Lt. William Brockenbrough Newton, Hanover Light Dragoons, 30th Virginia Cavalry, On the Campaign

14 05 2016

Centreville, July 22d 1861

My Dearest Wife,

For the last four days we have never been longer in one place than two hours – have slept every night upon the ground in good weather and bad, eaten nothing but hard crackers and fried bacon, and rested little at any time. For all of which privations, and a thousand others, we have been more than compensated – thanks to the just God who governs the courses of history, and decrees the destiny of nations – in the glorious results of yesterday. My last was from Fairfax Court House.

On the morning of the 17th we had received reliable information that the enemy were advancing, over 50,000 strong, and were not surprised at 5 o’clock in the morning to hear the fire of our pickets who were slowly retiring before the advancing foe. The order was given to pack – in ten minutes baggage was packed, tents struck, and the wagons driven to the rear, and the whole command formed in line of battle. In a few moments the glittering bayonets of the enemy lined the neighboring hills. From the heavy signal guns being fired at intervals along our line commencing at Germantown, and stretching along to Fairfax Court House, it was evident that the enemy were endeavoring to surround our little band. But our “little Trump,” as the men call Beauregard, was not to be taken by any such game.

Every preparation was made to deceive the enemy by inducing him to believe that we meditated a vigorous resistance – meantime our column defiled through a densely wooded road, and was for on the road to Centreville when the enemy discovered his mistake. He followed on very cautiously. Our troop, with Kemper’s battery, was assigned to post of honour, and charged with the duty of covering the retreat. We were the last to leave the village, and as we went out at one end of the street, his column appeared at the other. We halted at this place (Centreville) about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, again made show of battle, slept until 12 o’clock at the heads of our horses, and silently left the place, the enemy’s pickets being within talking distance of ours.

At daybreak we were across Bull Run, having marched very slowly to keep pace with the infantry. We found beds of leaves in the woods, wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and slept for an hour or two, until roused by the roar of the enemy’s guns, as he opened his batteries upon our lines. For two mortal hours, shot and shell flew thick along our whole line. This day’s work was evidently intended only to draw the fire of our artillery and show where our batteries were. In consequence of which, our gunners were ordered not to fire a single shot until within point blank range. After thus opening the ball, two dense masses of infantry were seen to defile to the right and left, to make two separate attacks. It was indeed a beautiful sight, as they came down in perfect order, and with the steady step of veterans. They came nearer and yet nearer, and yet no shot from our guns. Men began to mutter and say that we were preparing for another retreat. But, in a few moments, the appointed time arrived, a single shot from the Washington Artillery gave the signal of death, and for half an hour there was nothing but a continuous sheet of flame along the right of our line. The enemy fell back, rallied and charged again with a like result; again they rested and rushed forward; but old Virginia was true to herself, and the gallant 1st and 17th regiments met them, though twice their numbers, charged them with the bayonet, and drove them back in utter confusion.

The cavalry were held in reserved, and although within range of the artillery and continually experiencing the sensations which men may be supposed to indulge, who know there is a hidden danger hovering in the air, without knowing where it is to light, took no part in the action. Our time came yesterday, however. Our troop was for four hours in the hottest of the fight, and every man in it won the applause and approbation of the whole camp.

The action commenced at 8 o’clock of a sweet Sabbath morning. The enemy commenced with quite a heavy cannonade upon our right, which proved to be a mere feint to distract our attention, as his main attack was directed to our left wing. At ten o’clock the enemy had crossed the river on our left, and the fight commenced in earnest. From the hill on which we stood, we could see the smoke and dust, although at the distance of several miles from the fight waged on our left. Some thought our men had fallen back; others, that the enemy were retreating. It was an hour of painful interest.

At eleven o’clock, and aid-de-camp rode up in a gallop, and said our men were retiring, and the cavalry was ordered to the left. We were temporarily attached to Radford’s regiment. Ours was the first company, and mine the front platoon. On we dashed at a gallop. As we passed within range of a battery of rifled cannon, a ball was fired at us, and passed just between W___ and myself, knocking up clouds of dust. Without wavering in their ranks, the men and horses dashed forward at a gallop. As we reached the scene of action, the sight was discouraging in the extreme. The enemy had a first the advantage of every attacking party. He had concentrated all his forces for an attack upon one point. The 1st Louisiana regiment and the 4th Alabama were assailed in flank and center by 30,000 men, and literally cut to pieces. They refused to surrender but retired slowly, disputing every inch of the ground. As we rode up, we met parts of companies which had literally been overwhelmed, the men wounded, heir arms broken, while some of them were carrying off their dead in blankets. Every thing looked like retreat.

We were ordered up to within 500 yards of the enemies artillery, behind a hill which afforded some protection against their destructive fire. For an hour the firing raged with incessant fury, a ball passed over the hill and through our ranks, grazing one of our men; a shell exploded right under Radford’s horse, and every moment shot and shell were continually whistling by us. I can give you no conception of that awful hour. Not a man shrank from his post; two of our men were taken deadly sick, one fainting from heat and excitement; such calmness and composure I never witnessed. To make the matter worse, despondency, if not despair was fast writing itself on every face. The fire was evidently approaching us, and our friends were retiring, and the whispered rumour passed from lip to lip that our artillery ammunition was running low.

In a moment, however, a cloud of dust in our rear showed the approach of our wagons coming up at a dashing rate with a fresh supply. Our reinforcements now commenced pouring in. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi swept by in their glittering array with the calm light of battle on their faces, and their bayonets gleaming in the quiet Sabbath sunshine. No man faltered, no man lagged behind. Neither the groans of the dying, nor the shrieks of the wounded, as they passed to the rear in crowded ambulances, seemed to produce any impression, except to fix the determination upon the countenance of all – to win or die upon the field.

