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

“Solon,” Co. B, 17th Mississippi Infantry, Defends the Regiment

2 03 2023


For the Mississippian.

Letter from Virginia.


In Camp near Leesburg, Va,.
September 12th, 1861.

Ed. Mississippian: – […] It was with some degree of mortification that I heard the slanderous reports current in Mississippi relative to the actions of the 17th and 18th Mississippi Regiments and particularly the 17th. I was hurt to hear of the base insinuations of cowardice against Col. W. S. Featherston, than whom a braver or cooler officer was not in the engagement of the 21st, and am surprised that Mississippians should give such credence to the reports as to call forth an article from Cols. Burt and Featherston relative to the matter. The communication referred to will be published in the Spartanburg (S. C.) Express, through the columns of which paper the report first emanated. I need scarce request you, in common with other Mississippi papers to publish it in justice to brave men whose only neglect in not covering themselves with glory, was the absence of the chance; and it is a fact that these regiments occupied, on the memorable occasion one of the most critical positions. It excites our indignation to think that the character of these regiments and their brave officers should be impeached by a lickspittle lieutenant of another State, in order to extoll the virtues and acts of his own Regiment; and his assertion of base lies should consign him to the execrations of honest men. His own Colonel (Jenkins*) gives his letter the lie by subscribing to the mentioned communication.

We would remark that Mississippians are too proud to assume to themselves foulsome praise, and unless it is thoroughly merited seek not the plaudits of their fellow-citizens. Not so much as it seems with this epauletted ignoramus of the 5th S. C. Regiment. He must laud his own acts – to which we cannot object – but must needs make base charges of cowardice against equally brave men, in order, I suppose, that by contrast his laurels will shine the brighter. You need never fear that the proud escutcheon of Mississippi will be tarnished by any act of ours, and her honor is safe in our keeping.

But i have already, Mr. Editor, overstepped prudence in the length of this letter, and will close by the promise of something, more interesting, at a future time.

“Mississippi Rangers**,” 17th Miss. Regiment.

The Weekly (Jackson) Mississippian, 9/25/1861

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*Micah Jenkins, 5th South Carolina Infantry

**Co. B

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 Aftermath of the Battle

27 02 2023

Washington, July 27th, 1861.

Mr. Editor, – I have been unwell but am better now, able to drop you a line at all events. I was somewhat surprised at the list of killed published in the Republican of Binghamton. There are seven known to be killed in our company alone, (Capt. Rodgers*,) and some companies lost more than we. – That will all be straightened out when you receive the official report.

The rebels are making a great blow over their victory, I see by the Southern Journals. They admit their loss to be between three and four thousand killed, and claim ours (which we know to be but little more than seven hundred) to be 15,000 men. They claim to have captured 88 cannon, 25,000 stand of arms, 1200 horses, and stores in the value of one million. The truth is we lost but 10 pieces of cannon, all of which we have now but one which was bursted at the Run. There was but about 19,000 engaged. All that were not killed brought back their arms with them, at least we are not 1,000 stand out, all told, and them mostly spoiled. We had 420 Cavalry – all back but 12, and the stores they brag of capturing is confined to eleven baggage wagons, which the drivers got scared and cut the harness loose and left. They were upset, however, and broken. So much for their boasted captures.

The boys have nearly all of them been sick, not so bad though as to leave camp. The citizens of Washington have nobly responded to this call upon charity, and have been on hand to administer to the sick and wounded such little comforts as the necessity of the case demanded. One man in particular, (a Mr. Stuart, living on J street,) brought tea, toast and medicine, to administer to the sick boys of our barracks, and his two little boys were always on the go with something inviting for us to partake. He is decidedly a Southern man, though Union. He don’t recognize a nigger equality with a white, nor do I either. I begin to believe the nigger question to be a humbug like everything else. As far as my experience goes, judging from what I saw through Maryland and fifty miles in Virginia, I have been forced to believe that the “shades” are the happiest race of beings alive. They have no wants but what are supplied, and don’t do enough to earn their bread, we North would think.

