Pvt. George L. Smith, Co. C, 1st Minnesota Infantry, On the Battle

20 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.
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[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Brother: Fearing that you might hear a report of my being killed in the disastrous action of the 21st, I take this method of informing you and other friends that I am alive, and by the intervention of Providence, untouched – I have experienced a new sensation lately – that of hearing the rush of shot and shell, and of seeing friends and companions in arms falling by my side in the cold embrace of glorious death. We were driven – routed – but not until the ground was covered with the slain. We were not disheartened. We hope to regain and will regain our position, or die in the attempt. I can give no certain account of our loss, as we retired in disorder. Probably 100 killed outright and 250 wounded in this Regiment alone. Our wounded will, I fear be killed at last. I have heard that the house used as a hospital was burned and all killed. The enemy were in a strong force, and after the charge was made they had batteries which could not be seen until they opened fire, and then only by the smoke. We were rushed up in disorder to a masked battery, with a large number of the enemy in a concealed trench. We discovered them before they fired, but our officers refused to let us fire, because they said they were friends, but they fired, and many a gallant heart ceased beating. We dropped on the ground and fired, reloaded and fired, and kept firing. We were repulsed, and returned again; again separated and again rallied on our colors, which we brought with us from the field.

In our Company, C, the color Co., we lost about 25 killed, our Captain wounded, 2d Lieut. do, 3 Sergeants killed, or missing, and some 6 others slightly scratched. I was loading the 5th time, when a ball passed between my fingers, taking my ramrod from my hand, leaving me with a useless gun, until I could pick up another ramrod. I got one, but it was too large at the large end, and I had to load with the small end. Well, I gave them about 14 rounds, and then left with a mixed crowd of Fire Zouaves, Minnessota, and Massachusetts troops, Garibaldi Guards and U. S. Regulars.

They killed our wounded on the field, and we understand they killed all in our hospitals, They were in strong force, – and were reinforced by 10,000 men, just as we were marched on to them. * * * Please write, and send papers, and have others do so, for we are much pleased to get them in camp. Direct to Co. C, 1st Regiment Minnesota Volunteers, Washington, D. C.

Yours, &c.,

Geo. L. Smith

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Pvt. Benjamin Franklin Spencer, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

19 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.
———-

[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Father: It is with a feeling of the deepest sadness that I seat myself to write these few lines to you. Sunday last is a day that will for long be remembered by me and thousands of others. It was this day we had the fight at Bull Run. This place is in the hands of the rebels. We were marched out to the battle field about 10 o’clock in the morning, and the battle lasted until 4 in the afternoon. We were to have 60,000 men and had only 18,000. The rebels had [?]0,000 men. We fought till the order to retreat was given, then we retreated and left the field, much to our regret, to the rebels. In the first place we were in no order to fight. Most of our troops were tired completely out. Some of them marched 20 miles before we got there. Our regiment marched from 2 o’clock the night before till 10 the next day, and the last 2 miles we run. We were very tired, but not scared. Sufice it to say we were whipped, or drove back.

I will try to give you a list of the names of the wounded and dead in our company, for that is as far as I can go. I fear Bill Spencer is among the lost. William Henry Parker, is dead. Sam’l Estabrooks is dead.

The ensign of our company, his name is Parks, was shot through the heart by a Minnie rifle ball. O[?] M[?]awley was hit by a cannon ball in the foot. Probably he bled to death. Our Colonel was badly wounded in the thigh. It was broken twice; they think he will recover. I hope he will, for he is as fine a man as ever lived in the world. One Charles Fairchilds killed. Nelson came very near being killed by a grape shot. It just missed his arm and that is all. All of the wounded that were left on the field the rebels came out and killed, running their bayonets through them. Napoleon Elliott had the seat of his breeches shot off. He turned around to lead, and a cannon ball took of his breeches as clean across the right hip as it could be done with the shears. Out of 94 men in our company only 35 are gone. Some companies can’t count 40 men. We are those alive in Camp Anderson. After the fight they followed us most to Washington. Just think of marching 40 miles in about 18 hours, and being chased by some four times our number. What are alive are in Washington. I got hit in my thigh by a spent ball, not to hurt me very much, but it is very lame.

