Letter from “B.”, from Leesborough, Va, September 3, 1862


LEESBOROUGH, Sept. 3, 1862.

I gave an account of the march of the First Regiment Reserves to Fredericksburg, and will now give you what has transpired since. We had expected to make a short stay at Fredericksburg and employed the day after our arrival in making our tents as comfortable as possible. Our anticipations, however, were dissipated by the order which came to us about four o’clock, p.m., that three days rations should be cooked and be ready to march at once. This was on Thursday, August 31 st. About 6 o’clock we were called into line, not having had time to cook our rations, and leaving tents, baggage and cooking utensils, we moved off. Night coming on before we had made much progress, and raining at the time, made it extremely tiresome and unpleasant, and when we halted about five miles from camp, we were more tired than at other times after we had marched twice the distance. We threw ourselves upon the ground in the road and rested until dawn of day, when we resumed the march. The morning was warm and sultry, and the men soon began to suffer for food and water, but no rest was allowed, and on they pressed. Towards noon the sun came out intensely hot, and officers and men fell out by hundreds. Every well, spring, and shady spot had its group of thirsty and hungry soldiers; and when I tell you that our regiment had but sixty-four men when it halted for the day, you can imagine that the march was a long and hard one. We halted near Kelly’s Ford, distant, it is said, 27 miles from Fredericksburg. During the night, and before we moved in the morning most of the men came in. The day was again very warm, but the march was not so rapid and the men kept together. We passed the Rappahannock Station, where we found the rebels kept at bay by one of our batteries which gave them a compliment of shells whenever they showed themselves. 

After a rest of about an hour, we continued our march, through a heavy rain, which came on about 4 o’clock, p. m. We passed Bank’s men and Sigel’s, the latter being engaged at the time with the enemy. It was 9 o’clock before we halted in a field about four miles from Warrenton, having marched nearly the whole day. A number of our men were by this time marching barefooted. About seven o’clock, Sunday Aug. 24, we resumed our march. After going about three miles we halted in a large field, stacked arms, and rested while an immense train of artillery and wagons passed. The “Boys” in the meantime gathering corn, and also a supply of beef, veal, mutton, and poultry. The frequent discharge of muskets, however, to bring it within their reach, brought the patrol after them, and sent them in We marched a few miles farther and bivouacked in a shady stove near Warrenton. While here we had the pleasure of a visit fom Capt. Bolenius and Lieut. Lichty. Those who have been from heir home and fiends for fifteen months alone know how to appreciate such visits. On Tuesday we moved of in the heat of the day to a position on the Waterloo road opposite Warrenton.

On Wednesday, Aug. 27, we again had a long and warm march of about seventeen miles. It was evident by this time that we were about drawing our army to a focus as every field, hill and hillside was covered with troops. On Thursday morning our division took up the line of march early, and had not gone more than three or four miles when the rebels intimated their presence by throwing a number of shells into our midst. Four men of the 8th regiment were wounded and one killed. We were at once drawn up into line of battle, our batteries located, which soon silenced that of the rebels.

I understand that it has been reported that the Reserves ran in the last engagement at Bull Run. The man who uttered the falsehood was not in the battle, or did not know what troops were engaged.

As the First acted in conjunction with the other regiments of the division, I will continue my account, and leave you to judge whether they ran. After silencing the rebel battery skirmishers were thrown out, all the regiments of the division, moving in parallel lines, in three columns, continued their march across the country in an oblique direction, and reached a point a few miles from Manassas. After resting and making coffee, we again moved off until dark, when we halted for the night. Next morning, at dawn of day, we were called into line, as we thought, to proceed on our march, but had not gone far before we received indications of having a busy time for the day. The artillery became engaged with that of the enemy, we were called back and sent forward towards the enemy. Companies A and B of our regiment were thrown out as skirmishers, and were thus engaged nearly all day.

In the afternoon the engagement on the right was very warm for a time. Our regiment was for a time under a severe fire of shell during which one of Company D was killed, and several in the regiment wounded. The enemy appearing on our left, we were called in and thrown out in that direction. While in a strip of woods and engaged hotly with the enemy’s sharpshooters, one of their batteries opened upon us a terrible fire. The 5th regiment and five companies of the 1st were in the woods at the time, and every one who was there will say that they have not been in a more dangerous place at any time, and not a man flinched, but stood it through until Gen. Reynolds ordered their recall. A number of our men were here killed and wounded. They all returned to their regiments in order, which were in a field outside the woods, and night coming on were moved off to the same spot occupied the night before.

Here some imprudent persons made a fire, which invited a shell from the enemy into our midst, and compelled us to get out of range. On Saturday, the day of Bull run battle, we were again on the move before day dawn, and reached the battle-field soon after daylight. We had hardly time for coffee when we were called into line for day’s operations. Our division moved forward in parallel lines, which we found was the left of the battle-field, and our skirmishers soon became engaged with the rebel sharpshooters. On coming to a field on which the fighting took place the day before, we had a sight of those terrible scenes witnessed on the battlefield.

