Corp. William Howard Merrell, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle, Wounding, Capture, and Treatment

16 01 2021

In compliance with the request of friends in Rochester, and in pursuance of a resolution previously formed, I propose to publish a few reminiscences of my involuntary sojourn in the “Old Dominion.”

The events which I am about to narrate are of so recent occurrence, that a retentive memory would suffice to recall them with all due exactness and circumstantiality; but were it otherwise, I have only to turn to a little pocket diary, which has been a faithful and indelible reflector of all important occurrences, as they transpired, during a five months’ imprisonment in the Rebel Capital.

In presenting this narrative, I claim for it nothing but TRUTHFULLNESS – “a plain and unvarnished tale,” wherein I shall

“Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice;”

and may safely appeal to my late prison associates for the confirmation of any statement that is likely to be called into question.

With a view to form a connected narrative, I shall relate events in the order in which they transpired, commencing with my personal observations at the battle of Bull Run; yet, as it is no part of my design to describe that memorable engagement, I shall wholly confine myself to facts and incidents relating to my own regiment, the 27th N. Y. S. V. This regiment was organized at the Elmira Rendezvous in the month of May, and was ordered to Washington on the 10th of July. It consisted of three companies from Binghamton, one from Rochester, one from Albion, one from Lyons, one from Lima, one from Angelica, one from White Plains, and one from Mt. Morris. The field officers were Col. H. W. Slocum of Syracuse, Lt Col. J. J. Chambers of White Plains, and Maj. J. J. Bartlett of Binghamton. The regiment had the reputation of being one of the best officered in the service, and notwithstanding that it was newly recruited and but partially inured to the hardships of camp life, it was believed to be as effectually disciplined as any volunteer corps in the army of the Potomac.

The 27th did not participate in the action of Thursday the 18th of July, but in that of the Sunday following their mettle was fully tested, and I believe that no impartial eye-witness of the battle of Bull Run will maintain that any regiment, whether regular or volunteer, exhibited a greater degree of gallantry on the field, maneuvered with better regularity or precision, were more exposed to the enemy’s fire, or suffered more severely from its effects, than the one which has been facetiously christened the “Mutual Admiration Society” of Elmira. Notwithstanding the unaccustomed fatigue of an early and protracted march on Sunday morning, the feeling of the troops was animated, and they literally went on their way rejoicing. The enemy seemed hastily to abandon every position as we advanced, and the fact that the progress of the Union army from Washington had been marked only by a succession of light skirmishes, the less reflecting felt assured that we should not encounter a sufficient resistance on the way to Manassas, or even to Richmond, to furnish an appetite for rations. Yet how sadly different was the result.

Glancing back upon the interminable line of the Grand Army, as its several columns crept gradually toward Centreville – the sunlight flashing upon the serried bayonets, the regimental banners fluttering in the morning breeze, and the huge masses moving steadily, noiselessly and with the beautiful regularity of a street parade – the view was grand and imposing in the extreme, and though momentary, seemed worth the sight-seeing experience of an entire life. But the eventful scenes were to come, and the predictions of those who assumed that the enemy were disposed to let us “onward to Richmond” without contesting our ability to force a passage, were speedily silenced by the sound of heavy artillery from the batteries to which we had been lured. There was no longer doubting the fact that we were approaching the field of battle. The roar of cannon was succeeded by the roll of musketry, which at every step became more and more audible, and it was easy to perceive that though not with us, yet elsewhere the work of carnage and of death had already commenced in earnest.

As I before intimated, I shall attempt no general description of our engagement, but rather confine myself in this connection to a narrative of events, as they transpired, in my immediate vicinity, and within the scope of my own observation.

It was my good fortune to be selected as one of the color-guard of the 27th. Soon after entering the field, we saw at a distance what appeared to be our National Flag, but which was in reality that of the enemy. While we were still in doubt, but advancing, Adjutant Jenkins rode forward, with the remark that he would soon determine whether they were friends or foes. He placed his havelock on the point of his sword, which he held aloft as a flag of truce, but as he approached them he was greeted with a volley of musketry. Unharmed, however, he rode quickly back to his regiment, exclaiming, with considerable emphasis, “Give ‘em —, boys.” The 27th responded by opening their hottest(!) fire, and the enemy scattered. We subsequently learned that they were the 27th Virginia volunteers.

