Lt. John C. Robertson, Co. I, 11th Massachusetts Infantry, On the Battle

21 03 2023

Camp Wilson
Shooters Hill, VA
July 27, 1861

My Dear Wife:

I commence this letter today but it is uncertain if I shall be able to finish it as the long delayed time has come, and our Regiment is being paid off today, and it involves some additional duties upon me as Capt Wright[1] is unwell and has been for several days, with dysentery and other derangement of the bowels, Gammell[2] and myself are quite well. Your two letters of last Sunday and Tuesday came duly to hand and gladdened my heart as usual. I shall not attempt to answer them in detail so if I omit speaking of things you have desired me to now I will do so in some other letter.

Well dear wife I have at last “been in battle” and you ask me to give you the full particulars, that is more easily asked than complied with for an active participator cannot discribe a scene of that kind like one who is a looker on, and has nothing to distract his attention from the great scene before him I wrote you from our Camp at Centreville last Saturday and I had not closed my letter a half hour before we were ordered to be ready to march at 2 1/2 P.M. but that order was countermanded and the time changed to 2 OClk Sunday morn’g at the same time “we” officers were told that there was to be an engagement on Sunday but where we did not know, and I suspect officers high in command were more ignorant than they should have been, well at 1 OClk Sunday morn’g Lt-Col Blaisdell came to our “bower” and told us to call our men without noise and have them fall in, in perfect silence and not even to brighten up our Camp Fires which had nearly died out, (this precaution was necessary as we know the rebels were all round us, and must be watching our movements), all this was done and about half past one we commenced our silent dark march without beat of drum or other noise save the tramping of thousands of feet and the rumbling noise of the Artillery wheels, we moved forward about two miles and were then halted for some reason or other and remained sitting and lying by the roadside untill sunrise when the orders were forward again, and we made no more halts except for a few moments at a time untill we reached the scene of action about 11 OClk Sunday forenoon. Our march was a most tiresome one up hill and down through dense woods and over barren tracts of open country the men suffered much from want of water and I can say for myself that one swallow of muddy water as thick as Molasses was most delicous, we were also tired out from being often ordered forward at “double quick” time which was continued until the men would stop from utter exhaustion and you must know the day was very hot and we had our two blankets a haversack with three days provisions in it (and the men their cartridge boxes with 40 rounds of ammunition in them) slung on our backs, so you can judge some yourself of how fit we were to go into battle when we arrived (the distance we had gone over since starting in the morn’g was not less than 15 miles) well without giving us any time to rest each Regiment was formed into column and advanced to the fight, and now I can speak little more than generally of the battle as all who attended to their duty were sufficiently occupied with their own companies, we first went into action through an opening in the woods and have as soon as we cleared the woods I realized that I was on a “field of battle” cannon ball & shells, were whistling over our heads mingled with the peculiar “singing” buzz of rifleball, all intended for us but mostly just clearing our heads, on we advanced with no one faltering up a rising ground till we nearly reached the brow of the elevation when the command was “down on your knees and wait for their fire” this we did and almost instantly a perfect storm of bullets swept over and amongst us. Oh! Sarah it was a fearful scene I cannot describe it one must experience it to feel it, our Reg’mt had two killed and several wounded in this first fire, we instantly arose advanced to the brow of the hill and delivered our fire, we then fell back a few rods reloaded and advanced again, this movement was gone through with several times in all this the 5th Mass and another Reg’mt were on our right, going through the same movements, after a while, a battery of Artillery came up and took position between “ours” and the 5th then the firing on both sides became hotter, finally the battery retired from its position and “ours” with the 5th and another were ordered to follow and support it, in the new position it was to take, which was upon another eminence farther to the right, to get there we had to pass through a narrow gully or ravine, and here came the time during the engagement when through a miraculous power I was saved from being lost to you dear Sarah in this world. (I say “the time”! there were probably thousands of moments when I escaped as narrowly for during the whole of the fight which lasted about 5 Hours our Regmt was constantly engaged and under the hottest fire a perfect “leaden rain and iron hail” the bullets were whistling about my ears so close it seems strange I was not hit) we were rushing down this ravine upon the keen run. I alongside of my platoon (and at this time we were passing directly between the fire of one of our own batteries on the right and one of the enemies on the left) when I heard a “firing” and simultaneously an explosion and over I went backwards to the ground for a second I was partially stunned and the thought passed through me that I was “hurt” but instantly I got on my hands and knees and found I could move I could see that the blood was running down my face but I jumped up and rushed after my company, and overtook them at the bottom of the gully before they had got fifty rods from where I fell in a few minutes we were halted and a Sargeant in Capt Butters[3] company gave me some water from his Canteen and upon washing the blood from my face, I found I had received only a slight wound on the side of my nose which bled freely but was not much of a cut and now to show you what a narrow escape I had (although I did not know it at the time) a piece of the shell which burst and knocked me down struck the man who was touching me in my platoon and tore away all the lower part of his abdomen making a most horrible wound he was carried to the rear to the temporary hospital but Doct Bell who dressed the wound says he could not possibly have lived more than three or four hours his name was John P Mead and he belonged in So Reading he had a wife and one child I am told, he with another man of our company named Geo D Torrey were left at the hospital when we retreated (as there were no means of taking our wounded with us) and we have heard nothing from them since, for I will state here what you have probably seen in the papers, that we have it from what seems good authority that after our retreat the rebels blew up the Hospital and inhumanly murdered every