The tide now seemed to ebb just enough to keep us from despair. The firing did not advance, although the explosion of their shell was terrific in the extreme. A gleam of hope, too, gradually broke in upon us when Kemper’s battery, which had been posted in our centre, galloped up and opened a destructive fire upon our extreme left. The advance was evidently checked, when a loud cheer in the front told us that something unusual had happened. What was it? Was it the triumph of our enemies over our stricken friends, or was it some advantage gained in defence of right? The suspense was awful. Men stood straight in their stirrups and stretched their eyes as if they would pierce the rugged bosom of the barren hill which raised its sc[?]rred front before them.

An aid passes up – his message is written on his face, and, before he speaks a word, a wild shout breaks from the throats of thousands. When he speaks, another, and another, and another round of cheers told the story of our hitherto sinking hearts. The 4th Virginia regiment had taken Sprague’s Rhode Island battery of six pieces at the point of the bayonet. Scarcely had the echo of our cheers died upon the air, when again the noise of shouting broke upon us. What was it? Had the enemy rallied and retaken the guns? Fear struggled with hope. But, no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[?]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in Sherman’s battery. The firing of musketry and the rattling of bayonets was now terrific beyond description. For an hour there was an incessant crackling of rifles, without a single moment’s pause. The enemy were evidently retiring, and, unless reinforced from their left and centre, the day was ours.

To prevent this, our field telegraph had already given the signal for movement upon our own right, and a heavy fire of musketry and artillery told us that Bonham’s brigade, to which we had been attached in the morning, had crossed the run and were pouring it into the enemy’s centre. The South Carolina boys dashed up the hill, in the face of a murderous fire, bayoneted the gunners, and took quiet possession of their centre battery. It was now 3 o’clock, and the day was ours. The Washington Artillery galloped up the hill on which we were posted and opened a perfect Vesuvius of shot and shell upon the receding foe.

Colonel Lay now galloped up and told us the time for us to act had arrived – our whole force of cavalry – now rushed like the wind to the front. It was indeed a brilliant spectacle, as with slackened reins and sabres drawn, the whole command dashed past. The whole line resounded with continued cheering. The force was divided into different detachments. Col. Radford, with six companies, was ordered to cross a short distance below the enemy’s extreme right, and intercept his column; our company was in front, ,and I was riding in front of my platoon – when after crossing the swamp we came suddenly upon a detachment of the enemy concealed in the bushes, with their pieces levelled. The Colonel ordered the charge, and our boys dashed on. (1)

Poor E. F. was at my side when we rode over two of them, and they grounded their arms to E. W. just in our rear. We galloped on in pursuit of the rest, who retreated across a field toward the road on which the enemy was retreating. F. was just behind me; Saunders, a fine young fellow, just 24, and splendidly mounted, rushed past us. The enemy had concealed themselves behind a fence. We rode up and I demanded their surrender. They made no reply. I ordered Saunders to fire. Before he levelled his carbine, the whole squad poured in a volley. Saunders fell dead at my feet, and Fontaine reeled in his saddle, and exclaimed, “save me, boys, I am killed.” He was caught in the arms of his cousin, who was in the rear. Three of my platoon fired, and the two who had shot Saunders and Fontaine fell dead in their tracks. (2)

We were now in full view of the enemy’s line, passing in rapid and disordered retreat along the road, with two pieces of artillery, a large number of baggage wagons and some officers’ carriages. – Col. Radford, who is a soldier of experience, knew the strength of the enemy, and ordered a halt, commanding the men to form; but such a thing as forming was utterly impossible. The men seemed perfectly delirious with excitement, and with a wild shout of the guns, the guns,” our whole company rushed on pell-mell upon the battery, which proved to be another detachment of the Rhode Island Artillery. Such a scene of wild excitement I never witnessed.

My platoon had become detached from the company, and the company from the regiment. There were two caissons and two guns; the guns behind the caissons. My platoon, which was furthest down the road, rushed upon the men who guarded them – one fellow, standing upon the caisson, whipping the horses to make them run. They had become so much alarmed that they stood perfectly still and trembled. I made a blow at him with my sabre, knocked him off the caisson, and he was shot twice by our men before he hit the ground.

Meantime W., (who, by the way, performed admirably,) with the main body, crossed the road higher up and when the main body of the regiment came up, our company, with some of the Alexandria cavalry, had killed and wounded every man at the guns and driven their infantry supports into rapid retreat. When we left, we expected to be supported by infantry and artillery, and you may imagine our astonishment when, with not quite 300 men, we found that we had merely cut into the enemy’s column, and upon looking one hundred yards down the road, we found them preparing to open upon us with two guns, supported by six regiments of infantry. The Colonel at once ordered a retreat, so we shot the horses to the caissons, so as to block up the road, and retreated, not, however, before they had poured in upon us four rounds of grape and canister at 150 yards distance. How we escaped a perfect massacre I cannot say. Had they not been so close to us, the slaughter would have been terrible. Four of our men were killed, and Captain Radford, brother of the Colonel, was literally blown to pieces, I escaped without a scratch (as did all the rest of the officers), excepting quite a severe bruise, caused by my horse’s pressing my leg against the wheel of the gun carriage. We brought off several prisoners, a great many pistols, and several horses. (3)

Just ahead of the guns was an open carriage, very handsome; as soon as they saw us – such a rush you never saw. It is suspected, or rather hoped, that Wilson, of Massachusetts (who was, it is known, on the field,) was in it; for one of our men, Lindsay by name, took it into his head that Scott was in it, pursued and overtook it, and, at the distance of thirty steps, fired his musketoon, with eighteen buckshot, into the back window. (4)

As we returned to camp, a melancholy mistake occurred. B (our Second Lieutenant,) who was carrying poor F. to the hospital, with one or two others, met with a detachment of four of the Appomattox Cavalry, who hailed him. It is said that, instead of giving the signal agreed upon in our camp, by raising the hand to the top of the head, he took them for the enemy, and answered, Federal troops – they fired and he fell dead. (5)

Our company received, upon its return, the congratulations of every officer in General Bonham’s staff, to whom Colonel Radford had spoken of the conduct of our men.

