Corp. William Pittenger, Company G, 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, On the Campaign

28 11 2017

Army Correspondence of the Steubenville Herald.

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Washington, July 23d

Dear Herald: – It is with emotions of grief, shame, and sorrow that I again write a few lines for you. We have met the enemy and they are not ours. The chivalry has gained the first great victory of the campaign, and all we have gained for the last few weeks is lost, and the work is to be done once more. But I will try and tell the sad history in order.

On Monday it was announced to us at dress parade that we were to march at 3 o’clock the next day. Many disbelieved and others thought that the march would be to Washington to be discharged. But when the day came our tents were struck, our knapsacks piled up, and after the usual amount of confusion and noise, we started — marched up the hill to Fall’s Church, saw the forces that were to join us, and really believed we were to go forward. That night we marched as far as Vienna, (rendered famous by the attack on the First Ohio) and there slept for the night. Early in the morning we moved forward. The day was intensely hot, and the men suffered for want of water, which was very scarce and bad. — About 10 o’clock a.m., we reached Fairfax, and as the enemy was there in force, we deployed over the fields, in line of battle. All expected to hear the cannons roar, and all were anxious to march forward. They were gratified; we advanced, but it was a hard task. Such jamming and crowding I never saw. Part of the way lay through very thick woods, and between pushing through brush and stumbling over stumps we began to realize some of the beauties of war. But soon we saw the “Secesh” in full retreat at the double-quick. They left many things behind in their hurry. This was a bloodless victory.

We rested two or three hours, and then moved forward, camping for the evening in a road. All were extremely tired, but arose next morning, refreshed by a good night’s sleep, and again took up the line of march. We reached Centreville at 10 a.m., and our regiments halted for the rest of the day. Centreville was a Rebel camp and was slightly fortified. The head-quarters were on a high hill, commanding a fine view, bounded on the west by the rugged line of the Blue Ridge, and extending four miles to the east and south. I was stationed there with ten others under the command of Lieut. McCoy, as a guard to protect the property. From here we had an outline view of the battle and Bull’s Run on Thursday. First the signal gun was heard, then others in rapid succession. In about half an hour the firing ceased. At this time our troops had taken the batteries, and were in full tide of success. An officer rode by and announced that victory was won, but even while he was speaking the firing commenced much more warmly than before. For some time the roar was incessant, almost as quick as the tapping of a drum. Then it became fainter, one shot following another at long intervals, and soon ceasing altogether. The scattered men from the regiments which were most disorganized came straggling by, and reported a very severe fight, saying that more than half their men were left on the field. This was soon found to be an exaggeration. They said they were at first successful, but the enemy receiving reinforcements, rallied and won the day, though with severe loss.

By this time all the troops were in motion and as the Ohio regiments filed past, the guard fell in with them, fully expecting that we were going to attack the battery. At about two miles distance from it, we formed in line of battle and moved forward a short distance and there halted, stacked our muskets, and lay down beside them for the night. Friday passed off without any movement on our part. On Saturday we heard we were to march the next day. This produced much dissatisfaction, particularly in the first regiment, as they thought their time had expired. So much was said about it that Gen. Schenk called them together and made an address, appealing to their patriotism and promising them that before the rising of an other sun we would be marched to the battle-field. This had the desired effect, and he was enthusiastically cheered, the men declaring that they were ready and willing to meet the foe. We arose at two o’clock, and started to our post, being assured that we were under the immediate command of Gen. Scott. The plan of battle was a good one, though it was scarcely so well executed. In front of us lay the low brush-covered hills near the junction. These were all planted with batteries, and could only have been carried with a great loss of life. — Two columns were to engage these, but not to risk an advance. The third proceeded due west for three or four miles, and then formed in a long line, of which Schenk’s Brigade, consisting of the New York second and the Ohio boys, was the left division. It was intended that this division should engage the western batteries of the enemy, while the rest of the column swung around and took them in the flank and rear. The march was rather a tiresome one, but at 6 1/2 o’clock we were in position. Hitherto all had been deep silence, broken only by the crackling of branches as we forced our way through the woods. We lay down, and all was as quiet as if two mighty armies were not preparing to shed each other’s blood — when, boom went one of our cannon. The ball sung along and burst right over our heads. This would never do, and we were moved further down into a ravine, and again lay down. The skirmishers were ordered forward, and soon the muskets were ringing sharply around. — We paid little attention to this, listening to the deeper music of the cannon, and were soon gratified. The battle first opened on the eastern part of the line. — The cannonading was heavy for some time, but soon ceased. Out men had driven them back to their trenches, and then retreated. It was our turn next. An officer came and told us that our forces had got into the enemies’ rear, and that we must advance to prevent them from retreating eastward. We jumped up with alacrity and marched down the ravine, which rapidly became wider and more flat-bottomed. Just as we came to the edge of a partially cleared space, and without any previous warning, a masked battery opened fire upon us — at point blank range, being not more than two hundred yards from us. The whistling of the bullets was more loud than pleasant, and in the surprise many dodged from the ranks into the bushes, but soon returned to their places. It was amusing, in spite of the danger, to see the ranks all fall as the cannon exploded, and then rise again. The order was given to retreat back into the woods a short distance, which was done in perfectly good order, and then all lay down. So far our line was unbroken; but the New York 2d, finding their position too hot for them, rushed back, trampling over us, and falling down among us, which somewhat confused us. Meanwhile the shot was flying thick around, crashing through the trees in every direction. Every little while we could hear the scream of a wounded man, as the balls struck him. [Illegible sentence.] One poor fellow who was lying not far from me, was torn to pieces by a [?] shot. The bombs, of which only a few were thrown, were most destructive. After nearly an hour, the New Yorkers were called away, and soon after I heard what seemed the sweetest music I ever heard — our own men on the hill north of us opening fire. They plied the enemy so hard that they soon ceased firing on us. We were then formed into line, and marched to the rear of our battery.

The roar of the artillery by this time was awful. The heavy thundering of the guns, the bursting of the bombs, the sharp singing of the balls, and the rattle of musketry on the right, where the columns approached within striking distance, all mingled together like the music of some grand orchestra. We were still within full range of the enemy’s guns, and were compelled to lie down to avoid the shot that whistled over our heads in unpleasant proximity. All this time our forces were rapidly gaining ground, and taking one battery after another, by the most desperate fighting.

The Rhode Island battery, on the extreme right was working with great rapidity and effect. A charge of the enemy’s cavalry was made upon it. They approached within one hundred and fifty yards without being discovered. Then the battery opened on them with grape, killing many, but still they advanced, and discharged their carbines on the artillery with such effect as to kill or wound most of the men and horses. The Fire Zouaves then gave them a volley, which sent them back at full speed, with half their saddles empty. This regiment did some splendid charging, and several times put the chivalry to rout, even against great odds.

All this time our troops had been slowly but surely advancing, and we were sure that the battle would soon be won. A few sharp volleys were heard and then all was silent, while an officer rode along our line, that was drawn up behind the battery in imposing order, and announced that the day was ours. A wild cheer rent the air, but the echoes had scarcely died away, when the firing again began, and dense clouds of dust were seen in the distance. “It is Patterson in their rear,” was the first exclamation; — the next — “God grant it may be Patterson.” The confused files of a regiment were next seen, and then the teamsters and citizens in their carriages, wheeled about and drove off the field at the top of their speed. Schenk’s brigade stood firm, but was ordered to take up a position on the edge of an adjoining wood, where we awaited the progress of events in intense expectation.