wounded man they found. for the sake of humanity I trust this may not be true, but this is certain, up to this moment we have had no tidings of any of our wounded or missing in addition to the two I have named above one of our men by the name of Newell is missing, this comprises the whole “loss” of our Comp’y although we have two or three in camp who were slightly “hurt” the Capt Gordon[4] you speak of was the large stout man you saw at Camp Cameron that we called the “child of the Regmt” he was not killed but only slightly wounded and his fate is as uncertain as that of the rest of the wounded, and while upon this subject let me state that the loss to our Reg’mt in Officers is two Captains and one Lieut missing and one Lieut killed, I have rather digressed and will now resume this somewhat indefinite account of my experience of the day. After having washed the blood from my face we remained in the gully ten or fifteen minutes, the Artillery had gone on and taken position upon the hill but they only retained it a few minutes they were obliged to give way, and came tearing down the gully at a fearful rate to get out of thier way we had to clamber up a steep bank 15 or 20 feet high and over a rail fence into a field while doing this I lost my sword my scabbord got caught in the fence and the sword dropped out and I could not regain it at the moment I went back in a few minutes alone over the fence although the balls were flying merrily around me but it was gone, soon after I got Capt Gordons sword (he had just been carried from the field) and I carried that until we arrived back here in Camp. After the Artillery had passed down the gully we formed in column and crossed over it charged up the hill and drove the rebels from thier position and this particular part of the battlefield we remained in till the retreat commenced sometimes charging and then falling back (it would take more time than I can now give to continue the account of the battle further and besides the more I write about it the more I seem to make it unintelligble so I will begin to draw to a conclusion) till finally from some unexplained cause all the columns engaged seemed to break at once and a retreat commenced and it finally became such that the men from the different Regiments became so mixed up that it was impossible to collect them together again. You will hear and see in the papers all sorts of accounts of the battle the retreat and the causes which produced this or that result, how this Regiment behaved gallantly and that one did not, how if this thing had been done the battle would not have been lost etc. all I have got to say is this that “our Eleventh” went into the fight as soon as it arrived and continued in it without any cessation, and the whole time under such a perfect storm of cannon balls shells and musket balls as might have appalled the stoutest heart yet there was no flinching and I venture to say veterans of a hundred fights could not have done better this may sound like egotism in one so directly interested, but I write this not for publicity but only for the eye of one dearer to me than the life so often in deadly peril on that day I did my duty faithfully and I know others did. And now I know the question that has arisen to your lips many a time while you have been reading this. How did you feel when you first went into action? and this question I cannot answer to my own satisfaction I am concious of no feeling of fear or a wish to be out of it there was a sort of feeling of indifference mingled with the thought of how light a hold I had upon life amid such a storm and then my thoughts were so concentrated upon the fight that I thought of little else most of the time it somehow seemed as if I was but taking part in an ordinary occurance of everyday life. Of our retreat from the field I must say but little now, it was harder to bear than the fight, worn out with fatigue hunger and thirst we reached our Camp at Centreville about 8OClk in the evening and it seemed utterly impossible to proceed further but we had hardly thrown ourselves down on the ground before orders came to break up the Camp instantly and fall back on Washington great Heavens we all said it cannot be done what march 23.5 miles more tonight it is utterly impossible.” yet by half past nine we had started (in all about 5000 troops) and can you believe it? most of us accomplished that journey that night. I walked every step of the way and with other Officers & men arrived at the end of the “Long Bridge” which crosses the Potomac into Washington at 8OClK Monday morn’g, then we were detained by orders from Head Quarters till Tuesday noon, when wagons came for us and we rejoined our Regmt here that afternoon. Now just see what we accomplished from Centreville to the battle ground 15 miles; back again 15 more making 30 and from Centreville to Washington 25 miles in all 55 miles added to this the ground travelled over during the fight of 5 Hours and I don’t think 70 miles too high a mark all this done between 1 OClk Sunday morn’g and 8 OClk Monday morn’g, 31 Hours without food or rest. I have told you how I lost my sword on the battlefield, well just before going into it we were ordered to unsling our blankets and Haversacks as they would encumber us, this we did leaving them in a pile intending to take them again after the day was finished but we retreated by another way so we lost all them, and on our march from Centreville to Washington my Revolver was stolen from me. (Gammell also had his stolen) so you see this was an unfortunate day every way. Since our arrival here we have been very quiet recruiting our strength by rest. My ankles are very much swollen yet but otherwise I am in excellent health, what or when our next movement may be we know not, there are all sorts of rumors but none reliable, troops are arriving in great numbers and another battle is not improbable, but we wo’nt anticipate. I have written so much that I fear you will hardly make sense of it, and I have probably omitted a great many things I should have spoken of, but I have not time to revise it, write me as soon as you get this without waiting for Sunday. Since I commenced we have been paid off up to the 1st of July and as soon as I can get to Washington I shall send you home money enough to make you very comfortable. I shall be obliged to buy another sword and a revolver which is unfortunate just now. Say to Tommy that I rec’d his letter with much pleasure and will send his things home as soon as possible. Those curiosities he asks for were both hard and easy to obtain a rebel bullet was easy enough got but they were rather hard to bring away from the field, and the piece of Bulls Run Bridge was on our retreat rather hard to get as a rebel battery walked that same bridge and we were obliged to give it a [illegible] and forded the stream some distance down up to our waists in water, and now I must leave off although I could say a great deal more, what would I not give to see you.

