Lt. Col. Francis Effingham Pinto, 32nd New York Infantry, On the Campaign

9 03 2023

We commenced drilling and instructing the regiment in all that was necessary to make them soldiers. Mr. Lincoln, the President, came out to our camp to witness a parade of the regiment. Soon after we had been settled in this camp, I went to New York to close up some of our Regimental business, and while at home in Amsterdam, I received a telegram that the regiment had been ordered to cross the Potomac to Alexandria, Va., and to join the regiment, as there was a movement to the front, and a battle in prospect. I left Amsterdam on the evening of July 16th. I got together some 20 recruits during the next day in New York, and took the train for Washington the same evening, arriving in Washington next morning (the 18th) crossed to Alexandria, paying the boat charges for the men, amounting to Six dollars, rather than wait to get transportation, which would have kept me half of the day in going through the red tape business that was necessary. I found the Camp of this regiment near Fort Runyon, but deserted excepting a few men left to look after the property in Camp. The regiment left Alexandria on the 16th of July and was Brigaded with the 16th, 18th, 31st and 32nd New York. Colonel Thomas A. Davies of the 16th N. Y., by virtue of his commission, being the oldest, had command. I soon made a bargain with a colored man to take me to the Regiment as far as he ventured to go. He took us to Fairfax Court House and I could not persuade him to go further, he was terribly frightened at going the distance he had, so we took to the road on foot. We overtook a train of ammunition, and got in the wagon, and had not gone fare when we heard artillery firing. Soon after a cavalry man came dashing down the road, swinging an envelope in his hand, to show he was on important business with despatches, who reported our army to be in retreat. The teamsters became panic and were about to turn back. I protested so rigorously that they continued on to our camp. We arrived at the Camp at Centreville late in the afternoon. Some men of the regiment recognized me coming up, and I received a round of cheers. Colonel Dixon S. Miles, who commanded the division that our Brigaded had been assigned to, came out of his tent, and wanted to know what all the noise was about. Colonel Matheson being very near, told him the cause, and he went back to his tent. The artillery firing we heard was at Blackburn’s ford, merely a few exchanges of shot with the enemy across the stream.

On the 20th, an order was issued by General McDowell, commanding the Army, to Colonel Dixon S. Miles to have a reconnoissance made on the left of his camp. I was called upon to take command. Engineer Lieutenant Fred. E. Primes, on the staff of Colonel Miles, was ordered to accompany us. I had about 500 men. Our camp was about one mile from Bull Run Creek, the stream making quite a bend towards our camp at this point. On leaving camp we soon struck a piece of woods, and, not seeing a sign of any picket or out-posts, I thought it prudent to send out some skirmishers in front of our flanks. Passing through the woods we came to a small clearing, quite near the banks of Bull Run Stream. Placing the main force in the edge of the woods, I sent about 50 men down the banks to the stream, which was hidden from our view by woods. Lieut. Prime went with the advance force. Here they discovered the rebels picketing the opposite side of the stream, which was fordable at almost any part. Lieutenant Prime and the small force returned, having gained the knowledge of the fact that the rebels could cross here at their pleasure, and that there were no troops of ours in that direction to interfere with them.

I thought it very strange that an officer intrusted with a command should have so little thought or care for the safety of his camp when in the presence of the enemy, but I had seen and heard enough about Colonel Miles, in the short time that I had been in camp, to condemn him as an unfit man to be trusted with the lives of men in warfare. Colonel Miles was a regular officer, trained at West Point, so should have been alive to the necessity of protecting his camp from a midnight or day attack, which could have been done, and been a complete surprise, if the enemy had so desired. They probably had no suspicion of the unprotected condition of our camp. The next morning, July 21st, all was bustle and activity, preparing to meet the enemy on the opposite side of Bull Run stream. Our division, under Colonel Miles, was what was called the resereve, but more properly, the left wing of the Army, composed of three brigades, commanded by Colonel Israel B. Richardson. Colonel Lewis Blenker and Colonel Thomas A. Davies. the whole force numbered twelve regiments and several Batteries. We took up our position on and near Centreville Hill and Blackburn’s Ford – no doubt we were judiciously located – as it prevented the enemy from crossing the Bull Run stream and attacking our army in the rear, and the Confederate forces at Blackburn’s Ford, in like manner protected their right wing. In a small clearing to the left of the main road leading to the Ford, about half way between Centreville and the Ford, a Battery was placed in position. The 31st New York Regiment, Colonel Calvin E. Pratt, was placed there to support the Battery. In the early part of the day some trees were felled near this Battery, forming a barricade. I did not think it amounted to much of a position. there was a narrow wood road leading from the main road to this clearing. Our regiment was posted on the main road near Centreville Ridge. During the day I visited all the points of interest and was well acquainted with the position of our troops. The main army crossed at the Fort at Sudley Springs, several miles to the right of us. it was something new to them to see a body of the enemy. They were within range of our muskets: Cadet John R. Weigs, whom nobody seemed to know, waving a white handkerchief, rode down to their front, asking the commanding officer if they were Federal or Confederate troops. The answer being the latter, he then asked permission to retire. Before he had got out of range of our fire the enemy had disappeared in the woods, as our force on the ridge presented quite a formidable appearance. Cadet Weigs was the son of Quartermaster General Weigs*. He had volunteered his services, and was acting on the staff of Colonel Richardson. He went forward to the front of the enemy without orders, apparently, and when he returned he was asked who he was. It was a gallant act, and showed the material that was in him.

