The Deep Cut – 150 years ago this afternoon
The enemy were well posted on the hills in our front, and, having selected their own position, they compelled our troops to be the attacking party. The order was now given to advance and charge upon the enemy. The brigade passed through the woods and over a rail fence, into an open field, in columns by division, and then deployed and formed line of battle en echelon. This movement they executed in splendid order, in face of the enemy and amidst the roar of artillery and the crashing of musketry which were directed upon them. Col. Campbell, standing in front of the line, now gave the command to double-quick. The men of the Eighty-Third dashed forward with a yell. The enemy’s batteries vomited forth showers of grape and canister into their faces as they approached. But still they faltered not, nor did the lines waver. Whilst they were pressing forward, Col. Campbell was wounded by a minnie ball in the leg and fell. The regiment passed over him and he was taken to the rear. The command then fell upon Major Lamont, who also received a wound shortly after and fell into the hands of the enemy. In spite of the terrible opposition they met with, the Eighty-Third charged forward until the other regiments of the brigade halted and commenced firing.
They then halted and commenced firing also. The understanding was that the division of troops on our right were to clear the railroad cut of rebel infantry, while our division was to advance and charge the batteries on the left of it; but their part of the programme the troops on our right failed to fulfill. The consequence was that, in addition to the artillery fire in their front, our men were now exposed to a galling flank fire from the rebel infantry in the railroad cut. They fought on, however, without any expectation of success, losing fearfully at every discharge of the enemy’s guns.
Theron W. Haight, “Gainesville, Groveton and Bull Run,” War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (Milwaukee: Burdick, Armitage & Allen, 1896), vol. 2: 366-71:
It must have been between two and three o’clock when Porter’s Corps of 8,000 or 9,000 men marched down and formed in a column of a dozen lines or so at our left, we having been massed into a similar column ourselves. The two forces were then ordered on, and our portion of the column found a piece of woods in our front and went right along through it, moving slowly as we heard the whirring and whistling of bullets about our heads. . . . For half a mile or more to the left of us a long line of men in blue was marching forward with the same object. Now the bullets began to fly about our ears, and men to pitch forwards or backwards, out of the line, to the earth. Artillery from unseen locations back of the enemy’s infantry line opened upon us, and the shouts and yells from both sides were indescribably savage.
It seemed like the popular idea of pandemonium made real, and indeed it is scarcely too much to say that we were really transformed for the time, from a lot of good-natured boys to the most blood-thirsty of demoniacs. Without my being in the least degree conscious of any such thing, the bottom of my haversack had been torn away by a fragment of shell, and a bullet had pierced my canteen, relieving me of the weight of all my provision and drink, and my hat had somehow been knocked off my head on my way from the woods to the railroad grade. . . . [M]any, very many, were lying on the ground behind us, dead, or yielding up their young lives with the blood that was oozing from their gaping wounds. Those of us who were on the embankment were too few to even attempt to drive out the troops on the other side of it, and accordingly lay as flat to the slope as we could, crawling occasionally to the top, and discharging our muskets, held horizontally over our heads, in the direction which seemed to afford a chance of hitting somebody on the other side of the grade. In the meantime a second line of troops attempted to come across the field from our side, and the din instantly became so infernal that I desisted from the feeble efforts I had been making against the enemy, in order to see what was happening in our rear.
As I looked back, I saw our line making a grand rush in our direction, many of the men holding their arms before their faces, as though to keep off a storm. Bullets were pouring into them from the infantry beyond us, but worst of all, Longstreet’s batteries, freshly posted on a rise of ground a mile or so to our left, were enfilading the approaching troops with solid shot, shell, and sections a foot long or more, of railroad iron, which tore up the earth frightfully, and was death to any living thing that they might touch on their passage. Our second line gave way before this terrific storm, and ran back to the cover of the woods, leaving us on the embankment to our fate. As for ourselves, we still kept up the desultory fire that I have described, with no serious effect, I presume, after the brief intermission mentioned.
But shortly there came an unlooked-for variation in the proceedings. Huge stones began to fall about us, and now and then one of them would happen to strike one or another of us with very unpleasant effect. By this time all my friends on the rebel work at my side were badly wounded, and I had received a few scratches and bruises for my own part. The enemy kept up the showers of stones, and we were returning the favors to such extent as we were able, and bullets intended for the rebels from our soldiers back in the woods were striking the ground about us, and at least one of them struck a comrade at my elbow, wounding him in the back, and fatally. . .
It was a puzzle to decide upon any course of action, and I took time to cut away Cotter’s shirt, find that his hurt was one that I could not relieve, and replace the garment with my own, and also to place a bandage about Ayer’s arm, before finally deciding to try running over the embankment in the hope of obtaining a cessation of hostilities at that point, in case of my getting over alive. I was fortunate enough to be permitted to jump down from the top into the rebel line before anybody got a successful shot at me, and made bold to ask the further favor of being allowed to bring my wounded friends over the work. This request was not granted, and I probably owe my life to the refusal. The stone-throwing ceased there, however, and I helped bandage up the wounded arms of a few of their soldiers who had been retired into the ditch at the foot of the grade.
Shortly afterwards an officer seized me by the collar, drew me to my feet, and bade me look at the greatest soldier, he said, that ever lived. It was indeed Stonewall Jackson, who was riding down the line, a stalwart figure, in rusty uniform, his slouch hat in his hand, and accompanied, of course, by a retinue of mounted officers. He was greeted with hearty cheers, but his own aspect was rather pre-occupied, as though he were thinking of something out of the range of present vision.