Letter, 6 Aug. 1861 (Vienna, Va.), from William| Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Front Page 2009 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
Sidney Mullins to Edgar Welles Charles
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2009
Letter, 6 August 1861, written from Vienna, Virginia, by William Sidney Mullins (1824 - 1878) to Edgar Welles Charles (1801 - 1876) describes in detail the activities of the Eighth Regiment, South Carolina Infantry, during the Battle of First Manassas (also known as the First Battle of Bull Run, fought on 21 July 1861) and relays the opinions of Mullins regarding the outcome and aftermath of the engagement. | Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
Describing the entry of the Eighth Regiment, of which he was adjutant, into the battle, Mullins notes that they "immediately started under a terrible sun to the battlefield at the double quick: it was a terrible thing to run four miles at midday.... As we started... our own drums beat: this informed the enemy exactly of our position & they directed their batteries exactly at us. The balls fell all around us: many within four or five feet of our line.... Several I assure you fell so close to me that the rushing & hiss seemed to be felt against my cheek. Believe me - it aint a pleasant feeling."
Mullins went on to describe an attack launched by his regiment, in conjunction with the Second Regiment, South Carolina Infantry, led by Joseph Brevard Kershaw, against the "N.Y. Fire Zouaves" [Eleventh Regiment, New York Infantry] - "we gave him [the enemy] along our whole line one deadly sheet of fire at... about fifty yards distance before which they broke & ran like the devil.... Kershaw himself who could see the effect of our fire better than we could ourselves says they fell before us [like] trees in a hurricane."
Following his account of the fighting, Mullins delivered a scathing criticism of Confederate leadership beginning with the president - "Jeff Davis came upon the field late that day and there gave us the credit of turning the day. He has changed his opinion since, they tell me.... Davis is not the man for the next President. Beauregard has implored for weeks & weeks most piteously [for] more troops. He has told them that he was crippled for men & during this very time Davis has rejected Regt. after Regt. because they would not volunteer for the war & because he had not appointed the Field Officers. He has been appealed to overlook his objections - to take things as he could & he has let his temper overrule his judgment & risked all our lives." P.G.T. Beauregard, the general commanding Confederate forces, also drew Mullins’ ire for his refusal to pursue retreating Union troops - "The feeling was noble but... was a terrible mistake of judgment. If it had been done, not a man of that army would have escaped. Such an utter panic in an army is unknown in the history of two centuries. Our brigade could have driven every soldier of the Federal Army from our side of the Potomac."
Even though Mullins and his fellow soldiers were elated following the cessation of combat and he declared that "never did whiskey & champagne taste as sweet as the copious draughts of the enemys stores that night. I was sure they had had not time to poison them & I drank freely & joyously," the carnage left on the battlefield tempered his excitement. He described the field as "hideous in every form of ghastly death: hands off - arms off - abdomen all protruding - every form of wound: low groans: sharp cries: shrieks for water & convulsive agonies as the soul took flight." The day following the battle brought more horrific scenes, including Confederate "wounded - lying in their agony - without food or care - nobody to help - nothing to eat & drink." Mullins heard men "imploring the passers by to kill them to relieve their agony" and saw "the parties who were out to bury discussing whether to bury a man before he was dead. He could not live & some proposed to bury him any how. Says a sergeant set down a minute & he will be dead & we wont have to come back!"
Despite all of these horrors Mullins refused to close his letter on a discouraging note. Instead he declared that even though "our leaders may foolishly fling away many of our lives: our cause will triumph," because "soldiers discriminate between the blunders & follies of our leaders & the cause itself, & by that they will stand."
A native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, William Sidney Mullins graduated from the University of North Carolina in the class of 1842. He continued his education at Chapel Hill, earning a Master of Arts degree in 1845, after which he settled in Marion, South Carolina. Constituents of his Pee Dee community elected Mullins to multiple terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1852 to 1866. The recipient of this letter, Edgar Welles Charles, was a planter and merchant of Darlington District, South Carolina, and served as a representative from Darlington to the Secession Convention.