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One Man's Civil War: A Letter from Bull Run, July 26, 1861

MSA Special Collections Image. SC 1477-6875

MSA SC 3910: print of General "Stonewall" Jackson who derived his nickname from the first battle of Bull Run or Manassas, July 21, 1861 Given by Ardath Cade in memory of Senator John A. Cade

(Murrays of Woodstock Farm, West River Collection of Family Papers)
Letter, William H. Murray, 26 July 1861, Fairfax Court House to My dear Cousin.
MSA SC 2301-2-66.


The battle of Manassas raged with terrible effect from early morning [on July 21, 1861] until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when the Confederate forces were driven back over four miles from the starting point. At 3.30 o'clock, when the condition of the battle-field was looking desperate for the Confederates, Johnston's army from Winchester began to arrive on the field. The first of these was Elzey's Brigade of the 1st Maryland, ... . As these troops drew near the field, ... an eye-witness [writes]::

The 1st Maryland, had the right of the line, at the head of which was riding General Kirby Smith [who was wounded]. ... The command now was resumed by Colonel Elzey, who after waiting some minutes, and the enemy not appearing, moved the brigade obliquely through the woods to the left and front, and as we approached its edge the Federal line of battle appeared in view, which, as they perceived us, poured into our ranks a terrific volley of musketry, that took effect upon several of the men of the brigade. ... Colonel Elzey immediately prepared to attack, and forming the 1st Maryland, 10th Virginia and 3d Tennessee, under cover of a hot fire from the Newton battery of light artillery, ordered a 'charge.' ...
It was a desparate undertaking, but upon that charge rested the fate of the Confederate army. At the command, with one wild, deafening yell, the Confederates emerged from the woods, and amidst a perfect storm of bullets, the gallant fellows rushed across the field. But they never wavered, nor hesitated, and, dashing up the acclivity, drove the enemy pell-mell from their strong position into the thicket in their rear.
Halting the column for a minute to re-form, Elzey pressed on in pursuit, and when we came once more into the open country, we saw before us, and for a mile down to our right, no organized force, but one dense mass of fugitives; with the successful charge of Elzey upon their right flank, the whole of the Federal army had given way, and was rushing madly in the direction of Washington. Nothing that I ever saw afterwards could compare with that panic; and, as we passed on in pursuit, men surrendered themselves by hundreds. It was whilst thus pursuing the enemy that President Davis and Generals Johnston and Beauregard, rode up to Colonel Elzey, amid the joyful shouts of the men, and the former, with countenance beaming with excitement and enthusiasm, seizing him by the hand and giving it a hearty shake, exclaimed: 'General Elzey, you are the Blucher of the day.'

from J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland (Hatboro, Pa: Tradition Press, 1967), vol. III, pp. 449-450. Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher (1742-1819) was noted for his daring cavalry maneuvers during the Napoleonic wars that were often credited with winning the day.

Document and Transcription

Letter Page 1 William H. Murray to cousin

My dear Cousin Being on the Sick list to day, from rhumatism in the left arm. I shall employ my right to the grateful task of thanking you for your timely present, which strange to say only reached us yesterday. You could not have thought of any thing more appropriate than the housewifery, for I was reduced to my last button, and looked more like one of Fat Jack Falstaff's regiment than an old City Guard I trust your good council and

William H. Murray to cousin letter pages 2 and 3

good book, may be half as ser- viceable to my spiritual welfare as the buttons to my wardrobe. Long before you get this you will have heard of the battle of Bull's Run, and our glorious victory, with all its particulars. And I know you will rejoice to know that it was won principly by our Brigade. Our timely arrival, rapid march, and desperate attack turned the right flank of their grand army and put them to flight and I honestly believe some of them are running yet. When we get home we can tell you all about it, for it would take a large volume to note the incidents of that terrible Sunday.

Although nearly all of us had never seen battle before we stood their fire like veterans. At one time without being able to return it, we for ten or fifteen minutes stood a perfect tempest of balls, shell, & grape, which plowed the ground all round us with the loss of but two killed and 8 wounded. Billy's Comp any did not lose a man. We had two dangerously woun- ded & it was hard to march by and leave them in their blood. But when our turn came and our Col gave the word forward! double quick

letter page 4
march! with a shout of ven geance for dear old Balto that we heard for a mile down the line we went at them in a run and swept them from field. They hardly turned round to fire but dropt every thing they had and away with us after them, whilst our artillery mowed them down by hundreds. We cut some of their regiments all to pieces. The celebrated Elsworth Fire Zouaves lost over 700 the 71 79 & 12 N.Y. Regts more than one half, and the few of the Maine men left must have gone into Washington naked for we have every
William H. Murray letter to cousin page 5

thing they could have had, clothes- arms knapsack pro- visions, tents- even their medicines and pocket books daguerreotypes and love letters. Some of their letters are rich of which we have cart loads. I will try and save some for you. You may depend we are proud of our victory and the Balto Boys are on every ones lips- They don't seem here to know how to take us, and as we work cheerfully and never complain, we have nearly all the hard work to do. By the way Beauregard told our Col he was

William H. Murray letter to cousing pages 6 and 7

Blucher of the day and made him a Brigadier Gen on the spot You ought to have heard our cheer as he and Gen Beauregard rode down our line in a gallop waving their hats- and crying boys we have whipt them. But oh Bet - the dead and woun ded. God grant our country may never see such another field. They lay some in heaps- piled up in gullies where their friends had thrown them- some in long rows where the grape and round shot had plowed them down- dead & dying all together. Some lay on their faces biting the sod and clutching the grass.

Some on their backs as calm as though they had fallen to sleep with their hands folded on their breast, and their glass eyes turned up to the quiet sky that seemed to smile down upon them- and some stone dead in the position they had sat down leaning upon their hands, with chins upon their breasts. I saw 6 horses and 8 dead men under one little tree besides the wounded. But I must stop for I have used up my last bit of paper will write again by 1st opportunity Boys all well. Love to all. Tell Aunt Mary to be proud of her boys. Yr aff cousin WH Murray

transcription & document presentation by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, Jr., October 21, 1997

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