It was now getting to be dark, and nobody seemed to know what to do. No person of authority to give orders, that I could see. I did not see Colonel Miles during the day, and the Colonels commanding Brigades were disputing with each other the question of rank, which seemed to concern them more than fighting the enemy. There was no determined attempt to cross the Bull Run by the enemy further than I have mentioned. The cavalry force that appeared in our front was only one Company as reported by the officer who commanded, I find reported in the Congressional reports. The road that our army returned on from Bull Run was just over the hill out of our sight, not more than an eighth of a mile distant. We saw nothing of the panic, and knew nothing of it at that time. When we realized what had taken place, we barricaded the road to Blackburn’s Ford with such material as we could collect, which was not much. Soon after dark a young officer rode up to me and announced himself as Adjutant of the DeKalb Regiment**, just from Fairfax Cour House, and asked for a position for his regiment. I directed him to take a position on our right. The regiment did as I directed. During the evening they left us, and all the other troops that were on the hill disappeared. We soon found out we were left quite alone, and without orders. Finally, about ten o’clock, or later, we came to the conclusion that we had better leave and find out what was up. We went over the hill in the direction of the camp we had left in the morning, expecting to find the rest of the army there, but what a melancholy disappointment. There was not a human being in sight, A dew smoking embers showing that there had been someone there and that they had cooked their coffee before leaving. I also impressed us with the fact that we had been neglected; but how could it be otherwise, as it was well known that our Division Commander was drunk, and the other would-be soldiers, excepting Colonel I. B. Richardson, commanding one of the Brigades, had no knowledge of the duties of a soldier. Colonel Richardson preferred charges of drunkenness against Colonel miles and he was found guilty by a Court Martial.

General Wm. B. Franklin, General John Sedgwick and Captain Thomas Seymour, 1st U. S. Artillery, composed the court. Colonel Miles was killed at Harper’s Ferry, Sept. 15th, 1862, while in command of that post.

I take exception to a part of Colonel Richardson’s report of the encounter with the enemy on the 21st of July. He states that he ordered Lieutenant Benjamin of the Artillery to open fire upon the Cavalry when they made their appearance just below us, and that after a few shots they disappeared. I say, there was not a shot fired either by the Artillery or Infantry. I also beg to differ with him in other important points in his report relating to the retreat. Finding the Camp at Centreville abandoned, we then struck the main road leading back to Alexandria, and we soon comprehended what had taken place. The stamped was made plain to us at this point. It is not in my power to properly describe the sight we saw here. Wagons upset on both sides of the road, tongues broken, traces cut, all kinds of army materials scattered along the sides of the road, and muskets without number. There was a four horse ambulance, the tongue broken. Procuring some rope from the abandoned wagons, we hitched on to the ambulance and commenced gathering up the muskets and placed them in the ambulance. there were so many of them we gave up the task. We put some of our disabled men in, and hauled the ambulance to Fairfax Court House. We halted there for the rest of the night. There was not a man of our army there, excepting our Regiment, the 32nd New York. The next morning, at broad daylight, we continued our march to Alexandria, hauling the ambulance into our Camp near Fort Runyon, arriving there about noon on the 22nd of July, with every man of the Regiment accounted for.