I kiss you in spirit love and kisses to the children and remembrances to all

Your loving Husband

See letter images and original transcription at Massachusetts Historical Society.

Contributed by John Hennessy

[1] Capt. B. F. Wright, Co. I

[2] Lt. Albert M. Gammell, Co. I

[3] Capt. J. W. Butters, Co. D

[4] Capt. L. Gordon, Co. F

John C. Robertson at Ancestry

John C. Robertson at Fold3

W. D., 8th New York State Militia, On the Battle and Retreat

28 02 2023

Correspondence of the Times.

8th Regiment,
Arlington Heights, Va., July 25th.

Receiving orders on Saturday, July 20th, to prepare for marching on the following morning, we filled our haversacks with biscuit and pork, for three days rations, and got everything in readiness to move forward at two o’clock A. M. As the day wore away, I noticed that other Regiments in our vicinity, were making the same preparations, and rumor was busy, as to where our next halting place would be, it was expected that we should have a brush with the enemy, but we did not expect it to turn out as it did. As night came on, our boys threw themselves on the ground to get a little rest, before the march began; it was rather a cold windy night, and laying on the ground in Virginia, (where dews are heavy, is not very pleasant.) I endeavored to sleep, but being so cold, I arose, and building a fire, some dozen of us laid around till one o’clock, when we commenced to get things ready, to fall in. Rolling our blankets, filling our canteens with water, with our muskets bright, ammunition all right, we formed company and fell into line. It is a singular sight to see Regiment after Regiment fall into its alloted place, not a drum was heard, nothing could be seen but the Camp Fires of the different camps. And the forests of flashing muskets of out men. Taking the road through the village of Centreville, and passing several Regiments in reserve, the advance column, came to a small wooden bridge, a short distance from which the Rebels were supposed to have erected a Battery. The plan of the attack seems to have been to have attacked them on two points at the same time. The advanced column consisting of about 9,000 men, under General Tyler, was to take the mountain road and attack the enemy in front, while Col. Hunter’s division of 13,000 men were to take a circuit through the woods to the right, and attack them in rear. In the flanking division was the 8th and 27th, also the 14th and 71st of New York, 2d Regiment of Regulars, and battery of artillery. Halting for a short time, to give the first division time to advance to the top of the hull, which we could see from the Bridge, we for the first time, heard the report of artillery, which was the 32 pounder our advance column had with them, trying its range on a force of the Rebels, which they could see at a distance. Our division now crossed the bridge, and leaving the central column, struck to the right, through the woods. After marching four or five miles we came to an open field, and expected the enemy would open fire, but there were none to be seen, every thing was as quiet on that Saturday night as if there were not a Rebel within mile around, but they were drawing us on (as in ou retreat over the same ground, they opened fire from concealed batteries.) Crossing the open space, we again took to the woods, and after a fatiguing march of some eight miles, again came to the open country, it was now between 9 and 10 o’clock, and we were beginning to get tired out, and wanted some refreshments, as out last meal was 6 o’clock the day before, the sun now began to tell upon us, and at every hold our boys would run to the trees, or any shady place to shelter from its scorching rays. Constant reports of artillery could now be heard, and as we came to an eminence we could see the smoke rise from the batteries of the opposing forces, while still farther to our left could be seen clouds of dust, as of large bodies of men moving along the road, we were anticipating it was ‘Patterson’s Division,’ instead of which, it turned out to be Johnson’s. We were now halted down in a meadow and laid our muskets down, expecting we had out-flanked the enemy, and they would retreat that way, when we should be able to capture them, (pleasant delusion, but of short duration) we had just commenced to open our haversacks to get a bite, when the order was given to fall in, and off we started on the double quick, for the battle field, through a creek, up to our knees in mud an water, and down the Road we ran, As the sound of artillery now became louder, and more frequent, we passed on still faster, throwing our blankets and haversacks by the road side, and grasping our muskets tighter, we still pressed on. A United States officer now rode by and made the remark not to be too