We continued to advance till confronted by the 8th Georgia, who stood their ground manfully for a time, loading and firing with great rapidity. They could not, however, withstand the regular and accurate discharges of the 27th, and we finally drove them back to a considerable distance, where they were reinforced. We were then in turn repulsed, and took refuge under a hill, where we remained until another advance was ordered.

(It was while resting here that one of my comrades, William Hanlon, of Rochester, Co. E, was most severely wounded. He was struck in the right leg by a cannon ball, and was thought to be killed outright. He survived, however, a cripple, to become a prisoner at Richmond, and was released and sent home on the 6th of October.)

Soon after this event Col. Slocum, our gallant commander, was ordered to charge a battery stationed on a knoll to our left, and was fearlessly leading on his regiment, in the midst of a tremendous fire, when he fell, severely wounded, and was immediately taken from the field. The occurrence was a severe blow to the regiment, who regarded their brave commander with a feeling of boundless affection. Happily he was spared to receive the appointment of Brigadier General, and the 27th is still under his charge.

The first member of the color-guard who was “stuck” was Corporal Fairchild. The regiment had for a moment halted, when the Corporal staggered back, crying, “O, boys, I am struck!” Placing his hand upon his breast, with the expectation, as he afterwards said, of finding it “covered with blood,” he accidently felt the ball (a grapeshot) in his shirt pocket! He immediately pulled it out, exclaiming, “Thank God, I am safe!” It was a spent ball. The Corporal survived the battle to become a prisoner at Richmond.

In the meantime the action had become fierce and sanguinary, and every soldier in the ranks realized that his regiment was quite as severely “exposed” as the most ardent-minded and valorous could desire. Our numbers were greatly diminished, and though our discharges were rapid, they had become irregular, and the men loaded and fired promiscuously. An incident may be related in this connection of rather a novel character. Corporal S—-s, of Rochester, a young man, who, since his enlistment, had been somewhat distinguished among his comrades for a religious zeal, fought manfully with the “full assurance of faith.” With every load of his musket he uttered an audible prayer to this effect: “O, Lord, send this bullet to the heart of a rebel, and spare my life!” A Manxman, who stood beside him, and who was quite as energetically engaged in the “discharge” of duty, censoriously retorted: “Hoot mon – shoot more and pray less!” Shooting was evidently the most pressing business in hand, but our Manxman, was probably not aware that a Yankee seldom attempts to do one thing at a time, and that it was quite proper to put two irons in the fire when the conflagration was so general and so extensive.

The 27th Regiment continued to march unflinchingly forward, literally amid a storm of “leaden rain and iron ball.” Indeed, it seemed as though we were confronting an avalanche of bullets. Many were mowed down. I think that but one of our line officers then deserted his post of duty, and a few days since I met him in the streets of Rochester, wearing the uniform of a private. To my inquiring upon this subject, he admitted that he had been cashiered in consequence of his behavior on that occasion, and that he afterward returned home. “But,” said he, “I could not help it; I ran despite of myself, for we were marching into the jaws of death. I am not a coward, and I mean to prove it. Therefore I have enlisted as a private soldier, and if I ever participate in another battle, I mean to stand my ground.”

In less than half an hour after the fall of General Slocum, the ranks of the color-guard were reduced from nine to two. The colors were large and weighty, and Sergeant Freeman having become quite exhausted, and myself too much so to relieve him, Major (now Colonel) Bartlett, who perceived the situation of affairs, came to our assistance. Riding along the line, and waving the colors above his head, he shouted, “Boys, will you fight for this?” The response was general and enthusiastic.

