and we laid down for a few minutes in this wood.

Here we could smell the smoke and hear firing out in the field in front. Near us in this wood was the Second Rhode Island, which had been in the fight and for some reason retired into this wood. They had some of their wounded with them. While here, Frank Bachelor told some of us that he had always had a great curiosity to know how one would feel in battle, but that had all passed now. He expressed himself as “satisfied, now, that his curiosity had carried him too far.” I do not recall any other attempt at ‘jesting in the face of death’ on that occasion – though it was not uncommon as we became more familiar with war. While here, Lieutenant Minor T. Thomas climbed a tree to make and observation, and when he came down reported the enemy retreating. We stopped in this wood but a few minutes, and while here the battery – Ricketts’s – had passed to the right of wood and began firing. When we left this wood we – Company F at least – left our blankets in a pile in the woods, but I do not know by whose order. They were hot and in the way.

Coming out of this wood, the regiment was formed in ‘column of division’ and marched almost directly to the front. The first division was composed of Companies A and F, and, being small, I was the corporal on the left of the first division. As we advanced to the front – far enough to see over the brow of the hill – I got a glimpse of what was in front of us. There was a valley, half a mile or more in width, through which ran a road and a crooked stream. There were some houses, fields, orchards or groves, clumps of bushes along the stream, and wooded hills beyond the valley. There were some troops down in the valley along the road, and I think some were across the stream. I did not observe that they were firing, and I presume that they were sheltered by the hill from the rebel batteries. there were some guns of the enemy on the hill across the valley – in the edge of the wood – which were throwing shell our way, but I think they were intended for the battery to our right, which was firing in that direction.

The ridge we were on, I presume, was Buck Hill. there were several regiments along the ridge to our left which had been engaged and, I believe, had driven some of the enemy from that position.

We remained here but a very short time, and, when we moved, marched by the right flank – in fours – obliquely to the right – across the fields down the hill to a road, which we followed across the stream (Young’s Branch) for a little distance, then turned to the left into a pasture or field, marching toward the hill on which the rebel battery was situated. Coming up a little rise, we crossed the road and were ordered to form line of battle ‘on right by file into line.’ While coming across the fields and down the hill, we were subject to the fire of their artillery. But when we reached the low ground we were sheltered from it, and – at the point where we were forming – were not exposed, except to the shells bursting in the air above us.

The distance marched must have been a mile or more. A part of the time we moved at double quick, and there was considerable dodging as the shells screeched over our heads. It was a new and trying ordeal that strained the nerves and hurt our feelings, but I am not aware that any other hurt was done. The formation of the line of battle was at right angles to the direction we were marching and brought the first two companies in front of a wood and but a short distance from it. The advance was led by Company A – Captain Alexander Wilkin – and was followed immediately by Company F – Captain William Colvill – and was made without any deployment of skirmishers or advance guard.

A good many things happened in the ‘thin space of time’ we were getting into line, and I do not think that I can give them consecutively.

Just as we were beginning the movement, I heard a shouting, the thunder of hoofs, and ‘chucking’ of wheels behind us. Looking backwards, I saw the artillery coming towards us – apparently over nearly the same route we had come. The horses had their noses and tails extended, and the drivers were lying low over their necks, yelling and plying their whips. It was a splendid, thrilling sight. It was Ricketts’s and Griffin’s batteries racing into position – and to destruction. Judged by results, they had much better remained on the other side and fired from a safer distance, but ‘all the same’ the movement was splendidly made. Crossing the stream, they broke through the regiment before it was half formed and separated the first division from the rest of the regiment. I had only time for a glance as we hurried into line, when other things absorbed my attention, and I thought no more of the batteries until we were later taken to the left to try to recover them – then a wreck on the plateau and covered by the enemy’s guns.

Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount – at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side – as if to shield himself – but came around his head and gave himself up. There was a young man with Company A, Javan B. Irvine, who had not then enlisted, but had come along out of interest, curiosity, or some other motive, and had kept with the company up to this time. He was not armed, except a revolver, but to him Captain Wilkin gave the prisoner, instructing him to keep him safe. Irvine proved a resolute, trusty fellow, and the next day delivered his prisoner to the authorities in Washington. He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of the Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in.

The most of the regiment – except the two companies, A and F – now followed in support of the batteries. At the same time (possibly a minute earlier or later) there was a commotion in front of the two companies – in the edge of the woods and scarce a stone’s throw distant. Orders were given by Gen. Heintzelman, who had just ridden up, to “feel in the woods,” and – at almost the same instant – shots began to come from the brush,  now and then a head was seen. As quickly as possible, we turned our old smooth-bores toward the woods and fired. Then ‘things broke loose,’ and we were immediately enveloped in a dense smoke that for a little time did not permit us to see anything clearly, but bullets were hissing above our heads, and we could see red flashes through the smoke in front of us – at which we directed our fire. Our fire seemed the most effective, and, after a few volleys, the enemy retired into the woods; our firing ceased; and by someone’s order we were advanced into the woods.

It was not long after the firing began that I had a very narrow escape from serious wounds or possible death. I will first explain that our waist belts were made of ordinary harness leather and were a little less than two inches in width. They had a single hole in one end and multiple holes in the other, and were fastened with  a brass plate with hooks on the under side – and could be adjusted to the size of the person.

A bullet – coming almost directly from the front – struck my belt plate with such force as to knock the breath out of me and tumble me over. At first I am not sure that I thought of anything, but, when I did think, imagined that I was ‘done for’ and thought of everything – all mixed up. Then I heard someone – I think it was Oscar Williams – call my name. About that time, returning breath made me feel better and take a more hopeful view of the case, and I rolled over and got on to my feet. When I found that I was not killed, I was so glad that I felt first rate for a time and thought no more about it until the fighting was over.

The force if the blow was sufficient to bend and dent the plate, and left a discolored spot on the flesh as large as the palm of the hand. I have always considered this one of my narrowest escapes. It was a heavy bullet, and had lost some of its initial force, but if it had struck anywhere except on that plate (with the leather underneath it), it would have mangled and bruised and might have gone half through me. An inch or so – to the right or left – up or down – would have missed the plate, and then I would have ‘got it’ in the ‘bread basket,’ and it might have proved entirely too much for my digestion.

Lively skirmishing followed, and we were for a time separated from the other companies of the regiment. Our advance was opposed by the enemy, firing from behind trees and other protection, but we advanced in the same manner, drove them back into the woods, and captured a few prisoners – Alabamians. In advancing, we had crossed a fence and went for some distance into the woods. Meantime, though we were making a pretty lively racket ourselves, we heard very heavy firing to our left where the batteries and the rest of the regiment had gone.

We were now brought out of the woods – I suppose for the purpose of connecting with the regiment, as that would have been the natural thing to do.

Several of the boys had been hit while in the woods or at the first firing, but I do not believe that our loss was severe. Henry R. Childs, of the company, while advancing into the woods, was wounded in the head and shoulder, and was left insensible in the bushes. He afterwards ‘came to himself’ and, finding the company gone, started to follow it. Coming out of the woods to the open ground, he saw an advancing line of the enemy’s skirmishers, who ordered him to halt and fired on him, but he ran for it and managed to escape, believing – as he said – in the old adage that ‘he that fights and runs away may live to fight another day.’