It is unpleasant to me to hear of troops claiming to have brought up the rear of our retreating army from Bull Run, some claiming through their reports to headquarters, which I find published in the Congressional Reports, of their bringing up the rear of the retreating army. Colonel I. B. Richardson, who commanded one of Miles’ Brigades, composed, as he states in his report, of the 12th New York, 1st Massachusetts, 2nd and 3rd Michigan regiments, claiming that he covered the retreat from Centreville, arriving at his camp at Arlington at 4 o’clock in the morning of the 22nd. He evidently did not know that the 32nd New York was still in rear of him, and not having received orders to retire from their position at Centreville Ridge, but late that night finding themselves apparently deserted, moved without orders to find the balance of the army, and did not find any portion of the army until they arrived at Alexandria. General Wm. B. Franklin, who was in command there, learning of our coming into Camp at noon of the 22nd, hauling the big ambulance from Centreville, said the ambulance should belong to the regiment. But it was soon required, and taken from us.

Francis E. Pinto, History of the 32nd Regiment, New York Volunteers, in the Civil War, 1861 to 1863, And Personal
Recollections During that Period.
Brooklyn, New York: n.p., 1895
, pp. 12-20 via New York Public Library

Contributed by Dan Weinfeld and John Hennessy

*Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs and his son, USMA Cadet John Rodgers Meigs

**41st New York Infantry

Francis E. Pinto at Ancestry

Francis E. Pinto at Fold3

Francis E. Pinto at FindAGrave

Capt. William Colvill, Co. F, 1st Minnesota, On the Battle, Retreat, and Revisiting the Battlefield

14 11 2022



A Proud and Thrilling Reminiscence of the War – The First Minnesota on the Historic Field.


Address of Col. Wm. Colvill at the Re-Union of the Survivors of the First Minnesota, June 21, 1877.


The official reports of the first battle of Bull Run give a very vague idea of the plan of operations – of what was actually done, or of the part taken by different regiments; and there has been no account of it that does anything like justice to this regiment. While my account will be mainly confined to the part of our regiment in it, I will try to so connect it as to make the whole tolerably clear. I shall have to state it in great part from what I actually saw, and it will make the narrative somewhat person, but as such personal expression will give some notion of the individual experience of each of us, I hope it will be thought excusable.

The maps accompanying Gen. Pope’s report of the second battle of Bull Run, as published in the report of the Congressional committee on the conduct of the war, cover the ground that was the scene of the first battle, and will do for a study of it, although it must be borne in mind that at the time there were vast forests covering most of it, which at the time of the second battle had almost entirely disappeared.

Centreville is six miles north of Manassas, and four miles northeasterly, by the Warrenton pike, of the Stone Bridge. Bull Run is midway between Centreville and Manassas and flows southeasterly so that the Warrenton pike runs diagonally up the valley from Centreville and the bridge. The road to Sudley’s Springs turns off to the west, half way between Centreville and the bridge, and winds for four miles up and down the heights to the Springs, which are two miles above the bridge. The Warrenton pike pursues a straight course from Centreville to Gainesville at the crossing of the Manassas road six miles west from the bridge, and from the bridge follows the general course of Young’s creek – a small rivulet heading near Gainesville – which it crosses several times. The creek puts into the Run one mile below the level of the country, and just below the toll-gate where the fight commenced, and where the stream crosses the Manassas pike, blowing north is about forty rods wide. The hills are low and generally of easy slopes.

Roads diverge in all directions from Sudley’s Springs. Three of them cross the pike between the bridge and Gainesville – the most easterly of which runs due south to New Market and then passes southeasterly about a mile in the rear or to the west of Manassas. At the toll-gate, the point where it crosses the pike, this road is one and a half miles south of the Springs. From the toll-gate to Manassas is six miles. A direct road runs from the bridge to New Market. There is also a direct road six miles from the Springs – to Hay Market, which is two miles north of Gainesville on the Manassas railroad. The railroad runs almost due east from Manassas and therefore crosses the valley of Bull Run diagonally.

We struck the enemy’s outposts on the 18th of July, six to ten miles east of Bull Run, and they withdrew from both sides toward and along the railroad.

Centreville is on higher ground than Manassas, but the latter and Bull Run in that direction were at that time entirely hid by dense and seemingly interminable forests. To the south and east from Centreville we overlooked nothing but woods as far as the eye could see.

In these woods in the early part of the night of the 20th was a continuous roll of picket firing. At 2 o’clock of the morning of the 21st, when we drew up in Centreville ready to march, this had entirely subsided, and the sun rose out of the woods, as we still stood watching the passage of our noiseless columns, as it rises out of the sea revealing nothing of its gloomy and silent depths. Of itself this omen was sombre and saddening, and the thought that within these depths were thousands of enemies thirsting for our blood, made the solemnity awful. We turn our eyes to the west, to the long lines of our soldiers, with uniforms and arms bright and gleaming in the sun and become more cheerful.

