A Scene of Terrible Carnage: An Artillery Musicians' View of Second Bull Run

     William R. Jenvey of Marietta, Ohio enlisted as a musician with Battery C, of the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery on January 25, 1862. The English-born Jenvey had just turned 17 years of age when he went off to war; accounts vary as to whether he served as a bugler or a drummer; his enlistment record says a bugler, his obituary says a drummer. Regardless, Jenvey provides a unique perspective of his battery's action during the Second Battle of Bull Run which occurred August 29-30, 1862.

    After the war, Jenvey returned to Marietta and attended college, becoming an Episcoplian minister and going west to serve in Nevada then California. In 1883, he moved to the east coast where he served as rector of St. Paul's Church in Hoboken, New Jersey until his retirement in 1913. Through many of through years, he was an active member of Lafayette Post G.A.R. in New York, and left some vivid accounts of his experiences during the war. The account below was one that he provided for the county history of Washington County, Ohio which was published in 1881.

Private Davis J. Sheperd of the 11th New York Battery poses astride his horse and next to one of the battery's cannon. Battery C of the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery, like the 11th New York, was part of the Reserve Artillery of Pope's Army of Virginia. Battery C, also known as the Pierpont Battery named after Governor Francis H. Pierpont, was equipped with six Parrott rifles and had seen extensive service during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in the spring of 1862. Less than a week before Second Bull Run, the battery's commander Captain Frank Buell was killed in action at Freeman Ford leaving First Lieutenant Wallace Hill to lead the battery at Second Bull Run. 

    Bull Run was at length reached on the evening of the 28th of August 1862. Milroy's brigade deploying, encountered their skirmishers, drove them, and pushed back to take a portion of their lines and enabled our whole line to take position that night. All slept on their arms and tried to snatch a few moments sleep to enable them to do well their parts in the coming morrow.

    The next day's sun found us all bustle and activity. Aides-de-camp on jaded horses were dashing and tearing here and there, receiving and delivering orders. Brigade commanders were busy arranging and dis-arranging their lines. Division commanders, older and wiser, were coolly witnessing the preparatory maneuvers and concentrating all their energies for the desired time.

    Suddenly Milroy advanced, sought the foe, and full soon did he find them for with his characteristic recklessness he advanced too far and encountered a full Rebel division. Not a whit intimidated, he deployed his lines and opened a murderous fire, but numbers soon told on him. Rapidly his lines thinned, and he stood in imminent danger of being cut off, but collecting all his energies, he charged, extricated himself, and rejoined our line.

    By this time the battle had become general. Our battery, being in position near the Washington Pike, was keeping clear all before it. Maneuvers and counter-maneuvers took place, yet neither side gained any advantage. After noon, Hooker and Kearney coming up and taking position with us, we gained visible successes; gradually we gained ground though every step was hotly contested. Night closed on the combatants leaving the Union forces in possession of fully a mile of conquered ground. The sun of Austerlitz scarcely dawned with prospects of a more sanguinary conflict than did the sun of the 30th. McDowell had abandoned Thoroughfare Gap while Lee had largely reinforced Jackson and we had been reinforced by several divisions of McClellan's Peninsula army.

"Piercing their column appeared like piercing a rubber ball, the hole was scarcely made before it closed." ~Musician William R. Jenvey, Battery C, 1st West Virginia Light Artillery

    Our battery was scattered over three parts of the field. The right section under Second Lieutenant William W. Withrow was ordered to report to General Nathaniel McLean of Schenk's division. The center section, disabled by the heavy and incessant firing of the previous day, was nevertheless kept close at hand ready for any emergency, while the left section under First Lieutenant Wallace Hill, together with the three brass guns of his command, advanced up the Washington Pike and poking their noses fair into the midst of the Johnnies, soon created havoc and dismay in the Rebel ranks. The first day's fight taxed our energies greatly, but the exertions of the second were two-fold greater. The Rebels outnumbered us greatly and punished us terribly.

    The part of the field on which our right section was in position was a scene of terrible carnage, the Rebels opening with artillery strove in vain to dislodge us, the infantry was then called into requisition. Advancing in perfect order, they attempted to take the place by assault, a terrible discharge of canister met them and forced them back. Several times did they rally and advance, but as often were they repulsed. At last, largely reinforced, they took advantage of a piece of woods to our left and flanked us from that direction. Turning our guns on them, we poured storms of canister into their faces, cutting swaths through their massive ranks. Piercing their column appeared like piercing a rubber ball, the hole was scarcely made before it closed. Notwithstanding the dreadful havoc, on they came and still on until they nearly grasped our guns. Our canister had been all expended. [Private Alexander H.] Bukey, intent on fighting to the last, inserted a shell minus either fuse or cap in his gun and sent it as a solid shot right through their ranks. 

The extraordinary courage displayed by the enlisted men in both armies during the Civil War was simply astonishing. Jenvey recalled that one private of his battery was so intent on firing his cannon that he hurriedly loaded an unfused shell and sent it flying into the massed Confederate ranks. Another, determined to retrieve his sponge bucket, ran back through a hail of bullets to get it. And all for $13 dollars a month!