Coming out of the woods at a point near where we entered, we formed in a close skirmish line and – advancing among the young pines and bushes, which were scarcely as high as our heads – we moved towards the higher ground that was on our left when we first began firing. There was cannonading going on at this time, but only a weak and irregular fire of small arms.

When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted with a sharp fire which came from the woods to the right oblique – as we could tell by the smoke, but we could see nothing but an occasional head. We answered this fire and laid down there among the little pines along the crest of the hill – loading while laying down and rising to fire. While lying on my right side – ramming a cartridge, which was lodged part way down the barrel – I had my feet crossed to hold the butt of the musket and my left knee bent – when a bullet cut through my pants and across the inside of my left knee, but did no serious damage. It was a pretty close call for a leg. An increasingly hot fire came from the woods on the right front, and a number were hit. A body of the enemy came along the fence as if to get to our right, and we retired to the shelter of the hill.

About this time, Lieut. Col. Miller came – with some of the other companies of the right wing – to our assistance., and we were formed in the road. We then joined with some other troops in an attempt to recover the guns of the batteries. It was successful on so far as it drove the enemy from the immediate vicinity of the guns, and, after suffering severe loss, we retired again to the cut in the roadway.

The wreck of the batteries was at the crest of the hill to our left, surrounded by dead men and horses. It was a position that ought not to have been taken by a battery, exposed as it was to a close fire of artillery and infantry, and, I presume, it would not have been taken if the true condition of things had been understood. The guns were at a point between the two forces and covered by the guns of both sides from sheltered positions, but neither side could maintain a position, where they were, long enough to remove them.

After our retirement to the road, there was a considerable time when matters were comparatively quiet.  Then we were advanced to meet a force of the enemy coming out of the woods to our right front, and there was more sharp fighting. We retired to the shelter of the road and soon drove them off – after which there was another period of quiet.

In all of these movements there was more or less confusion and disorder. We had not reached a stage of discipline when anything else could be reasonably expected. Especially of men under fire for the first time and subjected to severe losses. We were human, and, therefore, we were all more or less excited, confused, and uncertain as to what had been accomplished and hat more we were expected to attempt. A good many had left to care for the wounded, and others had gone to the stream to get water, for we were all suffering greatly from the heat, thirst, and exhaustion. When it is remembered that we had but little rest the night before; that the morning march of 12 miles had been a severe test to our powers of endurance; that our subsequent movements had been hurried – down hill and up – over fences and through woods;  also, that we were under the severe mental strain of battle, which is more exhausting than physical action – then our condition can be partly comprehended.

We were in a pitiable condition that under more favorable circumstances would have called for immediate relief. There did not seem to be a breath of air stirring; the early afternoon sun was shining directly into the roadway; we were sweating profusely and suffering from the heat – clothing torn and disordered – and our faces smeared with powder and dirt. We cared nothing for looks just then, but the feel of the situation was very unsatisfactory as we waited to see what was next on the program.

Sherman had not then defined war in a single brief sentence, but I heard the one important word in it uttered several times that day – suggested, no doubt, by the day’s experiences. We had read that ‘to make war was to be hungry and thirsty’; that it ‘was to suffer and to dies’; that it was ‘to obey.’ We had been trying to do all those of those things and assumed that we were getting ‘about what was coming to us’ and we naturally wondered if there was any more ‘coming.’ I think that all there realized that we had been hit pretty hard, but I do not think that any of us supposed that we were beaten. At least I recall no suggestion to that effect.

We remained for some time in this position, when we were disturbed by some cannon shots that came from the right and a little to our rear. At first we supposed it was some of our batteries that did not realize that we were so far to the front – but a little observation showed a line of battle advancing on our right flank. There was great anxiety to know if they were friends or enemies. About this time, there was a dash of cavalry coming out of a crossroad to our right, but it was repulsed before it reached us. The conviction now began to assert itself that those fellows coming in on our right were enemies and, if so, entirely too strong for us to contend with.

Lieutenant Colonel Miller was the highest officer present with that portion of the regiment, and he gave the order to retire and indicated the direction – directly to the rear.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 51 – 58 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with permission.

Cpl. James A. Wright, Co. F, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the March

29 03 2012

On the evening of July 15 – when we had about concluded that it was all talk – we were ordered to be prepared to move at a moment’s notice. It did not take long to make all necessary preparations. The tents were to be left standing, and a detail of ten men from each company – with a complement of officers – was to remain in charge of the camp. The selection was to be made from the sick and those the least able to march. About every company had that number of sick and ailing. Each man going was to carry his canteen, haversack with three days’ rations, and his blanket, besides gun and accouterments. The blanket was rolled lengthwise, and the ends tied together, and it was carried over the left shoulder with the ends tied at the right hip. In the blanket were soap, towel, etc., and also twenty rounds of extra cartridges, which with the forty in the box made a total of sixty rounds to each man. It was all arranges that night who of the company were to remain with ‘the stuff.’ I think we all found an opportunity to write a few lines to the folks at home, informing them of the contemplated movement and saying a word of farewell.

It is almost surprising – realizing the possibilities  of death or wounds as we did – that we marched out so cheerfully the next morning to take our chances. I am quite sure that we all understood the personal risks – perhaps exaggerated them – but I think none of us thought seriously of being defeated. We seemed to feel assured of success.

There were two officers and – I feel quite sure – eighty-six enlisted men who left the camp at Alexandria for the Bull Run Campaign on the morning of July 16, 1861. There were not more and might have been less. The commissioned officers of Company F were: Captain William Colvill, First Lieutenant A. Edward Welch, and Second Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt. Non commissioned officers were: First Sergeant Martin Maginnis, Second Sergeant Hezekiah Bruce, Third Sergeant Calvin P. Clark, Fourth Sergeant Henry T. Bevans, and Fifth Sergeant Charles N. Harris. The corporals were: John Barrows, William D. Bennett, Fred E. Miller, Amos G. Schofield, Merritt G. Standish, John Williams, E. Oscar Williams, and James A. Wright. I recall that Lieutenant Mark A. Hoyt was one of the officers of the guard left behind us, and I feel quite certain that Corporal John Williams was also left, as his wife was then in camp at Alexandria.

For the first time, our brigade – the First of the Third Division – was assembled as a brigade. It was composed of the Fourth Pennsylvania, the Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts, and First Minnesota. The brigade was commanded by Colonel William B. Franklin; and the division, Colonel Samuel P. Heintzelman – both of the regular army. It seems a little surprising that it had not been got together and drilled and maneuvered as a brigade and division before starting on the march, but that is not the only surprising thing about that campaign. If this had been done a few times, perhaps the brigade commanders might have been able to get more than one regiment in action at a time.

We started early, and it took some time to get fairly moving. The roads were dusty, and the day was very hot. The march was not hurried, and camp was made before night on a ridge covered with a second growth of scrub pines near Fairfax Court House.