Up to this time (about 4 p. m.) there was no panic among the soldiers, but just then a corps of officers rode along the line in a very excited manner. One of them said that there was an immense body of the enemy supported by artillery charging on us and asked, “How can we meet it?” The advice of each was different, but enough was heard to know that our officers had caught the panic, and of course it was shared to some degree by the soldiers, but still they stood firm. The order was given to retreat, which was done slowly and in good order. The 2d Ohio in particular retreated very slowly, without the slightest disorder, and halted repeatedly in columns prepared to form a hollow square, but was ordered forward by the general officers. The cavalry, probably deterred by our being prepared, did not charge us, but attacked the hospital. The artillery gave them a few vollies, and the stragglers shot down many. We all earnestly hoped that a stand would be made, but in vain. Our Generals had other ideas. We retreated several miles, and at a large creek with only one small bridge over it, were attacked again. This was just on the edge of our temporary camp, and in a very good position for defense. The troops were drawn up in two long lines and in as good order as when arrayed in the morning. The slight attack was repulsed with ease, and it seems to me there would not have been the slightest difficulty in defending ourselves against any force the enemy could have brought against us so late in the day, and before morning we could have received many thousand fresh men to aid us in renewing the battle. But a retreat was again ordered, and commenced in good order. Our regiment kept its ranks unbroken for ten miles after leaving the battle field, and then became disordered from teams driving among us in narrow lanes, and from the men, overcome by thirst and fatigue, lying down by the roadside. I am thus particular on this point because it was stated in some of the papers that we became infected with the panic, and were the first to change a retreat into a rout. The enemy’s batteries first opened on us and soldiers who remain nine hours under fire and then retreat ten miles with their files unbroken, do not deserve to be charged with being panic-stricken. But I must close now, only saying that we will all be home in a few days. I may give you some incidents of the battle and retreat in my next.

Wm. Pittenger

Steubenville Weekly Herald, 7/31/1861

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Contributed by Dan Masters

William Pittenger, Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure

William Pittenger at Wikipedia

William Pittenger at Ancestry

William Pittenger at Fold3

William Pittenger at FindAGrave 

 





Pvt. Thomas McQuade, Co. F, 69th New York State Militia, On Blackburn’s Ford and the Battle

15 11 2017

Letters from Members of the Sixty-ninth.

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The Battle at Bull’s Run – Masked Batteries and Rifle Pits – Reinforcement of the Confederate Troops – The Fire Zouaves – The Retreat – Kind Treatment by the Twenty-Eighth Regiment.

Fort Corcoran, Arlington Heights, Va,
Monday Even, July 22.

Dear T— : Thanks to God, I am safe, at least for the present. We have had an awful fight. We left here on Tuesday last for Fairfax. Everything went on favorably, the rebels evacuating their camps and trenches on our approach. We encamped the first night at Vienna, and started next morning for Centerville, which we reached that night. We passed through Greenville on our way, where the rebels had erected a breastwork, but we found it deserted. Some of the troops set fire to a couple of houses on Thursday. Our advance came in sight of the enemy strongly entrenched at Bull’s Run. General Tyler, who commanded our division, opened fire on them. He sent out skirmishers, and backed them up by a regiment. The rebels kept still until the poor fellows walked right up to a masked battery; they were only about thirty yards from it, and could not see a soul. The battery then opened, and poured a murderous shower of grape amongst the brave fellows, who stood it manfully. The rebels had rifle pits dug in front of these masked batteries, and all one could see was their heads occasionally. They kept up a raking fire on our troops until they made their retreat. It was now our turn; we were ordered up to cover the retreat. We went at double quick (about four miles distance). The rebels’ guns commanded the road, and when we got within range, how they did pepper us. Fortunately, we were ordered to lie down in the woods; we could not see them at all. Three of our fellows were wounded, and one of the Wisconsin killed – the ball that struck him would have mowed down ten or twelve of our company, had we not been lying down; it passed right over our backs. We were ordered back to Centerville, where we spent two days.

On Saturday evening we had orders to be ready to march at midnight. In the meantime we had been strongly reinforced; and so must have been the rebels, for we could hear the cars running all night bringing troops from all points continually, and their cheers on the arrival of each successive train. I hear they numbered between 75,000 and 100,000 men. Against this army we had to contend with less than half their force, they having all the advantage of position, with innumerable masked batteries, and hidden behind breastworks, woods, and sand pits.

Well, we left our camp at half-past two o’clock on Sunday morning, feeling our way as we went along by throwing skirmishers into the woods each side of the road ahead of us. About five o’clock we found them, when there was pretty smart cracking on both sides, our fellows driving their skirmishers in. We formed in line of battle in a wood, supported by the artillery and a siege gun. We advanced the latter, and let them have a shell as a feeler. In the meantime General Johnston had come up with his whole force to the support of Beauregard, and advanced on our right. We advanced under fire to the foot of a hill upon top of which was a masked battery, we could not see farther than about ten yards through the trees on this hill, so thickly was it studded. Well, having been formed, up this hill we started with a cheer that made the woods ring. The enemy allowed us to advance near the top, when they opened a terrific fire on us, cutting our fellows like sheep. The Seventy-ninth, Thirteenth (Rochester), and two other regiments (Wisconsin and Ohio) were into it too. We stood it for half an hour, alone, having no back whatever, all the other troops having retreated. During this time we made two or three unsuccessful charges to the very mouths of the cannons. We were the last that left our position.

The New York Fire Zouaves fought like tigers, twenty of them went in with us when we charged up the hill, and only two of them came back. We were the only regiment that formed prepared for cavalry on our retreat, all the other regiments running here and there making their escape as best they could. There were officers, privates, regulars, doctors, cavalry, and artillery, on one disordered mass, all running for dear life as fast as they could. The enemy’s cavalry were nearing us rapidly. We kept our square retreating by the fourth front until we came to the river that we crossed in the morning, and on the other side of which was a steep hill, when we broke, the cavalry blazing away at us within a dozen yards or two, and cutting all stragglers off. I dashed through the water, over knee deep, holding on to my musket and bayonet, as my surest and only protection, though hundreds threw them away to lighten their heels. I mounted the hill “while you’d say Jack Robinson,” and it was then everybody for himself. I got into the wood where we were formed in the morning, and made for the road. Such a sight as this same road revealed to my view I never expected to behold, and never wish to see again in my life. Men, horses, artillery, baggage wagons, all rushing, clattering, tearing along lest the next would be their last moment. Off I started again through the fields, and came upon a farm house, where hundreds of our troops were endeavoring to get a mouthful of water from a well. I thought we were safe here, and had just got a tin cup full when crack went two or three rifles. The cry of “the cavalry” again arose, and off I started at a rattling pace. I made for another hill (my only safety from cavalry). I plainly saw them on our right striving to cut us off. I overtook our second lieutenant, and told him “to hurry up.” “Wait till I tie my shoe,” said he. “Your shoe be hanged,” said I, and off I went again. He is all right, however, I got into the wood and went astray; it was then and then only that I feared I would not get clear from the hounds in pursuit. I knew that the cavalry could not touch me whilst I remained in the wood, but I feared they would cut me off, or that night would fall before I could make out my whereabout. Fortunately I kept to the right, and struck upon a pathway which I followed, and soon had the satisfaction of getting out on the road a short distance from Centerville, and the same sight presented itself here as that which I had witnessed before. The commissary and sutler’s wagons were upset on the road, and our fellows availed themselves of the opportunity to get a mouthful or two, of which we all stood much in need. The whole road was strewed with belts, haversacks, caps, blankets, etc. Although we might have halted at Centerville if we liked, as several regiments had arrived there to reinforce us, but too late for the fight, a party of the Sixty-ninth, Seventy-ninth, Second, New York Zouaves, Wisconsin, and other regiments, under the leadership of Captain Thos. Francis Meagher and Lieut. Hart of our regiment, continued the retreat all night. Many dropped down on the roadside from sheer exhaustion, and straggled in in twos and threes next day. Lieut. Hart gave me a glass of brandy, which I considered worth a dollar a mouthful. We took the road from Fairfax to Falls Church, and found it blockaded by trees in three different places, one of which was so ingeniously done, that it took us some time to find the road again. We had to walk through a field for some distance. The leaves of the trees that were felled were quite fresh and green, showing that they were not long cut down. We arrived here about five o’clock this morning, after a march of between thirty and forty miles, without scarce anything to eat or drink. The Twenty Eighth Regiment (New York) treated us very kindly. The Colonel came out and ordered his men to prepare all the coffee they could, and gave us all the brandy he had, sending his officers and servants around with it.

