First Bull Run The 1st Minnesota at Bull Run

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Andy Cardinal

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Inspired by a post in an earlier thread by @Coonewah Creek I decided to take a look at the 1st Minnesota's role at Bull Run. The 1st Minnesota would go on to become one of the best regiment's on either side during the war.

I will be adding to this thread based on the account of James Wright, found in No More Gallant A Deed.

James A. Wright was born in Sangamon County, Illinois, on November 27, 1840. In 1855 the family moved to Goodhue County, Minbesota. David Wright (James's father) died before the family completed their move, and tragedy struck once again later in the year when lightning struck the home they were staying in while their new house was being built. James's oldest sister and a younger brother were killed in the blaze. James was a student at Hamline University when the war began. At a public meeting on April 17, James and many of his fellow students enlisted in what would become Company F, 1st Minnesota.

Part 1 -- March to Battle:

"We marched for some distance in the rear of some other troops over a good road, the Warrenton Turnpike. Soon after crossing a small stream, Cub Run, we turned to the right on a woods road. We --the regiment -- were now at the head of the column and were followed by Ricketts's battery. Behind the battery were the 11th Massachusetts and 5th Massachusetts, completing the brigade. The 4th Pennsylvania, being a three-months' regiment and it's time being out that day, had remained at Centreville or returned to Washington....

Soon after getting on this by-road, arrangements were made to deploy companies -- A and F -- if desirable, but it was not found necessary. Our march was now much more rapid than it had been. The day was very hot and, in the woods, on the narrow roads, very close. From these conditions and our rapid marching, we were sweating profusely, and the march was taxing to the men severely. About this time, we began to hear the report of a cannon occasionally, which continued for some time and increased in frequency. This firing seemed to be on our left and rear, and we appeared to be marching away from it.
The firing Wright heard was the opening of the engagement between Tyler's division and Shanks Evans' brigade near the Stone Bridge. Tyler engaged the enemy sometime after 6:00 a.m.

McDowell's plan called for a wide flanking movement to strike the Confederate left. David Hunter's division led the movement. Burnside's brigade led the march, followed by Andrew Porter's brigade, and then Franklin's brigade. The 1st Minnesota was the lead regiment of Franklin's brigade.

When still some distance from the ford, near Dudley Springs Church, the artillery fire was heard again and increased to quite a rapid discharge. Musketry fire was also heard. About this time our regiment was hurried forward at the double-quick, and, when we reached the crossing, we were badly winded. As soon as we reached the ford, there was a rush to get water -- wading in to fill our canteens and pouring it onto our heads. Meanwhile there was a pretty lively artillery fire going on and intermittent musketry fire.

Burnside's brigade reached Sudley's Ford at approximately 9:30. They crossed the ford and continued to advance as Evans shifted his position to counter the threat to his flank. The 2nd Rhode Island and Reynolds battery made contact with two of Evans's regiments on Mathews Hill. This was likely the firing Wright was referring to.

There was but a short halt at the ford, and we reformed and waded the stream, following the road up a little rise, and then leaving it by turning to the left into a small, open wood. The other regiments of the brigade remained -- for a time -- on the other side of the stream, but the battery followed us over. During this time there was rapid firing going on, and we laid down for a few minutes in this wood.

(To be continued....)
 
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Jantzen64

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My re-enactment unit got the chance to portray the First MN at the 2011(?) Bull Run in VA; it turns out that most of the unit was wearing heavy red or dark blue wool hunting shirts, which was all that was available at Fort Snelling, where the First mustered in. Much hotter than a standard four button. We wore those in the Virginia August heat/humidity and a number of us went down due to heat stroke. Don’t know how those men dealt with the heat while they were fighting.
 

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My re-enactment unit got the chance to portray the First MN at the 2011(?) Bull Run in VA; it turns out that most of the unit was wearing heavy red or dark blue wool hunting shirts, which was all that was available at Fort Snelling, where the First mustered in. Much hotter than a standard four button. We wore those in the Virginia August heat/humidity and a number of us went down due to heat stroke. Don’t know how those men dealt with the heat while they were fighting.
Especially being from a colder environment like Minnesota. Although they were used to wearing layers and much heavier clothing in all weather than we are today. Still, I'm sure there were quite a few men going down with heatstroke that day. Did they know about heatstroke then, or was it just considered being weak?
 