Each man carried his rations as issued from the commissary, and they consisted of coffee, sugar, crackers, and salt pork. Each one did his own cooking while on the march, Although the cooks and wagons followed as far as Centreville, they were not with us. None of the boys were expert cooks, but all managed to make a shift at it and get something to eat. Many of the boys had provided themselves with coffee post – or small pails – to make coffee in and small frying pans to cook meat in, and found them very convenient. A ‘mess’ with a coffee pot, a frying pan, and a hatchet were pretty well fixed, and with a little experience could always prepare a meal at short notice – provided they had the necessary materials.

There had been no conflict with the enemy during the day, and we rested quietly during the night, sleeping on the ground under the pines, which sheltered us from the dew.

The next morning, Wednesday, July 17, the march was continued. There were frequent halts and delays, considerable skirmishing and some artillery firing, but no real fighting. We took no active part in these affairs, though near enough to hear them and feel a little of the excitement. One of these episodes was an attempt to capture an outpost on the railroad, which failed, as they ran off as soon as our men came in sight, leaving their dinner cooking.

We bivouacked in the bushes again that night near Sangster’s Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During these two days, we had occasionally passed a few houses near each other and, frequently, single houses in little cleared patches in the woods, but for the most of the way the country was rough and densely wooded, with pines and cedars predominating. Our division had apparently gone across the country and principally on the by-roads.

Thursday morning, the 18th, the march was continued near the railroad, and that morning our regiment led the brigade. As on the previous days, there were frequent halts as the advance felt its way. Finally, the regiment was halted in the woods at the edge of a field, while two companies – A and B, led by Lieutenant Colonel Miller – scouted some miles to the front and left. While waiting for the return of Lt. Col. Miller and his party, artillery firing began to our right and front. We were sure a great battle was being fought, while we seemed to be forgotten or lost in the brush. We could hear the distant musketry, also, occasionally.

After an hour or more, the firing gradually ceased, and about the same time the two absent companies returned – they having gone until they had discovered the enemy and retired without attacking, as they were instructed. This was the fight at Blackburn’s Ford, in which the advanced division under General Tyler was engaged. Of course, we were burning to know all about the affair, and there were many conjectures, but very little information obtainable. This was the third day out, and, although we had started with three days’ rations, we were not accustomed to taking three days’ supply at a time, and the most of us were out of food and hungry.

There had been strict orders issued against foraging, before we marched. There were also some cattle and sheep in the edge of the wood across the clearing, and the sight of these was too much for the hungry stomachs of some of the boys, and a small party went after them. They succeeded in getting some of these, which they skinned and cut up in the bushes, but in coming out they accidentally met Colonel Franklin, who at once began an inquiry.

About the same time, Colonel Gorman rode up, and, when he sensed the situation, opened on the culprits with a lively fire of cuss words, asserting that they were a lot of “born thieves” and a “disgrace to their state and to their mothers.” He brought matters to a head by requesting Colonel Franklin to let him make an example of them for the good of the regiment in the future. This was assented to by Col. Franklin, who was probably glad to have the matter taken off of his hands, and rode away. After he was gone, Col. Gorman – who looked very black and uncompromising – said, “Now, —- you, take up that meat and go to your companies, and don’t ever disgrace the regiment by getting caught in any such scrape again.”

It is perhaps needless to say that the boys were extra careful after that not to get caught. I do not think that Company F took a leading part in this affair, but there was a fair representation in the following. I saw ‘Lenghty’ wiping the blood off of his butcher knife with a bunch of leaves, and ‘Barb’ gave us a piece of sheep, which we broiled and ate with relish. I am not asserting that this was the right and proper thing to do – perhaps it was not – but we were in the enemy’s country and hungry. Right or wrong, we were doing just what has been done under like conditions since the days of David.

For the third night we slept under the skies, but instead of twinkling stars there were threatening clouds, and it rained a little that night and in the early morning. Friday the 19th, we marched to Centreville, where all of Heintzelman’s division was brought together; there were also many other troops there. What seemed to us a great army – probably 10,000 or 12,000 men – were gathered there, and more were coming. There was considerable skirmishing going on, but we took no part in it – that day or the next – and remained at the bivouac all day Saturday. It was a time of uncertainty and anxious waiting.

We could form but little opinion of how matters stood, when or where the next move would be made, but we felt assured that affairs had reached an acute stage, and that a crisis would come soon. When it did come we had no doubt that we would be ‘in it’ and share the fortunes of war with the rest, whatever they might be. After the repulse of General Tyler’s command on the 18th, some of us may have begun to feel the possibility of a defeat, but I am sure that the feeling – as to results – was one of assured confidence, no matter what might be the fate of individuals. We went to our blankets that evening knowing that we were to be aroused to march before daylight, and having no doubt but that the morrow would bring a battle. These were not pleasant thoughts to retire with, nor calculated to bring soothing reflections inviting sleep, but we did manage to put aside the wicked war and all of its attendant troubles, and slept until awakened to fall in for the march.

James Wright Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, as quoted on pp. 48 – 51 in Keillor, No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Used with MHS permission.

Reminder – Call for Stuff

9 10 2011

Just a reminder: if you have, or are aware of, any diaries, letters, memoirs, newspaper articles, &c., published or otherwise, with a Bull Run significance, send them in or let me know about them. They’re a big part of what this site is all about. I do require some sort of verification, so if you have letters or diaries of ancestors that you would like added to the record here, I’ll need as much information as you can provide, and preferably images of the original documents.

Help great-great-grandpa’s/grandma’s words live on in cyberspace and contribute to the historical record at the same time!

Pvt. Virgil A. Stewart, Co. A, 8th Georgia Infantry, Recalls the Battle

2 09 2011

It was on a bright, beautiful Sunday morning that one of the world’s most remarkable battles was fought. Gens. Gustave T. Beauregard and Jos. E. Johnston were the Confederate leaders, and Gen. Winfield Scott commander of the Northern army. Jefferson Davis was on the field, cheering the hosts in gray. It was here that Gen. Thos. J. Jackson got his nickname “Stonewall.” Francis S. Bartow, colonel of the Eighth Georgia Regiment, had our command, and Gen. Bernard E. Bee was also there, with his South Carolina battalions.

Predictions had been made by the Washington contingent that the flag that carried in its folds the love of these hotly patriotic Southerners would be furled forever. A large crowd of spectators came out from Washington in their fine carriages, with nice lunches and plenty to drink in celebration of the expected Union victory, and the festivities were to be continued that night in the capital.

The tides of battle surged back and forth. Units of the Southern army were cut to pieces, and the remnants retreated. Seeing some men turning to the rear, the gallant Bee shouted, “Look at Jackson there; he is standing like a stone wall!” The men rallied. Reinforcements for us came up, and by 3 o’clock in the afternoon the rout of the Union army was complete. Beauregard and Johnston wanted to push on to Washington in the hope of ending the war, but Davis said no.

Practically half of the Eighth’s 1,000 Georgians fell dead or wounded, or were captured or lost. The Fourth Alabama was also well decimated. Bartow led his men to an exposed eminence which was too hot to hold.

When the command to retire was given, I did not hear it, and soon found myself with none but dead and wounded around me. I fell back to a thicket and met Jim Tom Moore, who said he did not know where were the rest of the men. Ike Donkle sang out, “Rally, Rome Light Guards!” About a dozen came out of the thicket and were immediately fired upon by a regiment in a protected position. The Romans returned the fire, then fell back to cover. My hat and coat were well riddled, but my skin was untouched.

