Byrns, William – July 5, 1862

Michigan Civil War Collection Letters

Click here for this soldier’s biography:

Regiment: 1st Michigan Infantry

Battles Mentioned: Gaines’ Mill, Virginia; Malvern Hill, Virginia

Historical Figures: Fitz J. Porter

Harrisons Bar: James River
July 5, 1862
My own dear Florence,
No one unless initiated as we are can comprehend all the various
perplexities which arise, when one attempts to write. When I try to look
over the events of the past 10 days I can hardly realize that we have passed
through such a terrible scene. From this day until Thursday P.M. of this
week there was no time but that we were expecting battle at any moment.
We were in the action on Thursday the 26st (Mechanicsville) and lay on the
field that night. The next A.M. we fell back to our position in rear of
Gaines Mill & fought all day against a force of five times our numbers &
were obliged to retreat in disorder but we were reinforced & the enemy
driven to this original position. Until Monday we were not engaged again
not so with Casey, Couch & Kearney & others. On Monday P.M. we moved
back some 2 miles from our position & lay down with the bullets flying
thick around us. The next day we lay under fire all day & did not get an
appointment to advance until nearly dark. When our Brigade was
ordered forward to work & drove the enemy from the field. We returned
that night to this point & when I sent you a line on Thursday – by a
wounded officer of our Reg. We were drawn up in  line of battle expecting
an attack. I will not try to describe the horror of the past week, but let it
be enough for me to say that accounts do not exaggerate & that such a
terrible struggle was never before witnessed on our continent. In every
case we repulsed the enemy when he attacked our retorting column. The
movement is a grand one & I am sure that will be of great benefit to our
cause. Our greatest loss & what is most to be deplored is the loss of part –
& many there are too of our wounded, who must suffer from the want of
care and attention. Did I give you our losses in the engagement of the 27th
(Gaines’ Mill), we lost 161 in killed wounded & missing. In the battle of
Tuesday (Malvern Hill) it was 3 killed and 61 wounded. Our loss of officers
was light in proportion – one killed one missing and five wounded. None of
our field or staff were injured.
Many of my friends in other regiments were killed. Parsons is safe.
I had the scabbard of my sword struck with a ball. Was myself struck
twice by spent balls. No harm done. Many of our boys had wonderful
escapes their clothes riddled by balls. I pray that we may never see so
bloody a field again.
I just received yours mailed the 24th. I know you will forgive me for
not coming to N.Y. I have not yet received your picture. Perhaps the mail
was lost. I shall hope for some look of it.
The suspense of the friends at home must be great at such time
as this. I tried to telegraph but could not. Charley Parsons has a friend
who is a Correspondent and got off a dispatch to Michigan saying that we
were safe and we have lost our tents. Have not slept under one since the
25th & one day it rained hard all day and night. We are all feeling worn
but in good spirits. My health is not good but I think a rest will bring me
right again. For the last few days I have not stood the hot weather a bit
How pleasant how good it must be to be at home with the loved
ones. Will ever our eyes meet again? It seems very dark sometimes. I try
to be firm. I do what appears best. We feel sure that in the end would all
be right, but at what a cost! The flower of our army has been so severely
handled. Porters Division and now Morrell’s for Porter commands a
Corps bravely defended the reputation they have always held. Although
newspapers will give one sided views and give praises where it’s not
deserved. We feel soon that official reports will tell the truth and give
honor to whom it belongs! A story was started derogatory to our Reg. its
conduct on the 27th but on Tuesday the imputation was thrown off from
the points of our bayonets. I cannot write. Cannot think of else than our
condition and position. I know you will pardon. Weary, Weary, I can
only say. Always darling,
Your affect. Will B.

Sunday A.M. 6th
No news. We are about a mile from the river. We have over 300 men in
killed, wounded, and missing and unfit for duty and our loss is slight in
comparison with others in the Division.