Civil War Monthly Featured Document return to document overview

Page Viewing Options NOTE

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • ...
  • 20
  • Jump:

    Camp Wilson Shooters Hill, VA 27 July 1861

    My Dear Wife:

    I commence this
    letter today but it is uncertain
    if I shall be able to finish it
    as the long delayed time has
    come, and our Regiment is being
    paid off today, and it involves
    some additional duties upon me
    as Capt Wright is unwell and
    has been for several days, with
    dysentery and other derangement
    of the bowels, Gammell and
    myself are quite well. Your
    two letters of last Sunday and
    Tuesday came duly to hand
    and gladdened my heart as
    usual. I shall not attempt
    to answer them in detail so
    if I omit speaking of things
    you have desired me to now I
    will do so in some other letter.


    [Well dear wife I have at last
    "been in battle" and you ask
    me to give you the full partic-
    -ulars, that is more easily asked
    than complied with for an
    active participator cannot dis-
    -cribe a scene of that kind like
    one who is a looker on, and has
    nothing to distract his attention
    from the great scene before him
    I wrote you from our Camp
    at Centreville last Saturday and
    I had not closed my letter a half
    hour before we were ordered to be
    ready to march at 2 1/2 P.M. but
    that order was countermanded and
    the time changed to 2 OClk Sunday
    morn'g at the same time"we" offi-
    -cers were told that there was to
    be an engagement on Sunday
    but where we did not know, and
    I suspect officers high in com-
    -mand were more ignorant than
    they should have been, well at
    1 OClk Sunday morn'g Lt-Col
    Blaisdell came to our "bower"
    and told us to call our men
    without noise and have them
    fall in, in perfect silence and
    not even to brighten up our
    Camp Fires which had nearly
    died out, (this precaution was
    nescessary as we know the rebels
    were all round us, and must
    be watching our movements),
    all this was done and about
    half past one we commenced
    our silent dark march without
    beat of drum or other noise save
    the tramping of thousands of feet
    and the rumbling noise of the
    Artillery wheels, we moved forward
    about two miles and were then
    halted for some reason or other
    and remained sitting and lying
    by the roadside untill sunrise
    when the orders were forward
    again, and we made no more
    halts except for a few moments
    at a time untill we reached
    the scene of action about 11
    OClk Sunday forenoon. Our
    march was a most tiresome
    one up hill and down through
    dense woods and over barren
    tracts of open country the
    men suffered much from want
    of water and I can say for
    myself that one swallow of
    muddy water as thick as Molas-
    -ses was most delicous, we
    were also tired out from being
    often ordered forward at "double
    quick" time which was continued
    until the men would stop
    from utter exhaustion and you
    must know the day was very hot
    and we had our two blankets
    a haversack with three days
    provisions in it (and the men
    their cartridge boxes with 40
    rounds of ammunition in them)
    slung on our backs, so you can
    judge some yourself of how fit
    we were to go into battle when
    we arrived (the distance we
    had gone over since starting in
    the morn'g was not less than 15
    miles) well without giving us
    any time to rest each Regiment
    was formerd into column and
    advanced to the fight, and
    now I can speak little more
    than generally of the battle
    as all who attended to thier duty
    were sufficiently occupied with
    their own companies, we first
    went into action through an
    opening in the woods and have
    as soon as we cleared the woods
    I realized that I was on a
    "field of battle" cannon ball
    & shells, were whistling over our
    heads mingled with the peculiar "sing-
    -ing" buzz of rifleball, all inten-
    -ded for us but mostly just clear-
    -ing our heads, on we advanced
    with no one faltering up a
    rising ground till we nearly
    reached the brow of the elevation
    when the command was "down on
    your knees " and wait for thier fire"
    this we did and almost instantly
    a perfect storm of bullets swept
    over and amongst us. Oh! Sarah
    it was a fearful scene I cannot
    describe it one must experience
    it to feel it, our Reg'mt had
    two killed and several wounded
    in this first fire, we instantly
    arose advanced to the brow of
    the hill and delivered our
    fire, we then fell back a few
    rods reloaded and advanced
    again, this movement was gone
    through with several times
    in all this the 5th Mass and
    another Reg'mt were on our
    right, going through the same
    movements, after a while, a
    battery of Artillery came up
    and took position between "ours"
    and the 5th then the firing
    on both sides became hotter,
    finally we the battery retired
    from its position and "ours"
    with the 5th and another were
    ordered to follow and support
    it, in the new position it was
    to take, which was upon another
    eminence farther to the right,
    to get there we had to pass
    through a narrow gully or
    ravine, and here came the
    time
    during the engagement
    when through a miraculous
    power I was saved from being
    lost to you dear Sarah in this