To-day it has been raining all day. Our column pushed on this morning to this place. Our company was assigned the advanced guard; and this morning at 10 o’clock, I had the honor, with eight mounted men, of “occupying” the city of Centreville. The citizens tell us, that about 12 o’clock last night, the cry passed throughout the camp that the d—-d Virginia horsemen were upon them, when they left in utter confusion.

Our triumph has been complete. In two days our noble army has driven them back to Alexandria, captured 42 guns, many colors, and taken how many prisoners I will not venture to say. After we reached here we were ordered to explore the surrounding country in quest of fugitives. We took eighteen prisoners, and got back just at night, very wet. Such a collection of property left in their flight, you never saw. Hundreds of muskets, wagons, horses, gun carriages, thousands of knapsacks, oil-cloths, blankets, hogsheads of sugar, barrels of pork, beans – in short, everything you can conceive. We found to-day over five hundred splendid army over-coats in one pile, at one of their deserted camps, besides many tents, not struck. I helped myself to a magnificent officer’s blanket and oi-cloth to fit over the head, and the men all got over-coats.

The men are amusing themselves to-night with reading their letters, of which there are thousands left on the road. Many of them were directed to Mr. So-and so, expected at Manassas Junction. Some asked for a piece of the floor of the house on which Ellsworth was killed, with blood on it; others confidently express the belief that Beauregard’s scalp will be taken to Washington. When I tell you that we supped to-night on Yankee crackers – Yankee coffee, and nice beef tongue, actually left on the hearth of one of the officers quarters, in a kettle, ready to set on the fire – that this is written in pencil given me by one of the men, upon paper taken from their baggage wagons, that I am sitting on a Yankee camp stool, writing by a Yankee candle, you can form some idea of their utter route.

I send K a pincushion, picked up on the field, and L a needlecase. Tell W I have a nice sword for him, taken from one of the Vermont volunteers. I came very near taking a drum for him, of which we found six yesterday, but thought of the noise, and declined. (6)

Our troops occupy Fairfax Court House, to-night. – Good night; God bless and protect you, as I feel he has protected me in the last few days, in answer to your prayers. I hope I feel sufficiently grateful for my preservation.

Your husband,

W. B. N.

I had secured a beautiful Enfield rifle for uncle William, but it was paced in charge of one of the men, who has lost it. I will endeavor to procure another for him. Bowyer Brockenbrough, in command of a part of Pendleton’s battery, was knocked off his horse by a fragment of a shell, and slightly wounded. Raleigh Colston, who was a captain on one of the Berkely companies, had his pants perforated, and his leg grazed by a ball while advancing on Sherman’s battery. Willoughby Brockenbrough escaped untouched.

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Richmond Daily Whig, July 29, 1861

From transcription in Civil War Times magazine, July 2007, Used with Permission. The letter was annotated by Joseph Pierro, who identified some of the lesser known or cryptically referenced individuals described by Newton, and they are listed below:

1 – Col. George W. Lay, Bonham’s AAG
2 – E. F. – Sgt. Maj. Edmond Fontaine, Jr.; Saunders – Pvt. Richard W. Saunders
3 – Captain Radford – Edmund W. Radford
4 – Wilson, of Massachusetts – Sen. Henry Wilson.
5 – B – Boldman H. Bowles
6 – K, L, & W – Newton’s children, Kate (3), Lucy (4), and Willoughby (7)





Lieut. Benjamin Rush Smith, Co. G, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

3 09 2015

A Letter.

The following letter we copy from the Daily Bulletin, by request, and we think it worthy of a perusal:

Headquarters 6th Regt, N.C.
State Troops, Camp Bulls Run,
July 24th, 1861.