Dead men and horses covered the hillside. The first object that attracted our attention was a wounded Zouave trying to make his way to our troops, and waving his hand for help. Others tried to raise themselves and make known to us the wish to be brought away. General Reynolds at once ordered the skirmishers to advance, and sent out a number of men to bring off all the wounded. Our Brigade was advanced, and held a position in a field exposed to the fire of sharpshooters, and shell for more than two hours. During this time, and while out as skirmishers, Capt. Hooton, of Company A, was wounded and three or four of his men.  Here we divided our rations remaining, which amounted to a half biscuit to a man.

It was amusing amidst all the danger to see the behaviour of some of the men and hear their remarks. One fellow, whose gun became dirty and had difficulty in getting home the ball, cooly looked for a stone and drove it down. Another was very anxious his friend should see a rebel he had been trying to hit, and that he might try his hand at him. When the bullets came whistling past them, or strike near them, the most frequent remark was “That, Henry, was pretty near.” The enemy was discovered flanking us in force on the left, and in fact, it is said that Gen. Reynolds had knowledge of it long before, and so reported to his superiors, but no notice was taken of it. We were called in from our position and took one behind a skirt of woods, when the battle opened with terrible fury on the right. We were on high ground and had a splendid view of the battle-field which, according to some people’s notions, was a “very magnificent sight.” We were not permitted to view it long before Gen. McDowell came riding up and called out “Gen. Reynolds! Gen. Reynolds! get into line every man and get away there.” We were moved away and taken off to the right, opposite where we were, and had not reached our position before the enemy occupied the ground we left but a few moments before.

We had just established our batteries and were ready, when we were ordered move to the left, in the meantime giving the rebels a

chance to play on us, which they were not slow in doing. Once more established, our batteries opened with a will and before long our whole Division was ordered forward to check the advance of the enemy, and hold them there for half an hour. They went forward through a shower of bullets, took their position, and poured into the rebels such a continued volley of bullets as completely silenced them and made their place untenable. The Reserves held their position for nearly an hour, Gens. Reynolds and Seymour being in the midst of them cheering officers and men.

It was at this time that the flag-staff of the Sixth Regiment was hit by a ball and broken, which Gen. Reynolds seized and waving it overhead rode up and down the line, infusing into the men a spirit anything else than one to run. No, they did not run, they knew nothing of such a thing. Such a cheer as went up at the time, I have no doubt, made somebody run, but thank God, it was not the Reserves. We were relieved, and forming the regiments above the road retired in perfect order. There was a little disorder in the First, but when I tell you what caused it, you will see it was not the enemy or the fear of them. I said before, that in the early part of the day they shared their last cracker with each other, and with the duties they had performed, you can well imagine that a dozen boxes of hard bread; and sugar and coffee set before them would put them into momentary disorder. This was the case. A considerate friend had a lot of the above brought near to where they were engaged and when they came off the field and were marching by they fell out of line to supply those necessaries. As another evidence of the above in which they came off, and the absence of fear among them of rebel bullets and shell, I will mention that they were not two hundred rods from the position they held, halting and awaiting orders, when a ball fell in their ranks, striking down a comrade by their side, causing no consternation, or nothing more than a feeling of sympathy for their unfortunate fellow soldier. I have stated facts as I have seen them myself. If my statement is worth anything, I must say for the satisfaction of the friends of those in company “B,” who were in that battle, that not one of them faltered, but went into it and out of it, according to orders.

I cannot close this without a notice of Col. Roberts’ bravery in every action with the enemy. Having three companies from Lancaster county under his command, it cannot but be a satisfaction to our people to know that their brave sons are led by so brave an officer. There is no toil, or no danger that he does not share with them equally. He was in their midst, alongside of them in the thickest of the fight. The boys all say, with Gen. Reynolds and Col. Roberts they are not afraid to go into any fight with the rebels.

I am afraid we will have to mourn the loss of one of the best soldiers we had in the company, Christian Kline. He was detailed with several others from this company to carry off the wounded, and when our regiment went into the engagement, he joined another on our left, and was shot through the head. Thomas Bitzer, was wounded in the hand, but will soon be (ready] for duty again.

With the exception of the above, the boys are all well and safe.

Five or six of them were running about barefooted, but are now shoed and are in footing order. We were rejoiced to see a number of our Lancaster county friends last week, while we were halting opposite Georgetown. A visit to the 122nd Regiment, enabled us to shake hands with hundreds of our Lancaster friends. Ow company was ordered on Saturday to go to Alexandria on duty, and on our return to camp about midnight, found the regiment had gone

with orders to us to follow in the morning. In the morning we started, and on our way through Washington called on Captain Barton, whom we found improving under the care of his mother, and sister. The “boys” were the recipients of a basket of peaches from Mrs. Barton and other kind ladies. While making a rest in the shade on the corner of N. Y. Avenue and 9th street, the residents came out with buckets full of blackberry shrub, lemons, peaches, cakes and bread. After a long, warm and dusty march we rejoined our Regiment about 8 o’clock last night. B.1

  1. There is a strong possibility that this letter was written by Captain William Lemkey Bear, Union Guards, Co. B, 1st PA Reserves.