Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for Battle of Bristoe Station: “On the explosion of the shells, the pack and saddle horses took fright, and the serene, calm picture of a moment before was instantly metamorphosed into one of confusion.”–Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

Battle of Bristoe Station: “On the explosion of the shells, the pack and saddle horses took fright, and the serene, calm picture of a moment before was instantly metamorphosed into one of confusion.”–Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

October 14, 2013

Diary of a Young Officer–Josiah Marshall Favill (57th New York Infantry),The American Civil War

October 14th. The command sprang to arms without orders, at break of day, on hearing heavy picket firing on the right and rear, which we supposed entirely safe. We formed on the road, prepared to face either way, but presently moved forward, crossed the mill stream and formed in order of battle on the high open ground on that side of the stream. Here we had abundance of room, and open ground sloping gradually to the rear, for over a thousand yards where the woods interrupted the view. Arms were stacked and the troops dismissed for breakfast. An apple tree afforded the general an eligible spot to rest, and beneath its tangled moss grown branches we stretched ourselves upon the ground, watching the preparations for breakfast.

In the course of a few minutes the place was dotted with innumerable little camp fires, surrounded by picturesque groups of soldiers, and scores of pack and saddle horses turned loose to help themselves to grass. The crimson tinted foliage of an early October morn framed in the open ground, completely enclosing a glorious picture of an army en bivouac. The graceful groups of men bending over the little fires, whose curling smoke ascended almost perpendiculary, the animals grazing in the fields, and the general appearance of contentment and ease made a picture not to be forgotten.

The general was so impressed by the scene that for a time he refused to take his breakfast. He christened the place Coffee Hill, and by this name our fellows will recognize it. As we lay on the grass, peacefully enjoying the situation, suddenly a couple of shells came rushing through the air directly from the front, and burst amongst the men; one of them exploded directly over a little fire, killing the four men outright who composed the group about it. Upon looking towards the front, we saw a couple of field guns blazing away with the utmost vigor. On the explosion of the shells, the pack and saddle horses took fright, and the serene, calm picture of a moment before was instantly metamorphosed into one of confusion. Luckily the position was entirely surrounded by a close picket line, which soon captured the flying horses and turned them back.

Without loss of time the general ordered the Fifty-seventh and Sixty-sixth New York regiments, under Colonel A. B. Chapman, to try and capture the enemy’s guns and on the double quick they crossed the field, but the rebels limbered up on their appearance and galloped off. They were a small cavalry force not exceeding fifty men, and had opened fire, probably out of pure deviltry. After this little disturbance, a detachment of pioneers buried the unfortunate four, and we finished our breakfast in peace and comfort.

Our corps constitutes the rear guard of the army, and the First division the rear guard of the corps, consequently we are subject to the movements of the troops ahead. The rebels are making strenuous efforts to get in between us and the Bull Run stream, and the object of the army of the Potomac is to prevent them from doing so. Shortly after breakfast the enemy attacked the picket line, first in rear, then on our right, finally by a general fusilade from all sides, but it did not amount to anything and we easily drove them off. At 9 A. M. the division fell in and continued the march towards Bull Run, passing Cattlet’s Station; here the troops took to the railroad, the wagons and artillery keeping the ordinary road, which runs nearly parallel to it. Both flanks were covered by cavalry and a sharp lookout kept in every direction. As we neared Bristoe Station, artillery fire suddenly broke out directly in front, indicating that some of them at least, had got across our route. The general promptly ordered the column to close up, and taking the batteries of the division with him, rode to the front to take in the situation. I was directed to remain in rear and take charge of affairs there. In a few minutes aides came galloping over the fields, directed us to hurry forward, and two of our brigades at once moved on the double quick to the support of the Second division, then engaged. As we neared Bristoe Station, the ground in front became open, disclosing the whole situation. Along the railroad embankment lay our second division, in rear of them at a considerable distance, the Third division was in line, with one of its brigades across the tracks, the artillery occupying fine high ground in rear of all. From the left of the Second division for a considerable distance, reaching to the wooded country, the railway is carried over a depression on a high embankment, along which our division marched, and on the side of which it immediately formed in line of battle as soon as it connected with the men of the Second division, thus making a continuous line, reaching on the right to Broad Run, where it rested. Heavy fighting was going on in front of the Third division and the batteries were firing over the men’s heads at the rebel batteries, which were shelling our troops. From the frequent shifting of the rebel batteries we concluded they did not like our practice. Very shortly after this, the enemy deployed a brigade of infantry, which, giving the characteristic rebel yell, charged our line; they were met with a volley that completely disconcerted them and they broke and ran away, leaving a great many of their men on the ground, General Hayes, whose brigade lay nearest them, immediately made a counter charge, capturing four hundred prisoners and five guns, his men drawing the latter to the rear, the rebel gunners having managed to get away with their horses. I sat on horseback on the track, just at the edge of the woods, the extreme left of the division, watching the fighting ahead, while waiting for the pack horses, servants and doctors to pass below the embankment out of sight, when I suddenly noticed a regiment of rebel infantry standing in line of battle at an acute angle to the track, not more than a couple of hundred yards from where I stood. Very much surprised, I took out my glasses and concluded there were about six hundred of them. Evidently they did not see me and so I immediately rode down the embankment out of sight, and galloped over to the general, who was amongst the batteries, and telling him of the situation, asked for a section of guns to blow them up with, to which he consented, ordering Captain McClellan to detail them; we moved to the edge of the woods under cover of the embankment, then through them so as not to be observed, and took a position close to the track exactly in line with the rebel regiment, which still stood in the same position. Both guns were loaded with cannister, carefully sighted and discharged at once. What a collapse! the quiet line of a moment before now flying in every direction. Many of them were killed and a number came into our line and were made prisoners; we were jubilant and the enemy disgusted. Soon after the capture of the guns, the enemy disappeared entirely, but our division remained in line till after dark, then continued the march, crossing Broad Run at 8 P. M. and the historic Bull Run at 3 A. M. in a dreadful rain storm, which lasted throughout the night and following day. The staff were worked excessively and after many hours in arranging the position, met together in the dripping woods, without shelter of any kind, the wagons of course having been sent ahead. After examining the ground ruefully enough, we finally lay down, getting as close together as posisble, for warmth, wrapped only in our rubber clothes. At daylight, when we turned out, the depression in the mud where I slept was full of water, and we were a sorry looking crowd; however our servants made some coffee, begged a little hard tack from the men, and so, refreshing ourselves, were again ready for duty.

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