Dear Parents: – Once more I have an opportunity of writing you all, and that after having been exposed for nine hours on a battle field, strongly contested on each side. we achieved a glorious but dear bought victory on last Sunday (July 21st) about 5 miles from the Junction on Bulls Run Creek. Our whole force on the field amounted to near 60,000, while that of the enemy was not less than 80,000, though we only had about 15,000 engaged – the enemy 35,000. The contest began at 6 A. M. and continued with unabated vigor until 4 1/2 P. M., when I saw the enemy flying across the hills with rapid strides. It was the most beautiful sight that one ever beheld to see them retreating with their banners unfurled, and to hear the cheers and huzzas that went up from our ranks. We pursued them for several miles, and that night I slept in the camp that the Yankees occupied Saturday night. Only four Companies in our Regiment were in the chase, (my Company one of them,) the rest being cut off in the early part of the engagement. – We were at Winchester when we received orders to come to Manassas. We arrived here Sunday morning about 6 A. M. I heard the cannonading as soon as I left the cars. A fellow told me that the “Ball” was open, and that we would “get there in time to dance at least one set.” I must say I felt a little queer at first, but fear left me as soon as I got into it. We were immediately marched to the “Ball Room,” and formed into line of battle at 7 1/2 A. M. When we had formed a rifled cannon ball came whistling through my company and passed in between me and the 3rd Serg’t of our company. It was a 12 pounder. We saw it before it got to us and dodged it. You ought to have seen us all squat. It was the first that had been fired at us. I have it now lying by me and will send it home if I can. We were placed in a position where two Regiments had been cut to pieces. The enemy had possession of a hill and we had to advance up a ravine with 2 pieces of Sherman’s battery placed at the mouth of it. We however advanced and silenced the battery in short time. Our Regiment there lost 18 killed and 47 wounded and one prisoner. My company lost of that number 7 killed and 6 wounded, (all privates,) being in the hottest of the fight. After taking possession of it, Col. Fisher advanced beyond the battery some 30 yards, and it was there that he fell pierced with a rifle ball through the head. All the other Officers escaped in our Regiment except Lieut. Mangum, who was wounded; Captain Avery, and Lieut. Col. Lightfoot, slightly. Our Brigadier General (Bee,) was killed. Just before going into battle I put up the most earnest prayer that I ever did, and I know that it was answered, for the balls came by ma as thick as hail stones and the bomb shells bursted all around me, and none but the hand of God could have saved me. I got several trophies off the battle field, and will send some home the first opportunity. It is impossible to give a description of the field after the battle. For 7 miles it was strewed with the dead and dying. You couldn’t advance a step without seeing them; many times I had to step over them. I never thought I could stand such scenes, but it has little effect on me now. I cut a button off a dead Lieutenant (Yankee) Hitchcock’s coat and took his likeness out of his pocket. I got a great many guns but could not carry them. The boy that waits on me got a splendid shot gun and sword off the battle field. This sheet of paper came out of a dead Yankees pocket; it came in very good time as I am almost out. Our cavalry chased them through Centreville and Fairfax also our artillery killing them all the way. I was told this morning that the road from here to Alexandria where they went is lined with those killed on the way, and the wounded and dead they attempted to take from the battle field. Their loss was about 3,000 killed and wounded, and ours was not more than 800. We have taken about 1,500 of them prisoners and they are still coming in. Since I have commenced this letter a Yankee Officer had been brought by, taken this morning a short distance from our camp. We are now encamped on the very spot where we formed our line of battle.

When we left Winchester (July 18th,) we were so hurried that we couldn’t bring our tents, and have been sleeping without them ever since, though last night I had a very good tend made of yankee blankets that they had left on the battle field. Besides the prisoners we took we captured 62 pieces of artillery, 300 wagons, and knapsacks and canteens by the thousand. Our Regiment has the honor of taking two pieces of Shermans battery, the pride of the North. The whole army went to Alexandria with only two pieces of Artillery, the rest being in our possession, and many of the pieces rifled. I think that peace will soon be made now since this important victory. I talked with some of the prisoners, most of them told me that it was not their will to fight against the South; that they had been forced into it, and that they had intended to go home as soon as their time was out. Some said that their time would have been out 1st of August, though I found many who were enlisted for 3 years. We had certainly the flower of the Northern army to contend against; many of them being of the regular U. S. Army, commanded by Generals Scott, McDowell and Patterson. Scott was not on the field himself the day of the battle, but one of the wounded Yankees told me that he reconnoitered the day before, and that he told the soldiers to fight like men and on next Tuesday he would insure them a dinner in Richmond; that he intended to make that place his headquarters. Well he told the truth, for 1,500 will eat there but only as prisoners. We are under orders to march this evening for parts unknown to myself, though I think it very probable it is towards Alexandria.

Jeff Davis now commands the army in person. I saw him the evening after the battle; he made us a short speech.

It was remarked in camp this morning that a flag of truce had been sent by Scott to Davis proposing to treat of peace although it may only be a rumor. I hope it is not for I never want to see such another slaughter as was on last Sunday.

Our Colonel being killed Lieut. Colonel Lightfoot will take his place.

We buried our dead Monday evening on the battle field. The Yankees have been lying there till to day when part of them were buried, though there are now hundreds of them lying where they fell, and a great many horses.

Your affectionate son,

B. Rush Smith

[Charlotte] North Carolina Whig, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

B. R. Smith in 6th NC Roster

B. R. Smith brief sketch here, and more detail here.





Captain Richard Watt York* (4), Co. I, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

27 08 2015

The Battle of Manassas.

The North Carolina Standard (extra) has a letter from an officer of the late Col. Fisher’s Regiment giving an account of the participation of the Sixth North Carolina Regiment in the battle, and relating some interesting incidents of the engagement. He says

The battle commenced in the morning, with heavy cannonading on the right and centre, both sides maintaining their positions. The dull booming of the cannon was distinctly heard by us as we were disembarking from the cars; and, as soon as that was done, our Regiment was formed and moved off in quick time, notwithstanding our weary march from Winchester; and, though tired and apparently exhausted, yet, the terrible cannonading in the centre and on the right nerved every arm, brightened every eye and quickened every step. On we went through the dust that rose in clouds, until we reached a point when we filed to the left to a spring, where our canteens were filled with fresh water by companies; and, as each company received its water, were marched to the shade, and allowed to lied down and rest.

After the watering operation was finished, we proceeded, and were halted under cover of a hill in rear of one of our batteries, and ordered to load and rest, and immediately we loaded and laid our weary limbs upon the grass, and many fell into a doze, notwithstanding the battle was raging around us; but men who had not slept for three nights on a forced march could sleep anywhere. This was about seven o’clock, and the sun shone brightly, and the cannonading became more intense, dense clouds of smoke rose from the opposite hills, the earth shook with the awful thunder, and continued to wax hotter and hotter, when almost instantaneously the men cried out, “Colonel Fisher, we’re ready.” He replied: “I know that.” Suddenly his clear voice rang out, “Attention!” when every man spring with new life to his place in the ranks, shouldered his musket, and at the command “Forward, march,” we moved briskly up the hill, and formed a line of battle in rear of one of our batteries, where we could see distinctly the columns of smoke rising up from the enemy’s batteries on the opposite hills, while the balls were whistling around us.

