Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
140th Anniversary Bull Run Event Report
August 3-5, 2001
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July 22, 1861
near Centerville, Virginia
I take this opportunity to endeavor to tell you what has befallen our army in a clash with the Confederates just west of here yesterday. I must assume that the papers are already churning out a good deal of information about the situation and results. I write to include some moderating news that will help to diffuse the sensational panic and embarrassment and let you know how we faired.
As you know, we marched out towards Virginian soil on Thursday afternoon, and traveled along until we could continue no longer. At a very late hour, we turned off the main roads, and were directed down a lane, and into a large field on the right of the road. There were found the van of the army beginning to take shape in a regulation camp. We simply rolled out our blankets and fell sound asleep. On the morrow, the sun came up, and the camp continued to grow in size, as the various regiments all swarmed into the vicinity. It was becoming quite a colorful pageant of militaria. And the sun was quite warm. There was ample water hard by, so we all were able to quench our thirsts at will.
In the fore noon, we were joined in camp by the rest of the companies of our 71st New York State Militia, but we like to be called the "American Guard". It was established on four parallel company streets. Our constituents included the 14 NJ, the 107 NY, the 8th CV, the 4th Michigan and the 15th Ohio. Now our 71st NYSM has been assigned to 2d Brigade, 2d Division, under Col. Burnside also known as Col. Waffler. Our brigade includes the 1st and 2d Rhode Island Volunteers. In camp, the company next to ours has a pair of chickens with them. We were thinking that the foul were destined to be dinner, but they were kept from all harm. In the morning, they were making quite a row, and one of the privates started yelling and cursing them. We causally mentioned that the chickens probably were not deserving of such treatment, and he walked away, then turned with a different approach, talking nicely to the chickens, and admonishing them on sweet terms about how much he would love to have an egg or two, and tried to induce their good spirits to produce such fruit. In the stress of the army, and the heat of the day, the chickens were simply not going to comply.
During the afternoon, we coud hear a small skirmish to the east of our camps, and in a short while, the 1st Brigade was marched off in the direction of the action. They were chipper about it, shouting "On to Richmond!" but I was still glad not to be included as yet, since the heat was oppresive, and I was still steeling myself for the eventual battle we were here to precipitate. We could hear from our camps the slight increase in the musketry after a time, as the 1st brigade boys must have engaged the rebels. It did not last too long, and in about two hours, the boys came back into camp, with nothing to report other than they had pressed rebel skirmishers away from their forward positions, and they were otherwise unimpressed with the fight.
We spent some time in the afternoon in the shade near a stand of trees on the edge of our camp where the staff horses were picketed. It was near a good stream and was about all the comfort we were to find. We whiled away the afternoon, and went about getting some supper, eating light, since the heat was slowing us down. The captain called out a special detail of the youngest of our boys, and proceeded to lecture them on the vices of women, and the designs the Virginia women would have on them the help their cause. He described the French pox and all that it would bring. Lt. Belyea also chimed in with the medical implications of the pox, the copper wire treatment and all. As a closing, the captain bestowed upon the boys each a French Preventor, suitable for washing and multiple uses in the case that they could not help themselves. Armed with these devices, the boys were allowed to pass the lines and proceed to a barn dance slated for that evening in the area. The rest of the company turned into our rolls early, and slept soundly. About midnight, I felt some rain drops, so went to all the boys sleeping about the street and woke them each one to tell them to get under their tents, which earned me several thanks.
Morning dawned without rain, but with a heavy steam and mist in the air that compounded the heat already rising. We had our morning roll calls, reported to the regiment and brigade adjutants, and then got up some coffee and breakfast. The regular line of canteen and water details were constantly running. Orders came that the planned morning brigade dress parade was cancelled since the officers did not want to use up the boys, and wanted them ready for action at a moments notice. The commander of the 71st NYSM, Capt. Kurtz did form the regiment, and drill us on column of companies, and regimental front. This was somehow in preparation to what was to come. The drilling went quite well, and the boys are gaining full confidence in their military skills at this point, having drilled almost a full month since enlisting.
Around 2.00 of the clock in the afternoon, orders came to form the massed forces here and prepare to move on the enemy. Such was done in a short order, and the boys were eager to see the enemy and quite high on the prospect of seeing a good battle before the rebellion was crushed and this war was over. The entire division was formed on the parade ground. Once the Col. was satisfied that all were prepared, we marched off by the flank down the road towards where we knew the enemy to have last been. The march was hot but energetic, until we stopped by a gate to the left, and waited for orders to turn through it. The boys were starting to drop from the heat there, and it was quite hard to keep ones mind off those that would never see the fight. They were helped to the shade and given water and rest, and helped to get comfortable, so that they would not be left behind. After a time, we were formed back up on the road and did go down the road to the left. We could hear some skirmishing to the front, and as soon as we broke out from the road across a small bridge crossing the Run, we were immediately ordered companies into line, and advanced in column of companies. We could see the battle lines of the enemy in the distance on a hill side, when we were deployed forward into line. A line of our guns were to our rear, hurling iron towards the enemies lines, and the noise was deafening.