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Part 2 -- Preparing for Battle

Wright's account continues:

Here we could smell the smoke and hear the firing out in the field in front. Near us in this wood was the Second Rhode Island, which had been in the fight and for some reason retired into this wood. They had their wounded with them. While here, Frank Bachelor told some of us that he had always had a great curiosity to know how one would feel in battle, but that had all passed now. He expressed himself as "satusfied, now, that his curiosity had carried him too far." I do not recall any other attempt at 'jesting in the face of death' on that occasion, although it was not uncommon as we became more familiar with war. While here, Lieutenant Minor T. Thomas climbed a tree to take an observation, and when he came down reported the enemy retreating. We stopped in this wood but a few minutes, and while here the battery -- Ricketts's -- had passed to the right of the wood and began firing. When we left this wood, we -- Company F at least -- left our blankets in a pile in the woods, but I do not know by whose order. They were hot and in the way.

Col-Minor-Thomas-8th-Minn.jpg
Minor T. Thomas, later colonel of the 8th Minnesota (photograph found at http://www.bonps.org/features/minnesota-regiments-at-nashville/)

The 1st Minnesota reached the woods around 11:00 and advanced to a position on the left of the Union line on Mathews Hill at around 11:30. By noon, the regiment had moved to the right, to a position near the Sudley Road. This sequence of events is somewhat compressed in Wright's account.

Coming out of this wood, the regiment was formed in 'column of division' and marched almost directly to the front. The first division was formed of Companies A and F, and, being small, I was the corporal on the left of the first division. As we advanced to the front -- far enough to see over the brow of the hill -- I got a glimpse of what was in front of us. There was a valley, half a mile or more in width, through which ran a road and a crooked stream. There were some houses, fields, orchards or groves, clumps of bushes along the stream, and wooded hills beyond the valley. There were some troops down in the valley along the road, and I think some were across the stream.... There were some guns of the enemy on the hill across the valley -- in the edge of the wood -- which were throwing shell our way, but I think they were intended for the battery to our right, which was firing in that direction....

Wright was describing the Confederate position on Henry House Hill. It was shortly after noon. The Confederates had established a line of cannon near the Henry House and Thomas Jackson's brigade was reinforcing the Confederate position there. The regiment soon received order to advance across the Warrenton Turnpike. Griffin's and Rickett's batteries were sent forward at about 1:30. General Samuel P. Heintzelman sent four regiment's from three different brigades -- 1st Minnesota (Franklin), 14th Brooklyn and the Marine Battalion (Andrew Porter's brigade), and 11th New York (Willcox's brigade) to support the artillery.

We remained here but a very short time, and when we mmoved, marched by the right flank -- in fours -- obliquely to the right -- across the fields down the hill to a road, which we followed across the stream (Young's Branch) for a little distance, then turned to the left into a pasture or field, marching toward the hill on which the rebel battery was situated. Coming up a little rise, we crossed the road and were ordered to form line of battle 'on the right by file into line.' While coming across the fields and down the hill, we were subject to the fire of their artillery. But when we reached the low ground we were sheltered from it, and -- at the point where we were forming -- were not exposed, except to the shells bursting in the air above us.
 

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Part 3 -- Entering the Battle & Capture of Lt. Col. Boone

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Wright went into more detail about the regiment's introduction to Battle:

"A good many things happened in the 'thin space of time' we were getting into line, and I don't think I can give them consecutively.

"Just as we were beginning the movement, I heard a shouting, the thunder of hooves, and 'chucking' of wheels behind us. Looking backwards, I saw the artillery coming towards us -- apparently over nearly the same route we had come. The horses had their noses and tails extended, and the drivers were lying low over their necks, yelling and plying their whips. It was a splendid, thrilling sight. It was Ricketts's and Griffin's batteries racing into position -- and to destruction.... Crossing the stream, they broke through the regiment before it was formed and separated the first division
[the two companies in front of the "Column by Division"] from the rest of the regiment. I only had time for a glance as we hurried into line, when other things absorbed my attention....

"Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount -- at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side -- as if to shield himself -- but came around his head and gave himself up.... He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of tbe Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in."


(To be continued)
 
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Coonewah Creek

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"Just as I came into line, a mounted officer came from somewhere to the right and halted in front of Company A and inquired if it belonged to an Alabama regiment. Being questioned as to where he belonged, he mentioned the Second Mississippi Regiment, and was invited to dismount -- at once. He slid off his horse on the opposite side -- as if to shield himself -- but came around his head and gave himself up.... He proved to be Lieutenant Colonel Boone of tbe Second Mississippi and was the highest rank of any prisoner taken and delivered in Washington, and, so far as I know, the only commissioned officer brought in."
At least some companies of the 2nd Mississippi were also known to be wearing red "battle shirts" similar to the 1st Minnesota's uniform dress at First Manassas. Lt. Col. Boone reportedly rode over to a group of men he thought were "friendlies" to tell them they were firing on their friends. The "friendlies" turned out to be men of the 1st Minnesota and this incident resulted in Boone being taken prisoner.
 