A large number of the enemy were discovered in the front, and the 27th advanced towards them, Sergeant Freeman again being in possession of the colors. At this conjuncture, while my piece was leveled, I received a ball in the breast and fell, remarking to my comrade that I should have to leave him. The Sergeant gave me a glance so full of sympathy at my misfortune that I never can forget it, and with the regiment passed on to meet the enemy. I crept to a rail fence near by, and lay insensible about fifteen or twenty minutes, as I should judge, and upon regaining consciousness, discovered that I was surrounded by numbers of dead and wounded. The immediate vicinity was not then occupied by troops. The first notable object that excited my attention was a Union soldier, who was wounded in the left arm, which lay powerless at his side. He was standing beside the fence, his piece resting upon the rail, and which, after taking deliberate aim, he discharged at the enemy. He then dropped his musket, and came a laid down beside me. No more passed between us, but I imagined he had obtained “satisfaction” for his own grievances.

While still lying in my position, I beheld another Union soldier at a short distance, climbing the fence. He held his musket in his right hand, but while astride of the fence, and in the act of getting down, a cannon-shot struck the rail, shattering it in pieces, and sending its rider whirling and summersetting in the air, with a velocity that would have astonished the most accomplished acrobat. He gathered himself up with almost an equal degree of alacrity, and started on “double quick” toward our own forces. He had proceeded but a few feet, however, when he came to a halt. Casting his eyes over his shoulder, and perceiving that he was unpursued, he scratched his head thoughtfully for a moment, and then ran back and recovered his musket and started again for his regiment. I was in too much pain and bewilderment at the time to fully appreciate the comicality of this performance, but have since enjoyed many a hearty chuckle upon its reflection.

There was a great deal of skirmishing upon the field, and many instances of personal bravery particularly worthy of remark. I noticed, for example, one soldier leave his regiment, and crossing the field and leaping the fence, load and fire several times at a squad of cavalry. He was finally discovered, and three or four of their number rode down upon him. One who was in advance of the rest, came upon “our hero” as he was in the act of loading. He had driven the ball home, but had not withdrawn the ramrod. The horseman raised his sabre, and the next instant, as it appeared to me, the volunteer was to be short by a head; but suddenly inverting his musket, he dropped out the ramrod, and in the twinkling of an eye emptied the saddle and started back to his regiment. After proceeding a few rods, and finding that the enemy had given up the chase, he started back to recover his ramrod, and with it returned in triumph to his regiment, where he was greeted with rousing cheers.

But it is needless to multiply instances of this nature, so many of which have been already published by the press. The movements upon the field had in the meantime changed in such a manner that I found the spot where I lay exposed to the cross firing, and accordingly crept to the cellar of “the old stone house.” The passage was not unattended with danger, the rebels making a target of every living object upon that section of the field, (from which our troops had retreated,) and their balls whizzed briskly about me. The cellar in which I found refuge was already occupied by many other wounded Union soldiers, who had likewise sought its shelter. They were lying in the mud and water upon the ground. Upon entering, I discovered Corporal Fairchild, (above mentioned, of the 27th,) who was moving about among the wounded, exerting himself to relieve their sufferings by stanching their wounds, etc. Their distracted and agonizing cries would have moved the most obdurate heart to pity. “Water, water!” was the prayer upon every tongue, but it was unavailing. To linger upon such a scene is to recall one of the most painful experiences of my life, and one which no words can adequately depict. The floor above was also covered with wounded soldiers, whose cries could be distinctly heard. I was not then aware that my comrades, Clague and Hanlon, of Rochester, were among the occupants of the upper floor.

The cross firing of the troops continued, and the rattle of musket balls against the walls of the building was almost incessant. A number of them entered the windows, wounding three of the inmates.

A cannon-shot also passed through the building, but inflicted no bodily injury. Pending these occurrences, two rebel soldiers entered the cellar, one of them seeking shelter in the fire-place. They were both unwounded. The occupant of the fire-place, however, had not fairly ensconced himself when a musket ball passed through his leg. The other, who was lying by my side, was also severely wounded – fitting penalty for their cowardice and desertion.

Finding that the building was likely to be destroyed by the continued firing, one of our number went to the door, and placing a havelock on his bayonet waved it aloft in the air. This hospital signal was greeted with a shower of balls from the Confederates, and he was compelled to retire. Subsequently a yellow flag was displayed from the floor above, but it was likewise disregarded.

