Destruction of the 5th New York Zouaves
Battle of Second Manassas
From America's Civil War Magazine (historynet.com)
BY BRIAN C. POHANKA
Of the dozens of colorfully outfitted Zouave regiments that served in the Civil War — units whose uniforms were inspired by the exotic regalia of the famed French colonial troops — none surpassed the reputation of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry for tactical proficiency, military discipline and steady bearing under fire. Organized in April 1861 by wealthy Manhattan lumber merchant Abram Duryée, the unit attracted many young professionals to its ranks — students, college graduates, lawyers and businessmen. ‘I expect every man to do his duty and I expect to do mine,’ Colonel Duryée told his assembled troops as they prepared to embark for Virginia. ‘I intend to make this regiment a glory for the State.’
Bloodied in the clash at Big Bethel in June 1861, Duryée’s Zouaves subsequently spent eight months on garrison duty in Baltimore, Md., where they continued to hone their tactical skills under a new commander, Colonel Gouverneur Kemble Warren. Private William McIlvaine characterized Warren as ‘very efficient’ but found his personality ‘cold, precise and scientific.’
On the last day of March 1862, the Zouaves disembarked on the Virginia Peninsula, where they joined Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in the campaign intended to capture Richmond. Colonel Warren was soon given command of a brigade in Brig. Gen. George Sykes’ division of the V Corps. It was a distinct honor for the Duryée Zouaves and their comrades of the 10th New York ‘National Zouaves,’ as the other units in Sykes’ command were troops of the U.S. Regular Army. Regular infantryman Augustus Meyers conceded the Zouaves’ ‘discipline, efficiency and drill was not equaled by any other volunteer regiment in the Army of the Potomac,’ while artillery Major Charles Wainwright thought the 5th New York was ‘equal in all respects to the regulars and better drilled.’
In the ferocious clash at Gaines’ Mill on June 27, 1862, the men of the 5th proved they were more than colorful parade ground ornamentation, launching repeated assaults with fixed bayonets against the oncoming Confederates and losing 162 of the 450 men engaged. ‘Our regiment well sustained its reputation,’ Private Richard Ackerman wrote his father. ‘The Regulars think everything of it, and they almost deify Colonel Warren.’ A captured and released Federal surgeon informed Warren of the enemy’s admiration for the colorful New Yorkers, reporting, ‘From their Generals on down through all grades they concluded that they never had seen the superiors of the ‘red legs’ for unflinching courage and coolness.
With their ranks thinned by battle and disease to the point that some companies were led by sergeants, and their uniforms soiled by months of fruitless campaigning, the 5th New York departed McClellan’s base at Harrison’s Landing on August 14. Along with the rest of the V Corps, they were bound for service with Maj. Gen. John Pope’s forces in northern Virginia. As they prepared to board a northbound steamer at Newport News they were joined by nearly 100 new recruits, whose pale faces, full knapsacks and immaculate Zouave finery were in striking contrast to those of the sunburned and tattered veterans. Colonel Warren still exercised brigade command, and Captain Cleveland Winslow, the eldest son of the unit’s patriarchal fighting chaplain, Dr. Gordon Winslow, was in charge of the regiment. A severe disciplinarian with an almost fanatical insistence on military formality, the dapper captain was far from popular with the rank and file. ‘He has one large bump of self esteem which occupies the whole of his brain,’ Private Alfred Davenport lamented. ‘He has drum & bugle calls for everything except the calls of nature.
By August 29 the Zouaves had arrived at Manassas Junction. Major Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin, a regiment savaged in the fight at Brawner’s Farm on August 28, recalled the arrival of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter’s V Corps and how the hardened veterans jibed at those they considered ’something quite inferior to the Army of the Potomac.’ Dawes heard one man respond to a Zouave’s disparaging remark: ‘Wait till you get where we have been. You’ll get the slack taken out of your pantaloons and the swell out of your heads.’ The statement was to prove tragically prophetic.
Like the rest of Fitz Porter’s corps, Warren’s troops took no part in the fighting on August 29. On the morning of August 30, however, the brigade moved closer to the scene of battle. But while elements of the V Corps prepared to renew the attack on Maj. Gen. Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s forces — posted along the grade of an unfinished railroad — Warren’s 1,100 men remained in reserve on the Warrenton Turnpike.