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At least some companies of the 2nd Mississippi were also known to be wearing red "battle shirts" similar to the 1st Minnesota's uniform dress at First Manassas. Lt. Col. Boone reportedly rode over to a group of men he thought were "friendlies" to tell them they were firing on their friends. The "friendlies" turned out to be men of the 1st Minnesota and this incident resulted in Boone being taken prisoner.
What became of Boone after he was captured? I can't find much about him, although it seems it lived a long life if I read findagrave correctly.
 

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What became of Boone after he was captured? I can't find much about him, although it seems it lived a long life if I read findagrave correctly.
@Andy Cardinal My understanding is that he was released shortly after his capture at First Manassas, but he resigned his commission in the 2nd Mississippi on Jan. 31, 1862.
 
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Part 4 -- A Near Miss

"The most of the regiment -- except the two companies, A and F -- now followed in support of the batteries. At the same time (possibly a minute earlier or later) there was a commotion in front of the two companies -- in the edge of the woods and scarce a stone's throw distant. Orders were given by Gen. Heintzelman, who had just ridden up, to 'feel in the woods,' and -- at almost the same instant -- shots began to come from the brush, and now and then a head was seen. As quickly as possible, we turned our old smooth-bores toward the woods and fired. Then 'things broke loose,' and we were immediately enveloped in a dense smoke that for a little time did not permit us to see anything clearly, but bullets were hissing above our heads, and we could see red flashes through the smoke in front of us -- at which we directed our fire. Our fire seemed to be most effective, and, after a few volleys, the enemy retired into the woods, our firing ceased; and by someone's orders we were advanced into the woods.

It was not long after the firing began that I had a very narrow escape from serious wounds or possible death. I will first explain that our waist belts were made of ordinary harness leather and were a little less than two inches in width. They had a single hole in one end and a number of holes in the other, and were fastened with a brass plate with hooks in the underside -- and could be adjusted to the size of the person.

A bullet -- coming almost directly from the front -- struck my belt plate with such force as to knock the breath out of me and tumble me over. At first I am not sure that I thought of anything, but, when I did think, imagined that I was 'done for' and thought of everything -- all mixed up. Then I heard someone -- I think it was Oscar Williams -- call my name. About that time, returning breath made me feel better and take a more hopeful view of the case, and I rolled overcto get on to my feet. When I found that I was not killed, I was so glad that I felt first rate for a time and thought no more about it until the fighting was over.

The force of the blow was sufficient to bend and dent the plate, and left a discolored spot on the flesh as large as the palm of the hand. I always considered this one of my narrowest escapes. It was a heavy bullet, and had lost some of its initial force, but if it had struck anywhere but on that plate (with the leather underneath it), it would have mangled and bruised and might have gone half through me. An imch or so -- to the right or left -- up or down -- would have missed the plate, and then I would have 'got it' in the 'bread basket,' and it might have proved entirely too much for my digestive system."
 

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Part 5 -- The Fight for the Batteries

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Following his close call, Wright recalled:

"Lively skirmishing followed, and we were for a time separated from the other companies of the regiment. Our advance was opposed by the enemy, firing from behind trees and other protection, but we advanced in the same manner, drove them back into the woods, and captured a few prisoners -- Alabamians."

I am not sure who Wright is referring to here as the only Alabamians in the vicinity were from the 4th Alabama of Bee's brigade, which was on the right of the Confederate line on Henry House Hill at this time.

"Meanwhile, though we making a pretty lively racket ourselves, we heard very lively firing to our left where the batteries and the rest of the regiment had gone." They left the woods, near the point they had gone in, and moved toward the high ground on their left. "There was cannonading going on, but only a weak and irregular fire of small arms.

"When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted with a sharp fire that came from the woods to the right oblique -- as we could tell by the smoke, but we could see nothing but an occasional head. We answered this fire and laid down there among the little pines on the crest of the hill -- loading while lying down and rising to fire."
Here, Wright had another close call as a bullet went through his pants leg as he lay on the ground loading his weapon. "A body of the enemy came along the fence as if to get to our right, and we retired to the shelter of the hill." These may have been part of Bee's brigade.

"We then joined in some other troops in am attempt to recover the guns of the batteries. It was successful only so far as it drove the enemy from the immediate vicinity of the guns, and, after suffering severe loss, we retired again to the cut of the roadway.

"The wreck of the batteries was at the crest of the hill to our left, surrounded by dead men and horses. It was a position that ought not to have been taken by a battery, exposed as it was to a close fire of artillery and infantry, and, I presume, it would not have been taken had the condition of things been understood."
 
