Camp Benton, Oct. 22d 1861.
My dear Mother.
I sit down in haste to give you an
account of the battle which we have just fought and lost.
I had been stationed near the river to support a battery
(Ricketts) for about a week. On Sunday at 3 P.M.
received orders to march with Capt Bartlett's Company up
the canal about 3 miles from Edwards Ferry, and await
orders. When we arrived there we met Col' Lee and Major
Revere who told us that we were to cross the river with 300
men of the 15th Mass Regt. and surprise a rebel camp which was near the
town of Leesburg. So at about 11 o'clock we crossed the
river to an island some five miles long: there we
waited until 3 o'clk in the morning, and then crossed
the river into Virginia. As we had only 3 boats
to cross in, it took us a long time. One boat would
hold about 16 men, another 8, and a third only 4.
The width of the river here is about ¼ of a mile
or perhaps not so much. The banks on the
other side are very precipitous and rocky; however
we managed to get up on to high land by marching
in single file and picking our way very carefully.
It was bright moonlight, and the scene was in-
-discribably romantic. When we reached the
top of the hill, we found ourselves on a broad
field of 10 or 12 acres. Here Capt. Bartlett's and my
was also with us) remained as a reserve, and to
Cover the 15th in case they should have to retreat.
As the 15th advanced, I was sent out on our flank
with some men to see if we could discover anything.
When we had got about ¼ of a mile, 5 rebels suddenly
started up and fired at us wounding one of my men
in the arm. We fired and one of them fell, but got up
again and ran. We chased them some way, and then
returned to where the Col. was stationed. We stationed
skirmishers on our flank and awaited the result with
much anxiety. We none of us said anything, but I
think that all felt, as I did, that we were in a
desperate situation, unless the 300 men of the 15th
should be completely successful: and then perhaps
if we were very quick about it, we might be able
to get back across the river. Soon we heard rapid
firing in the direction of the 15th. Soon after 2 men
Came out of the woods bearing a wounded man in
their arms, and told us that the 15th had been
attacked by infantry and cavalry, and that they
had driven them off, but with the loss of many men,
and were retreating to the woods near us. Our Col.
now sent a note to Genl. Stone in which he said
"if you wish to make a general advance into
Virginia, send over a great many more men, if not,
we ought to retreat at once". We had before
this had orders "not to retreat until orders
the Virginia side at this time was 300 of the 15th
and 100 of the 20th. A short time after the Col.
sent this message we heard the 15th firing and
more wounded men were brought down the road.
In about a quarter of an hour the 15th Came up
to where we were. The enemy did not follow.
If they had, we should have been cut off to a man.
Now some reinforcements Came over, but very
slowly, as there were only the 3 boats I spoke about
, and a flat scow which had been found. At 1 o'clk
the fight Commenced on our right flank, and
in a short time the rebels were driven back. Then
Came a breathing space of 10 minutes. Then they
attacked our left flank. Where I was they
made a dreadful noise and fired heavily and
rapidly. They drove my pickets in and killed
at the 1st fire 2 or 3 men. My men stood firm
and fought bravely. I was obliged to bring up
my reserve, and we drove the rebels back.
An interval of quiet, and they advanced cheering, &
attacking our whole line. We met them with a
severe fire, and they fell back, but they Continued
to fire very rapidly, and killed many of our men.
They cheered furiously, as their reinforcements
came up, and their fire became fiercer & fiercer.
Our gunners were almost all shot, and those
who remained could not fire very often.
our centre was broken at the same time. I
did all I could to stop them and succeeded in
stopping about 20 men, with whom I again
advanced, and checked the rebels. As they were
advancing in great numbers, we could not
stop them long however. Here a poor fellow
in my Company fell shot through the body.
He was standing close to me, and, as he fell
he said. "My God. I am shot through".
We had to fall back rapidly now, as our
Centre was broken, and had fallen back to
the woods on the bank of the river. I was
within 6 feet of Col Baker when he fell. He
got up once, and then fell again, and 2 men
Carried him off. He had 3 or 4 bullets in him
they say. He behaved with the utmost
Courage and coolness all through the fight. Our
guns had now ceased to fire, and 2 of them had, I think
been taken and 1 had been brought back to the
edge of the woods. All was now confusion, and
the horses, attached to the caisson of the gun,
ran, and one was shot just as it was going into
the woods, so that the other 3 could not draw the
Caisson. This made a breastwork for a time
behind which I stood. The fire of the rebels was
at this time something terrible. The hill was
Swept with bullets and the men were in the
woods scattered in all directions.
Once, when their fire slackened, I ran out on the
hill with the color Sargeant and the color and Shouted
to the men to rally round the color. About 40
men ran out, but a sharp fire of the rebels drove
them back. I saw our col. last behind the
Cannon. He had given the order of retreat, as I
heard, but I do not believe it possible; as there
Could be no retreat. The ravine and the banks
of the river were now crowded with men. Some
were sitting down behind trees and stones. Some
were carrying the wounded, and some were throw-
-ing away their guns and trying to swim across.
On the opposite bank were two hundred of our
men, who had been sent to reinforce us, but
Could not get over. All this time the rebels
were firing volley after volley over the hill,
but they did not advance to the woods; why I do
not know, as our fire had almost ceased.
I went down the ravine and heard that the Col.
major & adjutant had gone up the river with a white
flag and were going to surrender. I saw Capt.
Tremlett, and he was going to march his men
up with a white flag and give up. So I walked
round and [trie?] called for the men of Co. D, but
they had got scattered when we got rallied
round the flag and I could only find one or
who were drowning and shouting for help; but
there was no help to give them except from God.
I never saw such a sight and God grant
I may never see such another. I was all
covered with blood from some one, I suppose
who had been shot near me. I felt very faint, and
the men seeing the blood supposed that I was
wounded, and those who managed to get across
the river to the island, which we held, reported
me as killed or taken prisoner. It was now about
6 o'clock. I wandered round trying to find my
men and went back to the brow of the hill, but
there were none of them there. The rebels were
advancing and firing down the ravine. The men
were calling out that they would surrender; and
the rebels were shooting at the men who were
swimming over. So I went higher up the
stream and took off my clothes, & taking my
watch in my hand (I was too tired to try to take
anything else, and indeed I hardly thought I
could swim over at all, as the water was cold
and the distance great). When I started there
were a few men left who could not swim and
who were going to give themselves up.
By the help of God I got over and ran to a
haystack on the island, and there found Some
knapsack which we had left, when we started
soldiers who had been sent over to hold it, in
case the enemy should attack it. Out of the
knapsacks I got a rubber blanket, a woolen
blanket, and a pair of drawers. One of the
soldiers gave me a coat God bles him!
a man named Dennis, one of the Tammany
Regt. Co. A. I slept under a haystack, &
in the morning went across the river and
got to the camp. We had only 418 of our
Regt. in the fight. We took out 22 officers
and only 9 have returned unharmed
I must close this now. The officers
- men who were in the fight yesterday &
who got back as now in Camp. The rest
have crossed the river at Edwards Ferry[.]
We now have a large force there & there [ . . . ]
will probably be a fight today or tomorrow. [ . . . ]
shall not be in it. I shall write again soon[.]
Goodbye. Give my love to all &
believe that I did my duty.
P.S. My 1st
Perry is missing. I saw him
at 5 o'clk and he was not wounded then.