A Soldier’s Letter: Frederick Pettit

Letter from Corporal Pettit (Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry) to his family after his involvement in the Battle of South Mountain on September 20, 1862

Dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters:

Having a little spare time this morning, I will commence to give you a short account of what our regiment has done since I came to it.

I overtook it about twenty miles from Washington at Brookeville, Md. It was dark when I found them. They had been resting a day to get provisions. The next morning, we started out a little before dark. Our rations are crackers, coffee, sugar, and beef when the cooks have time to boil it.

The next day, we started on our march again and passed through New Market, where the rebel pickets had been the night before. This town is eight miles from Frederick. After passing about two miles from the town, we halted and the cavalry and artillery were sent forward to reconnoiter. After waiting about four hours, we again moved forward. About three miles from Frederick, we again halted.

The front skirmishers loaded their guns and advanced cautiously. The artillerymen ran two guns to the top of a hill on the right. But the rebels had gone. A shot or two at their rear sent them flying. We marched about a mile further and encamped two miles from the city. The next day we could plainly see the cannonading. We could not see any effects of it except a dead horse or two and houses turned into hospitals. After going some distance further, we encamped and lay down and slept during the remainder of the night.

The next morning we started early toward Middletown. It was not long before we heard cannonading in front. About a mile from Middletown, we found a large barn and bridge burned. But the stream was shallow, and we had no difficulty in crossing. After going a short distance further, we could see the batteries at work and hear the whizzing of the shells. The rebels occupied a wooded pass in the mountains. The turnpike runs through the middle of the pass. On the right of it, the rebels had a battery in a ploughed field and others on the left in the woods.

When we came in sight of the enemy, our division halted and our regiment was sent forward as skirmishers. We advanced along the turnpike in plain view of their batteries on the right until we came within a half mile of it. We halted and protected ourselves as well as we could under the bank at the side of the road. The enemy sent their shell amongst us thick and fast. They exploded above and all around us. Shortly an orderly came and told us to fall back. When we commenced to move, the shot and shell flew faster than ever. Our loss this time was only one man wounded, but if we had stayed fifteen minutes longer we would have been cut to pieces…

We advanced up the hill steadily under a shower of shot until we came near the top of the hill, where the road ran between two high banks. Just had we halted when a number of cavalrymen and artilleries came rushing down upon us crying, “Clear the road for the cannon, we are beaten.” Then the artillery came galloping down with the guns and caissons. And to make things worse, the rebels were sending grape shot and shell amongst us in a perfect shower.

We clambered out of the road as fast as we could, and our officers soon formed us in line of battle on the right of the road. We were ordered to fix bayonets and expected to make a charge, but after we started down the hill again and marched on up the valley about a mile, we halted, about faced, and started back across the hill. While coming up the valley, a number of men gave out; amongst them Lieutenant Morton. We saw him no more that day. We soon met General Wilcox and, as we were almost exhausted, he ordered us to lie down and rest.

After resting about three hours, we formed in line of battle. The rebels had advanced upon our cannon and we must drive them back. The 45th Reg. Pa. and 17th Michigan went in before us and drove them behind a stone wall. We then advanced to the top of the hill through a shower of musket balls. When we came to the edge of the woods, we halted and commenced firing. We were about as far from them as from our corn crib to the barn. They were in a lane behind a stone fence and we were in the edge of a woods with a clear lot between us. I fired eleven shots. Most of the boys fired fifteen before the rebels ran. The lane was piled full of killed and wounded rebels…

I have a chance to send this now. We are all well and near the Potomac River. We move soon. I send you a rebel envelope I picked up on the battlefield.

F. Pettit

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

Antietam: 150 years ago today

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.

He also noted the letter from Lt Col. Wilder Dwight, who died from wounds at the battle and the letter he wrote was featured in the documentary Death and the Civil War, which I reviewed earlier.

This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.

Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.

Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.

This Week in the Civil War: Sep 10-16, 1862

Wednesday, September 10:  In Maryland, Federal cavalry informed General George McClellan that General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was falling back toward the Monocacy River, away from Frederick. McClellan responded by accelerating his previously sluggish pursuit. As Confederates advanced north in Kentucky, 1,000 “squirrel hunters” volunteered in Cincinnati to defend against a possible Confederate invasion.

