Bohannon Letter

Letter from George Mason Bohannon (and his wife, Sarah Graves Bohannon) to his daughter, Bettie Bohannon Clare in Kentucky - published in a 1994 newsletter of Historic Prince William

July 30th, 1861

My Dear,

I was very much gratified to receive a letter from you a few days ago and should have answered it before this, but for receiving it just before or about the time of the two hard fought battles upon Bull Run, this side of Alexandria, one on Thursday 13th and the other on Sunday 16th.

I say hard fought battles and you will say it was hard when I tell you what the regiment Tom Asa, Tom and Jim Clare belong to had to undergo. On Wednesday the day before the first battle, they got one meal and they got but one meal a day until the next Tuesday. Wednesday night they slept none, but lay on their arms all night. Thursday night they slept a little, Friday they threw up breast-works all day and that night they lay all night in the ditches three feet below ground.

Saturday and Saturday night they were expecting an attack. Sunday morning they were attacked with only one cannon; and the main Northern Army made their attack fifteen miles above on Bull Run. A dispatch came to them to move their forces up there. They then run or trotted the fifteen miles to join our force. But there was only 34 out of 80 that got to the field, the rest broke down. Tom Asa, Tom and Jim held out to get in the battle.

Now just imagine our feeling when we heard Monday night that all the boys were killed. I started Tuesday morning for the field of battle; but when I got to Culpeper C.H. (Courthouse), I met several who told me none were killed but Albert Clatterbuck, and I was turned back to get something for the boys to eat, that they were suffering for something to eat. Wednesday evening I started again with provisions and when I got to where they were, about one mile from the battleground, I never saw such a broke down set.

... I have heard and read of the horrors of war but it never saw it before. What I tell you I say with my own eyes. Before I got to the field of battle, they had buried all of our dead, but there were a great many Yankees lying on the field and number of horses. It was very offensive to pass over the field. In one field they fought in, there was an old lady 80 years old. She was killed and her house torn all to a riddle. I went in the house and found three wounded Yankees who must die.

Not very far off is a well with three dead in it, and about two miles from the field, there is an old church full of wounded and five of their doctors attending to them. .. I never in all my life saw such suffering.

Some seem to be drawing their last breath. Others were hollowing on account of pain, some with their skulls broke, perfectly crazy and have torn the last rag of clothes off. Our wounded are well provided for and taken care of. I saw a great many Yankee provisions brought in when I was there.

The day I went down, there were seven hundred carried to Richmond and the day after one hundred and fifty and they were bringing them in all the time. Sometimes one man would bring three Yankees. The negroes brought in some. In the Thursday's fight, we had sixteen dead and wounded, but more than half of that number were wounded. That is General Beauregard's estimate. I reckon there never was a set so completely whipped as they were on Sunday.

They were completely panic stricken, for they ran off and left everything they had on the ground. We got over a hundred horses and two hundred wagons and eighty pieces of cannon and a number of other things. I never in my life saw so much plunder of every sort - cannon, horses, wagons, harness, a portable blacksmith shop, spades, shovels, picks, axes, cooking tools, clothes, knapsack, thousands of blankets, doctor books and medicine, broadcloth and silk dresses, white dresses, champagne, wine and thousand other things of the very best quality.

All this I have seen, and last and most remarkable of all is, we got 30,000 handcuffs. I don't know and there seems to be difference of opinion about what they wanted with handcuffs. Some say they intended to handcuff the prisoners , others that they intended to handcuff the Negroes and take them to Cuba and sell them.

We have from three to four thousand prisoners in Richmond and when I was down at Manassas, our men captured a whole regiment at Falls Church. One woman took two men prisoners. There were thousands of Southern men coming every day. They average a thousand a day. The whole country about Manassas is full of soldiers and all the country on Bull Run and about Fairfax Court House is perfectly lined with them.

There are no Lincolnites outside of Alexandria. General Beauregard is advancing toward Washington City. We are looking every day for another big fight. If I don't quit writing about the war, you will think I don't intend to write anything else. Well I have seen so much of it that I have scarcely anything on my mind. There have been from three to four hundred volunteers left the county and the militia has been called out so we have but few men left in the neighborhood. It is a lonesome time here now. Tell Uncle Jim, Mr. Berry wants to know whether he and Mr. Speer is still guarding the Ohio River. He says if they can guard the River we can guard Virginia.

Bill, your Aunt Judy says, she hopes nobody by the name of Clare will side with the North and nobody that is any kin to them. Betty, I am sending your letter as soon as I can. I see in looking over my letter I have neglected to tell you the number engaged in the two armies on Sunday. We never had over ten thousand so says Gen. Beauregard and Jeff Davis, who were both on the field during the fight. There were from thirty five to forty thousand of the Yankees. They say themselves they have thirty five thousand. The battle commenced at six o'clock in the morning and ended at six in the evening.

Our cavalry pursued them to Centreville fifteen miles, taking a great many prisoners,... Besides the cannon, we got twenty five thousand stands of arms. I saw them hauled into Manassas.... . Bet, Kate has written a letter to put in with mine, but I have written more than I expected so she will have to leave hers till another time. Your Aunt Judy and all send their love to you.

I am glad to know that neither you nor Jim Yager will take any part with that abominable set at the north.

You must look over mistakes in this letter for part of it has been written in a hurry. Give my love to my dear old Uncle Jim and Aunt Sally...

Receive the love and best wishes of your father and mother

George Mason Bohannon

Bill I can't close this letter without telling you what a Methodist preacher from Page Co. said when he took Sherman's battery. So soon as he got it he jumped upon it and hallowed, "By the Grace of God we got it." They raised a company and went from Page Co. and had five of his men killed.

Tom Asa, Tom and Jim Clare were in both battles. John Clare was in the Sunday's battle. I hardly expect ever to see them all again. Tom Asa came home last Sunday night and left yesterday morning. Tom was at home two or three weeks again, sick with the measles. With that exception they nor Jim has been at home since April. I have broken open this letter and commenced writing again. But, I have a five dollar note on the State Bank of Indiana, that some of the boys took out of a dead Yankee's pocket on the battle field and gave to me. If it will pass with you, let me know and I will send it to you.

Tell Uncle Jim that Jim Kemper got seven hundred and twenty dollars all of one Yankee's pocket. A good many of the boys get money, pistols and a great many other things from them. The boys gave me a good many things, among the rest several letters, one a love letter from a Yankee gal to her dear William. Poor fellow. She will never see him again.

So this letter ends .... and it rested quietly in the attic of a house in Madison, Virginia until Officer Art Bohannon (a police officer from Tennessee) started looking for his roots. He was given the letter by Rebecca C. Willis of Culpeper and Frankie C. Carpenter of Madison - great grand-daughters of George Mason Bohannon.