While they were firing over us, we advanced. We took it slow, as the hearts started to pound, and the pride in the American Guard was rising. When we were within range we could see the rebels firing at us, and the brigade opened on them, us included. The firing was fast at first, but it seemed not to be taking much effect, and the rebels were closing on us. Our ammunition was going fast, and the rate of fire was slowed until they got closer. We were being approached by the Louisiana Tigers to our front. I helped some of our wounded to the rear and was returning at a run to the regiment when the Tigers made their charge. They were joined by the rebel line that was pressing the right of our line, and our boys to that flank were not holding any more. As I was surveying the right, a Tiger broke right through our battle line, and was running screaming directly at me at charge bayonet. This took me by surprise, at about a rod away, and all I could do was to fend off the bayonet with my sword at port. I did avoid the steel, but that tiger just ran into me so hard, he knocked me down, and ran right over me. And then, to my luck, he disappeared to the rear. The rest of the Tigers to the front were pressing, yet we held them, but the right of our line was caving, and streaming to the rear as the American Guard placed them selves between the enemy and the safe path to the rear. The brigade line was closed to the left as the ranks thinned, and as we were now about out of ammunition, the orders came to retire by the right of companies to the rear. This was executed in the face of the enemy, and we marched off in good order. We were happy to see the relieving regiments coming to the front, and saw some of the Connecticut boys marching into the fray, all very thrilled to meet the enemy. We halted along a treeline, and stacked arms. The rolls were taken, and the missing found. The boys were allowed to rest, get water, and cool off. Many were in a dire condition of heat stroke at this point, and there were more of those than wounded by the enemy.
Now that the action had turned against us, the rebels having also brought many reenforcements onto the field, our flanks were caving, and we could not press them off the hill top. All the union lines could not break through, and the rebel guns there were causing havoc. Our boys could be seen streaming to the rear, and the officers not able to cause them to stay. There were a fair number of officers actually running for the rear faster than their men, but I could not identify any of those regiments. Once we were rested enough to move, we were orderd by Col. Burnside to follow the masses, but return only to our camp of the last evening, and rally the brigade and division there. This we did, and once there took a full roll once more, then collapsed in the shade of those trees once more. The panic was streaming to the rear down the road past our camps, but the bulk of our brigade did do as ordered, and returned to our camp. There in the late afternoon, we rested, and made our reports to headquarters, and cooked up some hot food for the first time since we arrived. The food was quite a concoction of lentils, rice, and other foraged summer items, along with our issued rations of pork and hardtack. All was enjoyed, and as the sun set, the air became breathable once more. The evening was spent around the fire, rather quiet, and mostly disturbed by the outcome of the battle today. There was a lot of talk about the handling of the troops on the right where they broke first, and of the officers who could not stop the rout once it was underway. As the night progressed, we were aware now that our camp was one of the only positions between the enemy and the fleeing horde. So we posted a guard to remain vigilant, but the enemy never crossed the Run to the east side, for which we were thankful, since we could have hardly put up much of a rear guard action.
On the morning, we all rose before the sun, since sleeping was not that easy, we all packed our things, and got them on the waggons before the sun came up. We only got up a few cups of coffee and were prepared to leave on a moments notice to follow the rest back on to Washington. The orders came to assemble a brigade dress parade at 8.30 on the clock at the east end of the camp. The 1st brigade was ordered to dress parade at the other end of the camp. As the parades were individually completed, the two brigades were put into column of companies by regiment, and passed their commanders in review, and then the two brigades passed each other in review and came into line one behind the other. The review was quite exciting, and did a lot for me to regain my confidence in the command and the troops after the embarassing results of the battle. We were returned to our regimental camps to await further orders. When ours came, it was to pack up, and resume the march immediately for Washington. The boys all did that in a wink of the eye, and we marched off on the heat of this damn Virginia, raising a dust all the way.
I cannot tell you of what the army will be doing next, and if this is any indication of what there is to come, it must be known that hte army shold not be used in this way to satisfy the politicians and the papers. Action must be strategic and planned well to ensure the success of its operations. As we have seen the loss of the army is real mens lives, and that they should not be wasted in such a folly. Let there be no more Bull Runs.
On to Richmond!
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.