Thursday, September 11:  In Maryland, Lee’s Confederates entered Hagerstown, and skirmishing with Federal forces increased. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called for 50,000 volunteers to defend the state. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith occupied Maysville. Skirmishing intensified as the Confederates came within seven miles of Cincinnati.

Friday, September 12:  In Maryland, McClellan’s Federals reached Frederick as Lee’s Confederates began dispersing in accordance with Special Orders No. 191. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate corps approached Harpers Ferry, and skirmishing took place over the next five days. In Kentucky, Confederates occupied Glasgow as skirmishing continued. The Federal Army of Virginia was officially absorbed into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. In Pennsylvania, assets and archives were transfered from Harrisburg and Philadelphia to New York. The Confederate Congress debated the wisdom of the northern invasion. President Jefferson Davis wrote to the governors of Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas attempting to assure them that the Trans-Mississippi theater of war was not being ignored.

Saturday, September 13:  In Maryland, two Federal soldiers found a copy of Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191. They were forwarded to George McClellan, who now knew that Lee’s forces were divided. McClellan pushed his Federals west, while Lee learned that McClellan had found his order. Skirmishing intensified. In western Virginia, Federals evacuated Charleston as Confederates under General W.W. Loring advanced from the Kanawha Valley. In New Orleans, General Benjamin Butler, commander of Federal occupation forces, ordered all foreigners to register with Federal authorities.

Sunday, September 14:  In Maryland, the left wing of George McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac advanced toward Crampton’s Gap to cut off the Confederates at Harpers Ferry and divide Lee’s army. Meanwhile, another Federal force attacked Confederates at South Mountain. After hard fighting, the Confederates withdrew; Federal General Jesse Reno was killed. This became known as the Battle of South Mountain. Meanwhile, “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates lay siege to the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. In Kentucky, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates reached Munfordville. Federals under General Don Carlos Buell hurried ahead of Bragg and reached Bowling Green. In Mississippi, a third phase of the overall Confederate offensive began taking shape when Confederates under General Sterling Price occupied Iuka near Corinth.

Monday, September 15:  In Virginia (now West Virginia), “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates captured Harpers Ferry, taking about 12,000 prisoners. In Maryland, Robert E. Lee’s Confederates at South Mountain fell back to Sharpsburg. Lee was hurriedly concentrating his scattered forces before George McClellan’s Federals could launch a full-scale attack. Lee originally planned to withdraw, but when he learned that Jackson had captured Harpers Ferry, he began forming a line along Antietam Creek. In Kentucky, Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates reached Covington across the Ohio River from Cincinnati but quickly withdrew. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates lay siege to Munfordville. 

Tuesday, September 16:  In Maryland, Robert E. Lee gathered his Army of Northern Virginia and established battle lines along Antietam Creek. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates arrived on the scene after a hard march from Harpers Ferry, while one of Jackson’s divisions under General A.P. Hill remained behind to accept the garrison’s surrender. George McClellan faced criticism for not attacking today. In Kentucky, Bragg continued his siege of 4,000 Federals at Munfordville. Smith’s Confederates withdrew from the Ohio River toward Lexington. President Abraham Lincoln, unable to contact McClellan, wired Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania: “What do you hear from Gen. McClellan’s army?”

Review of Death and the Civil War

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that American Experience on PBS will be airing a documentary by Ric Burns (younger brother of filmmaker Ken Burns) entitled Death and the Civil War on Tuesday, September 18 at 8:00PM Eastern Time. The airing is timely, as it will be just after the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with the Battle of Antietam on September 17.

This film, based upon Drew Gilpin Faust’s landmark work This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008), illustrated how the Civil War changed how Americans on both sides of the conflict perceived death. Prior to the war, influenced by the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening, people believed in the concept of a “good death”, which involved dying at home, surrounded by loved ones, at peace and ready to go, and possibly and offering of last words to friends and family. This death was rooted in Christian tradition emerging in the nation through the early 19th century, where a new belief in a corporeal heaven, gained wide acceptance by the eve of war. This belief held that the deceased will gain a renewed body upon entering heaven and will reunite with loved ones who passed on before them, as well as the surviving relatives and friends when they die, with all living in everlasting peace and harmony with God.

