Pvt. John Marshall Hamlet, Co. H, 18th Virginia Infantry, On the Battle

18 12 2020

Centreville, Fairfax county, Va.
July 24, 1861

I should have written to you sooner & I fear that my delay has caused you some anxiety, but this is the first opportunity I have had for a week. I am well except a sore throat and slight cough. We have had a great deal of rain within the last few days and have been very much exposed as our tents and baggage have been at Manassas since our retreat from Fairfax Court House which you have no doubt heard of.

I will now give you some account of the battles here. Our pickets were driven in about 7 o’clock A. M. on the 17th inst. (we were then at Fairfax Court House). The pickets were within two miles of the enemy’s camp and came near being surrounded by their skirmishers before they came in. We were ordered out on the field and forming in line of battle, but as soon as the enemy came in sight, we were marched off in this direction (none of us knowing that a retreat was intended). One regiment remained of South Carolinians long enough to fire one round & [then] retreated.

The enemy’s advance forces came to Centreville that night and came to Mitchell’s Ford (across Bull Run) early the next morning [18 July] and cannonaded the fortifications there until finding that they could not get over that way, they made an effort to storm the works. The infantry behind the works held their fire until they came very near when they fired & leaped over the works & charged upon them with the bayonet and repulsed them so completely that they gave up the idea of crossing there. The fight lasted four of five hours.

Our regiment was at a ford about four miles above Mitchell’s so we were not engaged in the battle. It is stated that between 900 and 1,000 of the enemy were left dead upon the field. Our loss in killed was very small—not over 20. I suppose though about 40 or 50 [were] wounded.

The Battle on Sunday the 21st was about two miles above us & extended over several miles & lasted between eight and ten hours. Our regiment was marched to the field about 2 o’clock P. M. We marched about one mile over the field where they had been fighting. It was a horrid sight—strewn with the killed and wounded. When we got within 4 or 5 hundred yards of the enemy, we were much exposed to their fire. One South Carolina regiment had taken their battery and they had retaken it. The South Carolinians again drove them from it and they were rallying to get it again when our regiment came in sight. We were ordered to charge upon it which we did & fired a volley upon them when they retreated rapidly. We fired three rounds, then turned their battery upon them so they ran. We had one man killed and three or four wounded, one of whom is mortally wounded.

Our Capt. was wounded by a bomb shell & has returned home. Our regiment lost only five killed and about twenty wounded. Some two or three Southern regiments were badly cut to pieces. Ellsworth’s Zouaves from New York were nearly all killed though they fought desperately. In their retreat, they threw away their guns, knapsacks, and took to the woods. Radford’s Cavalry & Kemper’s Battery pursued them to Fairfax Court House and took an immense number of horses, wagons, ambulances, and a large number of cannon. I do not know how many cannon were taken as there are so many reports about it, but I heard repeatedly today that there were 82 pieces.

Our loss is said to be 1500 in killed and wounded. That of the enemy’s is said to be triple that number at least. No doubt the papers will give more reliable accounts of the loss than I can. The Yankee’s will certainly fight although they are said to be so cowardly. A large number of prisoners were also taken. Since the fight, our forces have been advanced towards Alexandria rapidly. We are now at Centreville and expect to leave tomorrow…. Write soon. Direct to Manassas Junction as our mail is sent to us from there.

Yours affectionately, — J. M. Hamlet

Contributed and transcribed by William Griffing.

See post at Spared & Shared, including other letters of James and his brother, John

James Marshall Hamlet at Ancestry

James Marshall Hamlet at Fold3

James Marshall Hamlet at Myheritage