The wounded were perishing with thirst. At the distance of about two rods from the building was a pump, and one noble fellow (whose name I regret that I have forgotten) took two canteens and went out to obtain water. While do doing he received five or six musket balls, in different portions of his body, from the rebel forces – yet was not fatally injured. Though very low he was still alive, an inmate of prison hospital No. 2, when I left Richmond. He will ever be remembered with gratitude and affection by those who witnessed his noble conduct, and shared in the benefits of his exploit. It is my opinion that between fifty and sixty men fell in the immediate vicinity of the pump and “the old stone house.”

From the position in which I lay, glancing outward, I could discover the movements of troops upon the field, and at times with tolerable distinctness. The battle seemed general, but irregular, and I witnessed no bayonet charges, or murderous hand-to-hand conflicts. The thrilling pictures by “our special artist, taken upon the spot,” subsequently to adorn the pages of our enterprising illustrated weeklies, must have been “through a glass, darkly,” or in the heated imaginations of that ubiquitous class of correspondents who simultaneously indite at Hong Kong, Constantinople and Salt Lake City, and invariably reach the sanctum in time to read the proof of their own missives.

The observations and impressions of another spectator of the same field, are thus truthfully and graphically described:

I’ll tell you what I heard that day:
I heard the great guns, far away,
Boom after boom. Their sullen sound
Shook all the shuddering air around.

“What saw I?” Little. Clouds of dust;
Great squares of men, with standards thrust
Against their course; dense columns crowned
With billowing steel. Then, bound on bound,
The long black lines of cannon poured
Behind the horses, streaked and gored
With sweaty speed. Anon shot by,
Like a long meteor of the sky,
A single horseman; and he shone
His bright face on me, and was gone.
All these, with rolling drums, with cheers.
With songs familiar to my ears,
Passed under the far hanging cloud.
And vanished, and my heart was proud!

At length a solemn stillness fell
Upon the land. O’er hill and dell
Failed every sound. My heart stood still,
Waiting before some coming ill.
The silence was more sad and dread,
Under that canopy of lead,
Than the wild tumult of the war
That raged a little while before.
All nature, in her work of death,
Paused for one last, despairing breath;
And, cowering to the earth, I drew
From her strong breast, my strength anew.

When I arose, I wondering saw
Another dusty vapor draw
From the far right, its sluggish way
Towards the main cloud, that frowning lay
Against the westward sloping sun;
And all the war was re-begun,
Ere this fresh marvel of my sense
Caught from my mind significance.
O happy dead, who early fell,
Ye have no wretched tale to tell
Of causeless fear and coward flight,
Of victory snatched beneath your sight,
Of martial strength and honor lost,
Of mere life brought any cost.
Ye perished in your conscious pride,
Ere this misfortune opened wide
A wound that cannot close or heal
Ye perished steel to leveled steel,
Stern votaries of the god of war,
Filled with his godhead to the core!

While our forces were on the retreat, pursued by the rebels, a body of troops halted at the stone building, entered with bayonets, and demanded a surrender! They were to all appearances as much intimidated as though they had anticipated a successful resistance. None was made, however. No violence was offered to the prisoners, and in this connection, I may state that I saw no “bayoneting” whatever committed by the enemy at Bull Run. Our arms were delivered up, and a few moments afterward I was led and half-carried away to the quarters of Gen. Beauregard, situate at a distance of perhaps half a mile. Before reaching there, we encountered Gen. Beauregard, flanked by Johnson and Davis, riding across the field. Their countenances were illuminated with a mingled feeling of joy and exultation, and they could well afford, as they did, to salute an unfortunate prisoner. The head-quarters consisted of a large white house. It was filled with wounded soldiers, undergoing surgical attention. Fragments of human bodies were strewed upon the verandah and about the building, and large numbers of both Union and rebel wounded lay outside upon the ground.

