BY EDWIN S. BARRETT.
This narrative of personal adventures before and at the battle of Bull Run commences with the night preceding the action: “On Saturday evening, the 20th of July, I heard we were to start at half past two the following morning, and our line was to be in readiness at that early hour. We had occupied the camp at Centreville since Thursday night. Wrapping my blanket around me, at ten o’clock I stretched myself upon the bare ground to sleep. The night was cool, and at twelve o’clock I awoke, feeling very cold, and, unable to sleep more, I anxiously waited to hear the signal to prepare. At two o’clock one drum sounded through the camp, and was repeated through the numerous camps around us, and in half an hour forty thousand men stood ready to battle for the Union.
“The Fifth Massachusetts regiment, which I accompanied, was in the division under Colonel Heintzelman, acting Major General, and our regiment was third in the column. The First Minnesota, under Colonel Gorman, led, followed by the Massachusetts Eleventh, Colonel Clarke; then the Fifth, Colonel Lawrence, with the regular cavalry, and a battery of artillery leading the advance. We waited, in marching order, from half past two o’clock until after six before the order was given to advance, and then we learned that Colonel Hunter, with eight regiments, including GOVERNOR Sprague’s command, had preceded us, and we were to follow. General McDowell and staff now headed our division.
“Mounted on a secession horse, which I had captured two days previously, I followed in the rear of the regiment, in company with Quartermaster Billings and Surgeon Hurd. From Centreville we took the extreme northern road, leaving the Warrenton road on our left, which General Tyler had taken with his division. Passing through a forest of heavy oak timber, some three or four miles in length, we emerged into the open country, with a wide intervale on our left, and the Blue Ridge Mountains distinctly visible on our right. We had heard an occasional cannon shot during the morning, but not until ten o’clock was there any sound of a general engagement. The heavy cannonading on our left and in front caused the march to be hastened, and our men could hardly be restrained, so eager were they for the fight. About a mile and a half before we reached the field, the men began to throw away their blankets, haversacks, and all unnecessary appendages–the different regiments trying to throw them into a pile, or as near together as possible, without halting. I tied my horse near the hospital headquarters, and hastened to the head of the column, which advanced in double-quick time till they came within reach of the enemy’s guns. The fight was raging on our left, and in front, as our division came on to the field. I could see that the enemy’s batteries were posted on a long ridge, with woods extending on either flank, and separated from us by a valley. It was now about half past eleven o’clock. General McDowell ordered one brigade, under Colonel Franklin, consisting of the First Minnesota, Eleventh and Fifth Massachusetts, and a Pennsylvania regiment, to advance down the hill and take a position in the valley, on a slight elevation directly in front of the rebel batteries. I followed on some distance, but the shot rattled about me, and I halted near General McDowell and staff, while the brigade swept past me and down the hill. I watched for some time the colors of the Fifth with intense interest. the regiment reached the valley, and deploying to the right on to a slight knoll, fell flat on their faces, while the shot from the rebel batteries mostly passed over their heads. A battery swept past me to take a position. I followed it along some distance, when the Major galloped back to me, and called out, ‘Friend, tell Captain F. to hurry up my supports.’ I did not know Captain F., but hastened back and met an orderly, of whom I inquired where he was. He pointed him out to me, near a regiment of infantry. I rushed up to him and gave my message. He replied, ‘They are coming right along.’ And on double-quick the regiment followed after the battery. the rifle-cannon shot, shells, and bullets, struck all around me, and men were falling in every direction. Seeing a high persimmon tree standing alone, a short distance down the hill, I determined to climb it. the top of it was dead, and about thirty feet from the ground. From this elevation I had an unobstructed biew of the whole line, and I could see into the enemy’s intrenchments, where the men looked like so many bees in a hive; and I could plainly see their officers riding about, and their different columns moving hither and thither. Their batteries on the right and left were masked with trees so completely, that I could not distinguish them except by the flash from their guns; and a battery in a cornfield, on our extreme left, was so completely concealed by the cornstalks placed so naturally about it, that our men came suddenly upon it, never dreaming of one so near. The cannon balls struck the ground continually close to the tree, and bounded along for a quarter of a mile to the rear. I felt that I was above the range of these, but the rifle balls whistled about my head, striking the tree in a way anything but pleasant. Just after I had reached the top of the tree, a New Hampshire regiment, close at my left, had succeeded in driving the rebels from the woods in front, and, with three cheers, they fell back into line. When the line was formed, three cheers were given for Colonel Marston, who had fought gallantly and received two severe wounds. Sherman’s battery then commenced firing, on my right, within thirty rods of me, and at the first discharge the men cheered, and watched the effect of the shell, which exploded inside the enemy’s intrenchments. The men cheered again, to see that they got the range so quickly, and continued to fire with great rapidity, while the enemy returned the fire with equal vigor and precision, the cannonading being kept up incessantly for an hour.
