Daily Archives: August 24, 2012

Panic

Perhaps you noted the date on which the untried men of the Fourteenth Connecticut first set foot in Virginia, August 29, 1862, the same day the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) raged just thirty miles away.

So, what happened to our boys from the Nutmeg State? The men crossed the Potomac on Long Bridge, which stood where the current Amtrak bridge is just north of Reagan International Airport. It was originally designed as a railroad bridge, but it was not strong enough to bear heavy locomotives. It was also narrow, and traffic could only move in one direction at a time. A long mule train had just started to cross from Alexandria when the men of the Fourteenth arrived at the eastern end of the bridge. There was nothing for them to do but wait for each of the wagons to pass.

Wagons of their own loaded with crates of brand new rifles awaited the men when they stepped off Long Bridge, but only A and B Companies were issued their Sharps rifles. Then the regiment marched southeast about a mile and camped for the night on Arlington Heights near what was then Fort Richardson.

A long, loud drum roll awoke the men before dawn on Saturday, August 30. It spoke of imminent danger. News of the fighting at Bull Run filtered down through the ranks. They might be attacked at any time. The crates from the Springfield Armory were hastily pried open and the rest of the men finally received their weapons. Every man was issued forty rounds of ammunition, but no training in loading and firing the rifles was given. There was no time.

The men were ordered to leave their knapsacks, warm woolen blankets, shelter tents and overcoats to ward off the cold and rain with the quartermaster, with the assurance that their possessions would be returned when they had need of them. Then, with only two hardtack crackers and a few swallows of tepid water for a day’s rations, the regiment set out on their first forced march to Fort Ethan Allen, a distance of about ten miles. And when they stumbled into the fort later that afternoon, they were immediately caught up in the swirling tempest caused by the Union disaster at Bull Run.

Their army was in full retreat. What could a few untrained new recruits from Connecticut do?