On arriving at head-quarters, my guard, who was a private soldier, pointed me out to a “Louisiana Tiger,” and performed the ceremony of introduction by saying, “Here’s one of our Tigers!” – and – “Here’s a d—-d Yankee!” I expected a savage growl, not to say the roughest of embraces at the hands of the savage forester, and was not a little surprised when he approached me kindly, with the remark, “Are you wounded, sir?” I replied in the affirmative, when he resumed, “I am sorry for you. I hope you will soon recover, and be restored to your friends,” My companion, the guard, appeared to be quite as much astonished as myself; though less agreeably so, I have no doubt.

The case above may have been exceptional, for I was afterwards subjected to frequent insults from private soldiers, though kindly treated, in general, by the “Confederate” officers.

Night closed in with a pouring rain, and the wounded lay upon the ground unsheltered. I slept soundly, after these unaccustomed hardships, and was awakened by the sound of the morning reveille. My arm was stiff, my wound extremely painful, and my physical powers quite exhausted. A Lieutenant approached me and inquired as to my condition, and I begged him to find me a shelter. He absented himself for a short time, and then returned to say that there was but one place to be had, and that was a tent which was already filled with Confederate wounded, but if I was content to lay in the water for the sake of a shelter overhead, he would try to provide for me. I gladly accepted the offer, and soon found myself at the place indicated. As I entered, a wounded Confederate soldier, who had a blanket above and another beneath him, offered me one of them, which I at first politely declined. He however insisted, and I was soon enjoying its protection. Soon after, I observed a young man standing at the opening of the tent and looking within. As he glanced at me I nodded, and stooping down he kindly inquired if he could do anything to relieve me. After some conversation, I gave him the address of my wife, begging him to write and inform her of my misfortune, etc. He was, it appears, a Methodist student, and though a private soldier in the ranks of the rebels, was then acting in the capacity of Chaplain, and administering consolation to the wounded. I should occupy too much space in reporting our discussions at length. Before leaving, he kneeled in the water at my side and offered one of the most eloquent and moving applications to which I have ever listened. He soon after fulfilled his promise to notify my family of my condition, and subsequently, during my imprisonment, called upon me and placed in my hand five dollars and a copy of the Bible. I shall ever treasure it as a memento of our brief acquaintance, and of my heartfelt gratitude toward William E. Boggs, of Wainsboro, South Carolina.

While I was lying in the tent of the wounded “Confederates,” a private soldier who had just received his ration, (consisting of half a pint of coffee, a hard biscuit, and a small piece of bacon,) brought it to me, saying “You need this more than I do.” I at first hesitated to accept it, but he urged it upon me, remarking “We were enemies yesterday, in the field, but we are friends to-day, in misfortune.”

I would again state that these are exceptional instances of the feeling generally manifested by the rebels toward their prisoners, and the fact rather enhances my feeling of gratitude for the kind-hearted treatment, of which, at times, I was so singularly the recipient.

While the above was transpiring, a number of officers were standing near, convening, and one of them asked me how it was that men who fought so bravely could retreat, when the day was fairly their own? The speaker said it was at first believed to be a “Yankee trick” or the Confederates would have followed up their advantage! He solicited my opinion on this subject, and I assured him (of what I fully believed) that our forces would unquestionably return, and quite as unexpectedly as they had retired.

I was soon informed that all of the prisoners whose condition was such as to withstand the fatigues of the journey, would be immediately removed to Manassas; and soon after I was placed in a lumber wagon, beside one other prisoner and three wounded rebels, and we reached our destination after about an hour’s drive through a forest road. It struck me as rather significant that the direct road was avoided, and hence no prisoner transported in this manner was afforded an inspection of the enemy’s defenses.

The rain continued to poor in torrents, and without intermission. As we arrived opposite the depot at Manassas, I was afforded a glimpse of the place. The most prominent was the hospital, a large frame structure, opposite to which was the only battery to be seen in the vicinity. The only mounted piece was a shell-mortar. There were perhaps a dozen small frame buildings, which comprised the “Junction” proper. All of these seemed to have been appropriated to the accommodation of the Confederate wounded. Numerous tents had been pitched for a similar purpose, and temporary sheds were also in process of erection.