“The shot and shell from this battery must have done the rebels great damage, as every shot took effect within their intrenchments. Still men and horses kept falling near our guns, and the infantry lines were parted in many places by their cannon balls. The valley for nearly one half a mile in front of the enemy’s works was filled with our infantry, extending to some patches of woods on our right. Our batteries were placed on various eminences on the flank and rear, shifting their positions from time to time. The fire from our lines in this valley was terrific, and as they kept slowly advancing, firing, retreating to load, and then advancing again, it was a sight which no words could describe. For three long hours we poured into their intrenchments this terrible fire, and whenever the enemy showed themselves on the flanks they were driven back with great slaughter. During all this time our men were subjected to a cross-fire from the enemy’s infantry stationed in the woods on our left. At one time the ‘Stars and stripes’ were waved in these woods, and men dressed much like our own called out not to fire that way. Our men gradually drew up towards the flag, when immediately the secession flag was thrown out, and the rebels poured a volley into our men so unexpectedly that they were for the time driven back, but we soon regained the ground.
“General McDowell now ordered a battery forward to take a position near a house on our right; the Fire Zouaves were ordered to support it. The position appeared to me, from my look-out, like a strong one, as it was on a hill on a level with the rebel batteries. Our battery started, the horses running at the top of their speed, and shortly began to ascend the eminence, the Zouaves following closely; but scarcely had the battery halted and fired, before the enemy opened upon them from new masked batteries, and a terrific fire of musketry from the woods, and our artillery were driven back, many of their men and horses being killed. The Zouaves stood their ground manfully, firing in lines and then falling on their faces to load. Their ranks were becoming dreadfully thinned, yet they would not yield an inch; when suddenly out dashed the Black Horse Cavalry, and charged furiously, with uplifted sabres, upon them. The Zouaves gallantly resisted this furious onset without flinching, and after firing their muskets–too sorely pressed to load–would fight furiously with their bayonets, or any weapon they could seize, and in some instances drag the riders from their saddles, stabbing them with their knives, and mounting their splendid black horses, gallop over the field. Never, since the famous charge of the Light Brigade, was a cavalry corps more cut to pieces. There is a bitter animosity existing between the Black Horse Cavalry and Ellsworth’s Zouaves. A great many of the cavalry are citizens of Alexandria and Fairfax County, and they resolved to kill every Zoave they could lay their hands upon, to avenge the death of Jackson; and the Zouaves were equally determined to avenge the murder of Ellsworth; so no quarter was expected by them.
“I had now been in the tree some two hours, and all this time a continuous stream of wounded were being carried past me to the rear. The soldiers would cross their muskets, place their wounded companions across, and slowly carry them past; another soldier would have a wounded man with his arm around his neck, slowly walking back; and then two men would be bearing a mortally wounded comrade in their arms, who was in convulsions and writhing in his last agonies. These were to me the most affecting scenes I witnessed, and I could hardly keep back the tears, while I could look upon the dead unmoved. Picking a couple of persimmons as a remembrance, I descended the tree, startling two soldiers leaning against it, by requesting them to move their guns so that I could get down. They looked up in astonishment at hearing a voice, and no doubt their first thought was that I might be a rebel spy; but the ‘U. S.’ on my belt, and my anxious inquiries after their regiment, soon reassured them.
“Leaving the tree, I went along over the field to the left, the bullets whistling about me, and the cannon balls ploughing up the ground in every direction, when I came across two of our men with a prisoner, who said he belonged to a South Carolina regiment. I asked him some questions, but he was dogged and silent, and did not appear to be disposed to reply to my inquiries. the shot fell so thick, and shells bursting around me, I hardly knew which way to turn. A musket ball whizzed past my ear, so near that I felt the heat, and for a moment thought I was hit. The ground was strewed with broken guns, swords, cartridge-boxes, blankets, haversacks, gun-carriages, together with all the paraphernalia of warfare, mingled with the dead and wounded men. I saw here a horse, and his rider under him, both killed by the same cannon ball. Seeing a small white house still towards the left, with a well near it, I started for some water, and getting over a wall, I discovered lying beside it a number of our dead with their haversacks drawn over their faces. I lifted the cover from their faces, thinking, perhaps, I might come across some of my friends; but they were all strangers, or so disfigured that I could not recognize them. I went to the well for a drink, and as I drew near the house, I heard loud groans; and such a scene as was there presented, in that little house of two rooms, and on the grass around it, was enough to appall the stoutest heart.