Some Zouaves took advantage of the lull to boil coffee while others chatted, or bantered with the passing columns of Union soldiers. After washing his face in a little stream, Company F Captain George Hager proudly displayed his new gold-braided officer’s jacket to a group of enlisted men. ‘Boys,’ the captain laughed, ‘won’t I make a fine-looking corpse?’ The officer’s bravado masked a grimly realistic sense of the dangers ahead. ‘If I die t’is in a noble cause,’ Hager had written his family, ‘and one too, that had I stayed inactive at home, I should blush to say I did not join in.’
In early afternoon, 1st Lt. Charles E. Hazlett’s Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery, came rumbling up the road alongside Warren’s troops. Warren called his men to attention, and Captain Winslow detailed a squad from Company E to tear down a section of rail fence so that Hazlett’s Parrott guns could deploy atop the knoll south of the pike. At that moment several enemy shells exploded nearby, splintering the fence posts. ‘All right!’ Zouave Corporal John Carroll laughed nervously. ‘If the Johnnies want to take down the fence I’m willing to stand aside!’
At approximately 2 p.m., Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds’ division abandoned its position on Hazlett’s left, moving east to Chinn Ridge. An hour later Reynolds was ordered north, across the Warrenton Pike, to join in the assault on Jackson’s force, which was still holding its position along the unfinished railroad. Unwilling to believe the warnings of a Confederate presence opposite his left, John Pope was fixated on Jackson’s destruction, marshaling his forces to achieve that end.
The departure of Reynolds’ division concerned Hazlett, who had been ordered to the knoll south of the pike by corps commander Porter. The lieutenant rode to his left and saw that all his support had gone, ‘not even leaving pickets.’ Realizing the vulnerability of his position, Hazlett asked Colonel Warren ‘if he could not give me some support while I sent back word to General Porter of the state of affairs.’
Charles Hazlett's Federal guns along the Warrenton Turnpike at the Second Manassas Battlefield (Photo: Rob Shenk)
Warren called his brigade to attention, ordering the men to toss away their coffee. Most did so, though some still toted steaming tin cups as they maneuvered into line facing a 75-acre wood to the left of Hazlett’s guns. Behind them, at the foot of an open slope, flowed Young’s Branch, a tributary of Bull Run. On the opposite side of the muddy stream rose the western face of Chinn Ridge, dotted with small cedar trees and the occasional clump of pines. All seemed quiet.
Uncertain if any Confederate forces lay beyond the woods to his front, Colonel Warren rode to the left of the brigade and ordered Colonel John E. Bendix of the 10th New York to send six companies forward as skirmishers. Bendix allotted the detail to his lieutenant colonel, John W. Marshall. Largely clad in blue regulation issue as they awaited the arrival of new Zouave attire, the National Zouaves moved west through the trees to the fields that lay beyond. The remaining four companies of the 10th New York stayed in reserve on the left front of the 5th.
Hazlett’s guns fired a few shells, and north of the pike the roar of battle grew in intensity. But except for an occasional shot from the skirmish line, for the better part of two hours it remained quiet in Warren’s sector. Muskets were stacked, and the troops rested in place, some taking the opportunity for a catnap. More than an hour passed.
The skirmishers of the 10th New York were engaged in a desultory firefight with their Confederate counterparts when, just after 4 p.m., the Rebel skirmish line suddenly rose and started forward. The significance of their movement became immediately and shockingly apparent. Rank after rank of Southern troops emerged from the cover of a wood line, and came sweeping across the fields like a vast, gray wave, flecked with glinting steel and crowned with blood-red battle flags. It was Maj. Gen. James Longstreet’s corps, nearly 30,000 strong, and the first obstacle in their way was Captain Cleveland Winslow’s little regiment.
A soldier of the 18th Georgia noted that the Confederates ‘rushed forward at a charge from the word go, all the time keeping up an unearthly yell….’ When they encountered the 10th New York skirmishers, the latter ‘fired one volley and fled closely pursued.’