The Confederates were assisted from the wagon; my fellow-prisoner also descended and went off to obtain shelter, and even the guard and driver, thoroughly drowned out by the deluge, deserted their posts of duty, and left me to

“Bide the pelting of the pitiless storm”

in solitude. I finally managed to get out upon the ground, and crept along, “swimmingly,” to the hospital. There I was refused admission, on account of its over-crowded state, but finally prevailed upon the steward to let me within the hall, where with a number of others, I remained for about one hour. As formerly, when I had reached almost the lowest depth of despondency, I was so fortunate to secure a friend in a wounded rebel soldier. In the course of our conversation, he informed me that all of the prisoners were to be conveyed to Richmond. He was going as far as Culpepper, where his parents resided, and he assured me that if I desired to go with him, I should receive the best of medical care and attention. I accepted the kind offer conditionally, as I did not wish to be separated from my wounded comrades. He then – upon receiving my parole of honor – assumed the responsibility of my custody, and we were soon among the passengers of a crowded train, and speeding “on to Richmond.”

The journey occupied two days, the train being required to halt at every station from one to three hours. All along the route great crowds of people were assembled, consisting mostly of women and children, and at almost every place large numbers of Confederate wounded were removed from the cars, followed by weeping and distracted relatives. Some of these scenes were very affecting.

Davis, Lee, and other Confederate magnates, accompanied us as far as Orange Court House, and at intervening points the first named was called out upon the platform to speak to the multitudes. At some villages, the women thronged about the cars, offering refreshments to the wounded, both Union and Confederate, but more particularly to the former, whom they seemed to regard with mingled curiosity and favor. I suspected that the sympathies of some were even more deeply enlisted than they dared to avow. We were invariably addressed as “Yankees,” and there were frequent inquiries respecting “Old Scott, the traitor,” and “Old Lincoln, the tyrant.” The ladies generally expressed a benevolent desire to “get hold” of the hero of Lundy’s Lane, in order to string him up.

Arriving at Culpepper, the daughter of Major Lee, a young and beautiful damsel, came up to the window from which I leaned, and asked if she could do anything for me; and added, “What did you come down here for?” (This had become a stereotyped query.) I replied, “To protect the Stars and Stripes and preserve the Union.”

My questioner then proceeded, after the uniform custom, to berate Gen. Scott. “That miserable old Scott – a Virginian by birth – a traitor to his own State – we all hate him!” And the heightened color, the vindictive glance and the emphatic tones of the excited maiden, furnished assurance that her anger was unfeigned. But it quickly subsided, and after some further conversation, she took from her bonnet a miniature silken secession flag, which she handed to me, remarking she thought I could fight as well for the “Stars and Bars,” as for the Stars and Stripes. I playfully reminded her that she had just denounced Gen. Scott as a traitor to his own State, and if I should fight for the “Stars and Bars,” I should be a traitor to the State of New York! This trivial argument was evidently a poser. “Oh!” responded she, “I had not thought of that!” – But she insisted upon my acceptance of the emblem of disloyalty, and I still retain it as a memento of the occurrence, and with a feeling of kindly regard for the donor. She cut the buttons from my coat sleeve, and I consented to the “formal exchange,” though not exactly recognizing her as a “belligerent power.”

As Miss Lee retired, another young lady came forward, and glancing at my companion, the Confederate guard, addressed him as a “Yankee prisoner,” expressing her indignant surprise that he should have invaded their soil to fight them. He corrected her mistake, stating that I, not he, was the “Yankee prisoner.”

“No – no – you can’t fool me; I know the Yankees too well,” insisted the lady. I corroborated the assertion of my custodian, but it was some time before her prejudices could be overcome.

At almost every station on the route, one or more dead bodies were removed from the train, and placed in charge of their friends. The University at or near Culpepper, and the Church at Warrenton, had been fitted up for hospital purposes, and large numbers of the Confederate wounded were conveyed to them from the train. Of the six or seven cars which started from Manassas, there were but two remaining when we reached the rebel capital. We arrived there about 9 o’clock in the evening. After the cars had halted, I heard a low voice at my window, which was partly raised. It was quite dark, and I could not distinguish the speaker, who as evidently and Irish woman.