    McLean's brigade, not unlike the British Home Guards at Waterloo, sprang from their cover, and as we limbered to the rear to fall back, they closed in our rear and opened with such a storm of musketry that moral men could not withstand it. The Rebel charge was thus checked, and we were allowed to draw off in peace. Lieutenant Withrow, on mounting his horse, was badly wounded, eventually causing his discharge. Thomas Driscoll in a hurry forgot his sponge bucket and on going back after it, got several holes through his blouse, but fortunately none hit the brave fellow. Several horses were shot.

    In the meantime, Lieutenant Hill with the left section had been hard-pressed. Being in position in the center of the pike, he presented a fair target to the whole of the Rebel artillery and well did they improve the opportunity for shot and shell and the more deadly shrapnel fell on all sides with one continuous roar and hiss, and added to this the whistling of musket balls and the discharge of our own guns, it created confusion enough to try the bravest of hearts. During the while engagement, General Franz Sigel remained in our midst, his uniform and splendid staff drawing the fire of the Rebel sharpshooters on us quite briskly. After a while, General Hooker established himself with us and also for a while Generals Jesse Reno and Phil Kearney. The generals centering in us caused the tide of war to roll all around us. Assaults would be made in front, then the task would be comparatively easy, but when the flanking charges came, then came danger. Sergeant Wesley Miner, having possessed himself of a musket, had busied himself during the whole engagement picking off sharpshooters. One in particular we saw roll in the dust from his unerring aim.

"Fear had seized all and all sought to save themselves. Our battery, by strange and lucky fortune from their different parts of the field, found each other, and although three guns were disabled, we drew ourselves across the road and drawing sabers and revolvers, refused to let a man pass. Many a man did I see who, having escaped death in the two day's engagement, would be either shot or cut down for refusing to halt. It was hard, but it was necessary." ~ Musician William R. Jenvey, Battery C, 1st West Virginia Light Artillery

    To the right and left of us, the day was going badly. Fitz-John Porter, lying within hearing of our guns and knowing the fearful slaughter, refused to support us. Our overtasked and outnumbered boys were gradually obliged to give way, still we in the center held our own until the Rebels, concentrating their infantry and a portion of their artillery, opened on us most terribly; for awhile it seemed as if nothing could stay there and live. At last a shell, surcharged with destruction, came hurtling along and striking Sergeant [William H.] Goldsmith's gun on the right side, glancing, struck the elevating screw and bursting, it severely wounded Corporal James Wright and John Eaton, the former in seven places and most of them severe, the latter in four places and mortally. For a time all appeared confounded, so close did the shell come to all and so severe was the concussion. The shell passed over Sumner Ellis' shoulder, for a time stunning him. Soon the confusion died away, and they found the extent of their injuries. To stay longer was madness, for certain death awaited them, so limbering up and carefully supporting their wounded comrades, they slowly and coolly made way for the rear.

Jenvey related in his account of Second Bull Run that members of his battery drew swords and revolvers to stem the tide of retreat at the end of the engagement. This well-equipped but unidentified Federal artilleryman poses with just that type of equipment: a Model 1860 .44 caliber Colt Army revolver along with a what appears to be a Model 1840 Light Artillery Officer's sword. The sword could be a photographer's prop as enlisted artillerymen were typically equipped with the bulky straight-bladed Model 1832 Foot Artilleryman's Sword.  Wearing an 11-button shell jacket, floppy forage cap and sky blue trousers, this determined young man looks ready for service.

    All had now become lost: rout, ruin, and panic scattered all. The baggage wagons, having been foolishly brought up to the very front, commenced a base and confused retreat but one road led to rear, and to this road all fled. Artillery, baggage wagons, ambulances, and vehicles of almost every sort were locked in utter and inextricable confusion, unable to move themselves, and preventing egress to those who were retreating in good order. In vain did officers ride to the rear and entreat and curse and shoot and cut, and do all that mortal man could do to stop the rout. No; fear had seized all and all sought to save themselves. 

    Our battery, by strange and lucky fortune from their different parts of the field, found each other, and although three guns were disabled, we drew ourselves across the road and drawing sabers and revolvers, refused to let a man pass. Staff and field officers, perceiving our design, galloped to our aid and assisted in rallying. As soon as a battalion could be formed, an officer would put himself at their head and march them back. Thus our line was restored, and we were enabled to hold the enemy in check. Many a man did I see who, having escaped death in the two day's engagement, would be either shot or cut down for refusing to halt. It was hard, but it was necessary. The cause of the Union demanded that they should be checked, and even though it should cause the loss of the best half of the army, still it had to be done. The field of Bull Run was a terrible one; a full 8,000 had fallen, but the capital was saved and the Rebels designs foiled. They marched into Maryland and an Antietam they were most signally defeated. 


Williams, H.Z. & Bro. History of Washington County, Ohio with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland: W.W. Williams, 1881, pg. 180


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