The command ‘Attention, battalion!’ brought the 5th New Yorkers to their feet, even as the first shots echoed from the woods in front. As the men seized their muskets and hastily loaded, the scattered rounds were followed by what Private Andrew Coats called ‘a terrific volley of musketry, the bullets from which came hurtling through the air with a sound like that which would be made by an immense flock of partridges.’ The first man hit was Private Patrick Brady of Company G, a 35-year-old piano maker who was regarded as a good soldier despite his fondness for alcohol. Brady ‘fell without saying a word,’ Alfred Davenport recalled. ‘He was dragged a few paces to the rear, where he undid his body belt himself. He died there without a complaint.’
‘There we stood like statues,’ Coats remembered. ‘We could not see any enemy — but we saw streaks of smoke drifting between the trees.’ Suddenly, shadowy groups of running figures appeared, moving through the underbrush toward the Federal line. Reflexively, some Zouaves aimed their muskets, but the cry rang out: ‘Don’t fire! Those men belong to the Tenth!’ The skirmishers were crowding back on their reserve companies, whose officers were frantically trying to form a line on the left of the 5th New York. Close on the heels of the scrambling Yankees came their assailants, firing as they advanced and screaming the Rebel yell.
After driving the six companies of 10th New York skirmishers in on their reserve, who almost immediately began to give way, three units of the Texas Brigade — the 18th Georgia, the South Carolinians of Hampton’s Legion and the 5th Texas — engaged the 5th New York. Captain W.T. Hill recalled how the soldiers of his 5th Texas, ‘yelling their loudest, came out of the timber into the open ground, practically face to face with the Zouaves, who in their red, white and blue uniforms, stood in as perfect alignment as if on dress parade.’ Regardless of the 10th New York men to their front, Colonel Warren and Captain Winslow gave the command to commence firing.
A ragged volley crashed out, wreathing the line in thick, acrid smoke. The wooded terrain worked to the Southerners’ advantage, and for the most part the Yankee bullets showered the gray-clad ranks with leaves and twigs but did little damage. One soldier of the 18th Georgia, however, noted that the 5th ‘poured a most destructive fire into the ranks….At this first fire at least forty Georgians fell.’
The Rebels responded with a far more accurate volley of their own, at a range of less than 100 yards. ‘From the Zouaves we received a heavy fire, which was kept up by both sides for a few minutes,’ one Texan recalled, ‘but the steady well-directed aim of our Texas men told heavily on the enemy, and the carnage was terrible.’ Lieutenant Colonel Martin W. Gary of the Hampton Legion reported, ‘We received their volley and charged upon them, and delivered our fire at short range, killing, wounding and capturing a large number.’
Scores of Zouaves were scythed down where they stood, and the line wavered as bullets opened bloody gaps in their ranks. ‘Where the Regiment stood that day was the very vortex of Hell,’ said Andrew Coats. ‘Not only were men wounded, or killed, but they were riddled.’
Private Frederick Fowler of Company B would have agreed with Coats’ assessment. Simultaneously, four Minié bullets, a musket ball and a buckshot slammed into his body. One bullet passed through Fowler’s chest, puncturing his left lung and emerging from his back. He was shot through both thighs and both arms, two of the wounds fracturing bones, while a sixth shot traversed his left foot from toes to heel. One of Fowler’s comrades in Company B, German-born Harry Greenwood, was desperately trying to reload his musket when he collapsed with a fractured skull. George Colwell, who stood next to Greenwood, was shot through the right wrist; the force of the blow flung his arm up and back, breaking it at the elbow.
Company F Private William McGuffage was ramming a round down his Springfield musket when the piece discharged, sending ramrod and bullet through his right hand. McGuffage’s first sergeant, George Mitchell, was knocked off his feet by a Minié bullet that smashed through his haversack, a slab of salt pork, a tin plate and his morning report book before lodging in the pages of his diary. Thankful to be alive, Mitchell struggled to his feet and started for the rear. He would later write, ‘I never in all my life had anything hurt me as much as that did.’
