Pvt. William Barrett, U. S. Marine Battalion, On the Battle

24 09 2018

Letter from a Marine who was at Bull’s Run

I was in the fight at Manassas Gap or Bull’s Run, as it may be called. The place has two names but I think Bull’s Run is the right one, by the way they treated us there. Out of our band of 320 marines that entered the field we only brought about 150 home with us. We were the first called to assist the Sixty-ninth. We faced them on the left of the battery, and when about fifty yards from it our men fell like hail stones. I had only fired three shots when my musket received a ball right at the lock, which put me back about three feet. As soon as I came to my ground again two men were shot down on my right and one on my left; about this time I began to look very warlike. As for my part I thought I would lose all presence of mind in such a place, but it was quite different; I was as cool as a cucumber. Then we got orders to retreat and the Sixty-ninth and Ellsworth Zouaves played on them again. This was the time they suffered; they only stood a few minutes when they retreated without orders. Then we were again called on to face the enemy, fifty thousand strong, while we had only about 200. This time we got the Seventy-First to relieve us, but to no purpose; we had to retreat. Then it was a general retreat all round; every one looked out for himself, but they took the short road and caught us again. If you had seen us swimming across Bull’s Run, you would have thought there was something after us then. We had to come to Washington, a distance of forty five miles, in our wet clothes, which were badly used up.

The route we took in going to Manassas Gap was by Arlington Heights and thence by Fairfax Court House, where several batteries had been erected. This was the first time we knew we had to fight; they never told us where we were going till then. When we were about a mile from the place they got us to load our muskets. We were the first up to the battery, where we were drawn up in line of battle, when we found that the rebels had fled to Manassas. Then the cavalry were sent in hot pursuit of the enemy, but failed to overtake them. We camped in Fairfax that night, and the boys enjoyed themselves by burning down the houses of the secessionists. Next morning we took the march again, and went to Centreville by night; here we encamped two days.

On Monday morning at three o’clock we marched to the field, and as well as I can mind it was ten or eleven o’clock when we got there. It then looked very hot. The Seventy-first was the only regiment then at them. When we arrived, just as we got out of the woods in the rear of the battery, we lost three men by cannon balls. I could not describe to you what the battle field looked like. At the time of the retreat we ran over the dead and wounded for a mile from the battery and to hear the wounded crying for help would have made the heart of stone ache. All along the road we had men, only wounded a little, who, when the long march came, had to give out and lie down to die. For ten miles this side of the field they could be seen lying here and there on the road-side.

Only four or five of the Pittsburgh boys, that I know of, were killed. One young fellow, named Frank Harris, who joined the Irish volunteers in Pittsburgh, was my right hand man; going up to the battery he did not fire a single shot; he was one of the first to fall.

There were but few of the marines who were not wounded. I believe there are not thirty in the barracks who are not wounded more or less. I think they intended to fix me when they hit the lock of my musket. You could hear the ball playing “Yankee Doodle” around your ears, but could not move . It was about as hot a place as I ever want to be in. I saw a horse’s head taken off by a cannon ball at the time of our retreat; but he kept on ten or twelve yards before he found out that he was dead, then dropped and the poor fellow that was on his back had to take the hard road for it.

I cannot tell you any more about the battle at present, as I am very tired, have not slept any for forty-eight hours and marched from forty to fifty miles, fighting our way. I wish you would send me a Pittsburgh paper with an account of the battle, that I can see the difference in it.

W.B.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, 7/31/1861

Clipping image

Contributed and transcribed by Damian Shiels

See more on this letter here

Source of identification of Barrett as the letter writer here and here.

William Barrett USMC muster sheets 1861-1864 here.

 





Charles H. Pierce, Co. D, Marine Battalion, On the Eve of the Battle

7 09 2017

Encampment of U. S. Marine Battalion
14 miles north of Manassas Junction, Virginia
Saturday July 20, 1861

Mother,

We crossed the Potomac last Tuesday and joined the advancing army. We marched all day & encamped at night near Fairfax Court House where the enemy were located in numbers to the amount of 10,000. Next morning we took the town after a short contest. The Southern Troops under General Beauregard fell back to a place two miles from where we now are.

We remained all day at Fairfax & next morning marched to attack Beauregard. We were repulsed and had to fall back. The 69th New York Regiment, it is said, had 40 men killed. We are now encamped in an old field by the side of the road, awaiting guns to come up from Washington, before we make another attack. They will be here tomorrow. We should take Manassas Junction next week and then push on to Richmond. I have suffered dreadfully since I have been on the march. The roads are hot & dusty, water is scarce, & I have often wished I could get shot to get clear of the intolerable thirst. My feet are all blistered & sore. We have to rest at night & every morning I feel almost unable to get up off the ground upon which we all have to sleep. I am writing this letter on my knee sitting in the shade under a tree. Write as soon as you get this and direct the letter as follows:

Company D Marine Battalion
Near Manassas Junction, Virginia

Tell me what the papers say about us. I mean what accounts do they give of our intentions.

