1861 July 31 Camp at Monterey

Dear Father
All the accounts I have read
in the papers, of our defeat at Rich Mountain and
retreat from that place and from Laurel Hill, are
so utterly untrue. I have determined to informd[sic]
you of what facts I myself saw, and what I have
heard from relyable persons.

From the time of my arrival at Rich Mountain
when Col. Pegram took command of that post,
untill the battle, we were continually expecting an
attack from the enemy on our fortifications, but
untill the day before the battle we heard nothing of
an attempt being intended on our rear, and I
think untill that time, neither Col. Pegram nor
Gen Garnett were aware of there being any way
around our positions, practicable for infantry.
On that day col. Pegram sent to Col. Scot, who had
just reached Beverly to come to his assistance, and
dispatched a messenger to Gen Garnett for an order

[page 2]
to Col Scot – to the same effect. On the next day, the
12th of July, about dinner time, we were summoned to the
trenches and four companies of our regiment, marched
with Col. Pegram to attack the enemy, posted them on
the top of the mountain in our rear, under the command
of Gen. Rosencrantz, I have since heard he had four
regiments with him. Not long after the Col. had left
us, three pieces of artilery followed him, from that
time for about three hours we heard continued firing
and Capt. Coleman’s company was called to Col. Pegrams
assistance, Soon after the horses of one piece took fright
and ran off, with the gun. We were then called to march
up the mountain, the firing having in some means
seased, After having marched about a mile through the
woods, Our three companies under Major Tyler, met
two other companies of our regiment, seemingly in the
greatest confusion and without any one in command
of them. I saw nothing of Major Tyler, and supposing that
the enemy were just in front, I called out to
those companies to advance, but they not moving
and seeming to be much frightened, I told them
to clear the way and allow us to pass on, this they did,
admidst much confusion, we marched on, they following
some distance farther, A Capt Anderson of artilery here
attempted to form the battallion in lines, all the time

[page 3]
talking about courage libert[y?] and death in the most
confused manner untill at last Tom called out to
him to cease making stump speeches and give us some
orders, During all this time I saw or heard nothing of
Major Tyler, except once, when I asked him to show me
where to place my company, and I would march to
that point at once. to my disgust he was so confused
he could not give an order, I then marched my
company toward what seemed to be the line, and
formed and dressed it on the line, they were in
perfect order and obeyed promptly, the other companies
then came on the same line, and immediately after
Col. Pegram came up, He command[ed] the officers of the
companies to the front, and told us to make an
effort to hold our position, We called on him to remain
with us, at first he refused saying he must stay with
the other companies who were about to engage the enemy
again, but after a moment he said he would stay with
us, and asked the officers if they would go with
him to attack the enemy on the top of the mountain
with the bayonet, The officers were very willing, he
then asked the men if the would follow him and
theri officers, they answered him with shouts, and
immediately we commence our march to the top
of the mountain. It was a serious time that march,

[page 4]
We knew the enemy outnumbered us, five to one or
more, and as we were on the way, Tom said to me,
This is a desperate business, we need not expect to come
out of it alive, but he was very resolute, I answered him
that there was nothing impossible to resolute men, he
turned away to his post in the rear of the company, in
silence, and we marched on. The men were becoming more
and more frightened and disordered, and once, at some
noise a company behind me broke and fled back, An
orderly sergeant attempting to stop them was shot by one
of the men and mortally wounded, They were at
last brought back and we reached the top of the
mountain, where we could see the enemy not more than
half a mile off, encamped on the road, with their
horses picketed in great numbers, A little further on
we halted to assemble, for the attack, But Col. Pegram
found the men so frightened, he determined to give
it up, He then ordered Major Tyler to save the comm-
and by retreat, just before he gave the order I was sitting
by him on the grass, and I asked him if it would not
disgrace us to leave the rest of the regiment, but he said
the men would not fight, and that he would return
to try to retreat with the rest of the command.
We then commenced our retreat with major Tyler. It
soon became dark and began to rain, a company
just ahead of the Brunswic[k] Blues, who were ahead of me
for I had taken the rear with my company, no other captain
having command enough of his company to keep them
back, broke and thus my company and the B. Blues
were seperated and lost in the mountains. It was literally
so dark that you could not see your hand a foot from your face.
After marching some distance, I ordered a halt, and we
sat down on the wet ground, without blankets, and there
remained all night. It cleared off next morning and we
continued our march in retreat. In my next letter I will
give you some account of our retreat, and what I have heard
of Gen .Garnetts retreat also. Your Affectionate Son Wm B. Bruce.

William B. Bruce was Captain of Co. K, 20th Virginia Infantry. He refers to Generals William S. Rosecrans [not Rosencrantz], Robert S. Garnett, and Colonel William C. Scott, and Lt. Colonels John Pegram and Nathaniel Tyler. After this disasterous battle of Rich Mountain in which two of the companies were captured, the remaining five in the 20th were disbanded. In September two of the companies, including Bruces, were assigned to the 59th Virginia. Garnett, 1819-1861, was killed two days after the battle in a rear guard action covering the retreat.


MSS 2692

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