On the far left of the regimental line, 2nd Lt. William Hoffman and the troops of Company I — one of two companies in the regiment armed with Sharps rifles — found the firepower of their breechloaders of little avail in stemming the Rebel onslaught. While the Hampton Legion and 18th Georgia struck Warren’s front and right, the 5th Texas partially overlapped the left flank, enfilading the reserve companies of the 10th New York and flaying the left wing of the 5th with a vicious cross-fire. Soon after the opening volley, the Zouaves began to unravel from left to right while all along the line the newly arrived recruits began bolting for the rear. When he saw some of Company G’s file-closers vainly trying to keep the terrified novices in ranks, Corporal Colin Van Gelder Forbes shouted: ‘Let them go! Let them go!’
Recruit James Cathie stood his ground alongside Irish-born veteran James Patterson in the ranks of Company G. Grimly reloading amid the slaughter, Cathie turned to Patterson and said, ‘Look out for Siss — .’ A fatal bullet cut him down before he could finish. Another recruit, teenaged Private Eugene Geer, got off one round — his first and only shot of the war — and then crumpled with a bullet in the groin. One of the recruits in Company H was 15-year-old William H. Platt. ‘We fired three volleys at them when the rebels charged on us,’ Platt wrote. ‘We broke and run [;] they shot us down by hundreds.’ As he fled the field, Platt saw no need to haul his full knapsack and extra gear. As he later put it, ‘On the retreat I chucked them all.’
Second Lieutenant Edward O. Wright of Company D fell to earth face-forward when a bullet passed through his left shoulder and lung and lodged against his spine. The officer raised himself on his hands and knees. ‘Blood oozed from my mouth, my breath became short, and I bade good bye to father, mother and all kind friends,’ Wright wrote from a hospital two weeks later, ‘for the bullets were whistling over my head like hail, the secesh were coming on yelling like cats, and it was very likely I should receive a bullet from our men who were now retreating rapidly.’
Recognizing the hopelessness of his brigade’s position, Colonel Warren determined to execute a fighting retreat before the line was entirely enveloped. But Warren’s orders to retire went unheard above the din and chaos of battle. The commander of Company A, Captain and acting Major Carlile Boyd, tried to echo the command, as did the regimental adjutant, Frederick Sovereign. Struck in the arm, Adjutant Sovereign started for the rear, but he was soon dropped by a shot through both thighs. Arteries severed, the adjutant bled to death where he fell. As Captain Boyd ran along the line, a bullet ripped two fingers from his right hand. Within seconds other shots struck Boyd in the left arm, left leg and side before he fell, to be taken prisoner. Finally Warren spurred his horse alongside the embattled color guard, grasped at the flag and, by his gestures, indicated that he wanted the color-bearers to pull back down the slope.
As acting field officers, both Cleveland Winslow and Company D Captain Wilbur Lewis were mounted and conspicuous targets. Winslow’s horse was struck seven times and sank beneath him, though Winslow himself escaped injury. Lewis was not as fortunate. Noticing that Lieutenant Wright of Company D had fallen, Lewis shouted to Sergeant John H. Reilly, ‘You are in charge of the company — do the best you can with it!’ Then, seeing the three companies to his left beginning to break, Lewis gave the command, ‘Fall back and save the colors!’ At that moment he was fatally wounded by a bullet, fell from the saddle and, with his foot stuck in the stirrup, was dragged over the field by the terrified animal. The captain’s 19-year-old brother, Edward Lewis, a corporal in Company B, was also slain on the line of battle.
For all their pride and discipline, the 5th New York could take no more. With his comrades in Company G falling all around him, Davenport saw the panicked recruits take to their heels: ‘And then what was left of the Regiment broke and ran for their lives — the Rebels after us, yelling like fiends.’ Christian Neuber of Company F admitted, ‘[it was] every man for himself, what was left of us.’ Neuber’s captain, George Hager, lay dead on the line in his bloodstained finery, ‘a bully looking corpse,’ true to his own prediction.
‘I saw my comrades dropping on all sides,’ Davenport recalled, ‘canteens struck and flying to pieces, haversacks cut off, rifles knocked to pieces; it was a perfect hail of bullets.’ Hit in the left shoulder, Andrew Coats ‘fell where we stood in line of battle. Just as I fell our Regiment was driven back, and I saw Sergeant Joseph Gates reel and fall, his head and face covered with blood. The Confederates were charging over us then.’