Among our dead were Jas. B. Clark, Dr. J. T. Duane, a native of Ireland, who had come to Rome only a few years before and opened a dental office; Geo. T. Stovall, a bachelor, superintendent of the First Methodist Church Sunday School, and perhaps the most beloved young man in the town; Charles B. Norton, a clothing merchant, and D. Clinton Hargrove, a lawyer, my uncle and a brother of Z. B. Hargrove. Charlie Norton was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Norton and a brother of Mrs. Wm. M. Towers. Among our wounded were M. D. McOsker and L. T. (“Coon”) Mitchell,* son of Dan’l. R. Mitchell, one of the four founders of Rome.

When Charlie Norton was shot, he pitched forward and fell across me, for I was on my knees firing. He was the first Light Guard member to be killed. It was a horrible sight; men falling all around, some dying quickly and the others making the day hideous with their groans. Considering that so many were our boyhood friends, it was all the harder to bear.

Bartow fell mortally wounded, and was attended by Dr. H. V. M. Miller. A short time previously he was attempting to rally his men. Frenzied at his heavy loss, he seized a flag from the hands of a color bearer. It happened that these were the colors of a South Carolina unit under Bee. The incident was noticed by Bee, who rushed up and snatched the colors from Bartow. Bee also lost his life in this fight. Had he and Bartow been spared, it is quite likely they would have fought a duel.

As the Eighth Georgia marched off the field at the conclusion of the battle, Gen. Beauregard saluted and cried: “I salute the Eighth Georgia with my hat off. History shall never forget you!”

Capt. Magruder received two wounds at First Manassas. Later, at Garnett’s farm, near Richmond, he was wounded twice on the same day. Part of his nose and right jaw were torn away, and his shoulder was badly shot. Having had his face bandaged, he was rushing back to the front when a middle-aged man in homespun suit and broad-brimmed hat stopped him and said:

“Major, you are more seriously wounded than you realize. You must take my carriage and go to the hospital.”

Capt. Magruder pushed on abruptly, telling the man to mind his own business. A soldier who saw the meeting asked Capt. Magruder a moment later if he knew it was Jefferson Davis he was talking to. Capt. Magruder turned quickly and apologized, explaining that nearly all the officers had been incapacitated or captured, and that he must take command. He went through the thickest of the fight, fainted and was borne from the field. After a while he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. At Petersburg he was wounded twice; once slightly and suffered a broken arm. Surgeons insisted on amputation but he refused and his elbow was always stiff thereafter. He was sent to “Frescati,” the Magruder homestead in Virginia, which he had helped put in order to receive his wounded comrades.

George M. Battey, Jr., A History of Rome and Floyd County, pp 142-144

Contributed by reader Rick Allen

Confederate Veteran – Caring for the Soldiers in the Sixties

21 07 2011

A Woman Flees Battle and Finds Battle

Mrs. J.K. M’Whorter, “Caring for the Soldiers in the Sixties” *

Mrs. McWhorter lived near the intersection of Frying Pan Church Road and the Little River Turnpike, north of Centreville.  Later she would find the presence of Confederates about her exciting—“My sister and I had a great time all the summer of 1861….We were patriotic, and the Confederates stationed at this strategic point had to be looked after.”

But in July, as the Union army advanced, her family fled, heading west, taking refuge at the home of R.C. Weir, the owner of Sudley Mill, on the northern edge of the Bull Run Battlefield, a few hundred yards from Sudley Church.

One of the stirring events in which we participated was the flight from home just a few days before the first Manassas battle on July 21, 1861. We learned that the Yankees were advancing from Washington toward Manassas and became almost panic-stricken, for we supposed our homes would be in their path and that everything would be stolen, and, like the Widow Bedotte, “Our houses might conflagerate, and we be left forlorn.” So we decided there was no time to lose in getting inside the Confederate lines, as if the Confederacy could have any permanent lines!

The farm teams were hitched up and wagons packed with provisions and servants, some of the negroes being left at home to take care of things. The carriages and horses of the two families, with as many of our valuables as we could carry, brought up the rear of our procession. We moved off with no objective point that I can remember except getting inside the Confederate lines. Fortunately, we had some means in hand and supposed that would answer until better times dawned upon us.

We took the back roads leading from our neighborhood, hoping to keep clear of the Yankees. We had not gone more than seven or eight miles from home, I suppose, when, as we were going up a hill, the horses to the Cockerille carriage became unruly and commenced backing down hill. The occupants got out in a hurry, but the carriage was broken so that we could not go farther that day than Sudley Springs. Already a number of refugees were there. The house was occupied by a private family, but, as it had formerly been a hotel, it was large enough to accommodate a number of people. Mrs. Weir very kindly agreed to board us until we could get fixed up again and could see what best to do. Little did we suppose when we left home to get away from the Yankees that we would find ourselves encamped on what was to be a part of the famous first Manassas battle field.

We had been at Sudley Springs several days, waiting to see which way the Yankees were coming. Sunday morning, July 21, 1861, dawned on us clear, a typical July day. Most of the crowd had gathered about the long piazzas and front windows. We numbered about twenty ladies, several refugees from Washington among the number. Not long did we have to wait. We soon saw skirmishers scattered broadcast over the fields in front of us. One of these was a wheat field, full of shocks, each of which received special notice from a Yankee, who ran his bayonet through it in order to be sure it did not contain a hiding “Rebel.” Before long, however, Yankees discovered that this was not the way they would find the Rebels. There we sat or stood with feelings would be hard to describe now. Those were the first Yankees we had seen. A few moments more, a dark line of blue, with glittering bayonets, came slowly winding down the front of us. It was McDowell’s Corps, crossing Sudley Ford to flank Beauregard’s left. We were in the Yankee lines! Then some of them called at the house and told us of the “On to Richmond” program, of their great numbers, and how they had “Long Tom” in McDowell’s Corps and anticipated a small job in surrounding the little Confederate Army and capturing and killing the whole. Others told us they had men in a hollow and were mowing them down.

We had all of our silver buried that morning and, strange to say, we got it all again. My sister and I, with a number of the other ladies, a day or two before had helped tear up a bolt of red flannel, and a strip was tied around the arm of each soldier in a Virginia regiment to distinguish them from the enemy. Then we were all day holding up for our cause the best we could in our bearing toward the “Yanks.”

Late in the afternoon, as a fresh supply of stragglers were recounting their glorious deeds, we saw a dingy, dusty-looking body of cavalry dash over a distant hill in pursuit of some dark-looking objects. A lively little widow, who was discussing the battle with some of the Yanks, who were boasting of what they were doing, looked up and said: “What does that mean?” It was hard for them at first to think it was “Rebel” cavalry pursuing some of their panic-stricken, well-equipped men. You may be sure it did not take them long to think and say they had better be going. With that the little widow commenced singing and beating time with her hands to a quick step for them.