Hunter’s division has passed, followed by a train of carriages containing headquarter officials and citizens. In the venerable form of some portly Senator some one has recognized General Scott, and with a thrill of enthusiasm at the thought that this grand old soldier is to direct the battle we step out on the march. Our Colonel’s face beams with excitement as he recalls the glories of Mexico, and our chaplain, with head bent forward, is dreaming of the campaigns of Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon – of the knightly adventures of the Crusaders, and whatever his historical reading recalls – and he has come actually to bear a part in such things. Our column of march, before and behind, as far as the eye can reach, is brilliant with the blue, gray, green and scarlet uniforms of the different regiments, trumpets and drums, artillery, cavalry, Highlanders, Moors, Turks, Germans, Irish – making up a lively scene and coming up to his most realistic ideas of the pomp and panoply of glorious war.

Following Hunter’s division, we strike the timber beyond Cub Run and turn off along the Sudley Springs road, winding up over the wooded heights, from which a great part of the way we overlook the valley of Bull Run to the left. Our march is slow. At length we hear the boom of the 32 pounder, announcing that Tyler’s column has come into position at the Stone Bridge. We see the smoke of the shell as it explodes high in the air. It is not answered, but miles away beyond we see the black smoke of a locomotive and hear the clatter of the cars – a long train, with speed accelerated by the shell, rushing towards the Blue Run mountains – misty in the distance – for reinforcements. After another hour Bull Run comes in sight in front, and we see our regiments – resting at ease in the meadow below – and the Sudley’s Church. The heat has become intense, and we anticipate our rest and lunch with great pleasure, but now comes the sound of quick cannonading – now sharp volleys of musketry. The enemy has attacked our advance beyond the Run and Burnside is pushing his brigade, which has to lead, to force him back down the stream. This he does by moving up ravines, flanking his – the enemy’s – position, when he falls back again and opens fire. This is again and again repeated, the fire becoming faster, and in the meantime we come to the stream and fill our canteens. Regiment after regiment, rushes over the Run – part of Hunter’s command – to Burnside’s support. We cross over and marc about a quarter of a mile down the valley, halt, unsling knapsacks and wait for orders. The fight grows more furious; wounded men are carried back to the church – now a hospital; our people are cheering; now the roaring of guns and musketry is constant. Who? the rebels! We are now fuming and fretting, our Colonel fidgety and swearing. “We are not going to have a chance at all.” “Keep cool, Col. Gorman,” says Gen. Franklin, riding by, “you will soon have enough of it.” After a few minutes, which seemed hours, an aid comes dashing back and we are ordered to the front – double quick. We leave our knapsacks in heaps and follow him along a bridle path, running through the woods, up the hill. We meet Hunter wounded, who cheers us on. After a mile or more, out of breath, we come out in a field, and to a halt, the head of the regiment near the toll gate on the Warrenton pike. In front of us to the east is the valley of Young’s Creek, in which are drawn up several regiments. We notice the Highlanders and Ellsworth’s Zouaves, conspicuous from their uniforms.

We see groups of officers at sheltered points watching the enemy. He has a battery half a mile away on the summit, between us and Stone Bridge. Another battery is upon a knoll and protected by earthworks, and is about forty rods to the south of the first battery and across the pike from it. A house with shrubbery and orchard is between it and the pike. Both batteries are firing over our men – out of their site in the valley of Young’s Creek – at Rickett’s battery of 12 pounder Napoleons, which is in our front, near the edge of the hill. It answers them, the gunners springing to their work with every nerve. To our right, across the pike and about 40 rods away, we see the New Market Road leading down to the valley of Young’s Creek and up the other side, where, as it rises the hill, it enters the woods and is soon lost to sight. The woods on the left of it are second growth pine; on the side fronting us, about 30 rods across – this wood is bounded on the left by the pasture extending from thence to the pike, in which is the entrenched battery. The wood on the right of the New Market road is a heavy growth of hard timber, extending indefinitely to the southwest.

It seems the plan is, for us, Hunter and Heintzelman, 20,000 strong, to follow this New Market road a sufficient distance to clear the Stone Bridge and then to join with Tyler, who is to cross when we are opposite and sweep down between the New Market road and Bull Run, on the rebel rear, stampede them with a rush to the direct road between Centreville and Manassas, then give the hand to our reserved division at that point 10,000 strong which has been all the time menacing that crossing of Bull Run, and together sweep over and gather up what is left of the enemy at Manassas, and end the war before night.

