Letter describing the Battle of Bull Run
July 23, 1861
The following was written 160 years, 10 days ago.
It was a Tuesday.
Washington D. C.
My dear wife,
We arrived here safely on Friday night at about 12 o’ clock, with the loss of one poor fellow who was innocently shot at Havre de Grace. The Regiment was quartered in the city until Saturday afternoon when they marched by the White House, were reviewed by the President and thence to Georgetown Heights to guard this end of the Chain Bridge leading into Virginia. I did not go to the camp, but remained in the city, taking lodgings with three other Maine men at No. 75 Missouri Avenue and getting meals wherever I choose. We were all very much fatigued but are in good order now.
On Sunday I went down to Alexandria where the firing at the great battle of Bull Run was distinctly heard. It was very heavy and as the result shows very destructive on both sides. Sunday night the men began to straggle in separately and in squads over the Long Bridge bringing news of the defeat of our troops.
The battle had been as Gen’l Meigs says, when a panic was created in the rear of our lines by the citizens who had driven out in carriages to witness by the battle being alarmed by the approach of a body of our cavalry which they mistook for the enemy. That panic extended to the front and orders were given to retreat, but the jam of wagons and ambulances and riding carriages in the road threw the column into confusion and that part of the army became scattered in every direction, throwing away everything, guns, knapsacks, canteens and all that could impede their flight.
At Fairfax Court House all of the different Regiments that could be found were collected together and from that point moved back in tolerable order to Alexandria where they now are, with orders as we learn this morning to fall back upon Washington.
All speak in the highest terms of the Maine Regiments. They were in the thick of the fight, especially the 2nd, Col. Jameson, Lt. Col. Charlie Roberts. They fought like tigers. Dr. Hamlin escaped with Dr. Banks of the 4th but the rest of the medical staff of that Brigade are all prisoners in the hands of the rebels.
The 2nd & 5th Me. were badly cut up losing a good many men. Col. Howard acting Brigadier Gen’l of that Brigade which consisted of the 3rd, 4th, 5th Me. & 2nd Vermont behaved gloriously.
Lt. Sawyer of Lewiston and Lt. Kenniston of the eastern part of the state were killed. Capt. Sherwood had one arm shattered. All the General and Field Officers of the Briagde are believed to be safe. Capt. Thomas came in last night safe and found the Mayor and his wife waiting for him.
The city is full of returned soldiers and when I visited the House of Reps. This morning I found a large majority of the desks occupied by soldiers writing home. All seemed cheerful and determined to retrieve the misfortunes of Sunday. The 1st Me. Col. Jackson received orders to march into Virginia and it was a splendid sight to see them move followed by their wagons and ambulances. But it was a sorry sight to see them come back yesterday worn and weary, half naked, wounded, unarmed, and crestfallen. The enemy had 120,000 while our force numbered but about 45,000.
The enemy thought that our forces had only fallen back for the night and expected a renewal of the battle in the morning. The slaughter was terrific on both sides.
The north must now send down an overwhelming army of 250,000 to 300,000 men to carry on the war as it should be done.
It is understood here that Gen’l Scott was opposed to the movement with so small a force, but was overruled by the outside pressures. It will be a lesson for the future.
I received my pipe this morning from Mr. Fessenden and thank you for your thoughtfulness. I have missed it much.
I have been in splendid condition since I left home. The weather is magnificent, though the retreating troops came in yesterday in a drenching rain storm which lasted all day.
You may communicate the above to anybody if they are of any interest but don’t let them get into print.
Give my love to all at home and remember me to Joe. I cut a button from a South Carolina overcoat last night which was taken from a rebel killed by the man who had the coat.