Your son,

Franklin Spencer

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Pvt. Frederick Fowler, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

17 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.
———-

[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Washington, July 23, 1861.

Dear Brother: Last Sunday was a day which I shall long remember, as will many others. We were marched to the place called Bull Run, where we fired into them and they at us as hard as they could, but they had such an advantage that they cut out troops all to pieces, and we retreated, they firing into us. We got back to a hill and laid down, and then we got up and went at them again. They were too much for us, for they drove us off the ground. Out of the regiment I am in there are 300 and over killed. The Colonel was shot but not killed. All the boys that went from Coventry have got back, but I don’t think there are any of them but what got hit somewheres. Pole Elliott got his pants most all shot off of him, and others were hit, but not bad enough to lay them up. I think the next battle will be at Arlington Heights but it is hard telling. * * * They have got more men than any one tho’t of, and they have got to be taken in a different shape. I don’t think our company will see any more action very soon, as it is badly cut up. I think it will be kept as a guard in camp. * *

* * It was the hardest fight ever fought in this country. No one knows how many were killed on either side, but I hope there is as many of them as of ours, for after the Doctors had dressed the wounds of our men and taken them to the hospitals, they came up and killed them all. That is enough to show what the devils will do.

Truly Yours,

Frederick Fowler

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Frederick Fowler roster bio 

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Pvt. Charles N. Elliott, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

16 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.
———-

[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 27, 1861.

Dear Friend James: Yours of the 24th was duly received and perused with pleasure. You stated that you was feeling discouraged, on account of the defeat of our forces on Sunday last, near Manassas; and you state that we lost some 3000 men. This is not so, for according to the last report, we only lost some 1300 in killed, missing and wounded. It is true we lost some arms in the action, but they have been recovered since, and the ammunition lost was rendered useless by the rain. There are 91 missing and killed in my Regiment. * * * The 27th Union Regiment was one of the first to take part in the battle. We were on the field from 10 A. M. to 4 P. M., doing our part I will assure you. Although we were very tired when we got there, having made a march of some fifteen miles without any rest, and going some of the way in double quick time, we were ordered to take the right of the batteries; to get there we were exposed to a galling fire from the enemy’s batteries, throwing shells and balls through our ranks at a great rate. For the first introduction, one ball from a cannon passed so close to my head that it staggered me. * * After we gained the right of the batteries, we advanced on them and met a body of them in a hollow, secreted by a stone house and a piece of woods. – They had a battery on the hill. They threw grape and shell at us, but we dove them from there about a mile. – They had planted their batteries on a hill so they could play on us from three positions, and the men made another stand. They ran up the American colors and sent a man to us stating that they would lay down arms. We then advanced toward them, and when near them they fired on us, mowing our men down on all sides. Of course we were all confusion, each man for himself, but we stood our ground, and they retreated again, but poured such a raking fire on us, and no Regiment coming to our relief, Col. Slocum ordered us to retreat. In the meantime I had got ahead of the rest, and took my station behind a large tree which sheltered me from their fire. I saw one of them stick his head around a hay-cock. I told him to come out or I would shoot him. He did not comply, but said “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” but I had my gun to my eye, and when he showed his head I shot and took him in the head. He jumped about two feet high, uttered an awful groan, then fell, the blood gushing from his head in a stream. He was the poor sneak that said they would surrender, He got his due. I saw another off skulking in the grass. I shot him, and then I saw for the first time that the Regiment had left, so I turned and run to the best of my ability, and they poured a whole volley at me, putting three holes thro’ my pants, and cutting off a part of the seat of my trowsers as clean as if done with a pair of shears. My gun was struck by a ball, the stock part of it taken off and it was knocked clear from my hands, but I got another on the ground and brought it through with me. Our haversacks, containing our food, were all thrown off at the commencement of the action.

Sometimes it would seem as if the day was ours, but about 4 P. M., orders came to retreat, and we started and did not rest until we reached Washington, a distance of 47 miles. All I ate in the meantime was 4 crackers. The worst of all was the leaving of the wounded at the mercy of the enemy, as they would come along and thrust a bayonet through them; and the house where we carried the sounded was blown up by the rebels.