A great many of the friends of our soldiers have been rushing in since the battle of Sunday last, to see who is dead and all that. Mr. Sampson, of Binghamton, was in camp yesterday. His son Will was shot the first charge at the Run, in the foot – this wound was not severe, yet I am afraid the rebels made way with him. Mr. Harris Rodgers, Mr. Gregory, Mr. Doubleday and others from Binghamton, visited camp yesterday. The Hotels are running over with soldier’s relatives, anxious to hear the fate of their friends.

The soldiers made [??] for a feast last night which, ’twas said, the citizens – the ladies, more particularly – were going to furnish the Regiment. Early in the afternoon, the boys began to erect tables along one side of our camp ground, out of dirty boards, old boxes, &c. – ‘Twas soon finished, and some of the most aristocratic took their straw ticks for table spreads, and about seven the provision began to be distributed along the muddy, greasy boards. The entertainment consisted of two small potatoes, a small biscuit, a slice of bread and butter, one small cucumber cut in vinegar, to twenty men and three crackers. That, I believe, includes the whole and was a happy change from our rations of sour bread, coffee without milk, and slice of fat pork, which is our regular fare.

The was news for a day or two has been unimportant. The rebels, I believe, are slowly advancing towards this city, but there is no fear. The defences on the West side of the reiver are not to be taken by any force they can bring against it. There are three vessels of war lying off Alexandria and a heavy land force. I think we may not fear any advance from the rebels nearer than Fairfax, that is the main body.

I am so sleepy I cannot write any more now. I was on guard last night. Will write to morrow, if I feel well enough.


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.

“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.

“Blockhead,” Co. D*, 27th New York Infantry, On the March to Bull Run

20 02 2023

Correspondence of the Union News.



Camp of McDowell’s Brigade,
Three miles from Centerville,
Fairfax Co., Va., July 19, 1861.

Friend Benedict, – I have tramped about the city considerable and visited most of the public buildings, but then your readers have had a better description of them, no doubt, than I could give, therefore I will pass them by for the present. If there’s any one thing more deserving of note than another, I think Mills Statute of Jefferson deserves that notice.

Nothing however transpired in camp worthy of note except our daily rations of paving stones and salt pork, until the 16th, when, we being on drill parade, &c., at 1 o’clock. P. M., we received orders from head quarters to march at one hour’s notice, with nothing but bread and bullets. All was excitement in camp. Our able bodied men were all on hand except Dixie, of the Republican, and some friends who were with him. They had stayed already three hours longer than their pass allowed. I don’t know whether they heard of the order to march or not. I always considered them men of blood, and don’t wish to charge them with staying down town to get rid of going out. Well, we were on hand at the hour, and marched through the city, crossed the long bridge (two miles) over the Potomac, and at 4 o’clock we were on Virginia soil, secession ground. However, our troops have possession there at present and have extensive fortifications erected, with cannon mounted, commanding the river and all the surrounding country within four miles. The works are swarming with soldiers. We marched two miles, perhaps, when we had to halt to let a Regiment of artillery come in ahead from the North side of the river. There were thirty-five Regiments on the move to-day – The road was four files deep with soldiers for about eight miles in length.

Until to-day, the rebels had possession of the road to within seven miles of the Capitol. However, the pickets retired as we advanced, and we did not get a sight of a rebel. For the first day we marched seventeen miles, and arrived at our camping ground at eleven o’clock. We had not even an overcoat to cover us. You may thing we did not need one, but the nights are colder here than in that latitude, and there has been but three oppressively hot days here since we came from Elmira. The rest of the time a man was comfortable with a coat on.

Well, we stacked our guns – threw ourselves upon the ground, and slept sound as bricks. In the morning we ate our rations of dry sour bread and raw fat bacon, and started again, rather sore from our march the previous evening. As we came near Fairfax we were divided into platoons to flank the enemy, but before we could be brought up, the rebels fell back about four miles and made a stand. We were wearied with marching and went not farther yesterday, the 18th, but took possession of the town and rigged up our camp. The rebel troops went out in such a hurry, they left behind them about fifty stand of arms and a quantity of military stores.