I lost my cap in the morning, and came across a washhand basin which done me as well. I looked a picture – my face all blackened with powder and dust, and scratched with brambles and briars, my eyes bloodshot from want of sleep, lame, sore footed, and stiff, a piece of wet linen across my head surmounted by my tin basin, and limping at the rate of a mile an hour when I reached the fort. I had a look at myself in a glass, and was quite enamoured with my figure-head.

Thank God, however, I have got back safe; our regiment was specially favored with his blessing. It is a miracle that we were not cut to pieces, for the enemy’s fire was never off us.

We hold our position, as all the places we have taken from here to Centerville still remain in our possession.

Our Colonel is missing; he was wounded, and is supposed to be captured by the rebels.

Yours, &c.,

Thos. McQuade, Co. F.

P. S. – We expect to be home in a few days.

[We are sincerely sorry to hear that our correspondent has sustained serious damage through a railway accident on his way to this city, and now lies in a very precarious state in hospital in Baltimore. We are unable to relate the particulars; but it is certain that one of his legs was caught between two cars and crushed to atoms. We sincerely rust that he will recover from his injuries. – Ed. Record.]

Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, “A Catholic Family Newspaper,” 8/3/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

69th NYSM Roster

Note that there is a second Thomas McQuade listed in the regiment, in Co. C. He later enlisted in the 69th NYVI, and was killed at the Battle of Antietam. Thanks to reader Joseph Maghe for his assistance.





2nd Lt. Fred W. Shipman, Co. F, 38th New York Infantry, On the Battle

5 09 2017

OUR MILITARY BUDGET.
———————
A VIVID NARRATIVE OF THE CONFLICT.

The writer of the subjoined gives a graphic picture of what came under his observation in the battle of Bull Run:

Heintzelman’s division, in their move from Centreville to Bull Run, experienced one of the most sever marches known in modern times. I say this and it will appear palpable to all, when it is considered that the heat was intense, the distance twelve miles, the men loaded with their guns, blankets, canteens, forty rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes, and nearly all the regiments wearing heavy blue jackets, and yet making it in about three hours and a half. Any one following in the rear of the division would find it hard to believe that it was advancing on the foe, but would rather incline to the opinion than an army in full retreat had passed over the road. Blankets and jackets were cast off as the heat grew more intense. Some of the men gave out and despairingly threw themselves down, lamenting their utter inability to proceed farther. Two miles this side of the enemy’s batteries, Wilcox’s brigade, with whom your correspondent is connected, were allowed a ten minutes halt to strip themselves of everything that would encumber them, and at the same time filled their canteens with water from a creek. They were then marched from the road across lots for about a mile, over fences, up hill, and at double-quick the whole way, until they found themselves in the presence of the enemy. At this time the men were so thoroughly used up that it seems impossible that the same men in five minutes from that time were fighting with all the desperation and valor of experienced veterans.

The scene at this point was most exciting. The brigade took its positions upon the field – the Zouaves to the right, the 38th regiment, Scott Life Guard, upon the left, and the Michigan regiment marching along the road and forming, ready to support any movement that might be made. About a mile directly in front we saw what appeared to be a volcano vomiting forth smoke and flame, while the rifle cannon ball and round shot fell thickly among us, as we were drawn up in line of battle. Towards the left, as we came within its range, another battery opened with shell upon us, changing now and then to round shot. Our own batteries were upon the field. Green’s being behind us throwing over our heads, while Arnold’s was to the right preparing to take position on the hill. Two others, consisting of light brass guns, were in position firing, but with little effect, the distance being too great. When the line was formed, Capt. Arnold received an order to take position upon the brow of the hill with his battery, and the Scott Life Guard was ordered forward to support him. When the enemy perceived the advance about being made they fired with redoubled energy, but our men moved steadily forward, crossing fences and coming in proper order upon the instant. They at last arrived at their proper place, just below the top of the hill, and were ordered to lay down, when Arnold’s battery took position on top and opened fire upon the enemy.

The Fire Zouaves in the meantime had received orders to advance and take position along the edge of the wood, on the right of Arnold’s battery. The fire came so heavy here that our battery had not been in position five minutes before one of the gunners had his legs shot off, four horses were killed, and every shot of the enemy was aimed in such an accurate manner, that it was useless for our battery to remain in such a position. They accordingly drew their pieces a little way down the hillside and left them. Upon this a furious charge was made upon the Zouaves by the enemy’s cavalry issuing from the wood. They were received by a volley from the regiment that emptied many a saddle, and sent the survivors to the right about in short order. Another charge was then made upon them by cavalry upon their right flank, and infantry in front, when they broke and ran down the hill in disorder. Col. Ward, of the Thirty-eighth, then gave his regiment orders to charge, when, with a cheer, the men dashed forward, driving the enemy into the woods, and covering the ground with the dead and wounded. A concealed battery on the right opened fire on the Thirty-eighth at this time, killing some thirty men and driving the regiment down hill again; but the officers rallied them and led again to the attack, and it was not until several of the officers and many of the men had fallen, that the Thirty-eighth Scott Life Guard, finding the odds too great to be combatted with, retreated to the road. That they retreated in good order, may be seen from the fact that they stopped, uncoiled the cannon ropes, and dragged Arnold’s battery away with them, thereby preventing its falling into the hands of the enemy.

In the meantime the Zouaves had formed again, marched to the extreme right of the wood and again beat off the Black Horsemen, making many a rider bite the dust. But valor was useless against such odds and strength of position, and they as well as the other regiments walked sadly from the field. Col. Wilcox had fallen early in the engagement while leading a party to the attack in the woods. About one mile from the field of battle a large stone building was used for a hospital, the scene around this place was truly harrowing, mutilated men, some without legs, or only one, arms torn off at the shoulder, deep and ghastly body wounds, some exposing the intestines, and in fact every kind of wound that could be inflicted by gunpowder, iron or steel. Most of the men were carried to the hospital seated upon a musket, one man seizing it by the stock, another by the barrel, the wounded being supported upon it by a third man walking behind,

Upon the retreat of the last regiments who went to the assault, the Sixty-ninth, Second Rhode Island, and the Sixty-ninth, a charge was made by the enemy in the direction of the Hospital, when a perfect stampeded took place; those who were carrying the wounded dropped them by the road side and consulted their own safety, the drivers of the ambulance wagons drove forward unloaded, men cast aside their guns, while the artillerymen drove headlong through the crowd. A scattered firing from men of different regiments at last drove the enemy back and the march was resumed at a pace more fitting for weary and dispirited men.

