Join Date: November 2, 1998
Here's something about the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run to the Yankees). Truth or fiction? You decide.
A Zouave's account of bowie-knife fighting.
A Washington correspondent of the Baltimore Sun writes:
One of the New York Fire Zouaves, who was wounded at the battle of Manassas on Sunday week, a stalwart, hardy fellow, of considerable intelligence, passed through this city yesterday, en route homeward, remaining here several hours waiting for the cars.--He, of course, has the privilege, like all others, of telling his own tale, without apprehending, for the present at least, successful contradiction. From him I obtained a thrilling narrative of a rencontre between his regiment and a regiment of Mississippians.
After the battle had been raging for some hours, according to the account of this Zouavian hero, he saw an immense body of Mississippians, accompanied by some (believed to be) Baltimoreans, rush furiously ever the Confederate ramparts. They at once saw the conspicuous uniform of the Zouaves, and made at them. The Mississippians, after approaching near enough, sent a terrible volley from their rifles into the Zouave ranks. This done, they threw their guns aside and charged onward until each contending enemy met face to face and hand to hand, in terrible combat. The Mississippians, having discarded their rifle after the first fire, fell back upon their bowie-knives. These were of huge dimensions, eighteen to twenty inches long, heavy in proportion and sharp, or two-edged at the point. Attached to the handle was a lasso, some eight or ten feet in length, with one end securely wound round the wrist.
My informant says when these terrific warriors approached to within reach of their lasso, not waiting to come in bayonet range, they threw forward their bowie-knives at the Zouaves after the fashion of experienced harpooners striking at a whale. Frequently they plunged in, and penetrated through a soldier's body, and were jerked out, ready to strike again whilst the first victim sunk into death. On several occasions the terrible bowie-knife was transfixed in a Zouave, and the Zouave's bayonet in a Mississippian, both impaled and falling together. So skillfully was this deadly instrument handled by the Mississippian that he could project it to the full lasso length, kill his victim, withdraw it again with a sudden impulse, and catch the handle unerringly.
If by any mischance the bowie-knife missed its aim, broke the cord fastening it to the arm, or fell to the earth, revolvers were next resorted to and used with similar dexterity.--The hand-to-hand closing in with both pistol and bowie knife, cutting, slashing, carving and shooting almost in the same moment, was awful beyond description. Blood gushed from hundreds of wounds, until, amid death, pitiful groans and appalling sights, it staunched the very earth. My Zouave champion says himself and comrades did hard fighting, stood up manfully to the murderous conflict, but never before knew what undaunted bravery and courage meant. He felt no further ambition to engage in such rencontres. Having been shot through the wrist by a revolver, after escaping the fearful Mississippi weapons, and disabled from further active participation in the struggle, he willingly retired to reap the glory won, convinced that to fight against Mississippians, with bowie knives and pistols, after receiving a volley of their sharp-cracking rifles, is no ordinary fun.
This same informant states, though not with certainty, that several Baltimoreans were with the Mississippians, and amongst those of them left dead on the field was a young man named Wm. H. Murry, a Captain of the Maryland Guard--at least such was the name told him — and another, who he thinks was called Polk, both of Maryland.
That's the story and I'm not going to change it (after all, I'm just quoting). Here's a rebuttal printed in the same paper:
The Baltimore South, commenting on the above, says:
In the correspondence of a morning paper, upon no better authority than that of a New York Zouave, whose comrades have shown that they can lie much better than they can fight, a young gentleman of this city, now a Captain in the Confederate army, is mentioned as having been "left dead upon the field," although the next breath, the same Zouave discredits everything that he says, by a monstrous story about a regiment of Mississippians harpooning their adversaries with bowie-knives, eighteen to twenty inches long, fastened to their wrists with a lasso some eight or ten feet in length. Certainly, since Sunday we have been favored with a variety of accounts of the battle by the Northern journals, many of them sufficiently minute, and in which no effort was spared to magnify the horrors of the scene; many of these very Zouaves have told their tale, or had it told for them by some ingenious correspondent; but not one word have we heard of a mode of fighting at once so terrible and so peculiar, that had it been resorted to it must have attracted universal attention, until this single Zouave whispers it in the ear of the Washington correspondent, who publishes it to the world.
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!