The fields spoken of soon presented a different appearance from what they did in the morning. Running Yanks were scattered all over them again, throwing down arms and everything that would hinder their speed. No time to run bayonets through wheat shocks! The “Rebs” were dashing after them and they were running for their lives. Soon we were in a glorious state of excitement. Our men were all about us, some bringing up prisoners and wounded Yanks.

Some of the cavalry paused at the doors long enough for us to hand them a cup of coffee or something to eat in hand. It was our supper time, and every one gladly gave up what was cooked to refresh the poor soldiers who had been fighting all day with nothing to eat. My grandmother and Aunt Martha contributed some provisions they had taken from home, and we had some of our best servants go to the kitchen and help cook. I remember handing coffee to some of our men who were on their horses at the back door; they had only time to swallow it down in a hurry, as they had to go the pursuit, and some looked after the wounded Yanks too.

We did not see a great deal of the fighting, as there was a hill between us and a part of the field where there was some heavy fighting. About dusk, when the crowd had passed on, we all went out on the field to see what we could capture in the way of arms. I picked up one of those valuable rifles; it was still cocked, and as I had not learned to handle fire arms I was afraid of it, and you can imagine how I looked when taking it to the house.

That night some of our badly wounded men were brought to the house, and we had plenty to do caring for them.  Some of us sat up all night with them. It was dreadful to see them suffering so!  Sudley church, a few hundred yards from us, used as a temporary hospital, was filled with the dead and dying, and they were scattered all about.

A few days later, when things were quiet again, we went back home, went near the Bull Run Bridge and not far from the Henry House. We walked over that part of the battle field, stood on the ground where Bee and Bartow fell, and saw the bullet holes in the old Henry House.  The elderly woman who lived in this house was sick in bed during the battle and was wounded. Dead horses were lying thick around the house, and we could see blue coats sticking out of the shallow graves, while bones and skulls lying about made a horrible sight. I saw enough of the horrors of war to last me.

* Confederate Veteran, Vol. 29 (1921), p. 410-411.

From Washington to Bull Run and Back Again – H. B. Jackson

13 04 2010


BY LIEUTENANT H. B. JACKSON, 2nd Wis. Infantry, Read April 6, 1910


THE first real battle of the Great War came as a shock to the people and stirred the country from center to circumference as no later engagement ever did. Moreover the first battle of Bull Run, in dramatic incident and tragic termination, was unique, and so altogether, it has taken a prominent place in our military history. The writer’s purpose now is to take you from Washington to Bull Run and back again, within a half hour. The distance between the Capitol and the battle field is about thirty miles.

The battle was fought on the 21st day of July, 1861. On the 8th (thirteen days before), the raw and comparatively undrilled Federal troops destined for the conflict, were camping in and around Washington, on either side of the Potomac. They had been organized, it is true, into five divisions; all to be commanded by General McDowell. The first division, under the command of General Tyler, consisted of four brigades; the second, under General Hunter, of two; the third, under General Heintzelman, of three; the fourth, under General Runyon, as a reserve, of seven New Jersey regiments; the fifth division, under Col. Miles, of two brigades.

The writer was a lieutenant in the Second Wisconsin Infantry, a part of the third brigade of Tyler’s Division, commanded by W. T. Sherman, then acting brigadier general.

While this army, before the order to advance, had been organized into divisions and brigades, each having its own commander, such organization was only on paper. The regiments composing the different brigades were, in point of fact, scattered hither and yon, and had not been assembled in actual brigades before the advance began.

The third brigade, with which we are more particularly concerned, included the Second Wisconsin Infantry (which afterwards became a part of another, which achieved the name of “The Iron Brigade”), came together for the first time, and had its first brigade drill on July 11th, and two days later had marching orders. With knapsacks packed, and three days’ cooked rations in haversacks, on July 16th, at two o’clock in the afternoon, this brigade started from Camp Peck, a few miles from Washington just south of the Potomac.

The brigade marched, without knowing where we were going—just marching under orders, following file leaders; yet having a dim perception, amounting to almost conviction, that we were going somewhere to meet the enemy, wipe them out, and then “on to Richmond.”

The first day was hard on the men, they were unused to marching, and the weather was hot. After passing many deserted farms we arrived on the evening of the first day at Vienna, a small village about twelve miles west from Washington. Besides our brigade, other forces were concentrated at that village, making a total strength at that point of fully 12,000, the remainder of the army was not far away advancing on other roads in the same general direction toward Centerville.

Our twelve thousand were bunched for the night’s bivouac quite compactly in columns of regimental lines, and lay down on the grass under heaven’s high dome illuminated by as bright a moon as ever shone.

Every soldier had in his haversack cooked rations of bread and meat, and upon halting and stacking arms, every man stretched himself on the ground, munched his rations, and went to sleep without ceremony or delay.

With your permission I would like to sketch a picture of that “first night out,” as it is indelibly impressed upon memory. Soon after midnight I awoke with a strange sensation— due to being a raw recruit, a part of a great army, advancing through an unknown country, to meet an unknown foe. Arising to a sitting posture the raw recruit glanced about and noted critically the situation. There was the moon at the zenith in full splendor. Of the 12,000 soldiers, apparently not another soul was awake. The silence was impressive. What thoughts flitted through the boy’s mind out there on the sacred soil of old Virginia, a thousand miles from home, surrounded by scenes and circumstances so new and strange, I leave to your imagination.

The boy lay down with the 12,000 youthful sleepers until the blare of a bugle awoke the whole army at 3:00 in the morning. They ate again from haversacks, folded blankets strapped on the knapsacks, and were ready for the start. Yet history must record that it was nearly 6:00 o’clock before the army got under way, so true is it that “large bodies move slowly.”

From Vienna we marched to Germantown, about eight miles on the way to Bull Run. Owing to obstructions, such as fallen trees, and the like, with which the enemy had blocked the way, we did not arrive until 2:30 p.m. Here at Germantown, were found quite pretentious earth-works bearing marks of recent occupation and hasty abandonment, such as smouldering fires, and partially cooked food, all telling plainly that the enemy were falling back.

We planted the “Stars and Stripes” on their deserted earthworks, cheered a bloodless victory, and, resting awhile, proceeded a few miles further and bivouacked for the second night.

Here an amusing episode recurs to memory after the intervention of all these years.

Accompanying the army were many civilians, a condition not permitted later. These civilians included men who would readily admit that they were eminent citizens, members of Congress, newspaper correspondents, etc. Some were going along with the army “just for fun,” others had a pretense of business.

The night had passed quietly until about 3:00 o’clock when there was heard the trampling of many horses, as though a cavalry force were thundering down in a deadly charge.

The noise awakened the army. To complete the din, the long roll sounded the signal for every man to fall in. Seizing his gun from where he had stacked it, every man took his place in line. It is the conduct of these civilians that furnishes the amusing incident. When the clatter began some of them were sleeping on the ground near the writer. They were under no obligations to be brave as soldiers were. Self-preservation was the law that appealed to them and produced a vigorous scramble for life. Each soul possessed a single thought which was “to climb a tree” in double quick. While climbing they believed the cavalry charge was upon them which stimulated haste. Scarcely had they reached their coveted positions at the top of the trees, when it was known that the commotion was only the stampede of friendly horses engaged in the pastime of running away. Sheepishly these civilians came off their perch, amidst laughter and jeers, not enjoyed so much by them as others.

