Item description: This letter, dated 22 July 1861, was written by Charles Hutson to his mother and father following the battle of Manassas. Hutson, recuperating from the wound he received, gives a vivid description of the first major battle of the Civil War.
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22d July, 1861, Monday
University at Charlottesville
Dear Father & Mother
I have been in a great & bloody battle & am wounded. Do not be at all alarmed. It is only a flesh wound in the head; and as the ball grazed the skull & glanced, there can be no danger. It is only through the Lord’s great mercy, that we were not cut to pieces to a man, so fearful were the odds opposed to our division. Friday night the six infantry companies of Hampton’s Legion took the train for Manassas. So slowly did we travel, that it was Sunday morning before we reached that point. Our breakfast was not cooked, when we heard the booming of artillery in the direction of Bull’s Run. Orders presently came, that we should hasten to the field, as soon as we had eaten something. In fifteen minutes more we commenced our march for the field of battle. We were taken around to the left of the place where the engagement began, in order that we might secure against a surprise of the Camp at Manassas. This was evidently the game of the enemy. They played us a ruse: the heavy cannonading near Bull’s Run was intended to deceive Beauregard into meeting them at that point with his whole force. Meanwhile an immense body of their troops advanced on the left with the intention of outflanking our main army, getting into our rear & seizing our fortified camp. They were held in check, however, by a few battalions, including our own & two Georgia regiments & perhaps one or two more. The whole battle was fought not far from the base of mountains, & the ground was very hilly; so that they were unable to perceive the immense disparity between their numbers & ours. Had they know how few were the forces between them & Camp Manassas; they would doubtless have advanced more confidently; & every man of us would have fallen upon the field. As it was, their movements were irresolute; they advanced & retreated alternately, & I suppose later in the day Beauregard must have come up with his main force to the assistance of our shattered columns; & then commenced the rout of the enemy. Terribly disproportioned as was our force, we held them in check for at least three hours. Nor was the disparity in numbers alone; the enemy were armed with the six-shooting revolving rifle, & their fire was incessant. Never have I conceived of such a continuous, rushing hailstorm of shot, shell & musketry as fell around & among us for hours together. We, who escaped, are constantly wondering how we could possibly have come out of the action alive. The words I used just now; “we, who escaped”, have a sad, sad sound to us; for we know not yet who are to be included in that category, & are filled with terrible anxieties as to the fate of dear friends. I must trace now to you my own course through the action, which I can or ought to do clearly enough, since, I was cool & confident from first to last, knowing where my trust was placed, that no real harm could befal me & that there was a duty before me which I must perform at every hazard. All of our men behaved gallantly, though few were free from excitement. After being marched & countermarched for some time almost within reach of the enemy’s missles, we were thrown, by order of Gen. Bee who commanded us that part of the field, to the left of a corps of Flying artillery (I think the “Washington” of New Orleans), under shelter of a fence. Here we were first exposed to the hissing balls of the enemy; but the men took aim deliberately & stood fire beautifully. The artillery having then withdrawn from our side, we marched down the hill, unfortunately in disorder; we were halted halfway down in a hollow place, where we had the protection of a few trees & bushes. Here, seeing that our men hesitated to fire upon the force below, became doubtful whether they were not friends. I entreated the Captain to let me advance alone near enough to the ranks of those who were firing upon us to ascertain whether they were Federals or Confederate. But the Captain would not consent, & wished to go himself; this, however, Col. Hampton would not permit. Seeing, I could do nothing there, I attempted to persuade our men not to dodge, satisfied that we could never keep orderly ranks as long as the men persisted in dodging. But all my efforts in this line were unavailing; the men were fearless, & advanced undauntedly enough; but, I suppose, they thought dodging was a “help”, anyhow, to escape from the balls. Iredell Jones,& the officers kept erect; & neither they nor I were any the worse for it. Our next advance was to a fence in the valley at the bottom of the hill. Here we made a stand, & here our company fought absolutely alone, the other Legionary companies having retreated to a yard at the top of the hill, where houses gave them shelter. Here they reformed. Meanwhile our men were subjected to a raking fire. I was the first who fell. I had put on my spectacles, taken good aim & fired my first shot. As I was in the act of re-loading, a rifle-ball struck me in the head, a little above the forehead; & the violence of the concussion felled me to, the earth immediately. I drew off my sectacles & flung them aside; & not believing my wound a bad one, as it was not painful, I attempted to reload. But the blood was gushing over my face& blinding my eyes; & I found it impossible to do so. I knew pretty well the extent of my wound, as I had probed it with my finger as I fell; & as the gash seemed to be a deep one, I feared faintness