Captain James Wren
Describes the Battle of 2nd Bull Run
August 29, 1862
James Wren, a machinist from Pottsville, kept a diary throughout his war time service. An immigrant from Wales, Wren was an active member of the Pottsville militia before the war, and would rise to the rank of major before resigning from the army in May 1863. His spelling was poor, but his diary is a great resource. His diary was edited by John Michael Priest, and published in 1991 by Berkeley Books.
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August 29th, 1862 On march to Centreville
At 3 o’clock this morning I got awake with the Coald & I got up. The battle was opened at 6 ½ o’clock A.M. Our artillery put on the right of the Line. Had a Compny roale Call this morning. Gen. Pope Just passed our line & he takes things quite Cool. He was smoking a Cigar when he passed. We marched to Centreville & when we arrived on the height, we flanked to the Left & moved on towards the Battle, which is going on. [We] supposed Jackson to be retreating & our troops in his rear. 11 o’clock A.M.—hear we passed the rebels that was taken prisoner. Thear was between 4 & 5 hundred of them. Thear was some of them fought against us in New Bern, North Carolina. Some of my men recognized them & they remarked that they would not fight anymore. Gen. Pope Just passed our Brigaid Line, the men being in the field resting, being very tired & hungry, but no time to attend to eating. At present, our Cavalry in the rear of Jackson’s lines. After our artillery had silenced the rebel guns, the infantry line taking position & now being in Position, the Battle then had to be decided by the infantry. At 25 minutes past 2 o’clock P.M., our Brigade entered the Battle line & before we advanced one hundred yards, we received a volley of Musketry into us, but we kept our line well dressed & we advanced & fired about 20 minutes Direct to the frunt but was not getting any further advanced, the rebels being in the old road Cut & we was ordered to Cease firing & then ordered to fix Baynet & we Charged the Cut & routed the enemy out of the Cut & we held the Cut & we were advancing beyond the Cut when a masked battrey opened and drove us Back into the Cut & while we war advancing beyond the Cut, our Left was unsupported & the enemy got around our left & got in our rear & we then had a fire to Contend against in frunt & rear. I went up on the Bank to see the movements of the enemy & I saw them, quite plain. Crossing the road on our left & in our rear & I told Gen. Nagle & he Could not believe it & the adjetent Bertolette, was at our left & I went up on the Bank the second time & while up, my men Called at the top of thear Voices to, “Come down or you will be Cut to pieces.” I felt the rim of my old hat quaver Like Leaf. The adjtent & myself went & we told Nagle the enemy was in our rear & we received a heavy volley from the rear. Nagle them flanked the Regt. by a right flank on Double Quick & retreated, Leaving orders for Captain Wren to protect the Left of the Cut until the Regiment got out. I saw through the move in a flash—better to Lose a Piece of the Loaf than to Lose a whole one & seeing that the regiment was out, I then flanked my Compny to the right & gave the Command, “Double quick, march!” & we passed through the rebels on Right & Left of us & within speaking distance of each other. On our retreating through theas lines, the rebels yelled out, “Stop, you Yankee sons of Bitches. You are our prisoners.” But we did not stop & after we had all got out, Gen. Phil Kearney was rallying his Brigaid & they all rallied to the 48th Coulers & they & the 48th went in again but was over powered & driven Back. During the rallying to the Colors, Gen. Phil Kearny, having but one arm & meeting some of his Brigaid said, with the Bridle rein between his teath & his sword in his hand, “Come on and go in again, you sons of Bitches & I’ll make Brigidear Genrels of every one of you.” Darkness Came on and the Battle ended for the day. During our retreating, I fell with my Breast striking a stump & I thought I was a prisoner sure when 2 of my men picked me up & helped me out & it made me very sick & we went a little to the side & they thought they would Cook a tin cup of Coffee for me & Just as we sat down, a solid shot buried itself right between us & Said, “Boys, let us get out of this.” We went up to whear thear was a group of Staff officers & I was relating our narrow escape when a solid shot Buried itself right between Gen. Pope & Gen. Reno, who was setting down together & they looked at each other in the face & said, “I guess we had better get away from hear” & they moved to the one side another Seat. All Hostility Ceased for the night, both forces holding thear positions. Pope waiting anxiously for the arrival of Gen. Fitz John Porter, who was to have bin hear today, but at night had not arrived yet. I felt quite proud of my own Compny as they behaved well during the whole Battle & obeyed the Commands & stood true to thear work. So did out Regt. An old artilleryman who had gone the Mexican War said during the time that Brigade was engaged, he never heard such a steady fire keep up for such a long time, of infantry, in his Life. From the time we went in, until we Came out, it was Just 1 ¾ hours. I looked at my watch as we went in and look at it when we Came out. We fought in a thick woods & the powder smoke hung & we war all most as Black as N--------, perticuly around the mouth & eyes, when we Came out. During the Battle, 5 of my men was surrounded by rebels but was relieved by our troops again, and, at another time, 8 of them war taken prisoners & 3 of them was relieved by our troops. Paul Scheck, my old Cook, was in the hands of the Rebels, but was relieved by some of our men. The 3rd sergeant of our Compny, Basler, had 2 plugs of tobacco in his Haversack & a Bullet went right through both of them & Private Bickert had a Ball go through his Cartridge Box. George Marsden, a rather slow soldier to move, saw a rebel up in a tree & he took aim on him & he fell to the ground like a log. The men said that act made up for all George’s lost motion, as a number of them saw the act. During the time we war advanced, one of our men, Nicolas Shiterhour, shot the Coler Bearer of the enemy’s Flag, but got wounded afterwards. He was shot in the thigh. The ball went right through but did not Break and Bones. The Rebel Troops that our Brigade drove out of the road Cut was the Lusiania Tigers, which we fought at New Bern, North Carolina, March 14th. As we advanced to the Cut, they said, “Them is Burnside’s troops. We know them by thear line & thear Charge.” We, at night, lay under arms on the field whear we war Driven back to & having unslung our Knapsacks & had thrown them in a pile before we went into battle. This ground became the Center of the 2 Armies & thearfore, we were deprived of all our Knapsacks & Blankets. We thought it hard to have no tents but hear we had neather tents nor Blankets, the enemy Capturing All.