Quiet was again restored, guns restacked, the newspaper man and congressmen, and the army slept till morn.

March was resumed at 7:30 and at about 10:00 o’clock our brigade arrived before Centerville. Here we came in sight of earthworks formidable in appearance, but in appearance only. These were on the brow of the quite imposing hill which sloped toward us from Centerville, for a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile, to the spot where we were halting. They had been abandoned to be occupied by our division. Centerville, a modest little hamlet, stands at the summit of this hill, back of the earthworks just referred to. We remained at the halting place until summoned by the stirring events of the afternoon, which was not to pass without considerable loss of life to both armies, although three days intervened before the battle of Bull Run. This was the 18th day of July.

I am not attempting to give a history of the battle of Bull Run; this is for abler pens, and the literature of the War, it is rather my purpose to have you understand the condition of our army, at and before the time the battle was fought, and of what the troops did and suffered during the days immediately preceding the battle, in order that those who have been inclined to criticise those troops, because they retired from the field on which they had fought so bravely, may come to see that what some have charged to want of pluck, was nothing more or less than the absolute exhaustion of the human endurance these men possessed.

Our brigade tarried at the foot of the hill, quietly resting under the shade of bush and tree, as best it could, from 10 a.m. until nearly noon. In the meantime a brigade of our army, with a battery of artillery, had passed to and beyond Centerville, along Warrenton turn-pike, which leads directly west to the battle field of Bull Run. Just beyond Centerville, but out of our sight on account of the intervening hills and earthworks, the advanced forces marched obliquely to the left, taking a road diverging from Warrenton turn-pike, at an angle of about forty degrees, in a southwesterly direction toward Manassas Junction, through a country quite densely wooded. They advanced on this road or narrow lane until they came to a small stream, known as Bull Run.

Here they had encountered a confederate force of considerable strength and a rapid interchange of volleys ensued until four o’clock. When the booming of cannon first broke upon our ears as we lay in the valley, telling plainer than words that a conflict was on, every man became alert.

The firing continued. We have read in story books of the foaming steed ridden in hot haste, bearing a rider with message of great moment, etc. Now this veritable foaming steed appeared, and bore his rider to where our brigade was halted and up to the tree where Sherman sat.

After a short parley with the rider, General Sherman issued orders to fall in, and our brigade ascended the hill, passed through Centerville and then down the road taken by the preceding forces, going the distance of about a mile and a half at double quick. Before we had gone far, more impressive evidence than the noise of cannon told us that we were indeed nearing the scene of real conflict, for out from the woods, and slowly to the rear, was borne many a wounded and dying soldier.

Still pushing on we arrived at the spot where our artillery was engaged. Our brigade moved by its right flank into the woods and there took a position in line at right angles with the road over which we marched, with orders to support the artillery.

This engagement, known as the “Battle of Blackburn’s Ford,” was, after our arrival, for the most part a duel of artillery, carried on at so great a distance between the contending forces in the woods, that no enemy could be seen by either side. While thus in line, we had abundant opportunity to speculate upon probabilities and to observe the movements of rifled cannon shot fired from a distance.

The artillery firing at our forces was perhaps a mile and a half away. To cover that distance it was necessary to elevate the pieces so that the projectile would describe an elliptic, rather than a straight line. These rifled cannon shot were constantly heard screeching through the air as they plunged in our direction. Sometimes they would strike a tree and land in an unexpected place. At other times they would come whizzing on without interruption to their destination, striking down a man here and there as if by chance. While standing thus, I well remember, my attention was absorbed in listening to individual cannon shot, that is, to the whizzing noise they made in the air, rather than to the report of the guns. The danger contemplated was not that from the general crash or volley, but rather from the individual cannon shot whose wild whistle in the air would from time to time attract attention. All along the line the troops appeared to be listening and looking intently. For my part I could hear the whizzing noise in the air plainly enough in many cases to decide where the bolt was likely to fall, whether to the right or to the left. But in one instance it was impossible to decide where that particular shot was going to strike. I was seized with an impression that my time had come and involuntarily threw myself upon the ground. Getting up a moment later it was discovered that the shot had burrowed only a few feet behind me, and I have always believed that if I had remained standing that shot would have effectually done the work for me. Some of the soldiers with better eyes asserted they could see the balls, but I could not. This experience lasted until about 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, when the cannonading gradually lessened and finally ceased after considerable loss had been sustained of killed and wounded. Then our brigade counter-marched toward Centerville by the same road we come on, till it intersected the turn-pike. Then taking the turn-pike we marched westward about a mile toward what was to be the battlefield of Bull Run, and took our position on an eminence to camp for the night. The experiences of the men were identical in this, that the fatigue which comes from mere exposure to imminent danger continuously for hours, especially when the troops so exposed are not actively engaged, is far more exhausting than physical exertion. All agreed after reaching camp in feeling complete fatigue.

The battle of Bull Run was still two days in the future. Yet a considerable tax, as you see, had been put upon the endurance of raw and inexperienced troops, although they had only been engaged in getting into position for the ensuing battle. There was to be no rest for the army the coming night. It was about sun down when we went into camp. Near by was a meadow dotted with newly made hay-cocks, which were picked up by the men as if there had been but one instead of a thousand and carried into camp. It was a sight to see those acres of hay-cocks disappear. The boys wanted the hay for beds and they got it in one trip.

Soon after sun down the commissary wagons came in view, and were very welcome, for they bore the precious freight of coffee and much needed rations.

Immediately the rails from neighboring fences were brought in, fires kindled, and coffee put to boil. The air was soon filled with delicious aroma, but the sadness of it all is that this coffee was never to cheer the tired soldiers. Just as the pot had fairly boiled a malicious force of sneaking confederates who had crawled up stealthily in the bushes, discharged several volleys over camp, luckily with too high aim.

The cry went up: “Put out the fires! Put out the fires!” It was a fearful sacrifice and the precious coffee was wholly lost. Then in darkness the long roll beat to arms, the tired troops fell in line, while skirmishers went out in fruitless endeavor to find what forces had been shooting at us. After they had fired their vicious volleys the confederates stole away unseen, leaving the troops in a condition quite forlorn, not knowing what would come next. Weary and worn and nearly exhausted, they stood in the darkness and rain as marks to be shot at by a hidden foe, or as one of my comrades said at the time, “To be shot at for $13 a month with no chance to return the fire.” One can imagine this little tableau vivant, or enough of it, and to see that the night was no picnic.

To cap the climax of discomfort, as darkness settled down it began to rain. The hay which had promised so much for our comfort was thoroughly wet.

Through the long, rainy night there was plenty of hunger, but no slumber, for it was passed in watchful expectation of another attack. Everything however has an ending, so did that night. With the morning came sunshine, and such cheer as men in their condition could muster.

The day was spent in getting dry, being fed and rested. At sundown the customary dress parade was held in fairly good form, considering the circumstances, and with the usual promulgation of orders.

Among other orders read that evening, was one directing the writer to report immediately at brigade headquarters, where he had been assigned for duty on the staff of General Sherman.

