Letter from Sergeant Fletcher.
We are permitted to make the following extracts from a letter from Sergeant C. W. Fletcher of the Lancaster Company. The writer is entirely reliable and his narrative will be read with interest”
Camp Sullivan, Washington, D. C.,
Tuesday, July 23d, 1861.
Dear Parents: – You doubtless have heard of the battle at Bull’s Run, and in fact all the way along from there to Manassas. Will, I suppose you are anxious to know who is dead and who is alive. I wrote you when at Fairfax. – Well we pushed forward almost to Centreville and camped until Sunday morning at 2 o’clock, when we arose, ate a brakefast of hard bread and pushed forward with our column – a forced march of sixteen miles. When we arrived the head of the column had engaged the rebels, and without a minutes rest we were rushed into the heat of the battle amid a raking fire of shot, ball and shell from the enemies batteries. Our men fell like rain, but we had batteries playing into them, and they suffered too. We bought about one and a half hours, when we silenced their batteries and they retreated. Co’ Marston was badly wounded in the shoulder with a grape shot. We held our position a few minutes when they returned with a large reinforcement and we were repulsed; but we rallied upon them again and silenced some of their batteries. Meanwhile tremendous fighting with musketry and cavalry was kept up and things seemed to go in out favor until they opened a hotter fire than ever upon us, and as our artillery had run out of ammunition, we were obliged to retreat after a fight of five hours. During the fight we lost our haversacks and blankets, so we had nothing to eat. We were obliged to leave the sounded behind us to the mercy of the rebels. The surgeons were obliged to quit the building used as a hospital, and the rebels came up and burned it, wounded men and all.
We had retreated a few miles when we came to what is called Bull’s Run Bridge, where they had sent a detachment to cut off our retreat. – They had planted a battery and torn up the bridge, and the way they threw the shells among we poor tired fellows, was a caution; but we made our escape as best we could. They killed a good many and captured some wagons and several pieces of artillery, and took a great many prisoners. At Centerville we had a reserved force and they did not follow us up any farther. We left the force there, but for some reason it was thought best to keep up the retreat to Washington, and we marched all night and arrived in Washington about twelve o’clock, Monday; hungry and worn out; and well we might be, for within thirty-six hours we marched sixty-two miles and fought five hours without eating or sleeping, and almost without drinking. What do you think of that? I am as stiff as an old cart horse; my feet are all raw and I have a bad cold settled on my lungs. But God saw fit to spare me through the battle. I saw the boys fall around me and yet I was unharmed. It is hard telling who is missing and who is not.
It was an awful battle, and I guess you will find it was one of the bloodiest ever fought on this continent. The force was large on both sides and the line of battle must have reached four or five miles. They had all the advantage of the ground, and placed their batteries accordingly. Their infantry and cavalry were in the woods skulking about Indian like, and then there was a mistake among our commanders – the blow being struck too soon, as the other divisions had not arrived to help us. They enemy’s loss must have been very large, but the thing of it is they took a good many of our men prisoners. We have no means of telling how great the loss is at present.
I will now come down to our own regiment. – They, some of them, lagged behind in the retreat, and they keep coming in a few at a time. How many may come along we cannot tell; but at present we have not got half our number. And to come down to our company; we went on to the field with seventy men and have got back with about thirty; but we hope more of them will turn up soon. Our first Lieutenant, Littlefield, is missing. Our Capt. has gone back after him. Sergeant Brackett is doubtless killed or taken prisoner. I saw Cyrus Merrill shot dead, and any amount of others killed or wounded. Ellsworth’s Zouaves went on to the field nine hundred strong and returned with a little over one hundred.
You have read of battles and seen pictures, but the real thing is something else. Words cannot describe it; the noise and confusion; the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying; to see your friends fall around you; to see a shell burst and blow a head off here and an arm or leg there; then a fire of grape shot mowing men in every direction, and a perfect buzz of musket and rifle ball all the time; such was our position for five long hours, and then the most heartrending of all is to think we had to come off and leave the wounded scattered on the field to die, or perhaps to be finished by a blow from a rebel. All I can say is, it is thought here to have been a terrible battle, and I can testify to the truth of that. A few days will determine our loss, better than we can tell now. Why I was spared more than others and still in the heat of it all the time, I cannot tell; but it must have been the hand of the Almighty that guided the balls by on the other side.
Lancaster, NH, Coos Republican, 7/30/1861
Contributed by John J. Hennessy