Some men refused to retreat. Brawny, 6-foot-3-inch 1st. Sgt. William McDowell of Company G, a former New York City fireman, was bleeding from a wound in the torso but kept his place, glaring defiantly at the advancing enemy until killed by a bullet in the forehead. Sergeant Phil Wilson also stood his ground. He shot one charging foeman, then reloaded and took aim at a sword-waving officer who was shouting, ‘Kill every Yankee you can find!’ Before he could pull the trigger, Wilson crumpled, his right knee shattered.
As the line disintegrated, a knot of desperate men clustered around the regimental colors, determined that the precious banners should not fall into Rebel hands. Color Sergeant Andrew Allison, a British army veteran who carried the Stars and Stripes, was shot in the wrist. He passed the flag to another man and started for safety, but then turned back, retook the flag and was immediately shot dead. The banner was raised, shot down, and raised again. Ultimately Corporal Lucien B. Swain bore its bloody folds and splintered staff to safety.
The guardian of the blue regimental colors, 22-year-old Irish-born Sergeant Francis Spelman, was shot in the left arm and fell to the ground. Two soldiers tried to get him off the field, but he spurned their aid and stood again, flag in hand. Moments later, a bullet ripped the length of his right arm to the shoulder and another shot tore through his neck. A group of Southern soldiers made a run for the stricken sergeant, yelling at him to surrender the trophy. In desperate agony, Spelman cried out to Sergeant William Chambers, like the fallen Allison a veteran of the British army, ‘For God’s sake don’t let them take my flag!’ Chambers responded, ‘I won’t if I can help it!’ and seized the flag from the stricken bearer. At that moment another bullet slammed into Spelman’s head, nearly severing his lower jaw from his face. All but one of the regimental color guard lay dead or dying, but the banners were saved.
The fight now became a hopeless butchery. Continued resistance meant death or capture; as wounded Private Richard Ackerman put it, ‘Our men had to run like dogs.’ With the Confederates blazing away at their backs, dozens of fleeing Zouaves were sent sprawling in the mad dash for Young’s Branch, or fell on the open slope that lay beyond the stream.
Forty-year-old Private Robert Munnie was in full stride when bullets struck him in the buttocks, both legs and neck. Turning to fire one more round, Corporal Theodore Hart, a prewar accountant serving in the ranks of Company A, was shot in the face, the bullet ripping through his head and exiting from his neck. Both sides of Hart’s jaw were broken, his palate destroyed and most of his teeth shattered. One tooth was propelled upward and passed out of his right eye.
As the demoralized ‘red legs’ splashed through the waters of Young’s Branch, Private Dennis Guinan tried to get off one last shot. Before he could aim his musket it was shot from his hands, the blow bowling him over into the creek where he struck his head on a submerged log and was knocked unconscious. George Dobiecki of Company E, at 5 foot 312 inches one of the shortest men in the regiment, was bleeding from a buckshot in his right calf when he caught his foot on some submerged debris and slammed into the far bank of Young’s Branch. Gasping from a rupture of his left groin, Dobiecki was half dragged by two stalwart comrades up the bullet-swept slope. New recruits William Walker and William Alexander, file mates in the ranks of Company H, were crossing Young’s Branch amid a group of retreating 10th New York men when Walker collapsed from a wound in his right leg. As he struggled to rise, another round tore through his left thigh. ‘Can I help you?’ Alexander shouted. ‘No, I can’t stand on my feet,’ Walker replied. At that moment a Rebel bullet sliced into the calf of Alexander’s left leg, and without further ado he limped up the far bank, leaving Walker ‘half covered with water.’
View of Young's Branch near the position of the 5th and 10th New York regiments on August 30, 1862 at the Second Manassas battlefield (Photo: Rob Shenk)
‘There was a bunch of zouaves ahead of us going as rapidly as they could,’ recalled 5th Texan Sidney Virgil Patrick. ‘In passing the creek their big zouave pants got full of water, and their legs looked like balloons.’ Patrick saw one New Yorker sprinting up the hill beyond Young’s Branch ‘with several shots through his pants [and] at every jump the water squirted.’ Fifth Texas Private Joe Joskins noted that Young’s Branch was red with the blood of fallen Zouaves, ‘completely damming it up with their dead and dying bodies.’ Sergeant Thomas Albergotti of the Hampton Legion recalled the stream ‘was just full of dead and dying Yankee soldiers. It was pitiful to hear the poor devils crying from pain and drowning…some mortally wounded and unable to get out; terrible, terrible, to be placed in this predicament.’