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My re-enactment unit got the chance to portray the First MN at the 2011(?) Bull Run in VA; it turns out that most of the unit was wearing heavy red or dark blue wool hunting shirts, which was all that was available at Fort Snelling, where the First mustered in. Much hotter than a standard four button. We wore those in the Virginia August heat/humidity and a number of us went down due to heat stroke. Don’t know how those men dealt with the heat while they were fighting.
Although they're not dressed like that in this particular photo I took on the set of the miniseries North and South, Part II, the reenactment 1st Minnesota from Minneapolis-St. Paul wore similar attire, red pull-over shirts and black trousers and slouch hats, during the filming of the Bull Run sequence. Led by their captain Stephen Osmond at right, they had chartered a bus to travel to Natchez, Mississippi where it was filmed in October, 1985. I'm pretty sure they did the same for the 125th Manassas/Bull Run in 1986 where they got to portray their parent unit again.
 

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Although they're not dressed like that in this particular photo I took on the set of the miniseries North and South, Part II, the reenactment 1st Minnesota from Minneapolis-St. Paul wore similar attire, red pull-over shirts and black trousers and slouch hats, during the filming of the Bull Run sequence. Led by their captain Stephen Osmond at right, they had chartered a bus to travel to Natchez, Mississippi where it was filmed in October, 1985. I'm pretty sure they did the same for the 125th Manassas/Bull Run in 1986 where they got to portray their parent unit again.
Here's a group representing the 2nd Mississippi at the large 150th Anniversary. Note the red "battle shirts" and tricorn hats....

 

Jantzen64

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View attachment 323012

Although they're not dressed like that in this particular photo I took on the set of the miniseries North and South, Part II, the reenactment 1st Minnesota from Minneapolis-St. Paul wore similar attire, red pull-over shirts and black trousers and slouch hats, during the filming of the Bull Run sequence. Led by their captain Stephen Osmond at right, they had chartered a bus to travel to Natchez, Mississippi where it was filmed in October, 1985. I'm pretty sure they did the same for the 125th Manassas/Bull Run in 1986 where they got to portray their parent unit again.
Thanks so much for this picture - what a great piece of (more recent) history!!! This was before I joined, but I’ve spent a lot of time under Steve’s watchful command! Thanks, again!
 
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Part 6 -- Wright's narrative continued:

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Picture from The Lincoln Guards

"After our retirement to the road, there was a considerable time when matters were comparatively quiet. Then we were advanced to meet a force of the enemy coming out of the woods to our right front, and there was more sharp fighting. We retired to the shelter of the road and soon drove them off -- after which there was another period of quiet.

"In all these movements there was more or less confusion and disorder. We had not yet reached a stage of discipline when anything else could be reasonably expected. Especially of men under fire for the first time and subjected to severe losses. We were human and, therefore, we were all more or less excited, confused, and uncertain as to what had been accomplished and what more we were expected to attempt. A good many had left to care for the wounded, and others had gone to the stream to get water, for we were all suffering greatly from the heat, thirst, and exhaustion....

"We were really in a pitiable condition that under more favorable circumstances would have called for immediate relief. There did not seem to be a breath of air stirring; the early afternoon sun was shining directly into the roadway; we were sweating profusely and suffering from the heat -- clothing torn and disordered -- and our faces smeared with powder and dirt. We cared nothing for looks just then, but the feel of the situation was very unsatisfactory as we waited to see what was next on the program.
 

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Conclusion:

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"We remained for some time in this position, when we were disturbed by some cannon shots that came from the right and a little to our rear. At first we supposed that it was some of our batteries that did not realize that we were so far to the front -- but a little observation showed a line of battle advancing on our right flank. There was great anxiety to know if they were friends or enemies. At about this time there was a dash of cavalry coming out of a crossroad to our right, but it was repulsed before it reached us. The conviction began to assert itself that those fellows coming in on our right were enemies and, if so, entirely too strong for us to contend with....

"In leaving the position in the road, we observed that everybody seemed to be goung, and, in crossing a little rise of ground, we were fired upon by some of the advance skirmishers of this new force.... After passing this rise, we were sheltered from this musketry fire, but the battery off to the right was throwing shells almost directly down the little valley.

"After crossing the stream, which was neither deep nor wide, we started to go up the hill [i.e., Buck Hill] to the point where we had come in, and were again exposed to the batteries which had fired upon us going down. There was much haste and confusion going up the hill. It was 'go as you please' until we reached the top, where we were out of the range....

"After we reached the top of the hill, I think there was but very little firing."

The regiment was eventually ordered to recross Bull Run and fall back to Centreville.

"I do not know the time, but judge it to be between four and five o'clock in the afternoon. It was not far from 12 o'clock when we first came under fire. If it was four o'clock when we recrossed Bull Run, then it was probably three or later when we left the cut in the road where we did the last fighting. This is the best estimate that I can make of the time, and, if correct, we were confronting the enemy -- within musket range -- three hours or more. If that was all, then we lived an awful long time in three hours.
 
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