Suddenly we shifter position further to the left in a road running by a thick wood, and still the balls were whistling over us. A slug from a rifled cannon passed through our ranks, but there was no wavering, but intent on the attack, you could read on every brow the stern resolve to conquer or die. Here we stood resting on our arms, with the wounded lying around us, and ever and anon some one would breathe his last; when again rang the clarion voice, and led by our gallant Colonel, we filed through the dense tangled undergrowth, and sped onward until we struck a ravine which led directly up to Sherman’s Battery**, and were halted with the two right flank companies, under Capts. Freeland and York, within forty yards of the guns and a Regiment of the United States army supporting them, when the command of fire was given, when we silenced the battery at the first fire. Capts. Kirkland and Avery led the men around the point of woods and charged the battery and drove every man from the pieces. About this time some officer cried out to cease firing, as we were firing into our own men.

Exposed to a raking fire from the enemy, and fired into by our friends, Colonel Fisher ordered us to retreat, which was done in some disorder, owing to the cry that we were firing into friends; and it was here that the gallant Colonel Fisher fell in front of the battery, leading on his men to the charge. He was shot through the head with a ball. May he rest in the soldier’s Heaven; for a nobler, braver, more gallant man never led a column to victory.

That portion of the Regiment rallied by the gallant Lightfoot and Webb pitched into the hottest of the fight and joined in the final charge, when the enemy were pit to a precipitate flight, and joined in the pursuit for several miles. No more gallant spirits strode over that field than Lieutenant Colonel Lightfoot and Major Webb. The remainder of the Regiment, under different officers, fell in with other Regiments and fought to the last. No Regiment behaved with more bravery and gallantry than the North Carolina Sixth Infantry on that memorable field. Led up into the hottest of the fight, within a few yards of a battery that was raking our army, they delivered their fire with the deadliest precision. Our loss was about sixty killed and wounded. Among the officers, our gallant Colonel Fisher fell early in the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Lightfoot was wounded in the calf of the leg, but never stopped, although on foot, as were all our field officers. Captain Avery was shot in the leg, but, like a brave man as he is, never left the field. Lieut. W. P. Mangum was severely wounded in the left side. The report that Major Webb was killed is untrue; though exposed to a most terrible fire, he escaped uninjured.

Several regiments claim the honor of silencing and taking this battery. It was taken by the 6th Infantry N. C. State Troops. The regiment, as I have stated, was led up within 40 yards of it, and their fire silenced it, and Col. Lightfoot, Maj. Webb, Captains Kirkland, Avery, and Lieutenants Avery and Mangum, marched right up to it with their men, and passed beyond it, and received a galling fire from the left, when they were ordered to cease firing and fall back. Maj. Webb was resting on one of the pieces, facing the fire, and our men retreated in good order, all the while delivering their fire.

About sunset, the enemy were charged by our army, and put in disorder, and ran like turkeys, pursued by our infantry, cavalry and artillery for several miles, until darkness stopped them. Our Regiment was in the charge, under Col. Lightfoot and Major Webb.

“To the victors belong the spoils,” and in this case they were enormous. Sixty-odd pieces of cannon, every piece they had but two, a large amount of small arms, a church full of knapsacks, blankets, ammunition, haversacks, &c., &c., with which our men are abundantly supplied.

Some twelve or fifteen hundred prisoners were taken, and a large number of officers.

Our loss was considerable, though I do not know how many we had killed and wounded – though very considerable; for it could not have been otherwise, fighting from sunrise until dark. Though our loss is not near so great as we at first supposed. The loss of the enemy is enormous; for they received our deadly shots with a bravery worthy of a better cause.

I visited the field after the battle, and it was indeed a sickening, heart-rending sight. The enemy lay piled in heaps, and horses strewn all along. I counted forty horses in a distance of fifty yards. Around Sherman’s batteries, where our Regiment fired, every horse and cannoneer was killed, and lay in one indiscriminate heap. All overt the battle field were strewed the dead and dying. Some had placed their arms under their heads as they went to their last sleep. Others folded their arms across their breasts, some with features distorted with fists clenched as they wrestled in the agonies of death; others wore the calm, placid smile which should grace the face of a soldier dying in a glorious cause. In the little clump of cedars the wounded had crawled and died, and lay there in ghastly heaps.

Our dead were buried with the honours due them and our wounded removed to different places in the interior, where they will be properly attended to .

Richmond Examiner, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* While the author is not identified in this article, the passage regarding the taking of “Sherman’s Battery” is identical to that authored by Capt. York and printed in the 8/6/1861 Fayetteville, North Carolina Observer and transcribed here.

** Sherman’s (Ayres’s) Battery (Co. E, 3rd US) was nowhere near the 6th NC, and in fact did not cross Bull Run. The author is here referring to a section of Griffin’s West Point Battery (Co. D, 5th US.) Sherman’s Battery was from the time of the Mexican War a very well-known battery, and was reported in many areas of the field by both Confederate and Union participants, nearly always in error. This battery is sometimes also referred to by historians as William. T. Sherman’s battery and, while it was attached to that colonel’s brigade, it derived it’s title not from him but from past commander Thomas. W. Sherman.

R. W. York at Ancestry.com 





Unknown, 8th Georgia Infantry, On the Battle

18 08 2015

PROGRESS OF THE WAR.
———-
Full and Reliable Details from Our Exchanges.
———-
The Eighth Georgia Regiment in the Battle at Stone Bridge.

The following graphic description of scenes on the battle field, and the gallant conduct of the Eighth Georgia Regiment, was written for the Richmond Dispatch by a gentleman who participated in the fierce conflict of the 21st of July.