There was at least one Zouave who managed to keep his wits amid the chaos. Private James Webb of Company F had escaped what he described as ‘the song of death’ and was retreating with several other men down a ravine that led toward the Warrenton Pike. Above the little squad the Confederate officers were dressing their line before renewing the onslaught. Realizing that the Rebels would likely strike at Lieutenant Hazlett’s guns, Webb turned back to alert the artillery to their danger.
‘The enemy evidently surmised his intention,’ Company F Corporal William Carothers recalled, ‘and directed their fire to him. When Webb started, we never expected to see him return.’ Henry Jones of Company E called Webb’s gesture ‘a forlorn hope of the most desperate character.’
Webb sprinted through the enemy fire, bullets tearing his uniform and one round cutting across his side. When he got to Hazlett, Webb told the artilleryman that the enemy were on his left flank, in the woods, and he would lose his guns if he did not limber up and get them to the rear immediately. The proud West Pointer took his guns off at a walk, but picked up his pace when they reached the pike. Webb, who clambered atop a limber chest, would eventually be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Only 60 Zouaves managed to rally around Colonel Warren and the bullet-torn colors, making their way to the Henry House plateau, where they formed alongside the Regulars before joining in the general retreat. Shells were exploding nearby and Colonel Warren kept saying over and over, ‘Don’t dodge, men; men, don’t dodge!’ Appalled by the sight of the pitiful remnant, an officer of the 6th U.S. Infantry wrote, ‘A murmur of surprise and horror passed through the ranks of our Regulars at the fate of this brave regiment.’
Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Eugene Duryée was in reserve with his 2nd Maryland Infantry when he spotted Warren galloping across the field toward his position. Duryée, son of Abram Duryée who had organized the Zouave regiment, had formerly served as a lieutenant under Warren and now hailed his old commander. The colonel reined up his wounded horse and in a trembling voice said, ‘Jake, the old Fifth has been annihilated!’ ‘Good God!’ Duryée gasped, ‘Is that so!’ Warren merely nodded in reply. ‘I could plainly see that he was completely unnerved by this frightful loss,’ Duryée observed, ‘tears came from his eyes as he put spur to his horse, going … to General Head Quarters to report this dire disaster.’ Young Duryée was stunned. ‘I can never forget that afternoon,’ he later wrote, ‘and the sad depressing feelings it caused me.’
The walking wounded made their way from the field as best they could, some trudging eastward to Centreville, others collapsing by the roadside or crowding into improvised field hospitals. Private Robert Strachan of Company 1 tried to halt a passing ambulance to assist a wounded comrade. When the driver refused to stop, Strachan leveled his Sharps rifle at the man and forcibly commandeered the vehicle. Private William Alexander was sitting beside the road nursing his shattered ankle, and contemplating what seemed inevitable capture and imprisonment, when a mounted cavalry officer tendered Alexander the use of his horse. The good Samaritan was Lt. Col. Judson Kilpatrick-the future general-who had earlier served as a captain in the 5th New York.
Those who were too severely wounded to get off the field on their own faced a grim ordeal.’ Oh it was horrible,’ Richard Ackerman remembered, ‘lying there with dead, dying and wounded all around, and to hear their heart-rending groans:’Few Southern soldiers who witnessed the carnage above Young’s Branch would ever forget the sight. L.D. Hill of the 4th Texas, whose regiment arrived as the Zouave line gave way, recalled, ‘I never saw more dead men on the same space of ground on any battle field of the war.’ South Carolina artillery Captain William K. Bachman noted, ‘The ground was covered with the dead red-breeched fellows so that I actually had to pilot the drivers through the bodies, sometimes stopping to move them out of the way.’
Some Confederates paused to pillage the dead and wounded Yankees. ‘You won’t live anyhow,’ one Southerner told Private James Patterson,’so I guess I’ll take what you’ve got.’ Patterson begged the man to fill his canteen, but the Rebel refused. Waving $2 he took from Patterson’s pocket, the Confederate said, ‘We are going to Washington and I will not fail to drink your health when I get there!’