Nine o’clock p. m. brought them to their camp around Centerville. By 10 o’clock the different regiments were pretty well together; the men had built fires, and expressed the desire to make a stand, having confidence they could beat the enemy in the open field. In four hours an order came to retreat on Washington, and the weary march was resumed – some of the men crying with disappointment at our giving up without one more rally. Too much credit cannot be given the men, not only for their courage, but for their endurance under adverse circumstances. Lieut. Col. Farnsworth, of the Thirty-eighth N.Y.S.V., had been confined to his bed for over a week before the battle, was carried to field in an ambulance, and yet, sword in hand, mingled in the thickest of the fray. Fourteen wounded men of the same regiment walked the whole way from the field of battle to Shuter’s Hill; seven of them will probably die. Many of the wounded were brought in in common baggage wagons, which must have produced intense agony to the poor sufferers, the roads being in bad condition and very stony; others came upon horseback, supported by comrades sitting behind them; scores sat down by the roadside, bidding their friends good bye, as they could stand it no longer. But amid all this, the men looked forward to the time when they could again meet the foe, and may were the firmly-expressed resolves to thrash them yet.

F. W. S.*, Co. F, 38th Reg’t N.Y.S.V.

Washington Star, 8/1/1861

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*Likely 2nd Lt. Fred W. Shipman

38th New York Infantry roster 

Fred W. Shipman at Ancestry.com

Fred W. Shipman at Fold3

Contributed by John Hennessy





Lt. William Willis Blackford, AAG, 1st Virginia Cavalry, On the Battle

4 11 2015

Aug. 6th, 1861
Headquarters Fairfax C.H.

Dear Uncle John,

I have been intending to write to you for several days but have been kept very busy by my new duties as Adjutant of our Regiment. We have been here now since the second day after the battle of Manassas and from present appearances we will be here for some time longer. We had a hard time of it for two days before and two days after the battle. We made a march of about 80 miles during Friday and Saturday, from near Winchester to the battlefield, starting about the middle of the day and reaching Piedmont at eleven o’clock that night. We bivouacked in an orchard, gave our horses ½ doz. ears of corn, and ourselves nothing to eat; started at three the next morning in a hard rain, wet, cold & hungry and halted to [find] & breakfast at nine. Reached the battlefield at sundown, and had a good nights rest in the broom sedge under clumps of pine branches. The morning of the 21st we were up bright and early and scouted in advance of the lines for one hour or two, ran into an infantry scouting party of the enemy who ran away from us, and we from them – hearing the firing on our left becoming hot we fell back to the rear, where we listened with purest interest to the engagement as it thickened towards nine o’clock. Here we remained until about the middle of the day when an aid came at full gallop towards us with orders for ½ of the regiment to go to the right & ½ to the left. Our Col. (J. E. B. Stuart) went to the left with ½ of the men & I with him. This proved to be the main point of attack – not long after taking our position in rear of this hottest part of the fighting we were ordered to the front to charge the N.Y. Fire Zouaves who were about taking one of our batteries. We dashed through a skirt of woods and came upon their flanks as they were marching in column by fours, and before they could form and present bayonets we were into them like lightning. We were in column by fours in passing through the woods and they were about 100 yds. beyond as soon as the head of our column emerged from the woods the Colonel brought the rear around front into line so we went through like a wedge shooting them armed with our pistols. Those in front of us we swept off in a few seconds. Hot times on right & left poured a terrific fire upon our flanks, we lost in about one minute 9 men killed, 24 wounded & 20 horses killed. The horses were so thick on the ground, I could hardly keep my horse from falling over their bodies. It was very dangerous to attempt to leap over them as they were floundering like chickens when their heads are cut off, and it was very hard to avoid them. As we wheeled to return, a battery opened on us with grape and killed some of the horses some distance in the woods. [In writing I and my horse wasn’t hurt at all.] I was detached by the Col. in the afternoon, where we were in the pursuit with 10 men & captured 80 men and a four horse wagon & team loaded with ammunition, every man of them, with the exception of perhaps a dozen I found around a house full of wounded, had his musket in his hand and many of them side arms. I got ten pistols and any quantity of Bowie knives from them two of the pistols, large sized Navy, I have now & will keep and have my name engraved on when I get home, with the date & leave them to Wyndham in my will. There is a P.O. here now. Please write to me. Love to all cousin Meats Family.

Your aff. Nephew,

Wm. W. Blackford

P.S. Excuse my making you pay postage but change can’t be had here. (See over)

Direct to Lt. W. W. Blackford

Care of Col. J. E. B. Stuart

1st Regt Va Cavalry

Fairfax CH.

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana

Specific letter

Contributed by John Hennessy





Sometimes I Wonder…

28 10 2015

…why I even bother.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. I know that not every single person researching the First Battle of Bull Run (or even, if you prefer, the First Battle of Manassas) is going to use this site. I know a lot of people do, but I’m certain there are some who do not. And even those who do may only use a part of it. But I also know that, while there are some major issues which I feel almost everyone who has written about the battle have misapprehended, there is at least one minor misconception I thought had been put to rest: the uniforms of the 11th New York, and specifically those worn on July 21, 1861.

I’m not going to rehash that here. You can find other stuff I’ve written on the topic by searching the tag 11th New York in the cloud at the bottom of the margin at right, but this post sums things up nicely, I think.

What brings me to remind you of this is a book I’m currently reading and recently previewed, Custer’s Trials, by T. J. Stiles. So far it’s been what I expected – very nice writing and some interesting takes in the way of storytelling based on facts already in evidence. Some instances of a lack of familiarity with military structure during the Civil War, both theoretical and practical. But one inconsequential passage set me off, and perhaps is more illustrative of the stuff that gets in the way of folks like us, who have perhaps read too much, enjoying non-fiction story telling. Here it goes:

The cavalry did not stand by the artillery. Instead, the 11th and 14th New York infantry regiments hustled up the hill – the 11th wearing the baggy red pants of Zouaves, patterned after Algerian troops serving in the French army and something of a craze in America in 1861.

Ugh. No footnote, of course.

I have kept and will continue to keep in mind that this is a book about George Armstrong Custer. A character study. It will get some things wrong, as the author is not a specialist. He will rely on some he considers to be specialists (one author of very popular books on the Peninsula Campaign and of the Union Army commander, for instance). And I may not be happy with the results as far as that goes. But I will be guided by the question of how an error affects the story being told about Custer, as opposed to falling into the “if he got that wrong, what else does he get wrong” trap. That’s just plain lazy.





Pvt. Lewis Herbert Metcalfe, Co. E, 11th New York Infantry, On the Battle

21 07 2015

“so Eager Were We All …”

The morning was beautiful. The day before had been so hot and sultry that the damp cool night air seemed quite a relief, and the full moon, beaming above, lighted up the valley in which we lay, and its rays glistened on the thousands of muskets which were stacked around.

I awoke shortly after twelve o’clock, my sleep having been disturbed by the voice of one of our sergeants who passed down the row of sleepers telling them that letters had arrived from home. The sight before me when I arose from the ground was one which, though often seen by a soldier, is always interesting. Twenty thousand men were gathered together in that valley covering the slope of the hills on both sides. In every camp large fires were burning, around which groups were sitting or standing reading newly received letters and papers or busily engaged in cooking food for the coming day.

We had bivouacked there two days and, having no tents, had managed to protect ourselves from the sun during the day by building bower houses of small trees which we cut in a neighboring wood, and which had served as a slight shelter against the rain which had fallen the night before.

Orders had been issued the evening previous for the army to march at two o’clock in the morning. Three days’ rations had been supplied; ammunition furnished; and all were prepared to start. Through all the camps everyone seemed stirring, though it wanted two hours of the time, so eager were we all to meet the foe. Many had not slept at all. Some had spent the night before the campfires writing to the loved ones at home, letters which for aught they knew might be the last. Others whom excitement forbade to sleep had spent the night in storytelling and suggesting plans of private action on the morrow.

