Pvt. William R. Murray, Co. E, 71st New State Militia, On the Battle

25 03 2022



The Men Wanted a Chance to Try It Over the Next Day.

Editor National Tribune: I receive weekly much gratification on reading the National Tribune, and oftimes find myself wondering if we old fellows do not sometimes compel our memories to sustain as facts many events that we have imagined. The impossibility of our placing our squadron, battery or company just where it was renders the effort to do so by another simply absurd. There is something to be remembered in Gen. Grant dedicating his memoir to the soldiers and sailors, because none knew them better than he; yet, the Memoirs are often contradicted by those who must confess that no pen had sone all more justice than hi who let them to final victory. When spoken of by veterans, commanding armies, as the “greatest living soldier,” he never forgot those who enabled him to prove himself the man who could be thus spoken of with truth. I am not going to contradict anything that has been said by another. I am going to state what my mishaps and seeings were in my first battle. The regiment was moving to the front by a wood road in “column of fours” when first subjected to artillery fire, several projectiles going overhead and one ricocheting along the flank of the regimental column, knocking up a dust. I then hear a command of caution. “The first movement will be by the left flank,” and sure enough by a left face we were in line and “forward” brot us out of the wood and to a ridge where a fence had been and beyond a ravine. Then we were facing the enemy. It was a good line, that fired by volley and then “at will.” I have never seen a better. One man I must find fault with; a Sergeant got thru the ranks, advance about three yards and must have masked the fire of four men at least. Fighting as a mob is a crime. I saw no running away. I have had occasion a number of times to tell some that I have my doubts of veterans who have never seen any soldiers but “whose who were running away.” I was thrown forward on my toes by what appeared to me an awfully loud report of a gun at the back of my head, which caused a ringing in my ears, but no damage. The firing ceased and I heard the clear, ringing voice of Col. Henry P. Martin: “It has been reported that we are firing on friends! Advance the colors!” Out went the Stars and Stripes, and the volley that Old Glory got, too high for most of us, settled the question of friends. We advanced to the colors and began again. This time a battalion in gray was coming up the slope led by a field officer with a red sash and on a bay horse. He was bringing up his regiment in good style, was quite near and was, I think, about riding around his right flank to the rear, when his horse gave a pitch forward and both horse and man went down. I have never known what regiment it was, but it quick followed that it was forcibly put out of the fight. The Rhode Island boys were busty to the left of us, and one man in a fence corner, in advance of the general line, was doing remarkably well. The New Hampshire men were near our regiment, and when seen by me were doing well and in good order. I did my level best to fire as fast and often as possible, for we all know it does disconcert one’s aim to be under a direct fire of cannon and musketry. I believe I thought more of that than of killing any one. My only mishap was the dropping of a percussion cap when pulling it thru the lining of lambs-wool of my cap pouch, my finger and thumb being unused to articles so small. Some one at the left and rear said: “I can’t get those —– —– —– men out of that ditch.” I did not turn to see who it was, neither did I see a ditch nor men in one. The firing ceased, and most of the men were sitting, when I strayed over to where one of our howitzers was being worked for dear life, and passed a man lying on his face, dead, I suppose, uniformed with white felt hat, red shirt, and white pants. I know not his regiment. He was on our line near our howitzer and a little to the rear of where the Rhode Island boys were fighting. I did wrong in straggling, but did not do it under fire; besides, I was in plain view and would be taken for a battery support. The Newburg boys of the Howitzer, Co. I, ceased firing, and I had a view of the field that was grand. In front, in the hollow, was a squadron of cavalry as immovable as statues. To its left the marines – I judged it was they, from their white belts – were deployed and going for the timer up the sloe on the opposite side of the hollow. There was nothing in front of us in sight and no firing. Away to the right of the New Hampshire men a caisson team at a gallop was coming obliquely towards our line. Just then a comrade accompanied by a Zouave called to me to come, and I went with them.

I can never forget my mortification and disappointment that night. A begrimed, dirty private, my blouse first wet with perspiration and then covered with dust, the dust making it look like mudarmor. Food in my haversack and no thought of eating. If we could only have another chance! I did than and while life doth last will sympathize with Gen. McDowell, my General, for what must have been his feeling, in comparison, from others not realizing at the proper time where victory was for the taking of it. I was near to committing suicide when in some troops near Fairfax Court House a soldier bawled “Coward!” I did not know the troops. They were closed en masse, resting. There was a quick facing to the left, a Springfield brought to a “ready,” the silence that reigned for a second can be imagined, and the poor, defeated ones passed on – the Zouave, my comrade, and myself.

The presumption that the “Enemy could have marched into Washington that night was brilliant, but void of execution on account of its impracticability.” The men who fought that day would have fought better next day. They would have dropped “well enough” and pressed every advantage gained, aided by fresh troops. Johnston realized it and said it. When one thinks of the military talent and fame acquired after by men who were in that particular battle, it would have been glory enough to have died upon that field – Bull Run.

—– W. R. Murray, 71st N. Y. S. M., Burnside’s Brigade, Hunter’s Division, Army of Gen. McDowell, Brooklyn, N. Y.

National Tribune, 7/25/1907

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William R. Murray at Ancestry

William R. Murray at Fold3