First Bull Run The 2nd Rhode Island At Bull Run: "The Lead In The Fight And The Rear In The Retreat"

Andy Cardinal

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Feb 27, 2017

The 2nd Rhode Island was part of Burnside's brigade and took part in McDowell's flanking movement and the initial fighting on Mathews Hill. It is credited with firing the opening Union infantry volley of the battle. It is an interesting regiment due partly due to who served in the unit.


The 2nd Rhode Island was organized in Providence in June. It left Rhode Island on June 19 and reached Washington on June 22. Organized for three-years service, the regiment waz assigned to Burnside's brigade, David Hunter's division.

Colonel J. S. Slocum
Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton
Major Sullivan Ballou

Company A: Capt. C. G. Dyer
Company B: Capt. J. Wright
Company C: Capt. N. Viall
Company D: Capt. W. H. P. Steere
Company E ("Narragansett Guards"): Capt. I. P. Rodman
Company F: Capt. L. A. Tower
Company G: Capt. N. Goff
Company H ("Kentish Guards"): Capt. C. W. Greene
Company I: Captain S. J. Smith
Company K: Captain C. W. Turner

The 2nd Rhode Island lost 28 killed, 56 wounded, and 30 missing at First Bull Run. Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, Captain Tower, and Captain Smith were killed or mortally wounded. Wheaton took command of the regiment and was later promoted to colonel.


Colonel John Stanton Slocum
Find a Grave

Slocum was a Mexican War veteran and was killed early in the fighting at Bull Run. Burnside wrote in his report: "The death of Colonel Slocum is a loss not only to his own State, which mourns the death of a most gallant and meritorious officer, who would have done credit to the service, while his prominent abilities as a soldier would have raised him high in the public estimation. He had served with me as major of the First Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, and when he was transferred to a more responsible position I was glad that his services had been thus secured for the benefit of his country. His associate, Major Ballou, of the same regiment, was deserving of the highest commendation as a brave soldier and a true man."


Major Sullivan Ballou

Lt. Col. Wheaton's Official Report:

HDQRS. SECOND REGIMENT R. I. VOLUNTEERS, Camp Clark, Washington, D. C., July 23, 1861.

SIR: In conformity with paragraph No. 723, Army Regulations, I have the honor to submit through you to the brigadier-general commanding the following report of the killed, wounded, and missing in the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the late battle with the secession forces near Bull Run, Va. A more detailed report, giving the names of all killed, &c., is now being prepared, and will be submitted at the earliest possible moment.

It is my mournful duty to record as amongst the first killed, as he was first in the fight, our gallant colonel, John S. Slocum, who was three times wounded, and left in a dying condition. Major Sullivan Ballou, while bravely assisting in changing the position of our center, was struck from his horse by a ball from a rifled cannon, and also left unconscious and dying.

The total loss of my command is 114 killed, wounded, and missing. Among the killed are Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, Captain Levi Tower, commanding Company F, Captain Samuel James Smith, commanding Company I. Among the wounded are Lieutenant Stephen T. Arnold, temporarily commanding Company B, and Second Lieutenant Henry c. Cook, Company I. The total number killed, wounded, and missing is 114; total number killed, 28; total number wounded, 56; total number missing, 30. A carefully corrected list of the names in full of all who are among the above will accompany my detailed report of the operations of the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the battle of the 21st instant, as also a list of arms, &c., destroyed or lost in action.

Thanking you for the compliment bestowed us on the field, and for having assigned us the advance on our way to meet the enemy and the lead in the fight and the rear in the retreat, I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Captain, U. S. Army, Lieutenant Colonel Second Rhode Island Vols.

Official Records
Civil War in the East
Last edited:

Andy Cardinal

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Feb 27, 2017
Primary Account: Account of Corporal Samuel J. English (Company D):


Image from Bull Runnings
About eleven o’clock as our pickets were advancing through the woods a volley was poured in upon them from behind a fence thickly covered with brush; the pickets after returning the shots returned to our regiment and we advanced double quick time yelling like so many devils. On our arrival into the open field I saw I should judge three or four thousand rebels retreating for a dense woods, firing as they retreated, while from another part of the woods a perfect hail storm of bullets, round shot and shell was poured upon us, tearing through our ranks and scattering death and confusion everywhere; but with a yell and a roar we charged upon them driving them again into the woods with fearful loss. In the mean time our battery came up to our support and commenced hurling destruction among the rebels. Next orders were given for us to fall back and protect our battery as the enemy were charging upon it from another quarter, and then we saw with dismay that the second R. I. regiment were the only troops in the fight; the others having lagged so far behind that we had to stand the fight alone for 30 minutes; 1100 against 7 or 8 thousand.... While preparing to make our final effort to keep our battery out of their hands, the 1st R. I. regiment then came filing over the fence and poured a volley out to them that drove them under cover again; they were followed by the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd regiments; with 2,000 regulars bringing up the rear who pitched into the “Sechers” most beautifully. Our regiments were then ordered off the field and formed a line for a support to rally on in case the rebels over powered our troops. When the line had formed again I started off for the scene of action to see how the fight was progressing. As I emerged from the woods I saw a bomb shell strike a man in the breast and literally tear him to pieces. I passed the farm house which had been appropriated for a hospital and the groans of the wounded and dying were horrible. I then descended the hill to the woods which had been occupied by the rebels at the place where the Elsworth zouaves made their charge; the bodies of the dead and dying were actually three and four deep, while in the woods where the desperate struggle had taken place between the U.S. Marines and the Louisiana zouaves, the trees were spattered with blood and the ground strewn with dead bodies. The shots flying pretty lively round me I thought best to join my regiment; as I gained the top of the hill I heard the shot and shell of our batteries had given out, not having but 130 shots for each gun during the whole engagement. As we had nothing but infantry to fight against their batteries, the command was given to retreat; our cavalry not being of much use, because the rebels would not come out of the woods. The R.I. regiments, the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd were drawn into a line to cover the retreat, but an officer galloped wildly into the column crying the enemy is upon us, and off they started like a flock of sheep every man for himself and the devil take the hindermost; while the rebels’ shot and shell fell like rain among our exhausted troops. As we gained the cover of the woods the stampede became even more frightful, for the baggage wagons and ambulances became entangled with the artillery and rendered the scene even more dreadful than the battle, while the plunging of the horses broke the lines of our infantry, and prevented any successful formation out of the question.... As we neared the bridge the rebels opened a very destructive fire upon us, mowing down our men like grass, and caused even greater confusion than before. Our artillery and baggage wagons became fouled with each other, completely blocking the bridge, while the bomb shells bursting on the bridge made it “rather unhealthy” to be around. As I crossed on my hands and knees, Capt. Smith who was crossing by my side at the same time was struck by a round shot at the same time and completely cut in two. After I crossed I started up the hill as fast as my legs could carry and passed through Centreville and continued on to Fairfax where we arrived about 10 o’clock halting about 15 minutes, then kept on to Washington where we arrived about 2 o’clock Monday noon more dead than alive, having been on our feet 36 hours without a mouthful to eat, and traveled a distance of 60 miles without twenty minutes halt. The last five miles of that march was perfect misery, none of us having scarcely strength to put one foot before the other, but I tell you the cheers we rec’d going through the streets of Washington seemed to put new life into the men for they rallied and marched to our camps and every man dropped on the ground and in one moment the greater part of them were asleep.

All For the Union