As I wandered through the camp visiting several campfires, I found every man full of resolution. Once aroused I could not sleep again amid all the hum and bustle of the camp. So, taking my canteen, I started for a spring to fill it with water. I had to pass through several camps before reaching it, and found nearly everyone stirring. Here and there would be groups of privates surrounding some officer who was regaling them with latest news of which the very latest seemed to be that General Butler had captured Richmond and the Rebels had been surrounded by General Patterson. All that we had to do was to give Beauregard a thrashing in order to end all the troubles. Not a thought of defeat or reverse of any kind entered our minds. We had only to go forth to conquer.

Two o’clock came, but no movement was made. Our regiment was ordered to fall in by companies, and after a short time of waiting, the muskets were again stacked, and the soldiers dismissed for a while. Some of us set fire to the bower houses which, being dry, burnt with a brilliant light, and other regiments following our plan, in a very few moments the whole valley was almost one sheet of flame.

At daybreak we were ordered to fall in and marched a very short distance to the edge of the road, and after forming the regiment, we were allowed to rest on our arms. We rested there an hour or two. Some laid down and slept, and the sun was well up above the horizon before any movement took place around us. First, Ricketts’ Battery which lay across a little creek in front of us limbered up and started down the road. Then came the 1st Michigan Regiment who, in passing us, gave three cheers. “Fall in!” came the order to us, and instantly every man was in his place. After the Michigan regiment came the 2nd Scott Life Guard, 88th, New York, which also gave three cheers which we returned, and, on the order being given, we formed in marching order and started off behind them.

Our colonel had been suffering from fever for several days, and was not considered able to do any duty. To our great surprise, as we gained the top of the hill above our late camp, he came riding by us toward the head of the column cheered again and again by our regiment and others who lined the roadside in order to see us pass.

In a short time we passed through Centerville and turned to our left down a country road. On this road was stationed a number of regiments which were a portion of the reserve, and all of them, as we passed, cheered us and wished us success. On we marched, crossing Cub Run, and then a short distance beyond we turned abruptly to the right, passed through a small grove of trees, and emerged into a large open plain skirted by woods on nearly every side. Away ahead of us we could just see a regiment vanishing in the woods. “Forward double quick” came the order, and away we went. Now “double quick,” if properly performed, is a very pretty movement, and one not excessively tiresome to the soldier. I remember one day to have seen the Massachusetts’ 5th coming down Pennsylvania Avenue at double quick with the drums beating to keep the proper time, and it looked very well.

But with our regiment, it was another matter, and performed in a manner not set down in our tactics. Anyone who has seen a closely contested race between two fire engine companies down Grand Street can form a good idea of what double quick was with us. Soon the plain on each side of us was found strewn with blankets which had been thrown aside by flying soldiers, and some of us, thinking they belonged to the Rebels, set up a lively shout.

In a short time we gained the woods, and entered them by an old road which looked as though but little used, and which we afterward discovered had been widened and cleared in some portions to allow our artillery to pass on it. I cannot form any opinion of the distance through the woods or the length of time we were in them. Now and then we were halted for a very few minutes, and then away we went again at double quick. The day was very hot. Scarcely a breath of air was stirring, and the shade of the trees afforded but little relief.

As we advanced farther on we passed numbers from different regiments who had given out in the march and dropped by the side of the road to wait for the wagons to pick them up.

After a while we came to edge of the woods. For some little while back the booming of cannon had told us a battle was going on. Now that we had reached the edge of the woods, the sound came more clearly and we could hear the rattle of volley after volley of musketry. Passing up a steep hill, we left the woods and halted on the road. To the left of the road was a wheatfield, and, looking across the field a mile or two to the right, we could see the puffs of smoke rising, showing us where the fighting was going on.

Cheer after cheer rang out from our regiment at the prospect of at last finding the foe, and yet many among us were suffering from the intense heat and want of water, for nearly all the canteens were empty by this time.

Away again on the run. The dust under our feet was thrown into the air and filled our eyes and mouths, and the fierce July sun blazed remorselessly down upon us. But a short distance and we filed off the road on to an open plain, forming into companies, and halted. To the left stood a large old-fashioned mansion house, and around it were several horses tied, belonging to our army, and several ambulances were halted there in front of the house. To our right the land sloped steeply down to the creek, and at the bottom of the hill was a meadow which was occupied by several of our regiments who were getting water.

We paused but a moment, and at the order the column wheeled and marched down the hill, company front. To hear the shouts of the assembled soldiers below us as we moved slowly down toward them, and see the splendid manner in which the evolution was performed, one would think it was some gala day, and ours a Broadway parade instead of a battlefield, and a fiercely contested one at that. We halted a moment in the meadow. A squad was detailed from each company to fill our canteens with water from the creek. But before they returned, away we started again at double quick. Hot, tired, and thirsty, and Tantalus-like our chance for water seemed slipping from our grasp. But the squad detailed from our company came running up, and nearly all of us were furnished with a canteen of water.

Now it was double quick in earnest across the creek, up a hill, then another creek crossed by a bridge, by Sudley Church, and then wading through another creek till we halted for a moment and divested ourselves of blankets, overcoats and haversacks which we laid, each company by itself, in piles on the ground. After leaving our things, we started again, and soon came to a large open space, one just suited for a parade—and so we must have it. Break into platoons. Forward double quick. I guess it must have looked well, for a regiment just retiring from the field came around a piece of woods, and when they saw us, shouted, cheered, and threw their caps up. But we were tired and nearly worn out, as the pale faces and heavy short breaths of those around me indicated.

All the time the cannon were roaring out just ahead of us, and to our immediate left the crack of the muskets told us we were on the battlefield. A member of the New York 71st who was slowly walking to the rear met us. “For God’s sake, hurry up, boys,” he said. “We’re driving them, but they’re killing all our officers.”

A few moments more, and still at double quick we filed into marching order and entered the battlefield up a slope on the summit of which to our right was a large barn and several haystacks. We passed by Ricketts’ Battery which were in action a short distance down the slope of the hill to our left, and seemed to be engaging a Rebel battery which lay about a mile off a little to our rear and left. Several of the shells from it exploded in mid-air before reaching us, and a few balls passed over and through our regiment, but none were struck by them. Passing on by the barn we soon got out of range of them. We marched a little down the hill so as to be protected from the cannon, and formed in line of battle.

Behind us in the valley the 14th Brooklyn were drawn up in line and were resting. Oh, if we could but get some rest, just five minutes, to catch one good long breath,—one moment to get a sip of water from our canteens! No, not for us. Up rode an officer sword in hand ere we had hardly halted. “Colonel,” he shouted, “the General has decided to put you right into it. Let the colors advance ten paces. Detail two of your companies as a reserve. Dress on your colors.”

’Twas done. “Come on boys and show them what New York can do!” And with that the pet lambs were led to the slaughter. Ricketts’ Battery were ordered to limber up and follow us. The hill in front sloped down to a small creek along which ran a road, and just across the creek another hill rose, on the top of which was a small white house surrounded by an orchard and cornfield beyond which were dense woods. To our right a small spur of dwarf pines and bushes extended obliquely down the hill some little distance from the woods.

Down the hill we marched, over the fence into a road, across the creek, passing some skirmishers of the 14th, and then, climbing another fence, gained the foot of the hill on the other side. The regiment was thrown into a little confusion getting over the two fences, but soon resumed good order, and up the hill we pushed at double quick. Up, up, not a single enemy in sight, not a shot from his side. Up, up till we gained the top and then:

Crashing through the cornfield, singing and whistling around our ears, making the air blue and sulphurous with smoke, came a storm of bullets upon us from the woods in front. “Down, every one of you,” cried the Colonel. And we went down just in time to escape the second volley. No orders came all along the line. One and then another would jump up and fire and then lie down to reload. Some started toward the woods on their own account, crawling slowly along in hopes to get sight of the foe.

