Eye-witness to First Bull Run
This never before published letter was written by George Coles Brown (1842-1912), the son of Richard Brown (1803-1890) and Elizabeth Lankton (1808-1854) of Hartford, Connecticut. George enlisted as a private in Co. A, 3rd Connecticut Infantry—a 3 months regiment that concluded its term of service just after the First Battle of Bull Run. After he was mustered out of the 3rd Connecticut in mid-August 1861, George reenlisted as a wagoner in the 12th Connecticut Infantry. He remained with the 12th until 16 October 1862 when he was discharged for disability. After the war, George married (in 1869) Laura E. Snow (1843-1902) of Becket, Massachusetts. George addressed this letter to his “Mother” who must have been his father’s second wife, Anna Lucina (Andrus) Brown (1821-1875) as his biological mother died in 1854.
The following is an excellent summary of the 3rd Connecticut at First Bull Run:
“Three regiments of Connecticut volunteers had signed up to fight the Southern rebels during the spring of 1861. Their term of enlistment was just 90 days, an indication that many believed the war would not last long at all. Prominent citizens, including several graduates from the Military Academy at West Point, were elected to officer these regiments. The three Connecticut regiments were composed of men hailing from all corners of the state and were formed together into a brigade, along with the Second Maine Regiment, that served under Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, a West Point graduate from Brooklyn, Connecticut.
During the battle, the Connecticut men fought along Bull Run creek near the Stone Bridge, a prominent crossing of the run, but an area of the battlefield not highly contested by the Confederates. The Third Connecticut Regiment and Second Maine took part in a charge up a knoll against a Rebel battery, which was entirely successful in driving it away. As the rest of the Federal Army dissolved in panic, the relatively fresh men from Connecticut stood to the colors and did much to stem the tide of fleeing men in blue.
The day had cost Connecticut just over 50 men in casualties, and the bulk of those were taken prisoner. Only six men from Connecticut were killed in action. Despite this nominal loss, officers from throughout the Army praised the Connecticut men for their poise when the battle turned against them. A remarkable 60% or more reenlisted in 3-year regiments when their 90 days of service were up. It was the first of many feats of bravery Connecticut men would act out over the next four years of bloodshed.” [Source: John Potter, Connecticut History.org]
Washington [D. C.]
July 31, 1861
I received your letter last night and it is the greatest pleasure that I hasten to answer it. You can guess I was glad to hear from home again.
I am feeling a little better today. I have been pretty bad off for the last week. The water I drank up at Bulls Run was what made me sick. That was the hardest day’s work that I ever did—walking 52 miles and fighting 6 hours without eating nothing but 3 pieces of hard bread.
We started at half past one o’clock in the morning and did not stop till 7 o’clock the following morning. It was the hardest road to walk on that I ever saw. The road was covered with these cobble stones and they did cut a fellow’s feet to the word go. There is no more feeling in my feet now as though they were froze. You say the 3rd [Connecticut Infantry] has some praise there. We have none here. The other regiments have the praise for what we done. We saved two pieces of cannon ¹ that the rebels had hold of and all of the baggage wagons. I saw a team of 4 horses—the two leaders [lead horses] were shot dead. I cut them out [of their harness] alone and unloaded the wagon and brought the wagon about a mile to where the road was so blocked up with wagons that I could not get any further so I unhitched the horses and got a poor fellow that his foot shot off on one and rode the other myself. I never had any praise for that. I could tell you of a great many things I saw that the 3rd Regiment has nothing to be ashamed of.
Fred Glazier was taken very sick last night. Tell his brother that he is safe and sound. Please tell Miss Carter that Henry and Horace Carter are safe and sound and that she need not worry about them a bit. I suppose you have heard of the two boys that ran away from there and joined our company. One of them is missing. I think he is killed. He and one of our men by the name of Blue is the only men missing out of our company. It is the greatest wonder that every one was not killed. I had 3 shells burst not 3 feet from me. It took 3 or 4 pieces out of one of my hands. It was nothing that amounted to anything.
I could tell you some things that would make your eyes stick out. There was three of our men that showed the white feather but they can’t say your George did. I never expected that I should be so cool. I felt as cool as though I was shooting crows.
I can’t tell when we start for home but I guess it will be before long. I would like some of your John White pears. Save me a few. I thank you for the kind words you sent in your letter. Please write a few lines as soon as you get this if you have a mind too. The report is that we start Sunday for home.
I had a letter from Charley the day before the battle. He was in Fort Schuyler, N. Y.
From your dear son, — George C. Brown
My love to all.
¹ In his after action report, General Erasmus Keyes’ report praised the 3rd Connecticut Infantry: “At about two o’clock P. M., General Tyler ordered me to take a battery on a height in front [Henry Hill]. The battery was strongly posted and supported by infantry and riflemen, sheltered by a building, a fence, and a hedge. My order to charge was obeyed with the utmost promptness. Colonel Jameson of the Second Maine, and Colonel Chatfield of the Third Connecticut Volunteers, pressed forward their regiments up the base of the slope about one hundred yards, when I ordered them to lie down, at a point offering a small protection, and load. I then ordered them to advance again, which they did, in the face of a movable battery of eight pieces and a large body of infantry, toward the top of the hill. As we moved forward, we came under the fire of other large bodies of the enemy, posted behind breastworks, and on reaching the top of the hill the firing became so hot that an exposure to it of five minutes would have annihilated my whole line. The gallantry with which the Second Regiment of Maine, and the Third Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers, charged up the hill upon the enemy’s artillery and infantry was never, in my judgment, surpassed.”