hasty, as we should have enough before night. – We now came upon the scene of action, a large open space, surrounded by woods, in which were concealed the enemies infantry, while in front were their batteries, charging over the field, we came upon the Rebels in a clump of woods, After leaving some of our men, we drove them out and back into their entrenchments; meanwhile the Rebels had got the range of us with their guns, and poured in heavy charges of grape and canister, killing and wounding our boys in a frightful manner. We now fell back, and took a position on the hill, facing the Rebel earthworks, a brisk fire of musketry was now kept up on both sides, fortunately the aim of the enemy was bad, most of their balls, going over our heads. The enemy still kept up a sharp fire, and seemed to have double the number of guns in play we had, but their fire was not so effectual as ours, we could see our shot and shell fall into their batteries, and towards the afternoon an explosion took place, which blew some of them into the air. Our Brigade was now ordered again to endeavor to capture the battery on our left. With others, we marched over the brow of the hill, and charged up towards the Rebels, when they opened with heavy discharges of musketry, which we returned with interest. Several of my comrades now fell; on we went till within short range of the Rebel guns, when they opened a terrific fire upon us, the round shot and shell ploughed through our ranks. Our Brigade was now badly cut up. The dead and wounded were lying around in all directions, dreadfully mutilated. It was a disheartening prospect before us, 40 miles to our camp in Arlington, with no refreshments, nothing but dirty water to drink, and not enough of that, with a sanguine and merciless foe upon us. As we retreated I found the Regiments all mixed up, and every man making the best of his way back, few officers were to be seen, most of them having left their men to get back as best they could. There were [?], such as Governor Sprague. If the officers had kept with their men they could have retired in good order [?…] orderly retreats. The road was narrow and partly blocked up with wagons and ambulance for the wounded. Some of the men (to their disgrace) threw away their muskets and ammunition, and placed on gun carriages. – After marching some 7 miles, some of the poor fellow’s began to give out, and crawled into the woods, where they were probably taken by the enemy. I could now hear the report of Rifled Artillery, and began to think the Rebels had cut off our retreat. – Still onward, was the road to Centreville. – Crossing the open space, which I mentioned before, I found the enemy playing upon our retreating forces, those that could, took to the woods on the left. While the long line of ambulances and wagons kept straight on the road. As night came I reached the open road, where we had left the centre column in the morning, with such exultation. What a change now, as we went to battle in all the pomp of war, we looked in fact, invincible, but were now returning a disorganized mass of humanity. We had brought nearly all our cannon from the battle field, but as we came toward the bridge, had to leave some behind. The enemy allowed us to pass in the morning without interruption, but were now hitting the bridge most accurately with shot and shell, while another battery was playing with grape and canister on our poor fellows, passing down the road towards the bridge, the dead and wounded teamsters were laying by, just as they fell from their horses, while some of the ambulances were upset, and the wounded thrown out to be left at the mercy of the enemy. Arriving at the bridge, I found it blocked up with broken wagons, dead men, and horses, so that we could not possibly pass. Most of the men made their way through the water, while over their heads rattled the cannon balls. Crossing the river we got into the woods, but were not safe from the enemy’s artillery, their shot and shell came down amongst us, and fell and exploded not a yard from me. Feet sore and exhausted, I at last arrived at our camping grounds of the previous night, – a little rest, and onward again. From Centreville to Arlington, is 22 miles, as the night wore on some of our boys gave out, some took off their shoes and stockings and limped along as best they could. I got into camp about 10 o’clock next morning, and was right glad to get a cup of coffee once more. We had marched from Centreville on Sunday night from 2 till 11 A. M., had fought 6 hours on the battle field, and retreated forty miles in thirty-six hours.

W. D.

Oxford (NY) Times, 8/14/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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

21 02 2023



Correspondence of the Union News.

