A Soldier’s Letter: Henry Pearson

Letter from Captain Pearson (Company C, 6th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry) writing home after the Battle of Second Bull Run on September 5, 1862

Friend:  Perhaps you would like to know our experience in the late great battles near Manassas. As my account will probably differ from any which you have seen in the newspapers, I will endeavor to speak only of what I saw.

(August) 28th we slept at Blackburn’s Ford. Jackson was supposed to be at Centreville. Friday (the 29th) we marched up to Centreville and finding no enemy there followed down the Warrenton turnpike to Stone Bridge. Some skirmishing occurred near the bridge, but the enemy falling back, we advanced up the turnpike to the old battle ground. Some of the hills where the old battle was fought have been cleared of their woods, and the open country now lies nearly in the shape of a square bounded on three sides, north, west and south by woods.

About two o’clock Friday, (Major General) Heintzelman attacked the enemy in the belt of the woods on the north side of the square. After half an hour’s sharp fighting, the rebels were driven from it back into the woods on the west side. Here they made another stand. Kearney’s Division and Hooker’s Division were repulsed with great slaughter in succession and driven entirely from this part of the field, leaving nearly half their numbers killed or wounded in the hands of the enemy.

It would seem that after the slaughter of two such divisions as Hooker’s and Kearney’s, General Pope would have sent a larger force into these woods.

Instead of this, however, he ordered up our Brigade, the first of Reno’s Division, and ordered us to clear the woods in front of us. We deployed and advanced in line, the 6th New Hampshire on our left. We had not entered the woods more than three or four rods before the muskets began to pop ahead of us and a few bullets to whistle by us. Soon we could see plenty of snuff-colored pants ahead of us not more than seventy-five yards, and the cracking of rifles became general.

We delivered a volley and advanced, loading and firing. The storm of bullets soon became terrible. The rebels fought us every inch of the way. We charged upon them in a sunken road which ran through the woods parallel to our lines and drove them from it. As they were skedaddling from the ditch road, our boys poured in a volley which literally strewed the ground with them. When we had advanced some fifty paces, we could see through the woods into the open fields beyond. The rebel artillery began to play upon our flank, which did us very little damage, however, as the trees were so thick.

Discovering that our regiment was alone and (that) the bullets began to come thick and fast from the rear, the Colonel sent me back to see why the other two regiments did not follow us and to tell them they were firing upon us. Peeping up over the bank, I could hardly trust my eyes when I saw yellow legs standing as thick as wheat not more than twenty-five paces from the ditch. I instantly called to the regiment to retreat to the ditch, which was done at a run. Taking a second look to see if I could spot a flag, I saw one, their battle flag, with a red cross worked in it and a swarm of rebels following it at double quick towards our left, as we were now faced, so as to surround us.

As it was evident that we would soon be surrounded and overwhelmed with numbers, and be all killed or captured, the Col. wisely ordered a retreat up the road which led around into the wood from which Heintzelman had driven the enemy at the beginning of the battle. After fighting until sundown with little better success than we had, the enemy held the field that night.

Saturday, August 30th, for about an hour there was a perfect din of musketry in the woods. A large rebel battery on our left raked our troops with terrible effect, and soon our extreme left and then all the rest of our line gave way and came out of the woods in the greatest disorder, pursued by the enemy, who were yelling in their peculiar effeminate manner.

From the time they began to advance until sundown, they never halted but swept everything before them like a hurricane. At sundown, they had swept away round to our rear and were within a short distance from the turnpike–our only line of retreat. Here they had met the veteran force of Sigel and Reno, who held them at bay until darkness put an end to the contest. Towards midnight, we forded the stream and, our minds depressed with sorrow, bade a final adieu to the ill-fated fields of Bull Run.

General Pope is a most unblushing liar. In his official dispatch, he calls the result of the contest a victory when every man in the army knows that we were defeated at all points both Friday and Saturday and that too because at all points we were out-generaled. Had the great battle been fought Friday, we might have won, because the rebels received large reinforcements that night.

The battle was a great blunder. The defeat was as complete as that of the old Bull Run. The difference was that in this battle when a regiment was defeated it was not panic stricken, but rallied on its colors the moment it got behind the reserves. A rebel prisoner with whom I conversed told the truth when he said, “Boys, you can fight as well as we can, but Old Jackson is always one day ahead of you.”

The Northern people get not the faintest idea from the newspapers of the true state of affairs at the seat of operations. The lying reports of our general and reporters beat anything that ever existed among the rebels. The whole army is disgusted. Are we disposed not to recognize impossibilities? We can do now voluntarily what we shall certainly be compelled to do when thousands of more lives have been sacrificed. You need not be surprised if success falls to the rebels with astonishing rapidity. They certainly have the force, the skill and genius to do it…

Yours Very Respectfully, H.M. Pearson

Henry Pearson was killed in action on May 26, 1864.

