Below is an account from From the Richmond Dispatch, July 29, 1861 detailing the activities of the 8th Georgia at the 1st Battle of Manassas. It is interesting to read these letters written in the immediate aftermath of the battle. Unlike post-war memoirs and veterans articles, these accounts focus more on what the soldier actually witnessed as opposed to fitting themselves into the stories they have heard over the years.
The following graphic description of scenes on the battle-field, and the gallant conduct of the Eight Georgia Regiment, was written for the Dispatch by a gentleman who participated in the fierce conflict of the 21st of July:
Eighth Georgia Regiment.
On Thursday, the 18th inst., about 2 P. M., this Regiment left Winchester for Manassas, under command of Lieut. Colonel Montgomery Gardner. Colonel Bartow had been for some weeks acting Brigadier General of a Brigade, consisting of the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 21th Georgia Regiments, and a battalion of Kentuckians.
The 8th marched 27 miles over the mountains, fording the Shenandoah, to Piedmont on the Manassas Gap Railroad, arriving there about 12 M., Friday. The march was fatiguing in the extreme. After a delay of a few hours they left for Manassas on the cars, and a slow, tedious ride brought them to this point late Saturdaymorning. They marched three and a half miles to camp in the woods, without tents, and without food. Early next morning they were ordered to the fight, where they arrived after a circuitous, wearisome, and at times double-quick tramp of between ten and twelve miles.
Breathless, tried, faint and footsore, the gallant fellows were eager for the affray.
They were first ordered to support Pendleson’s Virginia Battery, which they did amid a furious storm of grape from the enemy’s.–Inactive as they were, compelled to be under this fire, they stood cool and unflurried.
They were finally ordered to charge Sherman’s Battery. To do this it was necessary to cross an intervening hollow, covered by the enemy’s fire, and establish themselves in a thicket flanking the enemy’s battery. They charged in a manner that elicited the praise of Gen. Johnston.
Gaining the thicket, they opened upon the enemy. The history of warfare probably affords no instance of more desperate fighting than took place now. From three-sides a fierce, concentrated, murderous, unceasing volley poured in upon this devoted and heroic “six hundred” Georgians. The enemy appeared upon the hill by the thousand. Between six and ten regiments were visible. It was a hell of bullet-rain in that fatal grove. The ranks were cut down as grain by a scythe. Whole platoons melted away as if by magic. Cool, unflinching and stubborn, each man fought with gallantry, and a stern determination to win or die. Not one faltered. Col. Bartow’s horse was shot under him. Adjutant Branch fell, mortally wounded. Lieut. Col. Gardner dropped with a shattered leg. The officers moved from rank to rank, from man to man, cheering and encouraging the brave fellows. Some of them took the muskets of the dead and began coolly firing at the enemy.
It was an appalling hour. The shot whistled and tore through trees and bones. The ground became literally paved with the fallen. Yet the remnant stood composed and unquailing, carefully loading, steadily aiming, unerringly firing, and then quietly looking to see the effect of their shots. Mere boys fought like veterans — unexcited, save with that stern “white heat,” flameless exhilaration, that battle gives to brave spirits.
After eight or ten rounds the regiment appeared annihilated. The order was reluctantly given to cease firing and retire. The stubborn fellows gave no heed. It was repeated. Still no obedience. The battle spirit was up. Again it was given. Three volleys had been fired after the first command. At length they retired, walking and fighting. Owing to the density of the growth, a part of the regiment were separated from the colors. The other part formed in an open field behind the thicket. The retreat continued over ground alternately wood and field. At every open spot they would reform, pour a volley into the pursuing enemy and again retire.
From the accounts of the enemy who stopped to give water to the wounded and rifle the dead, it seems that the 8th cut to pieces the 6th Massachusetts, half demolished the Rhode Islanders, and made deadly havoc among the Regulars.
But a horrible mistake occurred at this point. Their own friends taking them for the enemy, poured a fatal fire upon their mutilated ranks.
At length they withdrew from the fight.–Their final rally was with some sixty men of the six hundred they took in. Balaklava tells no more heroic tale than this: “Into the valley of death marched the six hundred.”
As they retired, they passed Gen. Beauregard. He drew aside, fronted, raised his hat, and said, “I salute the 8th Georgia with my hat off.”
Of all the companies of the regiment, the Oglethorpe Light Infantry suffered most.–They were on the extreme right nearest the enemy, and thus were more exposed. Composed of the first young gentlemen of Savannah, their terrible loss will throw a gloom over their whole city.
An organization of five or six years standing, they were the favorite corps of Savannah. Colonel Bartow had long been Captain and was idolized by them, while he had a band of sons in them. It is supposed that his deep grief at the mutilation of his boys caused him to expose his life more recklessly than was necessary. He wished to die with them, if he could not take them back home.
They fought with heroic desperation. All young, all unmarried, all gentlemen, there was not one of the killed who was not an ornament to his community and freighted with brilliant promise.
In sending them to Virginia, Savannah sent her best to represent her, and their loss proves how well that stood up, how well that city was represented upon a field where all were brave.
This company was the first one to offer its services to President Davis under the Confederate act authorizing him to receive independent companies, and had the honor of being the first received. They left home in disobedience to the orders of their Governor, and brought away their arms in defiance of his authority, so eager were they to go where our country needed her best soldiers.
They were one of the two companies that took Fort Pulaski. When there was a riot expected in Savannah, early in the year, they were called out to quell it, with another corps.
Their whole history is one of heroism.–First to seek peril, they have proved in their sad fate how nobly they can endure it.
They will inevitably make their mark during the continuance of this holy war. They have enlisted for the whole war, and not one will turn back who can go forward, until it is ended, or they are completely annihilated.
After the gallant 8th had retired with but a fragment, Col. Bartow, by Gen. Beauregard’s order, brought up the 7th Georgia, exclaiming, in reply to Col. Gartrell, of the 7th, who asked him where they should go–“Give me your flag, and I will tell you.”
Leading them to their stand amid a terrific fire, he posted the regiment fronting the enemy, and exclaimed in those eloquent tones so full of high feeling that his friends ever expected from him–“Gen. Beauregard says you must hold this position, and, Georgians, I appeal to you to hold it”
Regardless of life, gallantly riding amid the hottest fire, cheering the men, inspiring them with his fervent courage, he was shot in the heart, and fell from his horse. They picked him up. With both hands clasped over his breast, he raised his head and with a God-like effort, his eye glittering in its last gleam with a blazing light, he said, with a last heroic flash of his lofty spirit, “They have killed me, but, boys, never give up the field,” –emphasizing the “never” in his peculiar and stirring manner, that all who know him will so feelingly recall.
Thus perished as noble a soul as ever breathed. He will long live in remembrance. He met the fate he most wished — the martyred patriot’s grave. He was a pure patriot, an able statesman, a brilliant lawyer, a chivalric soldier, a spotless gentleman. His imperious scorn of littleness was one of his leading characteristics. His lofty patriotism will consign his name to an immortal page in this country’s history.