And still the volleys came thundering upon us from our unseen enemy.

Our right, among which was my company, were thrown into confusion by them, and [by] the number who broke ranks and advanced toward the enemy. Our gallant Captain who had been in front of us all this time commanded us to rise, sent the sergeants to bring the adventurers back into line, and ordered us to fall back down the hill to the valley. The men returned slowly, the company on our right returning with us, while the rest of the regiment held their ground and returned the fire of the Rebels.

As we fell back to the valley, being broken and separated, cavalry came riding down upon us. They were met by a volley from the regiment, and rode through us cutting right and left with their sabers but hitting no one. They passed to our rear, gained a small clump of bushes, partially rallied and commenced discharging their carbines at us. Without waiting for any orders, the two companies on the right rushed pell mell at them, running in their fury right up to the horses and bayoneting the riders when the bullet would happen to miss, and drove them flying from the field in as short a time as it takes me to tell it.

Having disposed of them, we soon got our companies rallied and ran up in good order and formed in line again with the regiment. We were in a bad position. The clump of trees extending down from the woods were directly in front of our portion of the regiment, and the fire of the Rebels who lay concealed among the bushes within thirty yards of us told with fearful effect on our men. We had just got into line with the regiment when a bullet whirred across my breast, passing through both shirts I had on, but not even grazing my body. Before I had recovered from the shock, a blow as though a club had hit me just above both ankles, told me that I was hit.

The regiment was still pressing forward, and not knowing how bad I was hit, I still kept on. I had taken three or four steps when my left leg crushed under my weight, and I fell to the ground. The regiment passed on a little from where I lay and left me alone. Knowing full well how necessary it was that the blood should be stopped, I took a handkerchief from my pocket and tied it tightly around my leg above the knee. Then, holding my gun in my hand, I crawled, or rather dragged myself, away from the enemy.

Several of my companions passed by me. One wished me to let him carry me back toward the ambulances, but he was stopped by the Colonel, who told him to attend to the fighting instead of the wounded.

I have no doubt but that much of the disorder into which our regiment was thrown was owing to the fact that those who were unhurt, instead of pressing on to the fight, would stop and carry their wounded friends out of the way. Thrown into all manner of danger as our firemen are, they soon learn to stand by each other in trouble, and the stern necessities of a battlefield even could not break them of it.

To the right of where we had been fighting, a road ran up the hill in the direction of the Rebels. It being but a few hundred feet off, and the balls coming very thick around me where I lay, I thought I would drag myself to it. So I started again still carrying my gun. Pausing to rest, it suddenly occurred to me that I was extremely foolish to be dragging my gun with me when I was disabled from rising. It was loaded, and raising it, I managed to get it to my shoulder and discharge it in the direction of the enemy. Then I reached for a small stone which lay near me, broke the nipple off the gun, and laid it down.

During the time while I was slowly gaining the roadside, our men were still fighting, but from the large number straggling around, and the number of wounded which were being brought by me, I could see that we would soon be driven from the hill. Ricketts’ Battery had come up behind us and got into position, but the heavy volleys had swept off nearly every horse, and it was impossible to move the guns away. For nearly two hours the strife was over those guns. We had been driven away from them, and they were in possession of the enemy when Captain Ricketts rode up to a large body of our regiment and exclaimed, “For God’s sake, boys, save my battery.”

Captain Ricketts had always been a favorite with our men, and enough of them rallied, and under the lead of their sergeants, charged on the Rebels and drove them back to the woods again. But we were too small in numbers to hold it. The brave artillery captain was badly wounded, and his battery, after being taken and retaken several times, was finally lost.

I at length reached the side of the road but found I was no better off. I lay there for a long time looking around till our own men had vanished from my sight. And then for the first time I saw our concealed foe. A company of them came slowly from the woods loading and firing with great rapidity. Their gray coats and slouch hats, seen under such circumstances, filled me with disgust which I have not yet overcome. The bullets rained all around me, striking near me in the ground and throwing the dirt over my clothes. They came so thick and struck so near me that, for a time, I thought they were firing at me. But only one ball struck that passed through my right leg.

Once again I saw a portion of our army. I was engaged in watching the motions of the Graycoats on the top of the hill when suddenly they disappeared toward the woods. Soon after there came by where I lay a party of three or four hundred of our army composed of all the regiments I had seen and of those I had not. They were not marching in regular order at all, each man alone loading and firing and pressing forward in the direction of where I was first shot. “We’re driving them! Come on, boys!” was their cry.

I hoped we were driving them, but I feared not, and my fears were too true. The soldiers pressed on, worked well up onto the field near the woods, when crack came another of those fierce volleys, and our soldiers returned down the hill, their numbers greatly reduced, and the ground around strewed still thicker with dead and wounded. The fight had been going on all this time in other parts of the field. Now for a time it ceased entirely around me, and everything was quiet.

I imagined the Rebels were changing their position, and it turned out so. They moved further to our right, and some pieces of artillery were brought and placed in position on the road near which I lay about two hundred feet above me. Just across the road from where I was, stood a large tree around the trunk of which several wounded men were lying. One man, a soldier of the 14th New York who was wounded, was standing by the tree. I had lain my head down on my arms and was resting quietly when I was startled by a fierce volley coming down the road, striking the tree and whistling through the branches. Next I heard a rush down the road and shouts of “Kill him, he’s a Fire Zouave, kill him!”

I lay perfectly still expecting every moment to be set upon by the Rebels when a voice as from one in authority spoke up, “Shame on you, men, would you hurt a wounded man?” Instantly the excitement ceased, and raising my head, I glanced across the road. Surrounding the wounded at the foot of the tree were quite a number of Rebel soldiers busily engaged in asking questions of the wounded. Among them was a gray-haired man who appeared to be their captain and whose voice at once denoted him to be the one who interfered on behalf of our soldiers.

Some of the Rebels were giving water to the wounded, and one young man among them, looking over toward me, caught sight of me and came to my side asking numerous questions as to where I was wounded, etc. I asked him for water, but he had none. Leaving me, he went to the captain and told him there were several wounded men lying there, some of whom wanted water. A canteen was found among them which was not empty, and it was brought to me and I drank. There was a large bush within a few feet of me, and some of them asked me if I did not wish to be moved out of the sun. I acquiesced in their proposal, and two or three of them lifted me very carefully from the ground and carried and laid me down in the shade of the bush.

Here, to my great surprise, were three of my own regiment, and two of them belonged to my company. One was slightly wounded, and had been surrounded by the enemy while taking care of the other, a member of 28 Engine who was mortally wounded. Poor fellow, he lay on the ground writhing in agony, now begging for water, now talking in broken sentences of companions who were far away.

Our captors had left us suddenly, and soon we heard them forming in the woods across the road, their right being supported by the artillery which was in the road above us. Their regiment extended away to the left through the woods and, at the edge near us, we could see the soldiers loading their pieces and preparing to meet the charge of our own men. I could not see our army, but the exclamations of the enemy told us a little of their movements. “There they come,” “What a splendid front!” “They look good” were some of the remarks made. One, apparently a boy, spoke: “I say, Captain, just give me twenty men, and I’ll go around here and scatter the hull on ’em.” The laugh with which his proposition was received showed it didn’t meet with much favor. I heard the Captain ask if their guns were all loaded, and then the order was given for them to lay down close.