Washington, July 23d, 1861.

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

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

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

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

Yours respectfully, BLOCKHEAD.

Union (NY) News, 8/8/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

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

Pvt. Henry M. Crocker, Co. C, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

18 02 2023




Again in Camp Anderson,
Tuesday afternoon July 28, 1861

Dear Father and Mother, Brothers and Sisters and all – I again take a seat in the old barracks at Washington, to say a few words to you which may be a little interesting, although it may not be very pleasing news in some respects. You are undoubtedly aware by the letter I wrote you the morning I marched, that we had been over in the enemy’s country (Virginia) and also my march until I reached the regiment, which was last Friday morning, about three miles beyond the Fairfax Court-House, which house you have heard of many a time. We staid in said Camp until Sunday morning about 8 o’clock, when our Brigade was ordered to march. We all fell in and marched about fourteen miles, when we heard reports from the enemy – we struck in double quick and marched on the same time into the battle field, which was at a place called Bull’s Run, about two miles from the place where we struck into double quick, which makes our march that day sixteen miles, and more than that, our Company was stationed in the woods as
picket guard Saturday night, being the night before we marched consequently we did not feel very rugged for marching Sunday morning but we marched on, eating our breakfast and dinner on the march. We arrived at the battle field about 1 o’clock – our Regiment being the head one of our Brigade, we were the first Regiment in the field.

We fought about three hours, and by not having only about half of our troops there and the rebel troops were eighty thousand which was as many again as we expected they had and they being fortified in several batteries on different hills, with large guns which they could, standing behind their batteries throw their cannon balls and bomb shells at us from every direction, keeping themselves perfectly shielded from our shots, not withstanding that, and the immense majority of men they had we killed several of their men and officers that ventured to stick out their heads but how many we cannot tell.

Out of our company including wounded and all, are sixteen missing, as we were obliged to retreat so sudden with the exception of one whom I picked up from beside the fence – he was shot through the thigh and I fortunately saw our Quarter master at a short distance and succeeded in hailing him and getting him into the wagon. I left him to come with the Quarter master, and ran on ahead to overtake the Company who were on the retreat, but they being so mixed up in the Regiment, that I did not overtake any of them until they got some six miles from the battle field, and then only about a dozen of our Company the rest being scattered. There I fell in the ranks and marched on a short distance the road then being through the woods, and we had not got more than half through when we heard that the cavalry and artillery were following us up. We then struck into a double quick and retreated as fast as we could, which was not the fastest as we had such a hard march to get them along, besides all the fighting, which was an awful dangerous fight for us, I tell you – The men fell on every side of me, and the bomb shells, cannon balls &c whizzed over and around my head almost blowing my cap off but some way or other I cannot tell why I escaped them all.

Our Colonel was shot through the leg between the knee and thigh. He was immediately picked up by a couple of our men and carried into the woods, and laid on a blanket in care of our Doctor, at the same time our Captain and First Lieutenant were wounded in the shoulder and our Ensign was shot dead on the spot, and we were so crowded we did not have time to even
take his sword or revolver or pick up our wounded except one or two which we ran upon but were obliged to leave them by the side of the fence to be run through with the bayonet, as their barbarous hearts ran our wounded and prisoners.

I will now give you some account of my travel back. At the alarm of the rebels chasing us hundreds of our men were scattered in the woods myself included in the Company. The rest of the men ran on in the road – being overtaken in a hollow they were obliged to unhitch their horses from their cannon and baggage wagons and leave them for the rebels – The most of them that kept in the road marched on all night, all of them feeling ready to drop down but we that turned into the woods lay down on the ground and slept quite soundly after the rebels got through thundering by us. I happened to lie down away from any of our men, and did not
see one of our Regiment until I got to Washington about 1 o’clock this afternoon. I arose about 3 o’clock in the morning and marched on through the woods about twelve miles before we dare come into the road. I traveled through the rain all day. I came out of the woods in company with a captain of one of the Maine Regiments and some others. We came out to a slaveholders house – the old boss was a widower and his slaves said he left for the woods to secrete himself about the day we marched. We got the boss slave to hitch up his horses and carry us a piece and while he was getting his horses the wenches got us some milk and corn bread, which went good I tell you as we had not eaten anything but a dry cracker for the last forty eight hours.