would ensue from loss of blood, especially as there was a large puddle of it where I first lay. So, I put aside my gun for a while, & put my white handkerchief inside my hat upon the wound & tied my silk one around the hat. By the time I had finished these precautions, the company were in retreat; & with Jones & a few others I made my way to the clump of trees, whence we had advanced. Here protected by the trees & squatted down, these few detached from the company continued the fire. Jones having given me some water from his canteen, & my eye being by this time wiped pretty dry of the blood, I again attempted to re-load. But before I could do so, a ball from the enemy shattered my rifle to pieces. I how made the best of my way to the shelter of the house on the hill, the shell & shot of the enemy ploughing up the ground at every step I took, & the musketry rattling like hail around me. I lay behind the house quite exhausted, & much pained by the sight of some of my comrades badly wounded. Dr. Taylor examined my would here, & charged me to use all my strength to reach the Hospital While I lay here the body of Lieut. Col. Johnson was brought into the yard & stretched at my side. He had been shot dead a few moments before, while riding fearlessly up & down the field. I remained at this place, until the companies there began to retreat yet farther back; when, seizing my smashed gun I hurried along by the gullies & other protecting places to a field beyond the line of the missles, which before flew so thick & fast around me. At the extremity of this field was a house used as a temporary hospital. This place I reached, & after resting awhile, walked to the wagons in the yard used to convey the wounded to the Camp. The ride in was a long & tedious one, & I very soon became aware that had I ventured to remain longer on the field, I should soon have dropped & been only a burden to retreating friends, or else have run the risk of falling into the enemy’s hands, a risk which I would have resolved, if possible, by forcing them to cut me down. When I reached the Camp, I found many wounded comrades there, who were under treatment. As the Hospital was crowded with groaning men, some undergoing the agonies of amputation, I very gladly accepted the kind attention of a gentleman named Lamotte, who soon proved that he understood well the art of dressing wounds. He trimmed closely the hair around mine, washed out the clotted blood, bathed the wound, ascertained that there was no split in the portion of skull exposed, & bound up my head nicely for me, strengthening me also with a glass of excellent whiskey. I felt much more comportably, when this was done, & the encrusted blood, which stuck like a black mask to my face, was washed. Much of my hair is still clotted with blood. After getting a little supper & having deliberated on what would be our wisest course, most of us wounded who were safe in camp concluded, that, as no tents were pitched & we could not be cared for properly there, it would be best to go down on the evening train to Culpepper C.H. where the hospitals are. The cars were crowded with the wounded. At Culpepper we found that accommodations could not be had for all; & some of us came on to Charlottesville, where we already perceive that we shall not want for gentle tending. I am writing now on a marble table in the hall of the University, where the wounded are lodged. Two of my company, Atkinson & Gardner, are with me, the former wounded like myself in the head, the latter in the wrist & side. Before we left Camp we heard, that the enemy had suffered heavy loss, were in full retreat, & that Beauregard was in hot pursuit. Many regiments lost almost all their staff-officers; two Georgia ones lost all. Col. Hampton was, by one report, dangerously wounded; by another, dead. Our adjutant, Barker, was also said to be dead. The Legionary infantry was certainly much cut to pieces. Our cavalry & artillery were not in the action, not having arrived yet. All the forces, on both sides, must have been engaged; & if the enemy have met with a serious defeat, I imagine it will be the last general engagement. Patterson was taken & Col. Scott killed. Many prisoners were taken. Before we left, fifty eight were brought into the camp at Manassas. The battle lasted all day, & was very bloody. Early as it was when I was forced to retire, I met few, who were not hurt.
I brought off my knapsack with me, & will be quite comfortable. We are very uneasy about our friends yet unheard from. Many, I fear, whom I care greatly for, are now mangled or dead. At the last accounts, Conner was leading our shattered Legion & perhaps other officerless battalions, & pressing on the rear of the
enemy within two miles of Centreville. I trust he yet survives. I long to hear how the Carolina regiments fare. Kershaw’s was in the battle; & you know I have many friends among them.
As soon as my wound permits, I intend returning to Manassas & making every effort to rejoin the army, wherever it may be. I hope to be able to bear arms again, before we enter Washington. You will see, by my writing so long a letter that I am in no danger from my wound. My head feels heavy, & the place throbs, that is all. I hope you are not too much troubled. My love to sisters & all the dear kinsfolk & friends.
Your Ever Loving Son
C. Woodward Hutson
How we ought continually to thank God for the mercies which he does so inceasingly show us! The Dr. here has just dressed my wound, says it is an inch & a half long & would have gone deeper had it not struck the bone, says I am a very hard-headed fellow. He is a kindly, merry gentleman, & I like him much. He asked me if I was not related to Willy Wigg, knowing him well & knowing his middle name.