I was among the wounded, where of all the sights one ever saw, that beat all. Lead me up to a masked battery, face to face with the enemy, but deliver me from another such place as that. Those groans still ring in my ears, and always will. As you pass along you will see on just gasping for breath, another crying for water, another begging for you to blow his brains out, and put him out of his misery. Some have their limbs blown off, others part of their faces off, then you will pass by one already in the cold embrace of death. You may read but you cannot imagine a thing about it. You sent me a paper containing Dickinson’s speech, and I like it very much, and am glad you sent it to me and you state you sill send me money if I want it. To be sure it is hard for us to get hold of a cent now until the Government pays us what is our due, and we fare hard, but I return my thanks to you for offering such kindness, though I will not ask so much of you. If you want to come here tell C—– that you want the password, and be careful to hold your oats. * *

Your friend,

Chas N. Elliott

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Pvt. Charles Winters, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

15 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.

———-

[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

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Washington, July 23, 1861.

* * * The last time I wrote to you I believe I was in Fairfax C. H., near Centerville. Since then I have witnesses as terrible and bloody a battle as American history can boast of. We were routed up Sunday morning at two o’clock and marched towards Bull’s Run, a distance of about fifteen miles, where we arrived at twelve o’clock. The battle immediately commenced by cannonading on both sides. But this was too slow work, and we were marched up in musket distance. The first regiment we met we were going to fire into, but they told us not to fire into our own men, so we shouldered our muskets and had hardly done so when they poured into us with a whole volley of musketry, cutting down several of our men. They use all manner of stratagem, which was very effectual at first. They would send out little squads of men to get our men to chase them, and as soon as we got near enough, there would a whole regiment rise from behind some embankment and pour into us. Some would hoist the Stars and Stripes to make us think they were Union men. But these things finally played out. One regiment of cavalry tried to play this game on the New York Fire Zouaves. They allowed themselves to be fooled till a good opportunity presented itself, when they poured in upon them cutting them all to pieces. The report is that there were but six left. Bully for the New York boys – The rebels were very strongly fortified. They had embankments all around them, and a thick wood behind them where they could retreat and be in perfect safety. In short they had every advantage, but we made them retreat once and should have probably gained the day had they not been reinforced by a brigade from S. C. This was worse than we could stand so we had to retreat. They gained the day, but whether they gain the morrow is another thing. They have got to be routed out of there and Manassas Junction, their cake is dough*. There only hope of salvation is to keep these two places.

I never should or never could have suspected a people reared as they have been under the blessings of Christianity and civilization, to be possessed of such inhuman cruelty. I have often shuddered, and had my blood run cold when reading of the [?] of Indian wars, but I don’t know as I ever read of anything more cruel than to deliberately pull wounded men out of the wagons and cut their throats. I did not see this done, but there are boys in our company that did. Every wounded man they came across on the battle field, they would either cut his throat or run him through with the bayonet.

Our retreat march, before we could get in any kind of safety, was back to our old camp fifteen miles, and in this the rebel cavalry tried to outflank us, and they came very near doing so – Some ten or twelve of us stopped at a mudpuddle to get a drink, when we heard a great noise. On looking up to ascertain the cause we saw the rebel cavalry coming down a lane at right angles with the path we had to take. The boys scattered in every direction. I stopped half a second to see what to do, and finally ran for the woods. We came to a creek about the time the rebels got to a bridge where the creek crosses the main road. Our only chance was to jump in and wade through which we did in double quick time. They fired at us as we were crossing but did not hit us. After we had crossed, all the boys but myself ran for the woods. I suspected that part of the rebels had gone that way so I kept along the edge – Three or four balls were fired at me but without effect. We finally got to our camps where we stayed about two hours, when we were ordered to march, for it was not safe for us there. We came back to Washington where we arrived last night at four P. M., making almost forty eight hours without sleep, nothing to eat but sea crackers, a march of sixty miles, and a battle of five or six hours, You may judge for yourselves whether we were tired or not.

Charles Winters.