I came within seven miles of here last night where one of the Maine Regiments were camped. They occupied an old log house with a fire place at each end, where I dried myself and rested considerably. The place of the battle was about thirty-five miles from here. Just before entering the battle field, I, like a great many others, threw off our canteens and haversacks, and in mine I had all my stationary and lost the whole, but after the fight I picked up one in the field. A great many of the boys were so weary they threw away their guns and some other equipments while in Virginia. We suffered considerably from thirst. Sunday afternoon we drank out of a brook with the horses. I do not know when we shall attack them again, but not until we have reinforcement. With my love to you all

I close

Union (NY) News, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Henry M. Crocker at Ancestry

Henry M. Crocker at Fold3

Henry M. Crocker at FindAGrave

A clipping indicates Crocker was “the last living pall-bearer of Abraham Lincoln,” however no confirmation was found.

Pvt. Lewis H. Brown, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

13 02 2023

Washington, D. C. Tues July 23, 1861.

Dear Brother

I am very tired and sleepy but I want to write and let you know that I am alive/ I will give you as good an account of our march and battle as I can under these circumstances. Sat night Co D were Commanded to go on guard about 1 oclock and at two were ordered to get ready to march to the field of battle/ about 3 we started and marched till 10/ we then were in sight and in hearing of the enemy/ we scarcely rested 10 minutes when we marched on them. the enemy were situated at the top of a high hill in the border of a woods. we were at the head of the column with which we were connected and our Regiment was the first on the field. our Colonel marched us to the top of the hill faceing the batteries of the enemy double quick/ here we were fired upon by them and a few of the regiment killed but we kept on down the hill till we reached the foot/ here we found about 900 of the Enemy but they were dressed so much like some of our own men that we could not tell the difference/ their comander waved a handkerchief and our Major started on his horse to see what it meant when they started up the hill towards the rebel troops/ our Colonel then commanded us to fire which we did/ some of them fell while others returned our fire/ they wounded one or two of our men but kept on retreating up the hill/ we kept firing but did not follow them up as they expected we would/ the truth was they were there on purpose to decoy us/ they wanted us two follow them up to the top where their friends were then to turn and kill us off by the hundred/ we fell back part way up the hill and a little two the left/ here we fired and were fired upon for nearly 2 hrs. the first man that I saw fall was our Ensign/ He stood just behind me/ the ball passed at my right Side and through his heart/ I helped carry him in the rear/ the only words he said were Oh my God/ I saw him breath his last/he was a good officer and I think a good man/ he staid at his post and was cool to the last/ the firing was kept up and the men fell on all sides of us/ we at last fell back into a small piece of woods near by/ I had some dificulty loading and firing my gun for it was something that I had never done before/ you see we had to load and fire at the same time/ whether I killed any one or not I cannot tell/ I know one thing that is that I tried hard to do so/

Colonel Slocum was shot in the leg above the knee/ I helped carry him from the field/ we had to cary him on a litter/ the wound was very bad/ the ball passed entirely through one leg and loged in the other as we were carying him off the balls from the Cannons fell on all sides of us but god protected us/ one ball fell so near that the the dirt from the ground was thrown upon us/

we caried him nearly a mile and put him in a house till the Doctor dressed his wond/

we then carried him nearly 2 miles farther on to a large brick building which had been a church but our men were useing for a hospital during the fight/

this building was filled with the wounded and dying/ we placed the Colonel in an ambulance (a wagon on purpose for the wounded and dying) and he was sent immediately to Washington/

I started to go back to the field when men came rushing down the hill saying that our men had retreated/

I did not know which way to turn but I came across some of our boys with Capt Lewis & Well and I fell in with them and we started for home or the places where we were encamped in the morng/We were soon reenforced by thousands of men/ we were nearly in front of the whole force but there was some of our boys behind/

we marched back again through the long woods which is nearly 6 miles in length expecting every minute to be cut off by the enemy/ we were followed by them shortly some distance and killed and wounded several of our men / it is about 16 miles from the field of battle two the place of our encampment and I went that distance without any dink or anything to eat. we stoped a while at our old encampment but on hearing that the enemy were persuing us we started for Washington/ such confusion I never saw/ baggage wagons were scattered the all along the road and it being night (about 12) the regiments were entirely broken up/ I kept in sight of Bertram, Geo Dixon[], C Winters[] a few miles but at last I lost them and came along without a person to speak to that I ever saw before untill daylight/ I then came across our drummer and came along the whole distance to W with him/ I tell you it seemed like getting home to/ when we came in sight of the citty it was raining hard and they would not allow us to pass the long brige till the whole of the Reg came up so we had to wait there from noon till about 7 before we could get them together/ we were drenched to the skin the brige is nearly a mile long and it is nearly 2 from that to to the place where we stopped/

But thank god we are back safe at our old quarters in W/ I presume you have heard that Charly F is among the missing/ McKune[*] Jhon Butler and many others are also absent some of them killed some wounded others taken prisoners/