Source: The Brothers’ War by Annette Tapert (Vintage Books, New York, NY: 1988)

Welcome to our newest writer

I would like to welcome Walter Coffey, author and blogger, who has his own Civil War blog as well as a general history blog. He will be doing some guest posting, largely focusing on anniversaries, as his latest book chronicles the war on a monthly basis. If you are looking for a month-by-month look at the war, consider his new book The Civil War Months. Welcome to the blog Walter!

This Week in the Civil War: Aug 27-Sep 2, 1862

Wednesday, August 27:  In Virginia, the Federals under General John Pope withdrew from the Rappahannock River after being outflanked by advancing Confederates. Pope shifted his troops north toward the railroad junction at Manassas, where General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates were destroying Federal supplies. Pope was confused about Jackson’s purpose, and at the same time General Robert E. Lee was moving north with the rest of his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to join Jackson. President Abraham Lincoln had no communication with Pope because all telegraph lines to Washington had been cut, and half of Lee’s army was between Pope and the Federal capital. Meanwhile, General George McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac began trickling into Washington from the Virginia Peninsula. In Tennessee, skirmishing intensified as Confederate General Braxton Bragg began an excursion to recover eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as to counter the Federal threat to Chattanooga.

Thursday, August 28:  In Virginia, Confederates under “Stonewall” Jackson withdrew to positions west of the old Bull Run battlefield, while John Pope’s Federals arrived at Manassas to find Jackson gone. Pope received conflicting reports about Jackson’s whereabouts, so he decided to concentrate at Centreville, erroneously thinking Jackson was there. When a Federal division accidentally clashed with Jackson at Groveton, Pope believed Jackson was retreating and redirected his forces against him. In Tennessee, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates advanced into central Tennessee.

Friday, August 29:  In Virginia, John Pope’s Federals attacked “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates concentrated in a railroad cut north of Groveton and the Warrenton Turnpike. The Federals were dispersed and tired from hard marching in the heat, and their piecemeal attack was ineffective. Pope blamed General Fitz John Porter, whose corps failed to attack because Porter claimed that the Confederate corps under General James Longstreet had arrived and outnumbered him. Meanwhile, Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck continued urging George McClellan to hurry his troops to reinforce Pope. President Lincoln telegraphed his commanders three times, “What news?” with no response. In the Confederacy, P.G.T. Beauregard succeeded John C. Pemberton as commander of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia. In the Union, Frederick Steele assumed command of the Army of the Southwest.

Saturday, August 30:  In Virginia, John Pope attacked “Stonewall” Jackson’s left flank, erroneously thinking Jackson was retreating. However, James Longstreet counterattacked on Pope’s right with 25,000 troops in the largest mass assault of the war. Combined attacks by Jackson and Longstreet compelled Pope to withdraw by nightfall, and the major fighting in the Battle of Second Bull Run was over. Pope’s Federals established defenses at Centreville; they were defeated but not routed. George McClellan’s feeble efforts to reinforce Pope had failed. Robert E. Lee was victorious, he had relieved Federal pressure on Richmond, but he had not destroyed Pope as hoped. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith attacked at Richmond, compelling the Federals to retreat toward Louisville. This small but impressive Confederate victory began the invasion of Kentucky. In Washington, President Lincoln anxiously awaited news from both Virginia and Kentucky.

Sunday, August 31:  In Virginia, John Pope concentrated his defeated Army of Virginia on the heights of Centreville. Two corps from the Army of the Potomac finally arrived to reinforce Pope, but they were too late to reverse the defeat. The Confederates moved to turn the Federal right, with “Stonewall” Jackson moving west of Chantilly and James Longstreet following the next day. The Federals abandoned Fredericksburg, leaving behind many supplies. On the Tennessee River, the Federal transport W.B. Terry was captured by Confederates after being grounded on the Duck River Sucks. In the Union, many were alarmed by the recent Confederate successes. The Army Surgeon General called for women and children to scrape lint for bandages.

Monday, September 1:  In Virginia, the last major fighting in the Second Bull Run campaign took place at Chantilly or Ox Hill. Robert E. Lee sent “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps around the Federal right. After severe fighting in heavy rain, the Federals withdrew. Federal General Philip Kearny was killed in the fight, and his death was mourned in both North and South. John Pope’s troops held off the Confederate advance, then withdrew closer to Washington during the night. In Washington, President Lincoln conferred with Henry Halleck and George McClellan about the military situation in Virginia. In the Union, General Ormsby M. Mitchel, famed astronomer and lecturer, was assigned to command the Department of the South. In the Confederacy, General J.P. McCown assumed command of the Department of East Tennessee.