We must give the hand to Tyler and we are already several hours behind time, and these two batteries between us and Tyler, and commanding both positions, must be driven away.

McDowell, Heintzelman, Franklin, Wilcox, Burnside, Gov. Sprague and others are on the field, and at length have a consultation. Rickett’s smooth bores can’t reach the enemy’s guns. He is to move down the New Market road and then out into the field to the left, near the left corner of the pine wood, and open upon them at half distance, and the First Minnesota is to support him. Gen. Franklin has given Gorman his chance, and so notifies him. Gorman, with that decision which was his characteristic, immediately gave us the order “forward.” We gaily file across the pike, our banners – each company has one – fluttering. The chaplain rushes to the front, tears the fence away to let us through, and commences his speech. Each company as it passes picks up the sense of it. It is “to remember Minnesota, whose honor is in our keeping.” It is appreciated and our eyes gleam an answer. In the field across the pike we for the first time draw the enemy’s fire. Their shot came dropping down almost perpendicularly on account of the elevation of the guns, now one side and now the other, and we answer each with a bow – too low to be graceful – but you see we are an awkward squad. “Shame! stand up like men!” exclaims Lieut. Welch, indignantly. “The d—-dest politest regiment I ever saw,” says Orderly Maginnis. There was a laugh and no more ducking. We are in the New Market road hurrying down the hill. Our battery has limbered up and followed us and in its turn drawn the enemy’s fire. We cross the creek, file into the field towards the designated position. The leading company half way up the hill – we come company into line, then forward into line double quick. Capt. Wilkins, Co. A, now just beyond the brink, is halted, say two rods from and fronting the pine wood, which is so dense that we cannot see into it at all. Company F joins on his left, its left extending to a point opposite the corner of the wood; Company D is coming up; gen. Heintzelman, riding from the New Market road by the rear of the first two companies, directs to “feel in the woods for the enemy,” and we open with volleys fires low, repeated rapidly. There is no answer. Now the color company, C, is coming into line, when our battery gallops between it and the right color company, H. Rickett unlimbers his first gun to the front, fires one shot, and in answer the enemy concentrate the fire of their two batteries upon him. In an instant his guns are horseless and most of his men killed or wounded. We on the right, still firing into the woods, hear a tremendous volley to the left, and looking that way see where the guns stood in sight a moment ago a great mass of men in gray. They have come out of the woods – but a few rods to march – and with Union colors at their head, came up to the guns and fired almost in the faces of our center companies – till then in doubt whether they are friends or not. That fire caused awful destruction. One-third of the four center companies were laid prostrate. The remainder, with Company D on the right and K on the left, instantly fall as skirmishers on the slope of the hill and answer their fire; they still move obliquely to the left, but the left companies, E and B, have now come into line and with the two right companies pour an oblique fire through and through them. They are faced quartering towards the left of the regiment, and answer the fire in that direction; we fairly riddle them with bullets; they try to face about; they gesticulate desperately – we suppose they yell, but cannot hear them; we fire away. Along comes some one shouting “They are friends – it is all a mistake.” We point to the three sets of rebel colors now unfurled in a group directly opposite us, and answer with a volley. We keep firing, and they are in an awful state of desperation – still gesticulating frantically. As I look over the lines of Company F at the enemy some one touches my right shoulder, and looking up there is a horseman in gray. We have many regiments dressed in gray and I think nothing of it, but he says “why do you fire on your friends?” “Where do your belong?” Second Mississippi brigade.” “We are the First Minnesota.” The officer dismounts and is sent under guard to the Brookly Zouaves – 13th New York – which we now observe is drawn up at the foot of the hill. Directly the guard reports that he has been received by Capt. Butts of that regiment, who promises to take good care of him. We never saw the prisoner or that regiment afterwards.