All was still. One of my comrades muttered, “I wonder if our folks know where these fellows are hid?” Oh, what a moment of suspense! I could picture in my mind our brave fellows advancing steadily uphill toward the woods not knowing where they were to be met, but pressing steadily on in line of battle. I could imagine them drawing nearer and nearer the foe when from the center of the woods came a low sound which was caught up at each company and repeated again – “Fire!” And with a roar that shook the earth, the artillery above us and the infantry in the wood opened upon our advancing columns.

Scarcely had the Rebel volley died away when we heard a heavy volley from our side. Again was it returned from the foe, and the artillery kept sending their deadly messengers down the road. Cheer after cheer came from our soldiers as they poured their volleys into the trees. But it did not last long. After a short time, amid the noise of the cannon and musketry, one could hear the Rebels shout: “There they go, they’re breaking.” Several, with great enthusiasm, leaped from the ground and cheered for Jeff Davis, and the whole of them were filling the air with yells and hurrahs.

But the group near the bush were filled with different feelings. We looked at each other in sorrow. All our hearts seemed to tell us the day was lost.

The artillery had ceased firing. The soldiers had advanced from the woods, and everything was quiet again. I looked toward the poor fellow who was so badly wounded. He lay perfectly still. His head lay on the ground, and his face was covered with his right arm. I said to my friend, “Look at Tommy—he lies so still, he must be dead.” He walked up, raised the arm, and turned the body so as to get a view of the face. My thoughts were too true. Amid that crash of shot and shell, through the sulphurous smoke which filled the air around us his soul had answered to God.

The tide of battle had passed away from us entirely. Our army were slowly retreating, but the sound of cannon and small arms showed that the ground was still contested in the neighborhood of where we first entered the field. From where we lay we could see the open fields through which the last charge had been made, and saw several Southern regiments winding slowly out of the woods with their banners hanging lazily in their midst as they moved still more lazily in the direction of our army.

We were soon surrounded by numbers of Rebels all eager to ask questions, and also desirous of obtaining a Minie musket or rifle. One asked me for mine. I told him I had dropped it, and I watched him searching for it, and saw him pick it up. He went off with it, but I imagine he didn’t harm anyone with it that day. Our visitors were mostly of the [?] South Carolina and 4th Georgia regiments, although a great many other regiments were represented all of whom were desirous to see the Fire Zouaves.

From the remarks of those who came to see us, we knew that our army had been driven panic-stricken toward Washington, and as night drew near we all became anxious to know how we were to be cared for. Several Rebel officers had been around cheering us up, telling us they would take care of us as soon as ambulances could be obtained to take us off.

About half an hour after dark, someone about fifty feet down the road inquired if there were any Fire Zouaves in hearing. We answered, and soon our names were given to each other. There were two of our regiment badly wounded, lying together, and the inquiry came from them.

During the whole day I had suffered scarcely any from pain. The force of the ball which had broken my leg had so benumbed it that when I lay still I felt no inconvenience. I lay patiently waiting for some wagon to come along, but as one after another came near and then departed filled with wounded, I gave up all hope of being carried off that night, and lay down to sleep. There was an old overcoat beside me which I drew around me to keep the chill night air off. Amid the noise of the wagons, the shouts of the Negro drivers, the sighs and moans of the wounded and dying around me, I closed my eyes on this eventful Sabbath. The toil and excitement of the day at last asserted their power, and I fell into a sound sweet slumber. Sunday, the twenty-first of July, 1861, was left among the annals of the past.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe at Ancestry.com.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe bio sketch

Transcribed by reader David Ulf.

Also appeared in print in American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 16, Issue 4, 1965





Edward S. Barrett, Civilian, On the Battle (2)

15 09 2014

Scenes on the Battle Field – – – Personal Adventures at the Battle of Bull Run.

From The Boston, Traveller, Aug. 1.

[Concluded.]

Most of these rebels had gray outfits, with black trimmings, very similar to the uniforms of some of our men. Scattered all through this wood were our men and the Alabamians, dead and wounded mingled together. I noticed a splendid bay horse nibbling the leaves from a tree, and was thinking what a fine animal he was, when I saw that one fore leg was shot off, clean as though cut by a knife, and bleeding a stream. Until this time I supposed that everything was being swept before us, as the fire from the batteries had been nearly silenced on the right, and only an occasional discharge was heard. On the enemy’s left the firing was not nearly as vigorous as half an hour previous. I came out of the woods, and to my utter astonishment saw our whole body retreating in utter confusion and disorder – no lines, no companies, no regiments could be distinguished. I stood still a few moments, unable to comprehend the extraordinary spectacle.

I heard my name called, and turning round a lieutenant of the Massachusetts Fifth came towards me. “My God, Ed., what are you here for?” he exclaimed. Without replying, I asked if the Fifth had suffered much; he said that it had, and that the colonel was dangerously wounded. I waited to find others of my friends, but the whole line was drifting back through the valley. I fell in with them and went slowly up the hill, occasionally halting and looking back. I stopped on the brow of a hill while the volume drifted by, and I can compare it to nothing more than a drove of cattle, so entirely broken and disorganized were our lines. The enemy had nearly ceased firing from the batteries on their right and centre, but upon our extreme right, beyond a patch of woods, the fight was going on, and their cannonading was kept up with vigor.

The line where the main battle was fought was a half to three-quarters of a mile in length, the ground uneven and broken by knolls and patches of wood. At no time did we have a fair chance at the enemy in the open field. – They kept behind their intrenchments or under cover of the woods. Our comparatively slight loss may be attributed to the fact that the great body of our troops were posted in the valley in front of the enemy’s batteries, but by keeping as close to the ground as possible, the enemy’s shot passed over their heads, while the cross fire of infantry from their flanks caused us the most damage.

I did not leave the hill until the enemy’s infantry came our from their intrenchments, and slowly moved forward, their guns glistening in the sun; but they showed no disposition to charge, and only advanced a short distance. Had they precipitated their columns upon our panic-stricken army the slaughter would have been dreadful, for so thorough was the panic that no power on earth could have stopped the retreat and make our men turn and fight. They were exhausted with twelve hours marching and fighting, having had little to eat, their mouths parched with thirst, and no water in their canteens; what could be expected of them then? Our men did fight like heroes, and only retreated when they had no officers to control and command them.

I found my horse tied to the tree where I had left him in the morning. Mounting him, I rode up to the hospital headquarters, and stopped some time watching the ambulances bringing their loads of wounded, fearing I might discover a friend or acquaintance. As these loads of wounded men were brought up, blood flowed from the ambulances like water from an ice cart, and their mutilated limbs protruding from the rear had no semblance of humanity.

I left these scenes of blood and carnage and fell into this retreating mass of disorderly and confused soldiery. Then commenced my retreat. None who dragged their weary limbs through the long hours of that night will ever  forget it. Officers of regiments placed themselves in front of a body of their men and besought them to halt and form, for if they did not make a stand their retreat would be cut off. But they might as well have asked the wind to cease blowing; the men heeded them not, but pressed on in retreat. The regiments two or three miles to the rear, which had not been in action, exhorted our men to stop, but all to no purpose; no power could stop them. The various regiments tried to collect as many of their regiment and their State. In some instances they collected together two or three hundred men.