“Whist, whist?” said she; “are ye hungry?”

I replied that I was not, but that some of the boys probably were.

“Wait till I go to the house,” she answered, and a moment afterward I heard her again at the window. She handed me a loaf of bread, some meat, and about a dozen baker’s cakes, saying – as she handed me the first – “That was all I had in the house, but I had a shillin’, and I bought the cakes wid it; and if I had more, sure you should have it , and welcome! Take it, and God bless ye!”

I thanked here, and said, “You are very kind to enemies.”

“Whist,” said she, “and ain’t I from New York meself?” and with this tremulous utterance she retired as mysteriously as she had come.

This was the first “Union demonstration” that I witnessed in Old Virginia. I thanked God for the consolation which the reflection accorded me, as on the third night I lay sleeplessly in cars, my clothing still saturated and my body thoroughly chilled from the effects of the deluge at Manassas. I could have desired no sweeter morsel than the good woman’s homely loaf; and proud of the loyal giver, I rejoiced that “I was from New York meself.”

The following morning the prisoners were all removed to the hospital and provided with quarters and medical attendance.

From Five Months in Rebeldom; or Notes from the Diary of a Bull Run Prisoner, pp. 5-17

27th New York Infantry roster

William Howard Merrell at Fold3





Pvt. John B. Edson, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Death* of Pvt. John Clague

8 01 2021

From Capt. Wanzer’s Company.

Camp Anderson,
Washington, July 23d.

Dear Sir: – You no doubt have heard of the great battle fought on Sunday last. Our regiment was brought in to the hottest of the affray. I have a painful duty to perform. It is with a trembling hand I inform you of the death of your son John. He fell by my side mortally wounded in the right shoulder. He lived about two hours and a half. Myself and two others carried him to a stone building nearby, used as a Hospital by our troops while in action. I made him as comfortable as possible. He deemed to take everything very easy and died nobly. Our troops had to retreat, and consequently could not bring him off the field. We’ll try however, and obtain it by a flag of truce if the rebels will respect it. John was thought a great deal of in camp. He was quite and took everything very cool. I am in hopes of getting a furlough for a week or two, until our regiment is made up again, it having been terribly cut to pieces, and then will give you a full account of his death.

[To] William Clague.

J. B. Edson.

Rochester (New York) Evening Express, 7/26/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John J. Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster

*Per the regimental roster, John Clague mustered out with his company on 5/31/1863. Hospital steward Daniel Bosley of Co. E. reported Clague killed instantly. Pvt. Duncan Brown of Co. E reported Clague died after about an hour. Clague was however reported very much alive after the battle by Co. E’s Corp. W. H. Merrell in his account of his captivity after the battle. John Clague of Co. E died in 1921 per FindAGrave

John B. Edson at Fold3





Pvt. Duncan L. Brown, Co. E, 27th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

29 05 2020

War Correspondence
—————

Letter from Duncan Brown, of Captain Wanzer’s Company – Description of the Battle – Col. Slocum Wounded – Corporal W. H. Merrill Twice Wounded and Removed to the Hospital – Death of John Clague and Wm. Hanlon – The Retreat and Arrival in Washington – Return of Missing Privates, &c.

Camp Anderson, Washington
July 23d, 1861

You have heard ere this of the battle at Manassas Junction. I have seen a battle field before, but I hope never to see another like that of last Sunday. The entire division was ordered to march at two o’clock on Sunday morning. They were encamped about eight miles from Manassas, and had nothing to eat except pilot bread and some fresh beef, but neither coffee not tea to nourish them. But, notwithstanding, they started in the finest spirits, and marched to the scene of the action. About eleven in the morning they came in sight of the rebels. But instead of three divisions, ours was the only one which was there to engage the enemy. But there was no thought of backing out on our part. Under a broiling sun the 27th were put to the double quick up a hill, and held their own until five o’clock, when McDowell, gave the order to retreat. Col. Slocum, (a braver man never lived) was seriously wounded and carried off the field by Capt. Wanzer and Lieut. Baker. He was conveyed to Washington, where he is now doing as well as can be expected. The doctors think he will be able to be with us in about six weeks.