Tuesday, September 2:  In Virginia, John Pope pulled his defeated Army of Virginia back to the Washington area, ending the Second Bull Run campaign. In the fighting of 27 Aug-2 Sep, the Federals lost 1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, and 5,958 missing (16,054 total casualties) from about 75,000 engaged. The Confederates lost 1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing (9,197 total casualties) from about 48,500. President Lincoln restored George McClellan to full command in Virginia and around Washington, a decision opposed by cabinet members Edwin Stanton and Salmon Chase. The Confederates gathered near Chantilly to prepare for their next campaign. In Minnesota, the Dakota Sioux uprising continued as the Indians besieged a Federal detachment at Birch Coulee. In Kentucky, Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates occupied Lexington. Business was suspended and citizens began drilling in Cincinnati, fearing that Smith would invade Ohio. Meanwhile, Confederates under Braxton Bragg continued moving north from Chattanooga. In the Union, Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough was relieved of command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. President Lincoln wrote “Meditation on the Divine Will,” in which he stated, “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance wit the will of God. Both may be, but one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time.”

Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971)

Civil War Events Feature Minstrel Song Revival – ABC News

Civil War Events Feature Minstrel Song Revival – ABC News.

Pretty interesting article on a revival of Civil War era music via reenacting. I had the opportunity to listen to the 97th Regimental String Band while at Pipestone, MN a few weeks ago and they were a great group.

While I understand some of the discomfort over some of the lyrics used in the songs, we must remember that society was different 150 years ago and did not subscribe to the same values and attitudes that we might. Such events must be understood in their proper historical context and they can serve a purpose for reflecting upon the past to hopefully open a civil and honest debate about the issues of slavery and race in America’s past.

150th anniversary of the siege of Fort Abercrombie

From the Grand Forks Herald:

Fort Abercrombie: On 150th anniversary, a look back at a bloody clash

By: Patrick Springer, Grand Forks Herald

FARGO – The first hint of trouble came to Fort Abercrombie on a tranquil summer day when word arrived that the Dakota Sioux in Minnesota were ripe for an uprising.

It was unwelcome news for a military post whose new commander had recently discovered was stocked with ammunition that was the wrong caliber for the soldiers’ muskets.

Also, since the fort wasn’t yet protected by a stockade or blockhouses, the soldiers scrambled to build defensive breastworks of earth and timber to surround the key buildings comprising the post.

Help was 227 miles away, at Fort Snelling, and the nearest community of any size was more than 150 miles away, in St. Cloud.

Click here to read the rest of the article

Author’s Note:  I will be taking part in the commemoration this Saturday, portraying a soldier, so if you are in the area, come on down to the fort and check out the program, as it looks to be pretty good. I will also share my thoughts on the event and the actual siege over the weekend.

Victorian Festival canceled as weather looms – The Telegraph: Local News

Victorian Festival canceled as weather looms – The Telegraph: Local News.

Had to share this story with you all, as it involves my home town. I have been to this event several times before I relocated to North Dakota, and this is the first time it’s been cancelled, but what can you do about the weather, especially when it’s the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

As a reenactor, I know I would not plan to go to the event with that kind of weather in the forecast, even if I had committed to it before, as damp weather is not good for weapons, or powder. Also, camping would be a pain in the rear with heavy rain, as the tents are only so waterproof. While a tough decision, it was the right one in light of the situation.

I wish the Nolan’s the best of luck as they deal with this sad turn of events and to all my friends in Jersey County, please be safe this weekend.

Recent adventures in reenacting

The past two weekends have been quite fun for me, as I participated in Pipestone Civil War Days 2012 from August 10-12, (we didn’t get back to Grand Forks until Monday evening due to a car problem, but made the best of it) and then set up a Civil War living history display as part of East Grand Forks Heritage Days on August 18-19. I also did a display at the Hubbard County Museum in Park Rapids, Minnesota on July 29, which was fun.

For Pipestone, I fell in with the 1st South Carolina, Company H, which was my one time this season doing a Confederate impression. It was a good time seeing old friends and we took in a concert with the 97th Regimental String Band, who played period music.  The battles were good, though we surrendered on the second day. I also experienced the fun of firing my musket in damp conditions, resulting in two incidences of unintentionally firing a double charge, as the first charge did not discharge, making the kick and flash quite noticeable. Here are some pictures from Pipestone. The best part of the weekend was the chance to have a tintype made of me using a period photograph by Dave Rambow, who I have met at several other events.

Heritage Days was good this year, as we had a bigger display and had Den Bolda and Mike Larson from Fargo join us on Sunday. Saturday, Joe, Stuart, Ethan Brazee (who was trying out reenacting for the first time), and I met several people and we figured almost 150 stopped by our display that day. We may have gained some new recruits. It was a great time and thanks to Drs. Doug and Laura Munski for providing some of the pictures on both days.

Here are the photos from all the events.