We maintain our fire; the enemy gradually gain space and step out towards the rear, we following through the woods and along the fence on the left of it, but they soon get into a run and are out of sight. We find many men lying dead or wounded in the wood, some skulking. We pick up dozens of them, who are sent to Capt. Butts. In a moment we have learned the story. They belong to an Arkansas regiment that had been placed to hold the line of the wood, with instructions not to fire until the battery came up. Our volleys had surprised and stampeded them. The main force, to their left rear, supposed that this fire was that of this Arkansas regiment, and immediately started for the guns. Not being faced towards us on the right, and our six centre companies dropping instantly on to the slope of the hill, made such a gap that when they did see us we appeared to them to be a separate command, which they took to be the Arkansas regiment. This conviction was aided by the fact that that regiment had no regular uniform, except a red shirt like ours. Our two companies in the wood at length skirmished to the upper end of it, Capt. Wilkin extending his right to the New Market road. We came out upon a long brush and bramble pasture, intersected with sheep paths. A short distance up, but partially hidden by the brush, we see numbers of men, apparently resting, but in no regular order. At the same instant, with a terrific yell, up springs a large force of men at the left side of the brush lot, and charged in three lines – still yelling – past us towards our guns. They are soon lost to sight, but we hear their volleys and the answering fire. The firing soon receded towards their batteries, and soon was taken up with rapid volleys and yells and answering volleys and cheers towards the Stone Bridge, and in that direction is now a heavy and constant cannonading. There is lively skirmishing in the woods to the right of the New Market road, and from that direction and also from our rear there is a constant “whiz” of bullets. Numbers of our men are wounded here. After some time – in the excitement we have not taken note of it – all becomes quiet, the woods are dark and the silence dismal. We think it best to rejoin the regiment – half a dozen of us. We are so scattered and the woods so dense that the rest are out of sight, and we grope our way back to the point where we entered the woods. We find a few men walking about, piles of dead, and four of our guns, black and begrimed with powder, still in the same place and no one with them. They look desolate enough. While looking about in surprise and doubt at the silence and absence of troops, I will give an account of what I afterwards learned of the performance of our own and other regiments while we were in the woods. After the first regiment had been relived from the attack first mentioned it had its dead and wounded to carry back and care for and the left was drawn up further down the valley under the shelter of the hill, which was there more precipitous. The Fire Zouaves, the Highlanders, the Brooklyn Zouaves and a Michigan regiment, all in Wilcox’s command, had in turn charged the rebel batteries and been repulsed. Many of the Fire Zouaves in fleeing stopped with our left and with it and other troops repulsed the attack last mentioned. This last force of the enemy, either repulsed or ordered back, had retired in the direction of their batteries and soon, with other of their regiments, became engaged with the Irish brigade, part of Tyler’s command, which brigade had in the meantime forced the crossing of the Run. The Irish whipped the enemy beautifully and drove them clean from the field, artillery and all, but soon, for want of discipline and efficient commanders, had scattered and finally joined the rout back to Centreville – the panic having then commenced in Tyler’s command on the Centreville side of Bull Run, among those who had not fired a shot or seen an enemy. Our Colonel Miller had rallied the scattered men of our regiment, and with a number of Fire Zouaves advanced with them into the wood on the right of the New Market road and maintained a constant skirmish fight. Afterwards this command repulsed the charge of the Black Horse cavalry, which came down this road. This, I suspect, was very easily done.

But to return to my story. By this time a few more of the boys found their way out of the woods and joined us. Along came Gen. Wilcox from the left, quite forlorn, with perhaps a dozen of his command grouped about him, but inquiring for the enemy. Mentioning the position where we had seen the enemy “resting” we started up through the woods for the place, keeping near the fence on the left side, where the was more clear for his horse. We met skulkers in the way, who surrendered without resistance. A Zouave was about to bayonet one of them when Wilcox interfered and saved him. If living he may remember this incident. At length we came to the upper edge of the wood. The General continued straight on, going carefully, with a few men about him, while our boys started towards a large tree off to the right, which was a good post for observation. We found the place occupied as before, but in much greater numbers, and we open fire upon them. An officer approaches from their direction, waving his hand. It afterwards appeared that he was a surgeon, and this was a temporary field hospital. The number of wounded here must have been very large, as this field, as far as we could see it, was all occupied by the same purpose. Drawing back from the hospital we now looked for Wilcox, but could see nothing of him or his party. He was taken, as we afterwards learned, near this place. He was for a long time confined with Lt. Welch at Richmond. There was now a lively skirmish from towards the point where we had entered the woods – probably those who had taken Wilcox – and working to the New Market road and around it, we came down and found our brave Col. Miller hotly engaged with his independent command. His position was disadvantageous, being outside of the woods, while the enemy, less in numbers, were covered. His command was disheartened, and though the Colonel “rallied” incessantly at the top of his voice, was fast stealing away. Some one thought of a flag. Capt. Pell was also “rallying” with the greatest vigor some distance down to the left, and we observed the colors of his company and called the bearer to us, and advanced it to the wood, getting in line for a moment and pushing the enemy back. The color bearer, Sergeant Knight, behaved most gallantly. This flag under which the last stand was made and the last fighting done that day is preserved at Wabasha, and should be among the collections of our State Historical Society. To return. It was useless; before we realized it out men were mostly gone, and the Colonel with reluctance fell back with the flag. As for myself, stealing along the woods to the right to keep out of the line of fire, I found abundant evidence of a severe conflict in that direction – numbers of wounded and dead. The wounded, alarmed at the idea of being left, calling for aid. With a few words of assurance they are quieted. Happening at this point to catch a view of our old position at the toll gate, there appeared a large column of men, vast numbers apparently pushing up from the ford. At the same time a squadron of our cavalry gaily trotting across the valley from that direction. The impression received was that we were to make another and decisive advance. Getting back to the road along the line of the wood, this cavalry had then halted, and while I was trying to make out the movements of our large column at the toll gate, quick as a flash about turned this cavalry and off at the gallop. Stupidly gaping after them, I was aroused by the sound of footsteps, and looking around saw a platoon front of the enemy, marching double quick and within a few feet distance. This startled me out suddenly as a partridge, and my movement startled them as much. Instinctively I started for the slope of the hillside towards the creek and diagonally from the road. It was but a few rods, but that distance was never made more quickly by a race horse. You should have seen me with a secesh smooth bore on my shoulder, a large artillery sword in my hand, make my long shanks spin.