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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*”Their cake is hoe” – One’s actions have failed or not led to the desired outcome. The phrase appears in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Charles Winters roster bio 

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Sgt. Albert G. Northrup, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

14 12 2016

Letters of Volunteers.

———-

[We take pleasure in giving herewith, letters and extracts from letters of our brave Volunteers, who were in the battle at Bull Run. One of these letters is from Minnesota Volunteer, to his brother in Smithville; the rest are all from men from this town and Coventry, all of whom are members of the 27th Regiment, which performed such heroic deeds on the field of battle, they will be read with peculiar interest, as being graphic and truthful accounts of the battle, spiced with many instances of personal adventure, and hairbreadth escapes:]

———-

Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 29, 1861

Editor American: You have probably seen the full particulars of the great battle at Bull’s Run, in which our forces were defeated, and I will give you some of my own experience.

Our company was on picket guard the night before the action, and at 2 o’clock, A. M., we were called in, and in an hour were on the march for the scene of action. We marched about 12 miles when we began to hear the boom of cannon, and we knew that the strife had commenced. We pressed forward at a double quick rate and were soon in sight of the rebel batteries. Our regiment was one of the first to charge the enemy in our column. We drove them from their battery, and followed them into a deep valley, where they displayed a white flag, and our Colonel, supposing them to be our men, ordered us not to fire, but we soon found out our mistake and fired upon them. They returned the fire, killing our ensign and two privates. Our brave fellows fell all around me, and I expected it would be my turn next; but, thank Heaven I escaped without a wound. We were soon compelled to retreat, and we became separated and each one had to take care of himself. After four hours of hard fighting we were all on the retreat. Our men were nearly exhausted, not having had anything to eat or drink except sea biscuit and muddy water for two days.

We [?] filled our canteens with water from Bull’s Run that was thick with mud, glad to get even that. After we had retreated about 5 miles, the rebels fired upon us again, and we scattered in the woods, in confusion. I was completely exhausted and laid down in the woods and in less than ten minutes I was sound asleep. When I awoke I was alone and [?] was {?}. I knew not which way to go, but started as near as I could judge in the direction of our army. I soon came to where I heard [?] at [?] and supposing them to be rebels I did not dare approach them and lay down under a brush heap and staid there til morning.

When it was light enough to see, I started again and went directly toward the battle field again. I inquired of a slave which way it was to Centerville, and was told that it was in an opposite direction from that which I was travelling. I soon retraced my steps toward Washington, with faint of seeing it alive, as I was almost certain the enemy were between me and our army. I threw away everything that I had, made a breakfast of whortleberries, and amid a drenching rain commenced my march. The first man I saw, stood in the road directly before me with a musket in his hand. I supposed him to be a rebel, but went up to him and bade him “good morning.” He proved to be one of our soldiers from the State of Maine. At Centerville I fell in with three men from one of the Binghamton companies, and remained with them during the rest of the day. We were about the last on the road, and expected at any moment to see the enemy’s cavalry approaching, but we did not see them. Several times during the day I was on the point of giving up in despair, but my companions urged me on, and after one of the hardest days of my life I succeeded in getting to Alexandria, Va., where I staid at the hut of a slave – glad to get as good shelter as that. The next day I took a boat and came to Washington where I found our regiment, in their old quarters. Our boys thought I was either killed or taken prisoner, and when I made my appearance among them I was greeted with many a hearty shake of the hand.

Your townsman Delos Payne, was in thickest of the fight, and fought valiantly, and is anxious to get another chance to “pepper” them. I am unable to say how long we shall remain here, probably three or four weeks.

Oscar Phelps is with us, having done his duty faithfully on the field of battle.

Our defeat is a bad one, but we hope to do better the next time.

Yours truly,

A. G. Northrup.

Chenango [N. Y.] American, 8/8/1861

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Albert G. Northrup roster bio 

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Lieut. Prentice B. Wager, Co. I, 32nd New York Infantry, On the Campaign

12 12 2016

ANOTHER ACCOUNT.
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[Correspondence of the Journal]
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Station near Alexandria, Va.,
Sunday, July 28, 1861.

My Dear Selkreg –

The calendar indicates that a week has passed since the great battle. Nothing else shows it, for in war the sun rises with no clearer or holier light on the Sabbath than on any other day. The gentle and serene influences which have hallowed this day in our minds through all our lives, are unknown, unseen and unfelt here, save as our memory goes back to our homes in the far-off North, and imagination brings before our spirit’s backward gaze a christian people moving to the music of the Sabbath bells toward the place where the God of our fathers is worshipped. Other than this and an occasional war discourse from our Chaplain, we know no Sunday.

I wrote you a hasty sketch of the fight the other day, and have been endeavoring since to collect the facts as to the number of men actively engaged – the loss in killed, wounded and prisoners, – and other circumstances necessary to a complete and intelligent account of the affair; but I have given up the attempt in utter despair. In the first place I enquired of members of different regiments as to how many they had lost, and their stories were so conflicting that nothing could be gathered from there. Statements made by members of the same regiment would differ immensely. One would say about twenty of their men were killed, and another would assert that not fifty of the whole regiment was left. I have no doubt, judging from the accounts in the dailies, that the New York reporters asked these same fellows about it and sent on their answers as the exact figures. It is of no use to try to give any accurate statistics as to numbers and losses at present. Stragglers supposed to be lost are constantly coming in. Regiments totally broken up are being rapidly re-organized. Cannon reported captured turn up all right in Washington and Alexandria.

One thing is certain. On Tuesday, July 16th, 1861, the Grand American Army in solid column, with firm step, proud heart, drums beating and banners streaming on the breeze, marched on Manassas Junction via Fairfax Court House, and on the following Monday that same army returned via. Fairfax Court House in a very unsolid column, rapid step, humiliated hearts, with folded banners and ‘nary sound of drum. The causes which led to this sad reverse have already been largely canvassed in the newspapers. Some of them I know – many of them are known to almost everybody.

That somebody was to blame is very evident. It is very evident too that Gen. Scott thinks so, for high military officers who commanded on that battle-field won’t have a chance to unsheathe their inglorious swords at the head of our columns again very soon. Abler hands and wiser heads will guide and control our future operations. But I did not intend to say a word about this.

There ae a thousand conflicting opinions as to the cause which led to this defeat, and enough of them have already been printed so that your readers have had a good chance for selection in the premises, and each can pick out an opinion for himself. Aside from bad manoeuvering and gross imprudence on the part of officers commanding, our defeat is mainly to be attributed to a regular licking received at the hands of the rebels who had more men, were behind strong fortifications, in woods, well furnished with artillery which was well served, and rifles which were handled with as much dexterity and by men fully as brave and well disciplined as ourselves. For other and further causes of the disaster see articles in the New York papers written by parties who were not within three hundred miles of the fight.

The manner in which an army starts off to war may not be uninteresting to many of your readers, and the friends of the volunteers who have to stay at home, and consequently cannot see for themselves. The incidents on the march are also many times worth detailing. You will remember that early in July we moved from Camp McDougal, near Washington, across the Potomac into Virginia, and encamped about one and a half miles south-west of Alexandria, on the Fairfax turnpike. Several other regiments did the same thing about the same time, and we knew that something was going to be done. On the 15th of July, couriers on horseback were seen riding through all the camps, and immediately each company received orders to cook three days rations, and be ready to march at an hour’s notice. Forty rounds of ball cartridges were distributed to each man, and everybody was busy getting ready to march. That afternoon our regiment – and we did what all the others did – formed in column by company, and our arms and ammunition were duly inspected by the Colonel in person, to see that everything was in good working order. We were then dismissed. The next day we again fell in line, and the Colonel made a few stirring remarks, when our regimental colors were brought out, and he asked us if we would follow and defend them. We unanimously agreed that we would. Meanwhile the movement of the army had already commenced. Long trains of artillery had moved past our camp, and regiment after regiment had filed along the road towards Fairfax. The soldiers were in eminent spirit, and cheered loudly as they passed, and we hurrahed and tigered in response. At last our turn came to fall in column, and our line was put in motion. It was now past four o’clock P. M., and the army was fairly on its forward march. The order of march was in four ranks, or four men abreast, with files closely closed, and arms at will. The column this formed extended both to the advance and rear, further than the eye could reach, and as it moved slowly and steadily forward over the hills and down into the valleys, beneath the glittering bayonets and shining arms, which seemed to cover it like a steel armor, it resembled in the distance and immense serpent, with a shining metal back, and from its proportions one might imagine that its length was sufficient to wrap around the entire rebellion, and that a single tightening up of its folds would squeeze secession out of the Old Dominion. We moved on through a thinly settled country, finding few of the natives at home, and these principally women and slaves, and in many instances, these were gone also. Few were friendly to us, tho’ the boys would break from the ranks and fill their canteens with water at their wells, and help themselves to such fruit and things as they could find. We marched until about ten o’clock at night, and then encamped about three miles from Fairfax Court House. That night we slept on our arms, and posted a strong picket guard. The next morning our division was ordered to the left for the purpose of executing a flank movement on the rebels, who were in force at Fairfax. This took us three miles out of our direct route, and brought our line of march over the old military road cut by Gen. Braddock, thro’ to Western Virginia, for the purpose of the old French war. This road is very narrow, not wide enough for teams to pass each other, and cut through a dense forest, and much of the way it is dug out like a cut through a hill for a rail road. We soon came to trees lately felled across the road by the rebels. These our pioneers were obliged to cut away, and as we had to wait for them to clear the road, our progress was very slow. But we pushed on, momently expecting and attack, until we came to a deserted earthwork.

We then moved more cautiously and re-inforced our skirmishers in advance. – Pretty soon we heard sharp firing ahead, and a courier came dashing back, stating that a party of rebels had fired on our advance and fled. It was a good place for an attack, being where our route lay through a deep cut. Two hundred resolute men could have held the position against almost anything but a regular siege. This over, we moved on with an occasional skirmish, until we suddenly came in sight of an extensive earth work directly across the road. From behind this the enemy fired a volley upon us wounding two of our men. Their fire was returned and several of their men were seen to fall, when they fled carrying off their dead. – We then marched directly through their fortifications, and the boys picked up several things in their camp and among them some pistols and a sword or two. Blankets were scattered about in great abundance. We pressed on and found that the enemy had precipitately fled. We found their sick, hospital stores, provisions, liquors and some arms. The boys also captured a storehouse filled with drygoods, tobacco, cigars, shoes, ammunition, &c. – These they rapidly appropriated and distributed in a very liberal and profuse manner, cigars and tobacco being the most desirable plunder. A guard was soon placed over the storehouse however, and the fun stopped. While this was going on intelligence came that the rebels had left Fairfax and that it was occupied by the American troops. We immediately marched into a neighboring field, stacked arms and broke ranks for the men to rest. In company with Capt. Whitlock I immediately started for the celebrated Fairfax Court House, half a mile distant. Found the village full of the American army, and the Court House a very ordinary looking building. It is built of brick, and is about as magnificent as a country school house, and the interior arrangements quite similar. Fairfax is about the size of Dryden village. Most of the citizens had fled, and the soldiers had taken possession of the deserted house which were generally well furnished, and they had the darkies making hoe cake and roasting bacon which they had served up in good style on the tables where rebel families had that morning taken their breakfast. I regret to say that much property was wantonly destroyed, but it was impossible to wholly prevent outrages. The Zouaves especially broke things, generally. We encamped that night near Fairfax and the next day moved on to Centreville distant about ten miles, and five miles from Manassas, and there encamped. We had stacked our arms when heavy firing was heard to the right, indicating that our advance had engaged the enemy. This proved to be the battle of Bull Run, fought on Thursday, a short account of which I have already given you. Our loss was not so great as I then reported.