This order took the writer from his regiment and he was provided with a horse and equipments, and became established at brigade headquarters.

The next day Saturday, July 20th, was “the day before the battle” with all that the phrase implies. The plan on our side which contemplated an attack, had been most fully matured at a council of all the commanders, including our brigadier general. The precise work of each commander had been mapped out. If you are curious to know the details of these plans, you may read them at your leisure for they have become history.

On this 20th day of July every man in the army once again filled his haversack and at the early hour of 2:00 o’clock Sunday morning, July 21st, the entire combative force took up the march toward Bull Run by divers routes assigned to the different divisions.

From that early hour the troops were destined not to rest again until they had passed through the bloody battle, achieved a great victory over a superior force, and then later on, by the arrival of Johnston’s fresh army, were compelled to abandon a field they had fairly won, and retreat the succeeding night the entire distance from Bull Run to Washington. But we must not anticipate.

General Tyler’s division of which our brigade was a part, was on the the right of the army. The duty assigned to the writer by General Sherman was to care for all the vehicles belonging to the regiments of our brigade and organize them into a single train.

Just before the advance there was imparted to me as much of the plan of battle as it was thought necessary for me to know in order to govern my actions. I was directed to keep the train where it was, at the camp, until the combative force of the army had passed that point, and then to fall in with the other trains at the first opportunity and advance toward Bull Run until a certain blacksmith shop, which was about a half a mile east of Cub Run, had been reached; to post the train there and immediately report in person to the general wherever he could be found at the front.

In giving these instructions he said, “You will hear plenty of cannonading immediately in front. Pay no attention to it, for this will only be a feint; the real attack will be in another quarter.”

It is a matter of history how Hunter’s and Heintzelman’s divisions turned to the right from Warrenton turn-pike at the old blacksmith shop just mentioned, taking a road which led northerly and nearly parallel with Bull Run, east of the stream, and proceeded in that direction far enough to reach a point where no rebel forces were present to interfere with their crossing; and how, when they had arrived there, at an hour much later than had been planned, that is to say, about noon instead of early morning, these troops under General Hunter, taking only a few moments to refresh themselves, passed over to the west side of Bull Run, and pushed down upon the enemy, who all this time had been entertained by the furious cannonading directly in their front, east of the Stone Bridge, where Sherman’s Brigade waited for the time to come to cross over.

Hunter’s force attacked the enemy’s left flank with vigor and later was joined by Heintzelman, when they drove the confederate forces down the west bank of Bull Run, past the point where Tyler’s division, including our brigade, was waiting, thus giving them the expected opportunity to pass over and join in the general attack, which was gallantly made with a rush.

While Hunter’s movement was being executed, as has been told, the writer had abundant time to obey instructions and post his train as directed, and then to ride down amid the smoke and roar of artillery, according to directions, until he reached the spot where a thirty pounder, attached to Carlisle’s Battery, was posted on the turn-pike, with Ayre’s Battery somewhat in the rear. A little to the right of this gun he found General Sherman with his brigade in line at right angles to the turn-pike in a dense wood on the easterly side of Bull Run. There Sherman remained awaiting the appearance of Hunter and Heintzelman. At the proper time Sherman’s brigade crossed over and became actively engaged, and met their full share of the fearful loss of the day, and did their full share of the work resulting in driving the over confident confederates from the stronghold they had taken and determined to keep at all hazards.

Up to three o’clock in the afternoon everything went our way, and indicated a complete victory for the Union Arms. Indeed at that time a great victory had been won.

Then it was that a genuinely dramatic incident occurred. General McDowell came riding along the line, joyously swinging his hat aloft, responding to the cheers of the soldiers on every hand. As he came near our position he drew rein to exchange salutes with General Sherman, and with a cheerful voice and mein, he directed him “to join in the general pursuit,” and rode away.

How well I remember the proud bearing of McDowell. His every action told, more plainly than any words, that he then believed himself a victorious captain whose brow was wreathed with laurels of success. But alas, too soon he learned that the fates of war are fickle.

Not more than twenty minutes intervened after McDowell departed before he came again our way. A fearful change had come over the spirit of his dream during those moments. The transformation was forlorn and complete. We need not discuss here the causes that led up to, and made necessary the retreat of which an account follows. Suffice it to say, that soon after McDowell rode away, a large force of rebel troops from Johnston’s army arrived fresh on the field, just in time to turn our glorious victory into black defeat.

Within that twenty minutes the Union army saw itself confronted by the arrival of a fresh and formidable army, saw that the battle just successfully finished must be fought anew, if the field was to be held, and recognized the fact, as fact it was, that the limit of human endurance had been fully reached and that they were actually incapable of another fight. Thereupon the whole army began as it were, upon their own motion, and as it would seem without orders to fall slowly to the rear, and thus reluctantly leave their hard fought field. Not indeed because of the troops they had been fighting all day and had fairly whipped, not because their valor had departed, but because their power to endure had been exhausted.

When General McDowell returned, it was as clearly certain that the day had been lost, as that a few minutes earlier victory had been shouted by all hands. No one more keenly realized this than McDowell himself. If it dazed and blunted his faculties for the moment, who shall wonder and who shall blame? It seemed that General Sherman expected some decisive movement to be ordered by the commanding general for he inquired of him, “What is to be done?”

To this General McDowell replied, “Wait awhile,” and rode away, looking for all the world the picture of despair.

In reading the memoirs of General Sherman you will see no mention of this meeting between himself and General McDowell at the very turn and crisis of the battle. But the writer has excellent reason for remembering it well because it was followed by an incident of peculiar interest to himself.

After “Waiting a while,” in obedience to McDowell’s command, and seeing the whole army moving to the rear, the writer ventured to ask General Sherman what should be done with the train in the rear for which I was responsible. This inquiry was deemed proper, seeing that the entire army was giving up the field. And yet its propriety was immediately doubted, for General Sherman, looking squarely in the face of the writer, in a voice that was stern if not savage, said; “I give you no orders at all, sir.”

This at the time was interpreted to mean that when he had orders he would let it be known without being asked. But later on the writer was informed by General Sherman what was really in his mind. He himself had received no orders from the commanding general, therefore he declined to give any orders. He had been told to “wait awhile,” and was doing it.

The writer seeing that the army was in actual retreat spurred away without orders to where his train was posted just east of Bull Run. Here indeed was pandemonium reigning supreme. Whenever there is a panic in an army it is generally in the rear rather than in front, and here was no exception to the rule. There was no panic at the front at Bull Run, but at the rear the quarter-masters of the several regiments composing our brigade at least, were found in a state of extreme excitement as though expecting momentarily to be gobbled up by the notorious Black Horse Cavalry, which by the way existed only in imagination. The riders they saw galloping in all directions, were none other than our cavalry, and no doubt in some instances, our own mounted officers going to the rear. It was a white horse that carried the writer to the rear, otherwise—perhaps he might have been taken for a Black Horse Cavalryman and not permitted to approach.