As the war’s cruel reality shattered notions of a short, relatively bloodless conflict, Americans faced a new concept of death, as hundreds, and soon thousands, of young men were slaughtered in their prime, unable to enjoy the tranquility and dignity of a “good death”. Soldiers soon adapted to this changing circumstance and created the same conditions, in a modified fashion, for their dying comrades. The men were surrounded by photographs of loved ones, their army friends, and were able, when possible, die in relative peace. The deceased’s comrades also took on the unenviable task of notifying loved ones of the demise of the soldier, as well as arranging for shipment of effects and, if able, the body.

This documentary did an outstanding job of analyzing the harsh situation facing the nation in the early years of the war, that stands in stark contrast to how our nation treats the war dead today. Before and during the early years of the war, the federal government did not bear responsibility for identifying, accounting for, and treating its war dead. The result was that many dead were not identified initially, being buried in graves marked “Unknown”. Further, the government had no way of effective notification of casualties, with relatives relying upon the casualty reports in local papers, which could be inaccurate, creating increased anxiety among people as to the fate of their loved one serving, whether they were dead or not. Death was exacerbated by the lack of an ambulance corps, preventing early evacuation of wounded, which caused many to linger on the battlefield, dying of their wounds, without the comfort of the “good death”.

The film revolved around several themes: dying, burial, emotions around death, memorializing, identifying, and slavery. Each of these themes was well treated. Slavery was quite interesting, as the African-American experience with death was quite different through the horrors of slavery, which created a higher mortality possibility for them than whites. They created their own concept of the “good death”, which involved dying in the struggle for freedom. What was interesting to consider was that the historians involved in the film argued that contraband camps, where escaped slaves were initially housed, represented one of the first American examples of refugee camps, where conditions were quite harsh and fostered a higher mortality.

Beyond the overall content of the documentary, there were several things that stood out for me in this piece. One was the early mention of the casualty figure of 750,000, which is based upon new research that appeared in the journal Civil War History (December 2011), that is still gaining acceptance in the scholarly community and will take years to gain full recognition. The use of the figure will go far in terms of generating wider acceptance of the new calculations of just how many died in the war.

In addition to the use of new casualty figures, the story of 19th century methods of embalming and the role photographers played in bringing the savagery of death on the battlefield to Americans’ homes. Further, commemorating the dead, both through establishing national cemeteries and creating Memorial Day (on both sides of the Mason-Dixon) was an important subject. It was quite interesting to consider that without the Civil War, we likely would not have the system of national cemeteries, let alone an accounting of our war dead, at least as we know it. The story of Charleston blacks burying deceased Union POW’s from the racetrack prison camp and leading a commemoration ceremony and parade with Union forces in early May 1865 represented one of the earliest occurrences of what we know as Memorial Day.

With an all-star cast of historians and commentators, including Drew Gilpin Faust, Vincent Brown, David W. Blight, and George Will among others, Ric Burns has crafted a masterful documentary in the vein of his brother’s The Civil War. It combines the use of photographs, filmed scenes, and stirring narration, including powerful and emotional examples from the primary sources of the war, the writings of the people experiencing the war themselves. While Faust’s book is an important read and I urge everyone to read it, Death and the Civil War is a must-see documentary that illustrates the transformative effect of the war on our nation in the midst of its 150th anniversary.

The Great Powers and the American Civil War: A Select Bibliography

 The Great Powers and the American Civil War
A Select Bibliography

Compiled by
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota

The following list of books is valuable for studying the foreign affairs of the Great Powers of Europe before and during the American Civil War.  It also contains diplomatic and other studies dealing with Union and Confederate foreign relations during the conflict.

Adams, Ephraim Douglass. Great Britain and the American Civil War. 2 volumes. New York: Russell and Russell, 1925.

Bartlett, C.J. Defense and Diplomacy: Britain and the Great Powers, 1815-1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991.

__________. Peace, War and the European Powers, 1814-1914. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Baumgart, Winfried. The Crimean War, 1853-1856. London: Arnold, 1999.