There was a shameful waste of private property by the second Rhode Island regiment ant the Zouaves. A number of houses of Secessionists were sacked – one in particular – Ex Senator Thomas’ house was completely gutted, through revenge, I suppose, as Mrs. Thomas was a sister to Jackson, the man that shot Ellsworth at Alexandria. Maj. Gen. McDowell has ordered the arrest of the ringleaders. He has also issued an order, threatening punishment, of the severest kind, to any one medling with private property in any instance.

Our Regiment was nearly starved out when it reached Fairfax, so the boys drove in a three-year-old bull, fourteen pigs, 100 lbs. each, and about fifty fowls, and we lived one day I conclude. But there was a stop put to our appropriating to our use every thing we could lay our hands on. We left Fairfax yesterday afternoon, expecting an engagement at this place, but here we achieved another bloodless victory. They might have made a successful stand against us at Fairfax, I think, as they were 10,000 strong, if they had artillery, and I don’t know whether they had or not. The town was defended on every side by raised embankments that covered every entrance. However, they have concentrated all their forces at Manassas Junction, and as near as I can find out, they are 60,000 strong, and better fed and equipped than the Government troops. It is estimated that the different divisions of the Federal Army, which have the rebel troops now surrounded, can muster 125,000 troops, yet the rebels have the advantage of position, and the fight to come off to-morrow, the 20th, will be the biggest and fiercest that was ever known on the Continent.

We are all eager for the contest, yet none can tell how many of us will live to see another day. There has just been a squad of rebels brought in a sergeant, and eleven privates. The sergeant was taken once before and released on taking the oath of allegiance. He will probably be shot tomorrow morning. The has two more batteries arrived at this moment, making twelve in this, McDowell’s division. I have just read in a Southern paper, the fact of the total annihilation of the Union New York Regiment, but the fact is the main body of the Regiment has not been in action yet.

I cannot help but notice the difference in the powers of endurance, between our Regiment and the United States Marines, with their West Point Officers. In marching here yesterday in their company of 340 men, 28 of them fell out of the ranks from the effects of the heat, while in our Company of near 1000, no one gave out, although half of them are troubled with the black diarrhoea. Ours is a bully Regiment however, and we make as good an appearance as any in the brigade. What has become of the boasted Southern Tier Regiment of Elmira, that started before us? They are camped about four miles North of the Capitol, while we are on the scratch every time. We have come in before over thirty Regiments that have been laying around Washington, Arlington Heighths, and other places for months.

Our friend, W. H. Gates, came to Elmira and swore into the service of the United States for two years, but when we left for Washington he slipped the train, and has not been heard of since. Bully for him.

I have a chance to send this to Washington. Remember to send a paper to Maine, to my address. If I live through to-morrow, I will write again soon. – Whittlesey is well and spoiling for a fight.

Dixie has just arrived in camp with his friends. He was badly worked up at being left behind. His blood is up, however, and his is with us every time.


Our correspondent Blockhead, at the time the above was written, Friday, July 19, supposed the battle at Bull’s Run and Manassas Junction would take place on Saturday, July 20, but, as our readers already know, it did not take place until Sunday, the 21st. – Ed.

Union (NY) News, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*”Blockhead” is mentioned in this letter of L. H. Whittlesay, 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. Lucius H. Whittlesay, Co. D, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle

17 02 2023

Correspondence of the “News”

Battle near Manassas


A Letter form L.H. Whittlesey


Camp Anderson, Washington, D.C.,
July 23d, 1861

Mr. Benedict – Probably ere this you have heard of the Battle near Manassas Gap and the result. I was one of the participants, and, although in the warmest of the fight, came off uninjured. On the morning of the 21st (Sunday,) our Regiment was ordered to march to some point not mentioned, and at 2 o’clock on that morning, we joined Gen. McDowall’s Division and started from our camp, seven miles West of Fairfax Court House. Our Regiment was the 4th in the division, and so we were in the first part of the column. We marched until 10 o’clock, passing through woods about seven miles in length – the distance being about 15 miles – when we heard a heavy and distinct firing to the south west. – Most of the Regiment was nearly “tuckered out” by the rapid march so that, under any other circumstances, we could have gone no further; but as we were “aching” to engage in anything like a fight we pushed ahead, at double quick – the distance remaining being about five miles. We came in sight of our batteries, on the top of a hill, in about an hour, and were nearly the first on the battlefield, for such it seriously proved to be. The enemy was stationed on the opposite hill side, concealed in thick heavy woods, with their batteries well protected on the top of the hill beyond them. Our guns were already at work, and theirs kept up a steady response. Col. Slocum, our leader, conceived the idea of taking the enemy’s batteries with his regiment, and accordingly the order was given to forward – and forward we went.

