Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 5 September 1862

Date: September 5, 1862

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from George Washington Whitman, Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman, ed. Jerome M. Loving (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 61-63. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00325

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Eric Conrad, Gillian Price, and April Lambert




Washington D.C.
Sept 5th/621

Dear Mother

We arived here about 4 Oclock this morning after marching 12 or 14 miles during the night and are pretty well tired out I tell you. I sent you a few lines day before yesterday to let you know that I was safe and sound, but as I have heard that no letters have been sent from here since the fight, I dont know if you received them. We left Fredericksburg Sep 12th2 and have marched almost every day and often all night since and as we have had no tents, of course we have had to sleep out in the woods and fields rain or shine  When we left Fredericksburg we marched 30 or 35 miles to Culpepper  from there we went to Cedar Mountains  from there to Kellys Ford on the Rappahannock river to keep Jackson from crossing, from there we went to Warrenton  from there to Warrenton Junction and then to Mannassas Junction where we arived a few hours after Jackson3 had destroyed a large train of cars and buildings at the Depot,  from there we started for the old Bull Run battle feild where we arived on the morning of Friday, August 29th and found the fight going on, our side haveing altogather the best of it. After resting a short time the first Brigade of our Division (which is Reno's Division)4 were ordered into a peice of woods where the enemy were strongly posted and our Brigade which is the 2d was ordered to support a Battery of light Artillery which was posted on a hill,  we threw off our knapsacks and formed line of battle in a ravine in the rear of the Battery  but as the enemy did not see fit to attempt to take the Battery we had nothing to do but lay off as we were protected from the enemys fire by the hills in front of us. In the meantime our first Brigade had been driven out of the woods with heavy loss and had fell back to where we were posted,  just before night we were ordered into the woods but just as we were about going in we saw the enemy make a very desparate charge on a Battery on our left where the 14th of Brooklyn5 and the other regiments were posted and we were ordered to halt and here we stacked arms and stoped for the night  during the night a volley of about 20 shots were fired into us and some of the balls passed mighty close to my head as I lay in the grass  we jumped up and seized our rifles but as the fireing ceased we lay down again and slept till morning when we were ordered bact to the Battery where we stayed untill about 5 Oclock in the afternoon when as the enemy had broken through our left (were McDowell6 troops were posted) and were trying to flank us and cut off our Artillary and baggage train  our Division was ordered to hold them in check untill the trains could get out of the way  We went in on a double quick and with a yell and our Brigade being left in front and our Company being on the left we ran slapp into the rebels before we knew where we were (as it was getting quite dark) was so close to them that  I could hear them talk very plain and some of the rebels sung out to us not to fire as they were our own men and as soon as we came up as close as they wanted us to they poured a volley into us and before we could form in line of battle they gave us one or two more. Our men broke a little at the first volley but we soon rallied them and then began about as sharp a fight as I ever wish to see. As soon as the action commenced I took a rifle from one of our men who had been shot and I took 8 or 10 cartridges from some of the wounded and had a few shots on my own hook which seemed to encourage the men very much  we soon drove the rebels but they rallied and came on again but we were ready for them this time and they gave way again and fell back  we stayed there and waited for them till about 9 Oclock but they had enough and did not make another attempt and as the trains and all passed on towards Centreville our Regt left the field marching company front  we being the last Regt engaged in the terrible fight of Saturday and the last to leave the feild  we fell back as far as Centreville where we lay Sunday and sunday night and on Monday the enemy made another attemt to cut off our baggage train as it was falling back from Centreville to Alexandria  our Brigade with Stephens and Kearnys7 brigades were ordered to move down and engage them and our Regt was ordered into a Cyprus swamp on the extreme right where the trees were so thik we could hardly walk and the rain was falling in torrents completely soaking us.  we only found a few of the enemys skirmishers who we drove out but the Regiments who went in on the left of us  among which was the Mass 21st belonging to our Brigade and who have stood side by side with us in all the fights we ever had was completely cut to peices  our regiment has lost in killed and wounded and missing 92 or men of which our company lost 15


[Unsigned]


Notes:

1. In this letter Whitman describes his experiences in the Second Battle of Manassas (August 29, 1862 to August 30, 1862), also called Second Bull Run, and the Battle of Chantilly (September 1, 1862).  Both engagements were decisive victories for the Confederates. [back]

2. August 12, 1862; see George Washington Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from August 17, 1862[back]

3. See George Washington Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from August 17, 1862[back]

4. Jesse Lee Reno (1823–1862) then commanded the second brigade, in which Whitman's regiment was fighting. [back]

5. See George Washington Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from August 17, 1862[back]

6. Irvin McDowell (1818–1885) commanded the Third Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac. [back]

7. Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818–1862) and Philip Kearny (1815-1862).  Whitman is now speaking of the Battle of Chantilly; the fact that both these generals died here (see George Washington Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from September 21, 1862) attests to the severity of the combat—which Whitman endeavored to deemphasize in the reports to his mother. [back]


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