Eighth Georgia Regiment

On Thursday, the 18th inst., about 2 P. M., this Regiment left Winchester for Manassas, under command of Lieut. Colonel Montgomery Gardner. Col. Bartow had been for some weeks acting Brigadier General of a Brigade, consisting of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th Georgia Regiments, and a battalion of Kentuckians.

The 8th marched 27 miles over the mountains, fording the Shenandoah, to Piedmont on the Manassas Gap Railroad, arriving there about 12 M., Friday. The march was fatiguing in the extreme. After a delay of a few hours they left for Manassas on the cars, and a slow, tedious ride brought them to this point late Saturday morning. They marched three and a half miles to camp in the woods, without tents, and without food. Early next morning they were ordered to the fight, where they arrived after a circuitous, wearisome, and at times double-quick tramp between ten and twelve miles.

Breathless, tired, faint and footsore, the gallant fellows were eager for the affray.

They were first ordered to support Pendleton’s Virginia Battery, which they did amid a furious storm of grape from the enemy. Inactive as they were, compelled to be under this fire, they stood cool and unflurried.

They were finally ordered to charge Sherman’s Battery. To do this it was necessary to cross and intervening hollow, covered by the enemy’s fire, and establish themselves in a thicket flanking the enemy’s battery. They charged in a manner that elicited the praise of Gen. Johnston.

Gaining the thicket they opened upon the enemy. The history of warfare probably affords no instance of more desperate fighting than took place now. – From three sides a fierce, concentrated, murderous, unceasing volley poured in upon this devoted and heroic “six hundred” Georgians. The enemy appeared upon the hill by thousands. Between six and ten regiments were visible. It was a hell of bullet-rain in that fatal grove. The ranks were cut down as grain by a scythe. Whole platoons melted away as if by magic. Cool, unflinching and stubborn, each man fought with gallantry, and a stern determination to win or die. Not one faltered. Col. Bartow’s horse was shot under him. Adjutant Branch fell, mortally wounded. Lieut. Col. Gardner dropped with a shattered leg. The officers moved from rank to rank, from man to man, cheering and encouraging the brave fellows. Some of them took the muskets of the dead and began coolly firing at the enemy.

It was an appalling hour. The shot whistled and tore through trees and bones. The ground became literally paved with the fallen. Yet the remnant stood composed and unquailing, carefully loading, steadily aiming, unerringly firing, and then quietly looking to see the effect of their shots. Mere boys fought like veterans – unexcited, save with that stern “white hear,” flameless exhilaration, that battle gives to brave spirits.

After eight or ten rounds the regiment appeared annihilated. The order was reluctantly given to cease firing and retire. The stubborn fellows gave no heed. It was repeated. Still no obedience. The battle spirit was up. Again it was given. Three volleys had been fired after the first command. At length they retired, walking and fighting. Owing to the density of the growth, a part of the regiment were separated from the colors. The other part formed in an open field behind the thicket. The retreat continued over ground alternately wood and field. At every open spot they would reform, pour a volley into the pursuing enemy and again retire.

From the accounts of the enemy who stopped to give water to the wounded and rifle the dead, it seems that the 8th cut to pieces the 6th Massachusetts, half demolished the Rhode Islanders, and made deadly havoc among the Regulars.

But a horrible mistake occurred at this point. – Their own friends, taking them for the enemy, poured a fatal fire upon their mutilated ranks.

At length they withdrew from the fight. Their final rally was with some sixty men of the six hundred they took in. Balaklava tells no more heroic tale than this: “Into the valley of death marched the six hundred.”

As they retired, they passed Gen. Beauregard. – He drew aside, fronted, raised his hat, and said, “I salute the 8th Georgia with my hat off.”

Of all the companies of the regiment, the Oglethorpe Light Infantry suffered most. They were on the extreme right nearest the enemy, and this were more exposed. Composed of the first young gentlemen of Savannah, their terrible loss will throw a gloom over their whole city.

An organization of five or six years’ standing, they were the favorite corps of Savannah. Colonel Bartow had long been Captain and was idolized by them, while he had a band of sons in them. It is supposed that his deep grief at the mutilation of his boys caused him to expose his life more recklessly than was necessary. He wished to die with them, if he could not take them back home.

They fought with heroic desperation. All young, all unmarried, all gentlemen, there was not one of the killed who was not an ornament to his community and freighted with brilliant promise.

In sending them to Virginia, Savannah sent her best to represent her, and their loss proves how well they stood up, ho well that city was represented upon a field where all were brave.

This company was the first one to offer its services to President Davis under the Confederate act authorizing him to receive independent companies, and had the honor of being first received. They left home in disobedience to the orders of their Governor, and brought away their arms in defiance of his authority, so eager were they to go where our country needed her best soldiers.

They were one of the two companies that took Fort Pulaski. When there was a riot expected in Savannah, early in the year, they were called out to quell it, with another corps.

Their whole history is one of heroism. First to seek peril, they have proved in their sad fate how nobly they can endure it.

The will inevitably make their mark during the continuance of this holy war. They have enlisted for the whole war, and not one will turn back who can go forward, until it is ended, or they are completely annihilated.

After the gallant 8th had retired with but a fragment, Col. Bartow, by Gen. Beauregard’s order, brought up the 7th Georgia, exclaiming, in reply to Col. Gartrell, of the 7th, who asked him where they should go – “Give me your flag, and I will tell you.”

Leading them to their stand amid a terrific fire, he posted the regiment fronting the enemy, and exclaimed in those eloquent tones so full of high feeling that his friends ever expected from him – “Gen. Beauregard says you must hold this position, and, Georgians, I appeal to you to hold it.”

Regardless of life, gallantly riding amid the hottest fire, cheering the men, inspiring them with his fervent courage, he was shot in the heart, and fell from his horse. They picked him up. With both hands clasped over his breast, he raised his head and with a God-like effort, his eye glittering in its last gleam with a blazing light, he said, with a last heroic flash of his lofty spirit, “They have killed me, but, boys, NEVER give up the field,” – emphasizing the “never” in his peculiar and stirring manner, that all who know him will do feelingly recall.