There was no sign of fatigue, although before I considered myself just about used up. Turning my head when about half way to the bank – the platoon was in the act of wheeling around the corner of the wood towards me; a step or two farther – I heard the chuck of the muskets brought briskly to the palm of the hand, and then with a mighty leap and feet thrown out I landed on my back with head crouched downwards, just below the top of the bank, and at the same instant, through the space I filled when they pulled trigger, buzzed a hundred bullets. You should have seen the surprise – the actual astonishment in their faces, as jumping up, I rushed down to and up the creek, out of fire behind the bank. Here were men, in spite of the fire, stooping to drink. A little further up we crossed the creek together and ran towards the hill, on the other side. As we ascend this hill a new battery opens down the creek from the southwest, firing at some stragglers near the pike, who quickly disappear. We rush over the hill, pass a house full of wounded men – where we find our regimental colors with part of the guard – hurry them out and take to the pike, to our large column, which we find to be a great mass of men without regimental or company organization. Here was Miller again, “rallying” fresh as ever. Everybody “rallying, but this last shelling was too much; back into the woods and out of sight our men were dropping away, but with a dogged, sulky look, as if they felt that this last rallying was beyond the limits of good sense. Looking towards the front, beyond the scene of our engagement in the forenoon, we saw three regiments of the enemy, marching to their front with perfect line and step, the setting sun gilding their uniforms and arms. It was a beautiful sight. In a moment, turning towards our men, not one was to be seen; they had vanished.

In the turnpike was Gen. McDowell; just beyond a section of artillery directed to the southwest. In a quizzical humor and looking towards the enemy’s regiments, I suggested that he had better rally in the woods. His face at that time was turning alternately red and white with each pulsation. A whole history could be read in it at a glance. He preserved his dignity, however, and paying no attention to my impudence, calmly directed an aid to request Capt. —–, the commander of the battery, to recede in this direction, pointing out the road to the ford. The gunners were prompt; never were horses put to and on the gallop more quickly. That is when it was a case of merely receding.

We are now at the ford – the church and space about it filled with the wounded, with our regimental surgeons and nurses nobly resolved to stay by their charge. We have hardly time to say good-bye, when a rapid skirmish fire from the direction of Hay Market urges us on, and were up over the hill, speeding our way to Centreville. Our loss in the fight was 280 men killed and wounded, thrice more than any other regiment on our side.

Here the story ends. Every one knows about the retreat that evening and our “masterly advance” on Washington the next day. Anything new about it would be a mere statement of personal incidents, of which you have already had a surfeit. One thing, however, I must mention, as I learned it subsequently. In that long, wavering line, extending from the toll gate almost to the ford that I before mentioned, and which so suddenly disappeared, far on the left, were three or four organized regiments – the First Minnesota and Burnside’s Rhode Islanders. Even these began to feel the wavering impulse common to the mass, and the men began to drop out. At this time our colors have rejoined. Gen. Sprague is lecturing the Rhode Islanders, telling them that their safety depends upon maintaining their organization. In van! Up to the First Regiment the whole mass has drifted away, when Gorman, with his clear and ringing tones, gives the order to form column by platoons, and this the First Regiment executes with the same precision as upon dress parade, and amid the cheers of the mob away it marches, bringing up the rear in good order.