At a narrow place in the road the baggage wagons and artillery got jammed together in a dead lock, and in trying to get through I was hemmed in so completely that for fifteen minutes I could not move in either direction, and in this way I became separated from a remnant of the Fifth, ,and did not see them again till I reached Centreville. I finally extricated myself by breaking down a rail fence, and driving my horse over it, struck across a large corn field, thus cutting off a considerable distance and reaching the road at a point where it entered the oak forest. Shortly after entering the woods the column in front of me suddenly broke and ran into the woods on the left; the panic spread past me and soldiers ran pell mell into the woods, leaving me alone on my horse. I was afraid that in their fright they might shoot me and I shouted lustily “false alarm.”

Turning my horse about not a man could I see, but soon a soldier thrust his head from behind a large oak. I asked him “what the matter was;” he replied “the enemy are in front.” Somewhat provoked at the scare, I made some reflection on his courage, and shouted again still louder, “false alarm,” which was soon taken up along the road, and in five minutes we were going along as before. This was between five and six o’clock in the afternoon. Shortly after I overtook two soldiers helping along a disabled lieutenant; they asked me to take him up behind me, to which I readily assented, although my horse was already encumbered with a pair of saddle-bags and several blankets. The poor man groaned as they lifted him up behind me. – I was fearful he might fall off, and I told him to put both arms round me and hold on tight. Leaning his head upon my shoulder we started on.

He soon felt better, gave me his name, and informed me that he was a first lieutenant of the Marines, and belonged to Connecticut. – He stated that they had in the fight four companies of eighty men each and that Lieutenant Hitchcock (a very dear friend) was killed by his side. A cavalry officer with his arm in a sling, came riding along, and drawing up near me, I asked him if he was much hurt. He replied “that he had received a rifle ball through the fleshy part of his arm.” He also told me that during the fight he had two horses shot under him, and the one on which he was then riding he caught on the field. I questioned him as to the cause of our disaster, and he answered “that our light troops and light batteries could make no headway against the heavy guns of the enemy strongly intrenched.” I asked him how the enemy’s works could be carried; he replied, “by allowing the cavalry to charge, supported by infantry.” He also informed me that we had about one thousand cavalry in the field during the battle.

As we continued our retreat through the wood, the men overcome with weariness, dropped by the roadside, and immediately fell asleep – some completely exhausted, begged to be carried, the wagons being already overloaded with those being unable to walk; and some shrewd ones quietly bargained with the driver of an ordnance wagons for a seat by his side. Passing through this wood we came in sight of the hills of Centreville. I noticed that the column mostly left the road and bore off through and open field, leaving the bridge we had crossed in the morning some distance on our right. I could not account for this deviation from the morning’s course, and I left the main body and continued along some distance farther, determined to keep the main road, as I knew of no other way to cross the creek except by the bridge we had crossed in the morning, but coming up to a line of broken down wagons, it occurred to me that the bridge might be blocked up, as I recollected the passage was quite narrow. I then started off to the left across a level field, but upon looking back I perceived that the wagons still continued on toward the bridge; in fact there was no other way for them to cross. I followed the crowd of soldiers through the field and into some low woods.

Here they scattered in every direction, as there was no path, and each one was compelled to choose his own route. I picked my way among the tangled underbrush till I came to the creek; the bank down to the water was very steep, and I feared my horse could not carry us both down safely; so, dismounting, I led him slowly down, and then mounting, I drove into the stream. The bottom was soft and miry, and my horse sunk in to its belly. I began to think we all should be floundering in the stream; then urging him to his utmost strength we reached the opposite bank in safety. Twice my gallant horse started up the bank and fell back. After crossing this creek I came into a corn field, and soon struck a road leading to Centreville, which village I soon reached, and there my companion met with his captain and he dismounted. Never was a man more grateful for a favor than was this lietenant. With tears in his eyes he thanked me a thousand time, and, wringing my hands, walked away with his friends.

From Centreville I could see the disordered army winding on for some two miles; a portion of the men and all the wagons and artillery took the road over the bridge, while another portion came in nearly the direction I had taken. It was now nearly eight o’clock, and as it grew darker our retreating army kept the main road over the bridge. About two miles from Centreville, on the Southern road was a rebel battery where the fight had taken place the Thursday previous. This battery commanded the bridge above mentioned. Suddenly a cannon shot was fired from the battery and struck our column, crowding across the narrow bridge. The utmost consternation was created by this fire. In their haste wagons and gun carriages were crowded together and overturned; the drivers cut their horse loose who galloped, they scarcely knew whither. Our men plunged into the stream waist deep, and were scattered in every direction, and some who were seen up to this time have not been heard of since.

The enemy still fired from the battery but did not dare sally out, as they were kept in check by our reserve on the heights of Centreville. I reached our camp that we had left in the morning a little after eight o’clock and found that a few of the Fifth had arrived before me. It was then expected we should encamp for the night, but about nine o’clock we received orders to march to Alexandria. We had already travelled from ten to twelve miles, and now our weary soldiers were ordered to march twenty-five or thirty miles farther.

Slowly the fragment of our regiment fell into line and began this dreadful night march. – I took a sick man behind me and followed in the rear of our regiment, and crossing a field to the main road we fell in with the drifting mass. A friend of mine from the Fifth, who could hardly walk, approached me. I offered him my horse if he would hold the sick man, who was groaning at every step. Tho this he readily assented, so I dismounted. I saw no more of my horse till morning, but trudged along all night without once sitting down to rest, only occasionally stopping to get water.

I felt comparatively fresh when compared with my companions. The dust was intolerable, and, not having any canteen, I suffered exceedingly from thirst. Men dropped down along the road by scores; some, completely exhausted, pleaded piteously to be helped along; some took hold of the rear of the wagons, which was considerable support to theme, and many a horse had two men on his back, with another helped along by its tail; in fact, a horse carrying but one was an exception. – I assisted one fine fellow along for a long distance, who told me he was taken with bleeding at the lungs while on the field; he was very weak, and in vain I tried to find an opportunity for him to ride, but he bore up manfully through the night, and I saw him the next day in Washington.

After passing Fairfax Court House some of the regiments, or such a portion as could be collected together, bivouacked for the night., but the men were so scattered that I doubt if half a regiment halted at any one spot. I still walked on, never once resting, fearing if I did I should feel worse when I started again. Towards morning my feet began to be blistered and the cords of my legs worked like rusty wires, giving me great pain at every step. – Gladly did I hail the first faint streak of light in the East.

At daylight we were within five miles of Alexandria. About this time we came to where the Washington road branches off from the main road to Alexandria, and here our column divided. I continued on towards Alexandria, and in about an hour came in sight of Shuter’s hill. I then felt my journey was nearly accomplished, but the two miles seemed needless.

I stopped at a small house just back of Fort Ellsworth and asked the old negro woman for some breakfast. Two Zouaves were there when I entered, and soon four more came in. She knew them all, as they had paid her frequent visits while encamped in that neighborhood. She gladly got us the best she had, and those six Zouaves and myself, nearly famished as we were, sat down to that breakfast of fried port, hoe cake and coffee, served to us by this old slave woman, with greater delight than ever a king seated himself at a banquet.

The Zouaves each had their story of the battle to relate, but the charge of the Black Horse Cavalry was their especial theme. One of the, pulling a large Colt’s pistol from his pocket, said, “There, I gave that fellow h–l, and he wasn’t the only one, either.” I coveted this pistol, and soon bargained for it, and now have it in my possession. One barrel only had been fired. The Zouaves gradually dropped off, and after paying the slave woman for the meal I started over the hill for the camp of the Fifth, where I arrived about half past eight o’clock, and found that my horse, with his riders, had arrived safely some time before.

Part 1

New London (CT) Chronicle, 8/7/1861

Clipping Image

Edward S. Barrett* bio

Edward S. Barrett* at Ancestry.com

Barrett, Edwin Shepard What I Saw at Bull Run

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Likely the letter writer