Thursday, July 15. – Great excitement in camp; order was received to get ready for a forward movement; ammunition packed; haversacks and canteens were issued.
Tuesday, July 16. – The morning of that day found us marching across the Long ridge, directly through Fort Runyon, on the Virginia side; did not march over seven miles; after which we formed in line of battle and prepared to camp for the night, this being the first night in the open air. All quiet during the night.
Wednesday, July 17. – Resumed our march soon after break of day, and entered Fairfax Court House, contrary to our expectations, towards one o’clock, at mid-day, the rebels having evacuated the town shortly before our entrance. Their rear guard could be plainly seen some distance off. Our battery formed in park near the court house. Some of the boys were lucky in finding a good dinner served on a table in one of the houses, besides some articles of value, undoubtedly belonging to some confederate officers. Some picket firing during the night.
Thursday, July 18. – Advance at daylight. A part of the Union army, Gen. Tyler’s troops, engaged. This conflict the rebels call battle of Bull Run. While the contest was raging, our division halted two miles to the left of Fairfax Court House, at a place called Germantown. We could plainly hear the distant booming of artillery, and were impatiently waiting for the order, “forward.” Towards four o’clock P. M., we advanced again; preparations were made to get in action; sponge buckets filled with water, and equipments distributed among the cannoniers. But when we approached Centreville, intelligence came that our troops got worsted and the contest was given up. Our division went to camp within a mile and a half of Centreville. Strong picket lines were drawn up.
Friday, July 19. – Camp near Centreville. The troops remained quiet all day. Fresh beef as rations.
Saturday, July 20. – Quiet during the day. About six o’clock in the evening the army got ready to advance; but after council of war was held by the chief commanders, they concluded to wait till the next day.
Sunday, July 21. – Battle of Manassas Plains. This battle will always occupy a prominent place in the memory of every man of the battery. They all expected to find a disorganized mob, that would disperse at our mere appearance; while, to the general surprise, they not only were better disciplined, but also better officered than our troops. We started by tow o’clock in the morning, but proceeded very slowly. Passed Centreville before break-of-day. When the sun rose in all its glory, illuminating the splendid scenery of the Blue Ridge mountains, though no sun of Austerlitz to us, we crossed the bridge over Cub Run. By this time, the report of the 30-pounder Parrott gun belonging to Schenck’s command, who had met the enemy, was heard. Our division turned off to the right, and marched some miles through dense woodland, to the Warrenton road. Towards ten o’clock, nothing could be seen of the enemy yet, and the belief found circulation that the enemy had fallen back. Experience proved that, had we remained at Centreville, the rebel army would undoubtedly have attacked us; but hearing of our advance they only had to lay in ambush, ready to receive us. At the aforesaid time, the Second Rhode Island infantry deployed as skirmishers. We advanced steadily, till arriving at the Bull Run and Sudley’s Church, a halt was ordered to test the man and the horses. But is should not be; the brave Second R. I. Regiment, coming up to the enemy, who was concealed in the woods, their situation was getting critical. The report of cannon and musketry followed in rapid succession. Our battery, after passing Sudley’s Church, commenced to trot in great haste to the place of combat. At this moment Gen. McDowell rode up in great excitement, shouting the Capt. Reynolds: “Forward with your light battery.” This was entirely needless, as we were going at high speed, for all were anxious to come to the rescue of our Second regiment. In quick time we arrived in the open space where the conflict was raging already in its greatest fury. The guns were unlimbered, with or without command; no matter, it was done, and never did better music sound to the ears of the Second Regiment, than the quick reports of our guns, driving back the advancing foe. For nearly forty minutes our battery and the Second Regiment, defended that ground before any other troops were brought into action. Then the First Rhode Island, Seventy-first New York, and Second New Hampshire, with tow Dahlgren Howitzers, appeared, forming on the right and left. The enemy was driven successfully in our immediate front. Our battery opened on one of the enemy’s light batteries to our right, which left after a short but spirited engagement, in a rather demoralized state. Griffith’s, Ayre’s and Rickett’s batteries coming up, prospects really looked promising, and victory seemed certain. The rebel line gradually giving way. Gen. McDowell, seeing the explosion of perhaps a magazine or a caisson, raised his cap, shouting, “Soldiers, this is the great explosion of Manassas,” and seemed to be highly pleased with the work done by our battery. Owing to different orders, the battery, towards afternoon, was split into sections. Capt. Reynolds, with Lieuts. Tompkins and Weeden, off to the right, while the two pieces of the left section, to the left; Lieuts. Vaughan and Munroe remaining with the last mentioned. Firing was kept up incessantly, until the arrival of confederate reinforcements, coming down from Manassas Junction, unfurling the stars and stripes, whereby our officers were deceived to such a degree as to give the order, “Cease firing.” This cessation of our artillery fire proved, no doubt, disastrous. It was the turning point of the battle. Our lines began to waver after receiving the volleys of the disguised columns. The setting sun found the fragments of our army not only in full retreat but in complete rout, leaving most of the artillery in the hands of the enemy. Our battery happened to be the only six gun volunteer battery, carrying all the guns off the battle-field, two pieces in a disabled condition. A battery-wagon and forge were lost on the field. Retreating the same road we advanced on in the morning. All of a sudden the cry arose, “The Black Horse Cavalry is coming.” The alarm proved to be false; yet it had the effect upon many soldiers to throw away their arms. But the fears of many soldiers that the enemy would try to cut off our retreat, were partly realized. Our column having reached Cub Run bridge, was at once furiously attacked on our right by artillery and cavalry. Unfortunately, the bridge being blocked up, the confusion increased. All discipline was gone. Here our battery was lost, all but one gun, that of the second detachment, which was carried through the creek. It is kept at the armory of the Marine Artillery, in Providence. At the present time, guns, under such circumstances, would not be left to the enemy without the most strenuous efforts being made to save them. We assembled at the very same camp we left in the morning. Credit is due to Capt. Reynolds, for doing everything possible for the comfort of his men. At midnight the defeated army took up its retreat towards Washington. Our battery consisting of one gun, and the six-horse team, drove by Samuel Warden.
Monday, July 22. – Arrived at, and effected our passage across the Long Bridge, by ten o’clock, and found ourselves once more at Camp Clark, where we had a day of rest after our debut on the battle-field yesterday, under the scorching sun of Virginia.
Wednesday, July 24. – Lieut. Albert Munroe addressed the battery in regard to the battle, and attributed our defeat to the want of discipline. The men felt very indignant at his remarks. “We had to come down the regulations, the same as in the regular army, and should consider ourselves almost as State prison convicts.” We have since seen that he meant no insult towards the battery; but have found out to our satisfaction that he spoke the truth, for we have seen the time that put us almost on the same level with convicts.
Diary of Battery A, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery (Kindle Version, location 66 to 123)
Theodore Reichardt at Ancestry.com
While the above was published as a diary, it is apparent from the text that it was at least edited in retrospect.