But my hand trembles as I write you the disasters in our company. Poor Merrell, the regular correspondent of the Express, who was one of the color guard, stood by the flag until twice wounded – once in the arm and in the groin – when he was carried off the field and taken to a house used as a hospital for the wounded. But how can I tell you the remainder?

[The writer proceeds in the narration of incidents, which, for humanity’s sake, and especially in consideration of the feelings of those who are nearly related to the sufferer named, we feel it is our duty to suppress. He continues as follows:]

But there is a day of retribution at hand, and we will be revenged.

My pen again fails me to tell you of another who fell – one whom I loved more than a brother – John Clague, formerly a clerk in Rochester’s banking office, who was shot in the back, the ball passing out at the right breast. He lived about an hour, in the most horrible agony. He was only in his 19th year, but he fell, doing his duty under the flag he had sworn to protect. – The greatest regret is felt in the company, for he was beloved by all. The night before the battle, I was getting provisions for the regiment, (being in the Quartermaster’s department,) and being very busy, I could not go to supper; and he being fearful that I would have to go without, came to me and told me where I could find it, when I could get a chance to eat. Before parting, he told me that the regiment had orders to move before morning, and in a playful manner said: “Good bye, Brown, I may not have a chance to speak to you again.” These were the last word I ever heard him utter. But, although dead, he never will be forgotten by me.

Another boy, named William Hanlon, had his leg shot off, while trying to get around the brow of a hill. The poor fellow asked to be run through the heart with a bayonet, to put him out of his misery. He was taken to the same building as Merrell. * * * There are about 20 missing out of our company, but I hope they will mostly all turn up.

Hon. Alfred Ely was on the field as a spectator, and although urged not to expose himself, determined on crossing to the 13th. He was accompanied by Dist. Attorney Huson, and their rashness has probably cost them their lives.

There was a report in the city yesterday that Mr. Ely has been killed, and his body brought to Arlington. This is untrue. I saw three of Capt. Brown’s company this morning, and they say that the report at Arlington is that he is a prisoner. C. D. Tract, of the Express, was also present. I have endeavored to learn something of him, but without success. I can only hope he is safe.

I was not engaged in the field, being guard over the provision train, which halted [illegible…] whistled around like hail. I arrived at Long Bridge on Monday morning, with the train safe but tired and hungry. Col. Rogers, of Buffalo, with his usual kindness, had hot coffee and cooked meat in readiness for us, which, I tell you, came just in time, for hundreds could not have marched a mile farther, having had nothing to eat for nearly 72 hours, and having marched over 70 miles during 21 hours. We will probably march again in a few weeks, when our battle-cry will be “revenge.”

Although the scene was horrible, there were many laughable incidents, one of which I will mention. Horace Hibbard, and a chap we call “Black Tom,” members of our company, while on the retreat, came across a wagon drawn by four horses. The teamster was in the act of cutting the traces, when Hibbard seized him by the neck and started him for the woods. He then mounted the saddle horse, and Black Tom one of the leaders, and started, as they thought, for Washington, but instead brought up at Alexandria. Hibbard had made up his mind to sell the leaders to get something to eat, but you can imagine his disappointment, when he found they were branded with the U. S. mark.

The men who are missing in our company, beside the dear, are Jenks, Ambrose, Burbank, and Hosmer. The dead are Merrell, Clague, and Hanlon. It was Bull’s Run instead of Manassas where the battle took place.

I saw Smith and Bronson, two printers from your city, who belong to the cavalry.

Sergeant Webster, on the retreat up the hill, never turned his back upon the enemy, but kept a bold face and loaded and fired until darkness set in. The enemy’s artillery was loaded by niggers, and fired by white rebels.

Later. – Burbank, Jenks, and Hosmer have come in, leaving only two missing, exclusive of the dear. Hon. A. Ely is a prisoner at Bull’s Run.

Rochester (NY) Evening Express, 7/29/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

27th New York Infantry Roster 

Duncan L. Brown at Ancestry.com 

Duncan L. Brown at Fold3