In the valley was a stone house. and our Regiment filed to the right, no enemy as yet being seen. As we advanced, a steady fire was opened on us from the forest, which we were unable to return. Facing it as best we might, we formed in battle order in front of the building. While we were doing this, a Regiment of the enemy marched into line directly opposite, and waved the American Flag. One of the number then advanced to our lines, and informed Col. Slocum that the Regiment wished to surrender. Our Adjatant seized a havelock, and riding a short distance, waved it in the air repeatedly. The rebels answered by waving handkerchiefs, which they continued until the Adjatant was quite near them, when they opened a most destructive fire upon our front. This took us by surprise, and quite staggered us; but recovering under the order of the Col., we answered with a well-directed volley from our old Harper’s Ferry muskets, which caused considerable confusion in their ranks. The first volley from them brought Asa Park, our
second lieut., to the ground – the ball passing through his heart. I stood immediately by his side and was engaged in ramming down a bullet at the time. He barely gasped, “Save me,” and dropped to the ground. I forgot everything then, and calling for aid from one or two of our boys, I succeeded in getting his body out of the reach of bullets. I returned to the front for my musket, but could not find it, and so appropriated a dead comrade’s, who was killed while engaged in loading it.

I saw many brave fellows down on every side, some of whom were already dead and others nearly so. I tell you, Mr. B., that was a moment I can never forget. Friends, whose acquaintances I had formed in my short life in camp, were dropping on every side. Our party was considerably cut up; but still our Colonel was firm in his purpose. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he would cry out, “For God’s and your Country’s sake, men, if not for your own, take those batteries!” – Our men fought hard and bravely – cheered on by the zeal of the officers and earnestness of those who were wounded – and it was not until a large body of the rebels
appeared close at hand that we were ordered to retreat. We formed on top of the hill, and missed many of our bravest men. Just after the order was given to retreat, a Minnie ball struck our Colonel on the leg just below the thigh, breaking the bone and disabling him from further service.

A number of other Regiments now came up, and immediately marched to the place lately occupied by us. Among these was the regiment of Fire Zouaves, lately commanded by the lamented Col. Ellsworth. They marched directly in front of the batteries, and fought desperately enough. Two batteries were carried and more of our Regiments came up to their relief. – The Black Horse Cavalry – so noted in connection with the praise of Gov. Wise, – charged upon their rear, carrying the American Flag. At first the Zouaves were deceived, but shortly after, perceiving the deceit, fired into them. The Cavalry was 200 strong and every saddle but six was emptied! But the brave Zouaves suffered intensely. The fire of the batteries raked them severely – men falling at every fire. The New York 71st and other Regiments soon after came to their relief. There were eight or ten Regiments on the enemy’s ground, which were doing fearful execution, when a large detachment filed out from the woods in the rear of the enemy, where upon all the Federal troops retreated but a Regiment of regulars who dared not about. They would fall back into the woods and load their pieces and then sally out, form a square, and drop a score of men at every fire. The battle continued until [?] o’clock; when the army was ordered to retreat, which they did. We marched all night and until 10 o’clock a.m. the day following, when we reached Arlington Heights. The distance was 45 miles, making in all 65 miles steady march and a fight of six hours We did not sleep a wink for 60 hours and we felt considerably used up […?

?…] was in the rear of his men and that he received a severe wound in the leg. Our loss was about 700 killed and 1500 wounded. The loss of the enemy was as large – perhaps larger. I can attach blame to nobody. Our men all acted like heroes and retreated from
strength of force. There are 20 missing from our Company and others in the Regiment suffered as severely.

William Sampson, son of J.E. Sampson, of Binghamton, has not yet turned up. He was wounded on the field, and was probably afterwards butchered by the cavalry of the enemy, who killed every surviving man left on the field. Corporal Fairchild, Corporal Spencer and others are among the missing.

Sergeant Comstock was set upon by four cavalry men, when he shot the one nearest him, a second caught him by the hair of his head, and threw him over the saddle bow. He soon after came in sight of friends, and shouted to draw their attention, when the captor dropped him and fled. Others of our company met with narrow escapes, but I will not stop to write them here. Every body engaged in the battle says it was the fiercest and most terrible of any ever fought. I tell you to see the cannon balls and shells flying in every direction, and hear the whizzing of the bullets as they passed close to your head, created no very pleasant emotion. You can form no correct opinion of the affair.

We were kindly treated by the ladies of this place, upon our arrival. I was treated to a good substantial dinner by the family of a Mrs. Leake. I shall always remember them with the highest feelings of respect.

An attack is partially anticipated on Alexandria. The 23d (Southern Tier) crossed over Long Bridge to that place this morning.

Many of our officers may resign. If they do, the Regiment will probably be disbanded, but if they don’t, we will “recruit” to fill up. I will come to Union if I can.

Give my respects to all inquiring friends, and tell them I shall be happy to hear from them at any time.

Before long I shall write again. “Blockhead” sends his compliments this week. Both he, Asa Howard and Charles VanDusen are “alive and kicking,” though considerably used up.

Yours, HIB

Union (NY) News 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

*Name appears variously as Lucius Heibbard Whittlesay, Lucius Hebard Whittlesey, and Lucius Hibbard Whittlesey

L. H. Whittlesay/Whittlesey at Ancestry

L. H. Whittlesay at Fold3

L. H. Whittlesey at FindAGrave

Unknown Officer, U. S. Infantry Battalion, On the U. S. Regulars in the Battle and on the Retreat

16 02 2023

The following from the Phil. Press, so far exceeds our ability to describe the events of the day, that we give it in place of our own imperfect description:

P. S. – I attach to this letter a copy of a letter addressed by an officer of the regular army to a friend, who has kindly consented that I may use it. It is graphically written, and will tell you many things which only an officer can tell:

The march from our bivouac, near Centreville, was taken up at 2:30 A. M. on Sunday. Among officers and men the impression prevailed that the action would occur at Bull’s Run, the scene of General Tyler’s repulse a day or two previously. In this they were disappointed. Tyler’s brigade posted themselves at the bridge over Bull’s Run, where they were ordered to feign an attack as soon as Col. Hunter’s division were known to be in position. This order was partially obeyed. Hunter’s division, composed of Burnside’s brigade and Porter’s brigade, after proceeding a mile beyond Centreville, made a detour to the right, and proceeded over a wood road, well covered from observation, to the left flank of the enemy, at Manassas, a distance of about eight miles. At six o’clock firing was heard on the heights at Bull’s Run, from a battery in Tyler’s brigade, which was promptly answered by the enemy’s batteries. Their position thus revealed, the advance division (Hunter’s) ascended a hill at double quick, and almost immediately the Rhode Island battery and Griffin’s West Point battery were in brisk action. The former was supported by the first regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, who maintained their ground nobly for half an hour. At this moment, Porter’s brigade composed of the Fourteenth, Seventh and Twenty seventh New York, with a battalion of U. S. Marines under Major Reynolds, and a battalion of U. S. Third, Second, and Eighth infantry, under Major Sykes, took their position in line of battle upon a hill, within range of the enemy’s fire. Burnside’s battery being sorely pressed, the enemy having charged closely upon it, the gallant Colonel galloped to Major Sykes, and implored him to come to his assistance. Major Sykes brought up his men at a run, and, with a deafening shout, they charged upon the enemy’s skirmishers, who fled before them several hundred yards. Forming in columns of divisions, Sykes’ battalion advanced a considerable distance, until they drew upon themselves an intensely hot fire of musketry and artillery. This was a trying moment. the volunteers expected much of the regulars, and gazed upon them as they stood in unbroken lines, receiving the fire, and returning it with fatal precision. Impressions and resolutions are formed on the field of battle in an instant. The impression at the moment is a happy one, and Heintzelman’s brigade coming up into line, our forces steadily advanced upon the retreating rebels. The batteries, which had been meanwhile recruited with men and horses, renewed their fire with increased effect, and our supremacy upon the field was apparent. The enemy’s fire was now terrific. Shell, round shot, and grape from their batteries covered the field with clouds of dust, and many a gallant fellow fell in that brief time. At this juncture the volunteers, who hitherto had behaved nobly, seeing their ranks thinned out, many losing their field and company officers, lost confidence and in a panic fell back.

Three fresh regiments coming on the field at this time would have formed a nucleus upon which a general rally could have been effected, but while the enemy had reinforcements pouring in upon them momentarily, our entire force were in the field and badly cut up. This was our action maintained for hours. The panic was momentarily increasing. Regiments were observed to march up in good order, discharge one volley, and then fall back in confusion. But there was no lack of gallantry, generally speaking, and not a great many manifestations of cowardice. Our artillery, which made sad havoc upon the rebels, had spent their ammunition, or been otherwise disabled by this time, and in the absence of reinforcements, a retreat was inevitable. – The time for the last attack had now come. Nearly all the rebel batteries were in place, though silent. There was a calm – an indescribable calm. Every man on the field felt it. I doubt whether any one could describe it. Gen. McDowell was near the front of our lines, mounted on his gray charger. And here let me say emphatically that, whatever may be the criticism upon his conduct by the military or the abominable stay at home newspapers scriblers and politicians, no braver man trod that turf at Manassas than Gen. McDowell. Major Sykes’ battalion of eight companies, five of Third Infantry, two of Second, and one of Eight, were marched several hundred yards to the right, and formed the right flank of the line. Several volunteer regiments were deployed as skirmishers on the centre and left. Thus they advanced to the crest of the hill. The enemy met them with batteries and a thousand cavalry on the right. The fire was terrific. We maintained our position for a half hour. Then it was discovered that the rebel cavalry were attempting to outflank our right. We had no force to resist them, and the bugle of the regulars sounded the march in retreat. – This, so far as they were concerned, was conducted in good order. On Major Sykes was imposed the responsible duty of covering the retreat of the army. In this he was assisted on part of the route by the United States cavalry under Major Palmer, The enemy followed us with artillery and cavalry, shelling us constantly, until we reached Centreville. Here we bivouacked for an hour, and then again took up the line of march. But of the retreat let me say a word, and pardon, my dear fellow, this incoherent letter, written in an excited Centreville bivouack, on my sound knee, the other severely scratched.

As I said, Major Sykes, with his Third, Second, and Eighth infantry, in all but eight companies, and they decimated, conducted the retreat. Three of his officers had been wounded, and one killed, or captured. Several of them were detached, endeavoring to rally the volunteers in front, and have them march off in some sort of order, so as to protect themselves against the enemy’s cavalry, known to be in rapid pursuit. On this duty, I recognized his special aide, Lieutenant McCook, of our Stat, I believe, and another infantry officer, who was also mounted. The road by which the retreat was conducted, the same by which we advanced, had been, I think discovered by the rebels a day or two since. The engineers, in reconnoitering the enemy’s position had been accompanied by a body of troops, who caused such a dust to rise from the road as to make their march easily observable from the heights at Manassas. Retreating by this route, no difficulty occurred in ranging their guns directly upon our line. Major Sykes quickly discovering this, and the cavalry advancing to reconnoitre the pass near Centreville, and charge it if necessary, obliqued in column, getting them upon the turf perfectly protected from the enemy’s shell which were continued to be fired upon the line of dust which was raised in the wake of the galloping cavalry. It was an admirable piece of strategy, reflecting great credit upon the gallant Major, whose conduct in the entire action, to my knowledge, drew forth the most enthusiastic expressions of admiration from both volunteer and regular officers. Were the infantry my arm, I could ask for no braver or more capable commander than he. But we are about to renew our march towards Washington, and entrusting this note to the driver of an ambulance in front of our line, in the expectation that it will reach you early, let me say that if we halt near Alexandria or Arlington and my horse can stand the pressure, I will not be long in grasping your hand. Till then, my dear fellow, believe me, your disgusted and worn out friend.

(Camden, NJ) West Jersey Press, 7/24/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

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