I can not express to you any thing of the horrors of war/ I know that while I was on the field I felt no fear/ I loaded my gun took aim and fired at men the same as I would have at a frock of pigeons but when I got to bed mon. night although I had not slept for over 48 hrs in looking it all over I could not realize that I had gone throu such a great battle/

from saturday morning about 6 till Monday night about 10 I never had 4 hrs sleep and during that time marched 60 miles fought 4 hrs without anything too eat or drink except what we carried with us before the boys did get their cantines filled along the road at every mud hole that they came across/ 2 or three times I lay down and drinked water that had wigelers in it/

But I will close here for I am tired of writing on an old dry goods box/

I will write mor as soon as I get rested rested and get over my excitement which is 4 times as great as it was at the field of battle/

J Lester[*] had 2 of his ribs broken by a cannon ball/

one thing I want to tell you that I never shed a tear till this morning since I left home/ as I was out in the street there was a Lady asked me if I was on the battlefield/ I told her I was/ She asked me to go home with her and get some breakfast/ of course did not refuse/ and such a breakfast I have not seen since I left home/ they were so kind to me and cried so when I described to them our suffering that I could not hold back my own tears/ May God bless her and hers/

My feet are very sore/ they are entirely covered in blisters/

Write to me as soon as you can/ tell all you know and some that you don’t/

Remember me to all the folks in B and vicinity/ tell them all to write to me.

tell our folks not to worry about me/ the same Father watches over me here
as there/

May He bless us all
Your Brother L H Bown

New York Heritage Digital Collections
Lewis H. Brown Collection
Binghampton University Libraries

Contributed by John Hennessy

Lack of punctuation – slashes (/) added by Bull Runnings at likely sentence endings.

[*] Likely members of Co. D:
Pvt. George A. Dickson
Pvt. Charles Winter
Pvt. James N. McCunley
Pvt. James Lester

Lewis H Brown at

Lewis H. Brown at Fold3

Martha Thornberry and Federal Prisoners

11 01 2023

An Incident of the Retreat. – The Richmond correspondence of the Columbia South Carolinian relates the following:

On the retreat, a tired Yankee stopped at a farm house and begged for water, Mrs. Thornton, the owner handed him a tumbler, pouring a little brandy into it, as he seemed very exhausted. As she offered it, he shrank back for a moment, but took it and drank it. She asked him why he did, and he replied, “to be candid with you, I feared you had put poison into it. She replied, “Sir, you do not know you are speaking to a Virginia lady; to be equally candid with you, you go no further.” She then called two of her servants and directed them to disarm him which they did. Another coming up for water, she made the servants treat him similarly, and this took two prisoners. A few minutes after another Yankee went to the spring, and a servant girl gave him water. He said, “Good-bye, girl;” when she said, “No, you must go to my mistress, and thank her, not me.” She marched him up, and as she got near the party, cried out, “Mistress, here is my prisoner,” and this another was bagged, and the three guarded until a squad of cavalry came and marched them to headquarters.

An aid of Gen. Beauregard told us that he had just been over to thank the lady, in the General’s name. for her heroic conduct.

The Vicksburg (MS) Weekly Citizen, 9/2/1861

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Pvt. John P. Victory, Co. L, 14th New York State Militia, On the Battle and Retreat

4 12 2022


The following letter from one of our assistant corporation counsellors was received this morning. It explains the disgraceful retreat, in part, at Bull’s Run as having been caused by the inefficiency of the leaders.

Camp Porter, Arlington Heights,
July 23, 1861.

My Dear Sir, – I have no doubt that you have heard of the great battle which took place at Bull’s Run, and the disastrous result to the Union forces. Our column under the command of Gen. Porter, left Centreville about 4 A.M. on Sunday, and marched 13 miles to get a position on the right of the enemy. We arrived at our destination about 11 o’clock, A.M. – the last mile being done with double quick time and under a broiling sun. The 14th, under Col. Wood, gallantly took their position near the first battery of the rebels which completely disconcerted them for the moment. I regret to inform you that our Col. (Wood) received a wound in the right leg (the ball passed through the thigh.) I helped to carry him off the field. A great number of our troops were taken as prisoners; I understand, and I think the Col. is among them. The rebels had a regiment of niggers fighting us. The fighting by our column continued for four hours, when our troops retreated panic stricken as they had no leaders. Somebody deserves a great deal of censure as there were no ambulances to carry off the wounded. Russell, of the London Times, who was present at the battle, informed Mr. Odell that he never witnessed a battle so fiercely contested. The rebel troops were estimated at 70,000 or 80,000, and their batteries extend for five mils. I heard this morning that Gen. McDowell was under arrest because he was not authorized to commence a fight until McClellan’s forces were heard from. We have no over 400 men in camp this morning. I must now close as the mail leaves in a few moments. With thanks for paper and envelopes, I remain,