Another Confederate approached Private James Sheridan, who had been struck down in the retreat by a bullet that entered just above his right hip and angled up to the breastbone. When Sheridan asked the Rebel for help, the man snarled, ‘I’ve got a good mind to put you out of your misery by running my bayonet through you.’
William Walker lay half submerged in Young’s Branch for nearly 24 hours before a group of enemy soldiers finally heeded his pleas and dragged him onto the bank. Virtually shot to pieces with six wounds, Frederick Fowler sprawled in a muddy hollow, unable to move. Two barefoot Rebel soldiers came up to him, remarking, ‘We’ll lift you out in exchange for your boots.’ Fowler gladly accepted the exchange.
Not all Confederates behaved in such a callous fashion. Some passing Southerners covered grievously wounded Lieutenant Edward Wright with a blanket, made a pillow for his head and gave him a drink of water. ‘Although I did not sleep much that night, I managed to live till morning,’ Wright wrote. ‘It commenced raining, and after waiting until I was nearly wet through, I asked an old Texan to take me to a hospital, which he kindly consented to do.’ There a surgeon removed the bullet from Wright’s back, and two days later he walked through the lines to Centreville. But infection claimed his life in an Alexandria hospital on September 25.
Those who remained alive battled pain and exhaustion as their comrades weakened and died around them. Private Levi Pond had been shot in the right thigh and groin by a bullet that ‘cut the scrotum so the testicle hung out.’ As if this were not bad enough, Pond was suffering from ‘the Chickahominy diarrhea’ with ‘16 or 17 passages a day’.
Meanwhile, wounded through the head, blinded and paralyzed but not sensing any pain, Corporal George Huntsman faded in and out of consciousness, insisting to those who lay near him that he was unscathed and wanted to go home. He was eventually taken to a hospital in Alexandria, where he died four days after the battle.
Theodore Hart was determined to survive despite the terrible wound that had shattered his jaw and put out an eye. ‘To have lain around on the bare ground four or five nights and days, two of the nights under a drenching rain, I hardly know how I managed to stick it through,’ he later wrote his mother. ‘All I had to subsist on [was] just a little meat broth and a cup of tea.’ Some men lay where they had fallen for two days, many for five, and at least one man, Sergeant George Sinclair of Company E for eight days before being evacuated through the lines to Fairfax Court House.
Two days after the battle, regimental Chaplain Gordon Winslow and 10 Zouaves returned to the field under a flag o truce to do what they could for the wounded. The party was accompanied by Adjutant Sovereign’s father, who served as chaplain of the 5th New Jersey. He discovered his son’s naked body and buried the boy with his own hands.
A correspondent from the New York Tribune reported: ‘Attracted by the red bags of Duryée’s Zouaves, we proceeded to the field where they lay-nearly a hundred of them-shattered, torn and bloody, in every conceivable stage of misery. Exhaustion had been the cause of death with some whose wounds were not otherwise mortal. One man still clutched the earth, as in the last struggle for breath. Another, a tall, square-browed, Roman-faced hero, prone on his back-had his face turned to the sky in marble repose. By his side a mere boy laid, as if in death he had sought the protection of the stalwart arm which had befriended his weaker nature in life.’
A detailed examination of morning reports, muster rolls and military service and pension records indicates that in their 10 minutes at the vortex of hell, the 5th New York lost 332 men of the approximately 525 engaged. At least 119 of the casualties were killed outright or died of their wounds. The addition of two missing who were never accounted for would bring the death total to 121. It was the greatest battle fatality sustained by any Federal infantry unit in the war.
The survivors would never recover the esprit de corps that had died with their comrades at Second Bull Run. New recruits would arrive to fill the vacant ranks, but, as Sergeant Mitchell put it, ‘The regiment will never again be the regiment it has been.’
‘We are getting well worn out,’ Gouverneur Warren confided to his brother, ‘and I expect the next battle will finish us all.’ Private Davenport echoed the colonel’s sentiments. ‘I hardly expect to survive another such engagement,’ he wrote. ‘Oh! this is a dreadful war.’
This article was written by Brian C. Pohanka and originally appeared in the September 2002 issue of America’s Civil War magazine. Used with permission from historynet.com.
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