__________. The Peace of Paris, 1856: Studies in War, Diplomacy, and Peacemaking. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1981.

Berwanger, Eugene H. The British Foreign Service and the American Civil War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Blumberg, Arnold. A Carefully Planned Accident: The Italian War of 1859. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1990.

Boaz, Thomas. Guns for Cotton: England Arms the Confederacy. Shippensburg: Burd Street Press, 1996.

Bourne, Kenneth. Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815-1908. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1967.

Bowen, Wayne H. Spain and the American Civil War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011.

Bridge, F.R. and Roger Bullen. The Great Powers and the European States System, 1814-1914. Second edition. Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2005.

Brown, David. Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship Development, 1860-1905. London: Chatham, 1997.

Brown, David. Palmerston: A Biography. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Callahan, James M. Diplomatic History of the Southern Confederacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1901.

Carroll, Daniel B. Henri Mercier and the American Civil War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Case, Lynn M. and Warren F. Spencer. The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1970.

Chamberlain, Muriel E. British Foreign Policy in the Age of Palmerston. London: Longman, 1980.

__________. “Pax Britannica”? British Foreign Policy, 1789-1914. London: Longman, 1988.

Coppa, Frank J. The Italian Wars of Independence. London: Longman, 1992.

Courtemanche, Regis A. No Need for Glory: The British Navy in American Waters, 1860-1864. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1977.

Crook, David Paul. Diplomacy during the American Civil War. New York: John Wiley, 1975.

__________. The North, the South, and the Great Powers, 1861-1865. New York: Wiley, 1974.

Cross, Coy F., II. Lincoln’s Man in Liverpool: Consul Dudley and the Legal Battle to Stop Confederate Warships. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007.

Cunningham, Michele. Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

Ferris, Norman B. Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward’s Foreign Policy, 1861. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.

__________. The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977.

Fuller, Howard J. Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenges of British Naval Power. Westport: Praeger, 2008.

Goldfrank, David M. The Origins of the Crimean War. London: Longman, 1994.

Hanna, Alfred J. and Kathryn A. Hanna. Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

Hamilton, C.I. Anglo-French Naval Rivalry, 1840-1870. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Hubbard, Charles M. The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Jenkins, Brian. Britain and the War for the Union. 2 volumes. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974-80.

Jones, Howard. Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

__________. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

__________. Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Lambert, Andrew. Battleships in Transition: The Creation of the Steam Battlefleet, 1815-1860. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984.

__________. The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy against Russia, 1853-56. Second edition. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.

Lester, Richard I. Confederate Finance and Purchasing in Great Britain. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.

Mahin, Dean B. One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1999.

Matzke, Rebecca Berens. Deterrence through Strength: British Naval Power and Foreign Policy under Pax Britannica. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.

May, Robert E., editor. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1995. Essays by Howard Jones, R.J.M. Blackett, Thomas Schoonover, and James M. McPherson.

McMillan, James F. Napoleon III. London: Longman, 1991.

McPherson, James M. War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Merli, Frank J. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 1861-1865. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

__________. The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Myers, Phillip E. Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2008.

Mosse, W.E. The Rise and Fall of the Crimean System, 1855-1871: The Story of a Peace Settlement. London: Macmillan, 1963.

Owsley, Frank L. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931. Second edition published in 1959.

Partridge, Michael S. Military Planning for the Defense of the United Kingdom, 1814-1870. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Rich, Norman. Great Power Diplomacy, 1914-1914. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Price, Roger. Napoleon III and the Second Empire. London: Routledge, 1997.

Ropp, Theodore. “The Navy of Napoleon III. Chapter in The Development of a Modern Navy: French Naval Policy, 1871-1904. Edited by Stephen S. Roberts. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

Saul, Norman E. Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763-1867. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1991.

Schneid, Frederick. The Second War of Italian Unification, 1859-61. Botley: Osprey, 2012.

Sexton, Jay. Debtor Diplomacy: Finance and American Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era, 1837-1873. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.

Spencer, Warren F. The Confederate Navy in Europe. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1983.

Sondhaus, Lawrence. Naval Warfare, 1815-1914. London: Routledge, 2001.