Your obt. servt.,
John P. Victory

Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, 7/25/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

John P. Victory at

John P. Victory at Fold3

John P. Victory at FindAGrave (possible)

J. C. N., 4th Maine Infantry, On the Retreat

23 11 2022


Editor of Washington Star: I have seen no mention in the papers of the Fourth Regiment, Maine V. M. I suppose it happened from the fact that when this regiment was ordered forward the reporters had left, as in fact up to this time almost all the other forces were in retreat, excepting Col. Howard’s brigade. It has also been a noticeable fact that none of this regiment have yet been seen in Washington city, they having come in to Alexandria from the old camp, at Centreville, in good order, under command of their officers. This regiment was the last to leave the field, and made, with the 2d Vermont, a desperate charge upon the battery of the enemy, and stood receiving the fire of shot and shell for more than half an hour, until the ordered retreat. The battle had been lost before this; but notwithstanding they were aware of it from the fact that their lines were more than once broken by our own cavalry retreating, it was remarked by those who witnessed it that their lines were more steady than any regiment which had gone before them up the hill. Perhaps this fact might have been earlier known had this regiment chosen Washington for a stand rather than some point nearer the enemy’s lines.

Respectfully, &c.,
J. C. N.

(Washington, DC) Evening Star, 7/25/1861

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Unknown, Aide to Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, On the Retreat

21 11 2022


[From the Cincinnati Gazette, July 27]

From a letter of one of General McDowell’s aids, to his wife, we have been permitted to make some extracts, which are very creditable to the two Ohio regiments. The letter reveals something which we have not seen stated elsewhere. When the reserve advanced to support the advance, which at the time had driven the enemy some distance, it fired our own men and threw them into disorder. The writer says: –

The army was to move at two o’clock P. M., in two columns – one approaching the enemy direct and the other on his flanks. We all moved off in time, and the two columns reached their destined positions, as had been planned, and the engagement commenced in two places. The column in direct advance attacked them a long distance off, while the other column came around and commenced the attack on the side of the enemy. This flanking column drove the enemy from its place across the country for two miles, when our two columns made a junction. Then we made a general attack and drove the enemy off into the corner of open flats surrounded by woods. At this time our reserve came up, and opened their fire on our own men, which threw them into disorder; and just when we had completely whipped them from every position they had taken, our men were thrown into a panic by our troops firing on them, taking them for the enemy, for there was no way of telling friends from foes in the general engagement. And then came a sight – may I be spared from seeing such another! Two thousand men started, panic stricken, running through some five thousand who were on their way to assist them. The panic spread through the five thousand, and it was not in the power of human exertion to restrain them to form them into any kind of shape. Appeals of all kinds and threats were alike unheeded, and the only men unmoved were our regulars. They moved on in compact form, and fought the advancing enemy on one side, holding them in check, and on the other were our two Ohio regiments, supported by Captain Ayers’ battery, which kept the panic stricken men from being cut to pieces while trying to organize them into some shape on a plain opposite to where we had been so hotly engaged. I looked also on that plain and there was our small band of regulars, and the Ohio brigade, under Schenck, with Ayers’ battery, holding the enemy in check, and giving us time to draw off our disorganized mass of men, and then commenced a retreat. Our General is now subject to all the blame and disgrace a defeated General is made liable to. He is conscious of having done all that was in his power, and that, too, of the best officers in his army to assist him. In no one point did he allow any changes when he could by any means prevent. Two things he could not provide for: one was General Johnston’s army reinforcing Beauregard; and the other the undisciplined troops that were so easily demoralized and thrown into a panic. There is a vast difference between disciplined and undisciplined troops in a battle field. Our regulars and some of the volunteers, such as Burnsides’ brigade of Providence, Schenck’s Ohio brigade, the Connecticut brigade, and some of the Boston and New York Volunteer regiments did well, and all of these men were in the first of the engagement except the Ohio and Connecticut troops. The great mass of the troops were green men that had just come into the service, for the very morning we had our engagement some of the three months’ men marched from the field for home. This had a bad effect on our men.

We presume that this account will deepen the impression on every one’s mind that our men were required to do impossibilities. Their number was entirely inadequate for the undertaking. They beat the enemy wherever they met them, but they would have continued to fall back on successive lines of masked batteries and intrenchments, until our troops would have been overcome by fatigue and slaughter. The attack was brave and successful at the beginning, but it was an attack that never ought to have been made. Attacking formidable intrenchments with half the force may be heroic, but neither that nor waiting for their completion is strategy.

New York (NY) Herald, 7/30/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy