Solomon Brown, First African American
William H. Dall, Alaskan Explorer
The Wright Brothers,
James Smithson, Founder of the Smithsonian
James Renwick, Jr., Architect of
Eyewitness to the Civil War in the City of Washington
First Battle of Manassas, July 1861
~ Return to Mary Henry Home ~
Tuesday [July] 16th. We went up into the high tower to see the troops pass over into Virginia. 4 regiments crossed the long bridge while we were up there. Every now & then they rent the air with their enthusiastic shouts but it was sad very sad to see them go. I could not feel partiotic. I thought of the sad patient face we saw last night, of the many brothers who were pressing thus eagerly foward to shed the blood of brothers. Saw Fanny this evening she came from Alexandria this morning Elderkin left her at 11 o'clock he is under Gen. Franklin's command. She said the army 50,000 strong was to be stationed eight miles from Alexandria on the road to Fairfax Court house & an attack was to be made upon the latter place at 6 o'clock tomorrow. It was expected that the southeners would retreat to Richmond or rather to Manassas junction. Father went to see Mr. Horten who said he was very very sorry to hear Mr. Bell's charge not remained a unionist. Father also saw the editor of the principal paper in Nashville who said he was very sorry he was not in Nashville when Mr B. made the speach declarative of divisive sentiments. He would have suppressed as it was probably made when Mr. B. was unduely excited.
W[ednesday July] 17th. Dr. and Mrs Hodge were here this morning. Major H. & Sam left yesterday. I suppose they were among the troops we saw pass over the bridge. Prof Forman & Mr Alexander of Balt. were also here the former looks somewhat like Col. Butterfield. Met Judge & Mrs Minich on the avenue this afternoon. The Judge said it was very probable the armys were fighting then. Mr. Wechlege has heard from Mr. Seward at the war department that(1) that Fairfax Court house was to be attacked between 8 & 9 A.M. Father has just come in from the observatory where he went with Dr. Hodge. Coming home he met Mr.(2) who had just returned from Fairfax Courthouse. The cesessionists had been warned early in the morning of the meditated attack upon the village, a milkman having conveyed a letter from someone in W[ashington] & the place was deserted, women & children as well as the male population had fled some depridations had been committed by the soldiery but the officers soon put an end to anything of that kind.
T[hursday July] 18th. The papers to day contain the account we received last night.
Fri[day July] 19th. Another extra of the Star to day, account of an engagement at Bull Run half way between Fairfax Court House & Mannassas Junction. The federal army in its march towards the latter station were stopped by the fire from a concealed battery shortly another also concealed commenced canonading & then a third. The troops braved the storm of balls remarkably well with the exception of a regiment from Mass & one from N.Y. It is very difficult to obtain authentic information in regard to the military maneuvers. Gen. Scott is in constant communication with the army by telegraph but he keeps his own council.
S[aturday July] 20th. It is reported to night that the Battery at Bull Run have been taken but Mr. Willing who has just left us says that is a mistake.
Sunday July 21st. 4 pm This
10 P. M. Mrs. Gurley drew me aside just before we came up stairs to tell me Col Heishman was wounded & the battery in which Mr. Elderkin is was supposed to be cut to pieces. Fanny has fallen asleep tired of watching poor little me she little knows what cause she has for anxiety.
[July] 22. Still at Dr. Gurleys This has been a weary weary day. I am glad night
has come at last so that I can forget its sad realities in sleep. Asleep would I
were so now, would I might awake from what seems like a hideous dream. All last
night ambulances were passing the house & we expected every moment one would stop
at our door. As we were seated at the breakfast table this morning a violent pull
at the door bell made us all start to our feet. Two soldiers entered bloodstained
& dusty. Poor little Fanny threw herself on the floor at my feet covering her ears
fearing to hear the terrible news they might bring. They were messengers of good
tiding for her however Elderkin was safe but a sad sad tale they had to tell. The
All day long bodies of stragling troops have been coming into the city & the streets lined with men seated upon the side walks in the pelting rain. Their officers many of them killed, their companys broken up they did not seem to know where to go. Our Army has been completely routed could the Southerners have attacked the city on Sunday night it might very readily have been taken. My neighbor in the next room was at Bull Run he hurt three of his ribs by a fall from his horse but has been as contented & bright during the evening as if he were in perfect health.(5)
We have heard of the death of several of our friends but I am happy to learn Col Hunter & his young aid are safe. The former is quite severely wounded but is in not danger at present. It is terrible to think of the hearts bleeding tonight, of the thousands weeping for sons husbands & brothers falling unknown & unnoticed except to swell the number the exponent of the Country's loss.
[July] 23rd. This is a beautiful day after yesterday's rain. It is a relief to see sunshine again but it does not bring happiness with it. A member of the N.Y. 71st. Regiment has just been here. He fought well & bravely but says he hopes he may never again see a battle field. He shuddered & put his hand over his eyes when he told us the horror of that terrible Sunday could neither be forgotten or described. He said the cowardice & inefficiency of the volunteer officers was almost to great to be believed. One of their captains was about to leave when his men told him if he should they would shoot him down. The streets are still crowded with soldiers, every few step almost we encounter crowds collected around some of the Bull's Run adventurers listening with mouth & eyes wide open.
[July] 27th. The excitement after the Battle is intense. Gen. McDowell is very much blamed. Gen Scott declares he [is] washing his hands of the affair & hopes now he may be allowed to carry out his plans without molestation. He is said to have declared to the President that he must be commander in chief in reality, as well as in name or he must resign. The members of congress who were so eager for the battle and went to see what they were pleased to call the Southern races are said to have caused the panic by their precipitous flight. Reports are so contradictis it is impossible to know the number of the killed & wounded.
[July] 29th. Yesterday a poor man came to Father to know if he could obtain permission to visit the battle field. He wished to look for the body of his son. He heard of him through a companion by whose side he was shot down & who procured him medical assistance but the bullets were falling thick & fast.---the army left the poor wounded boy & his friend was obliged to flee for his life. The unhappy father was over[come] with grief we could hear his groans from one end of the house to the other.
Father saw a son of Gen Meigs who gave him the best description of the battle he had yet received. He is a West Point
cadet at home for the holidays. He came to his Father on the Saturday before the
battle & told him that he could not remain quiet while so many brave men were
fighting for their country perhaps he might not be of any use but he wished to do
what little good was in his power & requested permission to join the army in
Virginia. He told his Mother of his intention only an hour before he started
saying he thought it was his duty to go & she must not forbid him. He
distinguished himself most nobly displaying he coolness intrepidness & skill of an
Much is said of the ferocity of the Southerners at the battle but the feeling of animosity seems to be equally deep on both sides. One of our friends who had been upon the field told us he saw two wounded men a federal & a secessionist lying side by side attempt to bayonet each other too weak for such an effort they sank back exhausted & dying.
Aug[ust] 17th. The city has been very quiet for the last two weeks. Most of the soldiers are encamped beyond the limits of the city and are not allowed to leave their quarters. Even the officers are arrested if they appear in the streets without a pass. General McClellan believed the successor [of] Mc Dowell seems determined to maintain the strictest discipline in his armies. The utmost secrecy is now preserved by the Government in regard to wars movement, a necessary precaution since the Southerners have been kept constantly informed of every important measure of the Northern army. When our forces reached Fairfax Court House, the[y] found in the quarters deserted by the rebel officers maps of fortification as photographed from those made at the Coast Survey, copies of which had not yet been issued for use of the Federal officers.
1. One illegible word at this point. (Back)