"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
Our retreating Forces. -- Scenes on the Way. -- We march for Arlington. -- Our gratifying Reception.
THE gloomy morning of Monday, July 22, broke upon us. The sky, heavy and dark with clouds, opened its reservoirs of rain, which poured down without cessation, everything around looking dark and dismal. The rain pattered down upon our canvas houses until the very sound became irksome; as a relief, we went out into the storm, and after getting well saturated, visited the quarters of Lieutenant Tobin, and in company with him and Captain Madigan, went down to the camp lately occupied by the Second New Hampshire.
We expected to see no one there, and were surprised when we learned that Captain S___ and some other officers of that regiment had just arrived. We called at his quarters, and there learned of the terrible defeat our arms had experienced. Captain S___ gave us a detailed account of that most fearful rout, and portrayed, in graphic language, the terrible scenes to be witnessed on the road to Centreville and towards Washington -- wagon trains deserted and destroyed; supplies of all kinds recklessly flung away; wounded men stretched about on every hand, under the furious pelting of the pitiless storm, no one to care for them; fugitives, half clad, without muskets or equipments of any kind, their faces expressing the terror that ran riot in their hearts; weapons, whole and broken, lying by the road-side, the only idea animating the flying and frightened men being escape from the victors -- the broken wagons and dead horses pointing the road to the capital. In Washington itself the excitement was fearful -- the inhabitants fleeing to every place of security in their consternation; wearied soldiers sleeping upon the sidewalks, the curbstones for their pillow, and the rain pouring in torrents upon them; the streets filled with broken wagons; stores with doors flung open, no one to protect the goods nor any to steal them; the very heads of the nation aghast at the magnitude of their misfortune, and the whole system of the government for a time impotent and paralyzed. This solemn news fell upon our ears that fatal Monday morning. Turning round, we beheld the fugitives dragging their tired limbs toward the camps; some, who had been shot through the cheek and other parts of the head and body, wretchedly bandaged; men maimed in every conceivable manner, weak, spiritless, and broken down, were there, slowly and painfully wending their weary way. It was a terrible picture of incompetency and disgrace, and we turned away, sick at heart, and felt thankful that the Ninth was still the perfect regiment that came from home, and that its virgin colors were not stained by any sign of defeat.
For a while out hearts were heavy as we gazed on the sad picture spread out before us, and we could scarcely reconcile the thought that these men had yesterday marched past us, strong, valiant, with the flush of hope and pride beaming on their manly cheeks, so worn, wretched-looking, and despairing did they now appear ! But only for a while were our hearts heavy: the sun broke through the black clouds; the rain ceased to fall, and as we reached our camp we saw our regiment in line. That splendid array of men in all the glorious paraphernalia of war, firm, self-reliant, and cheerful, struck us with admiration. We thought no longer of the fugitives; we harbored no more pictures of despair; and as we gazed upon our green flag, side by side with the starry banner, -- the sun-burst and the eagle, -- we felt that victory would crown the nation's arms, and shed her glory upon the Ninth.
The result of the battle of Bull Run did not in the least affect the spirits of our regiment. "Send us against them, and we'll turn the tide; we'd whip them to submission, if only half supported," were the remarks they made; and they performed their duties with the same alacrity and cheerfulness as if the battle of Bull Run had never been fought.
The nation rapidly recovered from the effects of that disastrous battle, and made immediate preparations for strengthening the defences of the capital, which caused the Ninth Regiment again to receive marching orders, which came on the morning of July 23. At an early hour tents were struck, baggage wagons loaded, and the regiment on the road. We marched through Washington late in the afternoon, crossed the Potomac, and moved directly to that part of Arlington known as the "Lee estate," which then belonged to the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces. Night came on as we continued our march; and as we moved along the roads and through the woods, our progress was hailed with loud cheers from regiments encamped on our line of march and immense bonfires had been prepared for our reception, as the fame of the Irish Ninth had preceded us. These fires extended along the whole route to Arlington, some being in dense woods, only visible through one grand opening where the regiments were encamped, and presented a spectacle most sublime. The forms of men reflected in the red light of the fires, the clash and glitter of arms, the loud shouts of welcome, and every conceivable expression of enthusiasm, made the scene alike grand and affecting. The route to Arlington was one grand ovation; and as we left the gallant regiments behind, we could hear, floating upon the night wind, the ghostly echo of, "Three cheers for the Ninth !" Our men were delighted and surprised, proud to know that thus early their merits as Irishmen and gallant soldiers were recognized. As they marched along, their tread became more determined; their columns seemed more compact, and satisfaction gleamed on every countenance.
At a late hour we halted in a wood at the rear of Arlington House (Lee's mansion), where, fires being lighted, we made a hasty supper, and, spreading our blankets, soon in sleep forgot the fatigues of the day.
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