When he arrived the quarter-masters were not slow in condemnation of what they regarded inexcusable negligence, in not having previously moved the train to a place of safety. Steps were taken to allay their needless fears by assuring them there was not a rebel in sight, and that our entire army would have to be slaughtered or captured before any danger could come to them, a ceremony that would consume much more time than would be required to make a safe retreat. At first they seemed satisfied with such assurance, agreeing to help take the train toward Washington in an orderly way. Had they held to that purpose there would have been no trouble in doing so.

But it was not so to be. Panic took full sway among these people who had not been on the field. The brigade train was nearly half a mile in length, and so it was impossible to personally supervise the whole of it. It soon became apparent that no one was in a state of mind to assist in preserving the orderly retreat of the wagons. A start to the rear was begun on a decent walk but it was not long before some of the drivers had pushed their teams to a trot, and others to a gallop.

Then it was that the soldiers who were there to guard the train found it impossible to keep pace with the teams, and early reached the conclusion that it was their duty to ride, and so mounted the wagons. To make room for himself a man would roll a barrel of vinegar out of the back end of the wagon to be run over by the next, which would be overturned. What with barrels of vinegar and molasses, boxes of crackers, bags of oats, and other such stores thus thrown out, it was not long before the road was literally paved with these things. When a wagon was overturned it afforded an excellent excuse for cutting loose the horses and riding away, and the drivers were not slow in doing this. The road was thus blockaded by abandoned wagons.

Within a short time the brigade train was a thing of the past. It had destroyed itself. The occupation of the writer so far as the train was concerned was therefore gone, and he turned and rode to the front slowly against the retreating torrent.

In passing through the retiring crowds, made up in part of civilians as well as soldiers, many sights and scenes worth telling were observed but are omitted for want of time.

Darkness was now setting in, when however, many of those who had been engaged in the battle were met and recognized.

What had been the army, was the army no longer. It was a mere 4th of July crowd, a World’s Fair crowd on a Chicago Day, wholly without organization. The whole roadway was compactly filled from side to side with one solid mass, which within a rod or two, might have among its members the representatives of many regiments. In such a crowd as this, strange as it may seem, the writer met the orderly sergeant of his own company. He was uninjured, and carrying his gun.

His worn out condition was recognized and he was put in the saddle. We agreed not to part, as the writer now resolved to turn about and go along with him and the rest to the rear, walking by the side of the horse. Unfortunately for the orderly, but luckily for another, we presently came upon a corporal of our company who had been shot through the leg, limping along with many others in similar condition. The corporal had lost his gun, but showed no other evidence of demoralization. The sergeant upon request gave up the horse to the wounded corporal. They compromised, the corporal taking the sergeant’s gun and the horse, and we moved on together.

As the crowd advanced along the road the most important matter was to get a drink of water. So whenever and where-ever a well was found, it became the nucleus for a contending crowd, like boys surrounding the ticket wagon of a circus, but to a vaster extent, more like swarming bees bunched upon an overhanging limb.

The trend was ever toward Washington. The night grew darker. Now and then one would hear a cry out of the darkness of the number and name of a regiment, as for instance, “13th New York.” If a man of that regiment was within hearing he would respond “13th New York.” Comrades would thus come together but to be soon parted. So in the case of the writer. Having resolved to stay by his comrades and horse, he soon found that all had disappeared and he was alone in the struggling crowd. Considering that he had been mounted all day, his condition was so much better than the mass around him that he had no cause to complain.

On and on we kept tramping the weary way to Washington. Sometimes struggling for a drink by the wayside well but not daring to rest for a moment; because to sit down even for a single instant was to sleep, and to sleep at that time meant capture.

Past midnight the rain began to pour. This was not so much a misfortune as a discomfort. It is even possible that the drenching rain cooled the fevered soldiers and in that way was beneficial. Knowing how dusty and how besmeared they were before, one can imagine the appearance presented after the rain. The rain had said to the dust, “I am on to you, your name is Mud!”

Time went on while this motley retreat continued until about four o’clock in the morning when the writer met for the first time the captain of his company, Captain Bouck of Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, son of Ex-Governor Bouck of New York, ex-Attorney General of Wisconsin, and a lawyer of high standing and ability. We were old friends; he was lame, foot-sore, weary, and nearly exhausted, but trudging on toward Washington the same as the writer. He reached out his hand in a mechanical way, we clasped, but neither spoke a word. Thus we went on together for a short time, only to separate, as in many cases before. Can you see the picture? It is like ten thousand others on the weary way.

Soon thereafter several soldiers were seen coming from a farm house where they got coffee and corn-cakes. The writer made his way to the house and while there made a bargain with the farmer to hitch up his horse and carry him and three others into Washington four or five miles distant. This was a happy thought, but not to be realized. Rosinante was tackled to a farm wagon with two boards for seats stretched from side to side of the wagon box.

We finally got aboard and started. It was daylight and Monday morning. Scarcely had we gone a mile when we discovered moving along with the rest, a lieutenant of my regiment who had been wounded by a musket shot in his left shoulder. The picture of this soldier was the picture of death. He had every appearance of a moving corpse. Nothing indicated that he was alive except that he was moving. He was scarcely alive. Automatically he kept on going. The writer spoke to him to arouse attention, but he did not hear. Finally to make certain of his identity the writer jumped from the wagon, shook him up, and told him his name and insisted that he should take the vacant seat in the wagon. Mechanically he obeyed and we started along, the writer hanging on to the end board of the wagon box.

So we went to Washington.

At last we arrived at the southern end of the Long Bridge, by which you cross over to the capital.

There fires had been built, large caldrons of pork and coffee were boiling, hard-tack was abundant, and the soldiers having been fed, were lying on the ground in the midst of a pelting rain, sleeping like infants on a mother’s breast.

But let us return to the lieutenant, for his case is typical of a thousand others.

Sheds had been thrown up for the wounded, and all the surgeons, good, bad or indifferent, that Washington and the neighboring cities could supply, were on hand to dress the wounded, and treat the sick as best as they could. The lieutenant was taken to one of these sheds and supplied with coffee, hard-tack and salt pork, of which he partook sparingly, and then he was turned over to a young surgeon who probed and dressed his wound, and laid him away to sleep. The writer did not see him again for several days, and when we next met he declared upon his honor that he did not remember meeting me at all, nor know how he got to Washington.

His case was a fair sample by which to judge of the many others of which we have not time to speak.

Not all of the troops went to Long Bridge where we did, but many reached Fort Corcoran, near Georgetown, and others made their way to Alexandria, all resting on the south bank of the Potomac.

None were permitted to cross over, except such as for good reason obtained passes.

I have now fulfilled my promise of taking you from Washington to Bull Run and back again, but I cannot consent to leave you there to pass as I did the doleful days which succeeded the battle of Bull Run.

In conclusion let me lay before you a brighter page of history, whereon is recorded that later, on the selfsame battlefield, the same army of the Potomac achieved an abiding victory for the Union cause. And on still other pages are recorded the Herculean achievements of our glorious armies which paved the way for their victorious return in strong and serried ranks to march into Washington not as we did, but bearing aloft the redeemed and consecrated Flag of the Union, amid the plaudits of an admiring country whose integrity and existence they had preserved for all future generations, by a soldierly constancy, and valor, unmatched and unmatchable, in the annals of all the Nations of the World.

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