    world. (I say "the time"! there
    were probably thousands of moments
    when I escaped as narrowly for
    during the whole of the fight
    which lasted about 5 Hours
    our Regmt was constantly engaged
    and under the hottest fire
    a perfect "leaden rain and
    iron hail" the bullets were
    whistling about my ears so
    close
    it seems strange I was
    not hit) we were rushing
    down this ravine upon the
    keen run. I alongside of my
    platoon (and at this time we
    were passing directly between
    the fire of one of our own
    batteries on the right and one
    of the enemies on the left)
    when I heard a "firing" and
    simultaneously an explosion
    and over I went backwards
    to the ground for a second
    I was partially stunned but
    and the thought passed through
    me that I was "hurt" but instantly
    I got on my hands and knees
    and found I could move I could
    see that the blood was running
    down my face but I jumped
    up and rushed after my com-
    -pany, and overtook them at
    the bottom of the gully before
    they had got fifty rods from
    where I fell in a few minutes
    we were halted and a Sargeant
    in Capt Butters company gave
    me some water from his Canteen
    and upon washing the blood
    from my face, I found I had
    received only a slight wound
    on the side of my nose which
    bled freely but was not much
    of a cut and now to show you
    what a narrow escape I had (al-
    -though I did not know it at the
    time) the man a piece of the
    shell which burst and knocked
    me down struck the man
    who was touching me in my
    platoon and tore away all
    the lower part of his abdomen
    making a most horrible wound
    he was carried to the rear to
    the temporary hospital but
    Doct Bell who dressed the
    wound says he could not possibly
    have lived more than three or
    four hours his name was John
    P Mead and he belonged in
    So Reading he had a wife and
    one child I am told, he with
    another man of our company
    named Geo D Torrey were left
    at the hospital when we retreat-
    -ed (as there were no means of
    taking our wounded with us)
    and we have heard nothing from
    them since, for I will state
    here what you have probably
    seen in the papers, that we
    have it from what seems good
    authority that after our retreat
    the rebels blew up the Hospital
    and inhumanly murdered every
    wounded man they found. for
    the sake of humanity I trust
    this may not be true, but this is
    certain, up to this moment we
    have had no tidings of any of our
    wounded or missing in addition
    to the two I have named above
    one of our men by the name of
    Newell is missing, this compri
    -ses the whole "loss" of our Comp'y
    although we have two or three in
    camp who were slightly "hurt"
    the Capt Gordon you speak of
    was the large stout man you
    saw at Camp Cameron that
    we called the "child of the Regmt"
    he was not killed but only
    slightly wounded and his fate
    is as uncertain as that of the
    rest of the wounded, and while
    upon this subject let me state
    that the loss to our Reg'mt in
    Officers is two Captains and one
    Lieut missing and one Lieut
    killed, I have rather digressed
    and will now resume this some-
    -what indefinite account of my
    experience of the day. After hav-
    -ing washed the blood from my
    face we remained in the gully
    ten or fifteen minutes, the
    Artillery had gone on and
    taken position upon the hill
    but they only retained it a
    few minutes they were obliged
    to give way, and came tearing
    down the gully at a fearful
    rate to get out of thier way
    we had to clamber up a steep
    bank 15 or 20 feet high and
    over a rail fence into a field
    while doing this I lost my
    sword my scabbord got caught
    in the fence and the sword
    dropped out and I could not
    regain it at the moment I
    went back in a few minutes
    alone over the fence although
    the balls were flying merrily
    around me but it was gone,
    soon after I got Capt Gordons
    sword (he had just been carried
    from the field) and I carried
    that until we arrived back
    here in Camp. After the Artillery
    had passed down the gully
    we formed in column and
    crossed over it charged up
    the hill and drove the rebels
    from thier position and this
    particular part of the battle-
    field we remained in till the
    retreat commenced sometimes
    charging and then falling
    back (it would take more time
    than I can now give to continue
    the account of the battle further
    and besides the more I write
    about it the more I seem to
    make it unintelligble so I
    will begin to draw to a conclusion)
    till finally from some unex-
    -plained cause all the columns
    engaged seemed to break at
    once and a retreat commenced
    and it finally became such
    that the men from the different
    Regiments became so mixed
    up that it was impossible to
    collect them together again.
    You will hear and see in
    the papers all sorts of accounts
    of the battle the retreat and
    the causes which produced this
    or that result, how this Regiment
    behaved gallantly and that
    one did not, how if this thing
    had been done the battle would
    not have been lost etc.
    all I have got to say is this
    that "our Eleventh" went into the
    fight as soon as it arrived and
    continued in it without any
    cessation, and the whole time