This perished as noble a soul as ever breathed. – He will long live in remembrance. He met the fate he most wished – the martyred patriot’s grave. He was a pure patriot, an able statesman, a brilliant lawyer, a chivalric soldier, a spotless gentleman. – His imperious scorn of littleness was one of his leading characteristics. His lofty patriotism will consign his name to an immortal page in his country’s history.

[Raleigh] North Carolina Standard, 8/3/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Captain Richard Watt York (3), Co. I, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Capture of “Sherman’s Battery”*

14 08 2015

Who Took Sherman’s Battery? – A letter to the Raleigh Standard, from Capt. York, answers this question fully: –

“Several regiments claim the honor of silencing and taking this battery. iIt was taken by the 6th Infantry N. C. State Troops.i The regiment was led up within 40 yards of it, and their fire silenced it, and Col. Lightfoot, Maj. Webb, Capts. Kirkland, Avery, and Lieuts. Avery and Mangum, marched right up to it with their men, and passed beyond it, and received a galling fire from the left, when they were ordered to cease firing and fall back. Maj. Webb was resting on one of the pieces, facing the fire, and our men retreated in good order, all the while delivering their fire.” Around Sherman’s battery where our Regiment fired, every horse and cannoneer was killed, and lay in one indiscriminate heap. All over the battle field were strewed the dead and dying. Some had placed their arms under their heads as they went to their last sleep. Others folded their arms across their breasts, some with features distorted and fists clenched as they wrestled in the agonies of death; others wore the calm, placid smile which should grace the face of a soldier dying in a glorious cause. In the little clump of cedars, the wounded had crawled and died, and lay there in ghastly heaps.**

“That portion of the Regiment rallied by the gallant Lightfoot and Webb, pitched into the hottest of the fight, and joined in the final charge, when the enemy were put to a precipitate flight, and joined in the pursuit for several miles. No more gallant spirits strode over that field, than Lt. Col. Lightfoot and Maj. Webb. The remainder of the regiment, under different officers, fell in with other regiments and fought to the last. No regiment behaved with more bravery and gallantry than the North Carolina 6th Infantry, on that memorable field. Led up into the hottest of the fight, within a few yards of a battery that was raking our army, they delivered their fire with the deadliest precision.”

(Fayetteville, North) Carolina Observer, 8/6/1861.

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* Sherman’s (Ayres’s) Battery (Co. E, 3rd US) was nowhere near the 6th NC, and in fact did not cross Bull Run. The author is here referring to a section of Griffin’s West Point Battery (Co. D, 5th US.) Sherman’s Battery was from the time of the Mexican War a very well known battery, and was reported in many areas of the field by both Confederate and Union participants, nearly always in error. This battery is sometimes also referred to by historians as William. T. Sherman’s battery and, while it was attached to that colonel’s brigade, it derived it’s title not from him but from past commander Thomas. W. Sherman.

**The passage between those marked with quotation marks appears to have been written by the editors.

See a more complete version of this letter published in the Richmond Examiner here.

R. W. York at Ancestry.com 





Captain Richard Watt York* (2), Co. I, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the March to Manassas and the Battle

11 08 2015

Manassas Junction, Va., July 21, 1861.

To the Editor of the Standard: – In my last I told you it was probable that we would march on Martinsburg. We were ordered to fill up our canteens and haversacks, which we did. We started about four o’clock, leaving our baggage. Anxiously we gazed at te blue mountains where we supposed the enemy lay encamped; but when we took up the line of march and went down into the city, we knew we were not marching on Martinsburg, but where we could not tell. After leaving the city Co. Fisher halted the column and read an order, which stated that Gen. Beauregard had been attacked by overwhelming numbers, and that we were on a forced march to join them. All night we traveled until 3 o’clock, when we slept for a while on the ground. We then rose and marched until 7 o’clock, when we halted and prepared breakfast; after which we again resumed our march and reached Piedmont on the Manassas Gulf Railroad, where we again slept on the ground. On yesterday (Saturday) morning we arrived here, and immediately took up the line of march for the field of battle.

The battle commenced at sunrise by heavy cannonading. About 7 o’clock the battle became general, and terrible indeed was the roar. The determined spirit on both sides exhibited itself in one uninterrupted roar of musketry. Soon our regiment was ordered into position. We were led by Col. Fisher up a rugged ravine, and the two right flank companies under Captains Freeland and York, suddenly came right upon Sherman’s battery, and a Yankee regiment, which poured upon us a galling fire. We immediately faced to the rear, and gave them a raking fire, which piled them up in heaps; by this time, being exposed to a cross fire, we were ordered to fall back. But Col. Fisher having been shot, and there being no one to guide us, some little panic occurred; but we fell back and formed behind another regiment. All did good service. At the head of the ravine Col. Fisher fell, being shot in the forehead. Towards evening, the battle became a running one, and about sunset they abandoned the field and were ridden down by our cavalry.

Our loss is considerable, but not so great as at first supposed. The Yankees were piled up in heaps. We took Sherman’s battery, and indeed all their big guns and wagon loads of small arms. Excuse this hasty scroll. I will send you details in my next.

Y.

(Raleigh) North Carolina Standard, 7/27/1861.

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Contributed by John Hennessy

* While the author is not identified, from this letter of the 18th it is apparent he was a captain in the regiment. The only captain in the regiment at First Bull Run with initial “Y” was R. W. York of Co. I. See here.

R. W. York at Ancestry.com 





Pvt. E. Starke Law, Co. B, (Oglethorpe Light Infantry), 8th Georgia Infantry, On the Battle

23 07 2015

Letter from an Oglethorpe.