The true story of Bull Run is of itself a sufficient criticism and commentary upon that battle.

The enemy spread out like a fan resting upon Manassas as its base, and extended behind Bull Run from the Stone Bridge to the Occonquan, twelve miles front with sides of six miles. This triangle, whether attacked from the south of the Occonquan – from the east by the railroad or on its left, as was done from Sudley’s Springs, would necessarily, as its lines were compressed, have presented a stronger front to the attacking force. Suppose that we had been well handled, and our whole right and centre put in on time, and had forced the enemy back two or three miles further; or as it was, suppose he had judiciously offered less resistance and voluntarily fallen back: – At evening, in case there had been no panic, we would have been that much further from our base and cut off from it by the march of Johnson directly from Hay Market, on our rear, and soon enveloped by double our force, would inevitably have been taken.

Again the enemy’s generalship – Beauregard with the bulk of his army, not exhausted as he pretended – for he had not moved it from its position fronting Centreville and the east, from which direction he expected the main attack, deeming our attack on his left as but a feint – had a line of advance on the railroad to Alexandria, more direct and nearer than ours from Centreville, and by that route he would have met no serious opposition. Such an advance, made with promptitude and decision, would have cut off the greater part of our army and probably have terminated the war in the enemy’s favor; at least Washington would have been an easy capture. He lost this decisive opportunity, and the moral effect of this battle upon our people and the lessons it taught our commanders and soldiers in the end, proved it to be the most important and valuable in results to us as any battle of the war.

Two years after, while we were at Manassas Gap watching Lee on his advance to Gettysburg, by leave I took a day to go over the old ground. The woods were all gone, even the stumps all hacked up for fuel, and the whole face of the country seemed to have been leveled off. I could not trace our line of march or recognize any starting point. At the mansion near which the rebel battery had been entrenched during the fight and which for some reason had been preserved with its orchard, garden and flowers in the original freshness – an oasis in the scene of desolation and death – a good natured darkey who had been a spectator of the fight, after answering my inquiries about it, offered to show me the place, the grand point in his mind of the whole fight, where the Zouaves and Tigers “had it.” It was but a short distance away, and when on the spot, all the surroundings arranged themselves in order in my mind, and I was at home. It was the place of the repulse of a whole brigade of the rebels from Ricketts’ battery by the First Minnesota regiment, and at which, from that regiment alone, the enemy sustained more loss on that day than from the whole army beside.

Our red shirts and blue pants had possessed the enemy with the idea that they had been engaged with the indomitable Fire Zouaves. But the record of course is that we supported the battery.

We had with us ever after, until his death, that greatest of artillery captains, Kirby, who after the repulse of the enemy, succeeded Ricketts – who was wounded – in the command, and by the greatest exertion succeeded in saving two of his guns and bringing them off; the other four, not through the courage of the enemy, for they remained for hours in possession, had to be abandoned for want of means to remove them. This Kirby ever after would have no other regiment to support his battery, and we afterwards did so on many a hard-fought field, standing fast, as at Bull Run, even when, as at Fair Oaks, the surging masses of gray had at the turning point of the fight, charged up to and been blown from the very muzzles of his guns.

Red Wing (MN) Argus, 7/5/1877

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

Colvill appears to refer to the path taken from Cub Run to Sudley Springs Ford as the Sudley Springs Road, the Sudley Road as the New Market Road, and the Stone House as the Toll House. Ricketts’s battery was comprised of 10-pounder rifles, not smooth bore Napoleons.

William Colvill at

William Colvill at Fold3

William Colvill at FindAGrave

William Colvill at Wikipedia

McDowell and Franklin

8 07 2014

I was recently going through some older posts, and was reminded of a series of posts from over 4 years ago by Dmitri Rotov over at Civil War Bookshelf. They explore the relationship between Irvin McDowell and William Franklin, and shed some light on the duo prior to First Bull Run (and beyond). Check them out – good stuff.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Elsewhere in Blogsville

9 03 2011
This is the first in what promises to be an interesting series of posts over at Civil War Bookshelf. I’ve discussed before (see here and here, for example) the murky origins of Irvin McDowell’s (left) rise to power in 1861. Dmitri proposes to delve into it more deeply – I think – with the added attraction of William B. Franklin (right). Franklin was a brigade commander in Heintzelman’s division of McDowell’s army at First Bull Run, but was apparently associated with McDowell in other ways.

Check it out.