Friday and Saturday morning the army marched out to the battle. It was a magnificent spectacle, grand and awe-inspiring beyond the power of language to describe. Such a display of human power thus terribly manifested in the mighty and outstretched arm of war, is rarely witnessed in any clime or in any age, and must be seen with the living eye to be even faintly comprehended or understood. Those who gazed upon that brilliant yet terrible array, as with all the “pomp and circumstance of war” it went out to write a bloody page upon the book of time, will carry with them to the end of life the memory in pictures of living fire, of that host of freemen, as with floating banners and glistening arms it stood and moved in the early sunlight of that beautiful Sabbath morning. Our regiment was assigned a position on the left, and we were in the reserve while the main body moved to the right towards Manassas, where the principal attack was to be made. We quickly took up our position on the road to Bull’s Run – the right of our regiment resting on the road, and the left extending into the woods. Directly in advance of us, on the brow of the hill, we had a battery of rifled cannon, which commanded the rebel battery at Bull’s Run, where the battle of the previous Thursday was fought. The land lays around where the battle was fought some as it does around Ithaca, only there is no village or lake there and the valley and hill sides are thickly wooded. Our forces occupied what corresponds to the East hill (at Ithaca,) and the rebels occupied the West hill and the intervening valley. The rebels were strongly fortified in their position, and the woods were full of their masked batteries. At 7 o’clock A. M., the fight was commenced by shots from our cannon. These were from our battery in advance of our regiment. Soon we heard heavy firing on the extreme right, followed by the sharp reports of musketry and rifles, announcing that the battle had commenced in earnest.

The cannonading and the fire of small arms now became terrific and continued almost without intermission until nearly two P. M., when it decreased considerably. Meanwhile our reserve lay waiting, impatient for their chance in, knowing nothing of the result of the battle on the right. At last we received orders, and our regiment being in advance and in fact alone, moved rapidly down towards the brow of the hill, where our battery above spoken of, was stationed. What was our surprise to meet our pickets running towards us in the greatest confusion, and closely followed by our battery of flying artillery in full retreat. Not a man in our company flinched, but pressed steadily forward and formed in line of battle. The Colonel passed along the line, telling the men to “keep cool, fire low, and aim at the centre of their bodies.” The enemy were now seen charging out of the woods, and filling a little open field in the valley below us, a little beyond the range of our muskets. The artillery was called back by the bugle, and being quickly placed in position, poured a terrible fire of grape upon them, which did immense execution in their ranks. They charged forward, but the cannon was too much for them, and they retreated after firing a volley of grape and musketry, which killed one of our officers attached to the artillery.

Another body of the enemy then charged on our battery, and the gunners firing a few rounds, hitched on their horses and fled with their pieces, thus leaving us unsupported by artillery. The captain of the battery remarked as he fled past us, “Boys, it is too hot for us, you must take them now.” Our boys stood fast, only grasping their muskets tighter, and waited for the rebels to come up. But the enemy evidently not liking the looks of things, fell back, and then we were ordered to fall back too, of which movement, we couldn’t any of us see the point. We marched rapidly to a hill near Centreville, and there for the first time learned that the main body of our army had been defeated and had already retreated past Centreville and that the rebel cavalry was rapidly pursuing. We formed in hollow square on hearing this and awaited the charge of Cavalry. Presently a body of horsemen appeared emerging from the woods over the road where we had just retreated. A couple of shells from our battery sent them flying, and one of their horses, minus a rider, galopped up the road towards where we stood, and was immediately secured. He was equipped with a good saddle and a splendid pair of revolvers. It was now sundown. Meanwhile the rest of our brigade consisting of six or seven thousand man, had taken position on the hill, and we lay down on our arms in order of battle, ready for an attack whenever it should come. Instead of an attack, at about 11 o’clock we were waked up with and order to retreat and we were huriedly marched back to Fairfax, over a road literally covered with the arms and cast-away equipments of our army. We halted and rested at Fairfax, and then continued our retreat to our camp near Alexandria, where we arrived at about 11 A. M., on Monday, tired almost to death, and heartbroken over our sad reverse. But we are all right now and feel as well as ever, save the gloom caused by the humiliating discomfiture of our army. Although not engaged in the hottest of the battle, and though none of them fell on the field, yet the Ithaca volunteers were placed under circumstances well calculated to try their nerve and courage, and I am proud to be able to say that for their conduct on that trying occasion, none of their friends at home need ever blush.

Yours very truly,

P. B. Wager, Lieut. Co. I, 32d Reg.

Ithaca [N. Y.] Journal and Advertiser, 8/7/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Prentice B. Wag[n]er bio sketch 

Prentice B. Wager at Fold3