We are within five miles of the enemy who are very numerous and strong, entrenched (they say but no one knows anything about their strength.)

Charles H. Pierce

I do not have an idea that I shall get shot. But I do not believe I can stand the hardships of the march much longer. You may consider this a letter from the battlefield, for mighty is war going on between our advanced guards & the enemy at a place called Centreville.

Museum Quality Americana auction site, Sept. 2017

Letter image and transcription

Contributed by John Hennessy





Observer, U. S. Marine Battalion, On the Battle

8 06 2015

U. S. Marines at the Battle of Bull Run.

Correspondence of the Traveller.

Washington, August 9.

The battalion of United States Marines, commanded by Major John Geo. Reynolds, were in the action from the commencement until the retreat sounded. During the day they supported Griffin’s Battery, and in the charges that they made, fought with desperation; and throughout the entire battle behaved with all the coolness of veterans. The most of these men were raw recruits some of them never having been instructed in the drill prior to their departure for the field. All honor is due to our noble and gallant Major (Reynolds), who in so short a space of time raised them to such a state of efficiency, that they could favorably compare with the best men on the field. I think there are very few officers in the United States service who have the art of imparting knowledge to recruits to such a degree as Major Reynolds. On the field he behaved with coolness, and bravely led his battalion against the rebel hordes. When I saw how gallantly he acted, his long white locks streaming in the wind, I felt that I would freely sacrifice my life to have saved his. God has spared him while others have been stricken down. Lieut. Hitchcock was struck dead with a rifled cannon shot. Our officers have all shown, that although young (some of them smelling powder for the first time), they inherit the natural bravery of their ancestors. I think after this the Confederates will give the Marines a wide berth.

Major Leilin[*] was shot through the arm while leading his Company in the final charge. Among others who distinguished themselves was Lieutenant William H. Hale, who acted in a gallant and heroic manner, rallying our men by examples of bravery seldom surpassed. After Sherman’s Battery was taken by the enemy, Gen. McDowell ordered the Marines to advance and retake the guns. Lieut. Hale seized the Battalion Colors, and , while urging the men forward, was struck in the leg with a Minie Rifle Ball, inflicting a severe and dangerous wound. Paying but little attention to the wound, he continued at his post until the order of retreat was given. After having regained the other side, where our own forces were drawn up, he gave up the Colors to his commanding officer, and fell from exhaustion.

The Marines were the last to leave the field, covering the retreat of our retiring forces, and bravely contesting the ground with the rebels, inch by inch. Major Leilin, Major Nicholson, Captain Allan Ramsey, Lieutenants Monroe, Grimes, Baker, and Huntington, all behaved in a gallant and meritorious manner. Fifty-two of the Marines are killed and missing, and 22 wounded.

Major Reynolds is very active at present (having recovered from the fatigues of our long march,) in promoting the proficiency of our corps, drilling the men early and late. The Major is the able constructor and designer of the new Marine Barracks in Boston, said to be convenient, comfortable, and superior to any other Barracks in the United States.

Our men are now ready for the field, and eager for the fray. Gen. McDowell and staff gave our Battalion great credit for the manner in which they conducted themselves while under fire.

Observer.

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[*] Edit – Jacob Zeilin, commanding Co. A of the battalion, would later become the seventh commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps, its first non-brevet general officer, and approved the corps’ eagle, globe, and anchor emblem.

Based on the narrative, it is assumed the author is a member of the battalion.

Boston Daily Evening Traveller, 8/13/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





The Marine Battalion’s Bull Run Flag

19 01 2011

Friend Craig Swain sent this image of the flag carried by the U. S. Marine Battalion at First Bull Run. 

The flag is in the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA.

Per Craig:

The caption under the flag reads:

Civil War Marine Corps Colors.

Maj. John Reynolds’ Marine Battalion reportedly carried this flag at the First Battle of Manassas, 21 July 1861.  The battalion, comprised primarily of raw recruits with three weeks’ service, suffered the same fate as the rest of the Federal army in their defeat by the Confederate Army.

Artifact tag number is 1974.2768.1.

You can view this and other images from Craig’s trip to the museum here.

Read more about the Marines at First Bull Run here, here, here, and here.





Robert Hitchcock

22 05 2010

The letters from Lt. Robert Hitchcock, USMC to his parents prior to the Battle of Bull Run were part of a larger article published in the March/April, 1992 Civil War Times Illustrated.  The article consisted of several Hitchcock letters, annotated by David M. Sullivan and including biographical information on Hitchcock.