Stone Bridge, July 26th, 1861.

My Dear Father: – You have doubtless ere this received a brief note from me informing you of my safety. That was but a hurried line to relieve your anxiety. I now write to give you some idea of our action. On Thursday, the 18th inst., very much to our surprise, while waiting at the breast-works at Winchester, in hourly expectation of an attack from Patterson, we were ordered to prepare for a march without any information as to the cause or our destination. At 1 o’clock we commenced the march, and we were informed that Patterson was directing his column towards Manassas, intending to unite his force with McDowell’s in an attack upon Beauregard, and that it was necessary for us to make a forced march to Manassas. We arrived at the Shenandoah about dusk; having to ford it, we lost about four hours. – At 3 o’clock on Friday morning we reached a little town called Paris, here a halt was ordered, our guns were stacked in the street, the men threw themselves upon the side-walk, and in ten minutes all were asleep. At 5 o’clock the drums beat, and in five minutes we were again on the march. After marching six or seven miles, we arrived at the railroad; the wagons were ordered to the front, and we were allowed the very pleasant privilege of cooking; if ever you saw faces brighten and eyes sparkle, you ought to have seen our army just then, for we had marched about twenty five miles without any thing at all to eat. Arriving at Manassas we were marched out about three miles and waited until Sunday morning when we received orders to proceed to the battlefield. After going eight miles we came in sight of the enemy. – A halt was ordered, and our Lieut. Col. walked up to the brow of the hill to examine the position of the enemy; in a few moments he returned with the intelligence that Sherman’s celebrated Battery was stationed opposite, and would undoubtedly shell us. Scarcely had the words passed his lips, ‘ere the boom of the cannon was heard, and the next moment a bomb passed harmlessly over our heads. We were then ordered to lie upon our faces, in which position we remained about fifteen minutes. While lying here, the bombs came nearer and nearer, until one dropped about three feet in front of John Fleming and myself, covering us with dust, the next dropped on our left, in front of the Macon Guards, wounding two men, one of whom died to day. Just at this time Gen. Bee sent an aid over to Col. (then acting Brigadier General) Bartow, saying that he must have a Regiment to support his right. Bartow ordered Col. Gardner to take the 8th (our) Regiment. Though the shot and shell were falling thick and fast around us, when Gardner gave the order, “Eighth Regiment to your feet,” every man rose and stood erect, not one faltered, and we charged for at least one mile in the face of that battery, without firing a single gun. We then turned into a narrow strip of woods within about seventy yards of the enemy’s line, and opened fire upon them. Here our little band of five hundred and fifty-nine men, for thirty minutes, bore the fire of eight Regiments of the enemy, and it is my honest conviction that they would have stood there until the last man had fallen, had no order to retire been given; as it was, the order to retreat was repeated three of four times before it was obeyed. Col. Gardner, who was in the Mexican war, and who was wounded in this action, says that it was the heaviest fire to which men were ever exposed. We lost from our Regiment, in killed, wounded and missing, over two hundred men. To give you an idea of how thickly the bullets were showered upon us, I need only state that but sixteen out of the seventy-six men that the Oglethorpes carried into action, escaped being killed, wounded, or struck with spent balls or pieces of shell. I myself got two bullets through my pants, and was struck by a piece of shell upon the right knee, which lamed me for a day or two. I the little copse of woods in which we fought, there is not a tree or bush that hs not one or more bullets in it, and it is only surprising that any of us escaped. We can only account for it by remembering that there is an over-ruling Providence, whose protecting arm was doubtless thrown around us. Poor Ferrill was killed right at my side; little Frank Bevill, Lippman, and John Fleming, were shot down just around […]

Our wounded are all doing well and I trust they will all recover. Fleming is slightly wounded in the shoulder and not considered at all dangerous. A correct list of the killed and wounded has been sent to Savannah, so that it is not necessary for me to mention them. Poor Bartow felt and suffered all that a noble, generous, and brave heart could, when he saw his brave men falling fast around him. When Gardner was shot down, Bartow was heard asking him “In God’s name, what can I do to save my brave boys?” At this time the enemy were firing on our front, had flanked us upon our right, and were pouring in upon us a destructive fire from that quarter, when, to cap the climax, one of our own Regiments coming up, mistook us for the enemy and gave us a volley upon our left; under these circumstances Bartow seized the colors and called upon his men to rally around him, when a ball pierced his heart. He fell nobly struggling for our sacred rights, and long will his memory live fresh in the hearts of his soldiers.

Our troops now began to come up to the scene of action and in a short time the enemy were put to flight and our victory was complete. Our loss, I think, is put down at 2,000 men, whilst the enemy acknowledge a loss of from 5,000 to 6,000. Prisoners are still being brought in. We took 61 pieces of cannon and a number of horses. The enemy were so confident of victory that large numbers of citizens, among whom were, I understand, a good many ladies, came out to Centreville, where they were waiting for a signal from the battle field, when the rebels should be routed, to come on and see the ruin they had wrought; but, much to their mortification, they beheld only their own troops flying like sheep before about one-fourth their own numbers. Such is the fortune of ward. I have given you but a poor account of the battle, the observations of one man engaged in fight are confined to a small space. We are now about six miles from Manassas and cannot tell how long we shall remain here.

We have no Colonel and our Lieut. Colonel is wounded, and will not probably be able to take the field for six months, so that it is impossible to say what will be done with us. As anything is decided I will inform you. In the meantime direct to Manassas, 8th Georgia Regiment.

Yours, &c.,

E. S. L. *

Savannah Republican, 8/6/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*Likely E. Starke Law, per roster here

E. Starke Law at Ancestry.com 








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