Surdam, David G. Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Tucker, Spencer C. Blue and Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

Van Deusen, Glyndon G. William Henry Seward. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967

Wise, Stephen R. Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running during the Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

This Week In The Civil War: Sep 3-9, 1862

Wednesday, September 3:  General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia began moving to relieve Federal pressure on Virginia by invading the North. The troops moved west toward Leesburg and occupied Winchester. In Washington, Federal General John Pope conferred with President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Pope delivered a report accusing General Fitz John Porter of disobeying orders and General George McClellan of failing to support him in the Battle of Second Bull Run. In the Dakota Territory, Sioux Indians unsuccessfully attacked Fort Abercrombie as part of their uprising against Federal authority. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith continued their invasion by occupying the state capital of Frankfort.

Thursday, September 4:  Lee’s Confederates began crossing the Potomac River into Maryland; the crossing continued for three days. Various skirmishes ensued as politicians conferred in Washington, Federals evacuated Frederick, Maryland, and McClellan began reorganizing the Army of the Potomac. In Minnesota, Federals skirmished with Sioux Indians at Hutchinson. In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders joined Edmund Kirby Smith’s men. In western Virginia, Confederates under General A.G. Jenkins crossed the Ohio River for a brief northern invasion.

Friday, September 5:  In Washington, Halleck informed Pope that his Army of Virginia would be consolidated into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. McClellan began gathering Federal troops around Washington as Robert E. Lee continued advancing on Frederick, Maryland. In Indiana, Governor Morton called on citizens to form militias along the Ohio River in defense of a potential Confederate invasion. At Sparta, Tennessee, Bragg proclaimed, “Alabama is redeemed. Tennesseans! your capital and State are almost restored without firing a gun. You return conquerors. Kentuckians! the first great blow has been struck for your freedom.” Meanwhile, General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals abandoned northern Alabama, falling back to Murfreesboro and Nashville.

Saturday, September 6:  In Maryland, Confederates under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson occupied Frederick. Federal cavalry skirmished with the Confederate invaders over the next nine days. Robert E. Lee had expected to gain recruits in Maryland, but Frederick was abandoned and an observer wrote, “everything partook of a churchyard appearance.” In Virginia, Federals evacuated the important supply center at Aquia Creek near Fredericksburg. John Pope was assigned to command the new Department of the Northwest, which consisted of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Nebraska and Dakota territories. His main task was to suppress the Sioux Indian uprising. In the Dakota Territory, the Sioux unsuccessfully attacked Fort Abercrombie a second time.

Sunday, September 7:  George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac began slowly moving northward from Washington, protecting the capital and Baltimore while unaware of Robert E. Lee’s location. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Hagerstown, Maryland experienced “tremendous excitement,” with frantic people preparing for a Confederate invasion. The Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry was isolated by Lee’s forces. President Lincoln worried about events in both the eastern and western theaters, asking “Where is Gen. Bragg” and “What about Harper’s Ferry?” U.S.S. Essex battled Port Hudson batteries on the Mississippi River. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, and Edmund Kirby Smith that they should inform northerners “That the Confederate Government is waging the war solely for self-defence, that is has no design of conquest or any other purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United States of its pretensions to govern a people who have never been their subjects and who prefer self-government to a Union with them.”

Monday, September 8:  Apprehension intensified in Maryland and Pennsylvania, as Robert E. Lee’s Confederates continued advancing. Lee proclaimed to Maryland residents: “The people of the Confederate States have long watched with the deepest sympathy the wrongs and outrages that have been inflicted upon the citizens… We know no enemies among you, and will protect all, of every opinion. It is for you to decide your destiny freely and without constraint. This army will respect your choice, whatever it may be.” President Lincoln asked George McClellan at Rockville, Maryland, “How does it look now?” General Nathaniel Banks assumed command of the Washington defenses. Various skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Tuesday, September 9:  At Frederick, Robert E. Lee issued Special Orders No. 191, calling for “Stonewall” Jackson to attack Harpers Ferry and General James Longstreet’s corps to advance on Boonesborough, Maryland. These orders would later be found by Federal troops and forwarded to George McClellan. General Samuel P. Heintzelman was given command of the Washington defenses south of the Potomac.

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

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)