Robert Emmett Hitchcock: born 9/29/1839 Shoreham, VT; B. S. Norwich University, 1859; appealed to Vermont congressional delegation for a Marine Corps commission 4/1861; drilled recruits of 2nd VT Volunteer Infantry, Waterbury, VT 4/61 – 5/61; reported to Marine Barracks, Washington DC 6/12/61, and appointed 2nd Lt. to date from 6/5/61; with 1st Lt. Alan Ramsey commanded Company C of four companies of the battalion assigned to Porter’s brigade of Hunter’s Division of McDowell’s Army, 7/16/61; while providing support to Hasbrouck’s section of Griffin’s Co. D, 5th U. S. Artillery on Henry House Hill during Battle of First Bull Run, struck in the face by a Confederate shell and killed instantly, 7/21/61; body assumed buried by Confederates on the field and not recovered; memorial in Lakeview Cemetery, Shoreham, VT.

 

Photos from Findagrave.com.

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2nd Lt. Robert Hitchcock, USMC to His Parents on the Eve of Battle

20 05 2010

U. S. Marine Barracks

Washington, D. C.

July 14, 1861

Dear Parents,

Your letter came to hand yesterday.  I was very happy to hear from you at this time in particular.  Last night, after I passed down the line to receive the reports of the companies, I was met by Capt. Jones, who said to me, “Mr. Hitchcock, prepare to take the field on Monday morning.”  So tomorrow morning will see me and five other Lieuts. with 300 Marines, raw recruits in every sense of the term, on our way to Fairfax Court House to take part in a bloody battle which is to take place, it is thought, about Wednesday.  This is unexpected to us, and the Marines are not fit to go into the field, for every man of them is raw as you please, not more than a hundred of them have been here over three weeks.  We have no camp equipage of any kind, not even tents, and after all this, we are expected to take the brunt of battle.  We are to be commanded by Major Reynolds, I suppose.  We shall do as well as we can under the circumstances: just think of it, 300 raw men in the field!  We shall drill all day and work hard.  I have been very busy all day thus far but have taken a little time to write you.  I have left my things with Lieut. Wm. H. Parker, and my watch also.  He has my address and will take good care of my clothes, watch, etc.  By writing to him you can find out about my matters.  In case anything happens to me, he will send my things to you, and you can do as you like with them.  Lieuts. Baker, Burrough and Parker will be left here at the Barracks, and any of them would be pleased to ive you information in regard to me or my matters.  I hope the God of Battles will give me strength and wisdom to act wisely, and do my duty well.  I am not prepared to die, but I am prepared to serve my country, and stand by the Stars and Stripes till the last.  I am well and in good spirits.  May God bless you all, is the wish of your

Affectionate Son,

Robt.

P. S.  My love to all, and best regards to all my friends.  I am just informed that we leave tomorrow evening.

—————————

Camp near Centreville, Virginia

Head Quarters Battalion Marines

Col. Porter’s Brigade,

Corps Reserve

July 20th , 1861

Dear Parents,

We have been in the field nearly a week now and have not had an engagement yet.  The enemy has fled before us as we approached their different positions.  We expected to have a fight at Fairfax Court House but as we approached their works they fled leaving a great quantity of flour, Ham, Pork, spears, shovels, etc.  The works at Fairfax were good and they could have held us in check for a while, but would have been routed after a while by a flank movement.  The Confederates made a stand at Bull Run which is between our camp and Centreville an about two miles from us.

A fight took place at Centreville day before yesterday, the result of which we cannot get at, there are so many different reports.  We have been at this encampment about 36 hours waiting for Patterson’s and McClellan’s to come up with their columns in order to make a combined attack upon Manassas Junction where the rebels are collected in great force.  We shall bring a force of nearly 129,000 men against them: how the battle will terminate I know not.  At Centreville the  forces engaged were the N.Y. 69th and 12th Regts.  The 12th did not stand fire well after a little and went in.  They were in a tight spot.  They were in an angle in the road which was covered by a masqued battery that opened upon them rather unexpectedly.  The killed and wounded amt. to 29, six I think were killed.  I do not know when we shall advance, we may take up the line of march today, and may not leave here for a number of days.  We are without tents or anything of the kind, still we manage to live very well.  I am well.  This is rather a rough life after all, in the field as we are without the usual convenience of camp.  The 23rd Regulars are next to us commanded by Maj. Stiaso, I think.  Just now as I write, four men of the Regt. are receiving 50 lashes for desertion; rather hard I tell you.  I shall write as often as I can.  I cannot write more today.  I was on guard last night and must get rest as to be ready to advance.  I hope you are well at home.  Much love to you and the family.  Give my regards to all that inquire after me.

As every, your aft. son,

Robt.

[Civil War Times Illustrated, March/April 1992 – courtesy of reader Mike Pellegrini]

Notes

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Marines at First Bull Run

23 07 2008

Yep, they were there, too.  If Reynolds’ report piqued your interest, you can read more about leathernecks at Manassas here.