“The rooms were crowded, and I could not get in; but all around on the grass were men mortally wounded. I should think there were at least forty on that greensward within twenty rods of the house, and such wounds–some with both legs shot off; some with a thigh shot away; some with both legs broken; others with horrid flesh wounds made from shells. I saw one man with a wound in his back large enough to put in my fist; he was fast bleeding to death. They lay so thick around me, that I could hardly step between them, and every step was in blood. As I walked among them, some besought me to kill them, and put an end to their agony; some were just gasping, and some had died since they had been brought there, and the dying convulsions of these strong men were agonizing in the extreme. Some were calling for the surgeon, but the hospital was more than a mile off, and there were but two surgeons here.
“I left the house, and bore off to the right, towards some low pine woods, about a hundred rods distant, and scattered along were the dead bodies of our men. On reaching the wood, I found the ground literally covered with the corpses of the enemy, and I counted, in the space of about ten rods square, forty-seven dead rebels, and ten mortally wounded, and scattered all through the woods, still farther back, were any number more. I talked with several of the wounded, and they told me they belonged to the Eighth Georgia regiment, Colonel Bartow, and had arrived at Manassas, from Winchester, the day before, where they had been with General Johnston. They told me their whole regiment was posted in this pine wood. One young man told me he was from Macon, and that his father was a merchant. I asked another where he was from. He replied, defiantly, ‘I am for disunion—opposed to you.’ This man had both thighs broken.
“I heard one of our soldiers ask a wounded Georgian if their orders were to kill our wounded. He answered ‘No.’ Our soldiers carried water to these wounded men, and as they lay there writhing in agony, a cup of water was put within their reach. The convulsions of one of these was awful to look upon. He appeared to have been shot in the lungs, as he vomited blood in large quantities, and in his struggles for breath, would throw himself clear from the ground. I noticed among this heap of bodies an officer dressed in light blue uniform, with green stripes on his pants,–a fine-looking man,–whom I took to be a captain. I also saw one of our soldiers take sixty dollars from the body of a dead Georgian, and their knives, revolvers, &c., were appropriated in the same way. This I looked upon as legitimate plunder for the soldiers, but as a citizen, I forbore to take anything from the field.
“I think the fight in this wood must have been fiercer than in any part of the field, except it may be on our right, where He Zouaves were. This wood was near the enemy’s right, and where the fight commenced on the morning with Hunter’s division, and as Heintzelman’s division came into action, the rebels were giving way at this point, under the galling fire of Colonel Marston’s regiment, while the Rhode Island troops and some New York regiments had driven back their extreme right. Passing through these pine woods, I still bore to the right, towards our centre, and crossed a cleared space, and came to some heavy wood, on the edge of which I perceived a number of dead scattered about, and seeing several wounded men, I went up to one of them, and found he was a rebel belonging to an Alabama regiment. He told me he joined the regiment the 13th of April. He pointed to a dead horse close to us, and said, ‘There is my Colonel’s horse, and I suppose you have taken him prisoner.’
“Most of these rebels had gray suits, 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 their 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 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 still, on 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 out 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 made 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 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 our rear, which had not been in action, exhorted our men to halt, as we drifted by, but all to no purpose. No power could stop them. The various regiments tried to collect as many as possible by calling out the number 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 regiment 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 cornfield, thus cutting off considerable distance and reaching the road at a point where it entered the oak forest. Shortly after entering the wood; 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 around 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 in 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 to 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 have been carried; with characteristic faith in his branch of the service, 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 unable to walk; and some shrewd ones quietly bargained with the driver of an ordnance wagon for a seat by his side. Passing out 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 an 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 towards 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 his belly. I began to think that we should all be soon 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 cornfield, and soon struck a road leading into Centreville, which village I soon reached, and there my companion met with his captain, and he then dismounted. Never was a man more grateful for a favor than was this Lieutenant. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me a thousand times, and, wringing my hands, walked away with his friends.
“From Centreville I could see the disordered army winding along 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 this 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 horses 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 to 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. To 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 them, and many a horse had two men on his back, with another helped along by his 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 again started. 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 last two miles seemed endless.
“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 these six Zouaves and myself, nearly famished as we were, sat down to that breakfast of fried pork, 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 them, 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 to 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.”
Originally posted 2009-07-25 22:25:41.