    under such a perfect storm
    of cannon balls shells and
    musket balls as might have
    appalled the stoutest heart
    yet there was no flinching and
    I venture to say veterans of a
    hundred fights could not have
    done better this may sound
    like egotism in one so
    directly
    interested, but I write this not
    for publicity but only for the
    eye of one dearer to me than
    the life so often in deadly
    peril on that day I did my
    duty faithfully and I know
    others did. And now I know
    the question that has arisen
    to your lips many a time while
    you have been reading this.
    How did you feel when you
    first went into action? and
    this question I cannot answer
    to my own satisfaction I am
    concious of no feeling of fear
    or a wish to be out of it there was a sort of feeling of indiffer
    -ence mingled with the thought
    of how light a hold I had upon
    life amid such a storm and
    then my thoughts were so concen-
    -trated upon the fight that I
    thought of little else most of
    the time it somehow seemed
    as if I was but taking part
    in an ordinary occurance of
    everyday life. Of our retreat
    from the field I must say
    but little now, it was harder
    to bear than the fight, worn
    out with fatigue hunger and
    thirst we reached our Camp
    at Centreville about 8OClk
    in the evening and it seemed
    utterly impossible to proceed
    further but we had hardly
    thrown ourselves down on the
    ground before orders came to
    break up the Camp instantly
    and fall back on Washington
    great Heavens we all said
    it cannot by done what march
    235 miles more tonight it is
    utterly impossible." yet by
    half past nine we had started
    (in all about 5000 troops) and
    can you believe it? most of
    us accomplished that journey
    that night. I walked every
    step of the way
    and with
    other Officers & men arrived
    at the end of the "Long Bridge"
    which crosses the Potomac into
    Washington at 8OClK Monday
    morn'g, then we were detained
    by orders from Head Quarters till
    Tuesday noon, when wagons came
    for us and we rejoined our Regmt
    here that afternoon. Now just see
    what we accomplished from
    Centreville to the battle ground
    15 miles; back again 15 more
    making 30 and from Centreville
    to Washington 25 miles in all
    55 miles added to this the
    ground travelled over during the
    fight of 5 Hours and I don't
    think we) 70 miles too high a
    mark all this done between
    1 OClk Sunday morn'g and
    8 OClk Monday morn'g, 31 Hours
    without food or rest. I have
    told you how I lost my sword
    on the battlefield, well just
    before going into it we were
    ordered to unsling our blankets
    and Haversacks as they would
    encumber us, this we did leaving
    them in a pile intending to take
    them again after the day was
    finished but we retreated by
    another way so we lost all
    them, and on our march from
    Centreville to Washington my
    Revolver was stolen from me.
    (Gammell also had his stolen)
    so you see this was an unfor-
    -tunate day every way. Since
    our arrival here we have been
    very quiet recruiting our strength
    by rest. My ankles are are
    very much swollen yet but
    otherwise I am in excellent
    health, what or when our next
    movement may be we know
    not, there are all sorts of
    rumors but none reliable,
    troops are arriving in great
    numbers and another battle
    is not improbable, but we
    wo'nt anticipate. I have
    written so much that I fear
    you will hardly make sense
    of it, and I have probably
    omitted a great many things
    I should have spoken of, but
    I have not time to revise it,
    write me as soon as you get
    this without waiting for
    Sunday. Since I commenced
    we have been paid off up to
    the 1st of July and as soon
    as I can get to Washington
    I shall send you home
    money enough to make you
    very comfortable. I shall
    be obliged to buy another
    sword and a revolver
    which
    is unfortunate just now.
    Say to Tommy that I
    rec'd his letter with much
    pleasure and will send his
    things home as soon as possible.
    Those curiosities he asks for
    were both hard and easy to
    obtain a rebel bullet was
    easy enough got but they
    were rather hard to bring
    away from the field, and
    the piece of Bulls Run Bridge
    was on our retreat rather
    hard to get as a rebel
    battery walked that same
    bridge and we were obliged
    to give it a [illegible] and
    forded the stream some
    distance down up to our
    waists in water, and now
    I must leave off although
    I could say a great deal
    more, what would I not give to
    see you.

    I kiss you in spirit
    love and kisses to the children
    and remembrances to all
    Your loving Husband
    John