Surrounded By The Enemy, Protected By A Miracle

July 21, 2018

            During the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, 23-year-old Private John Calvin Owen Redington of  the 18th New York Infantry was detailed as the clerk for the Fifth Division Headquarters. As an ordained minister, Redington found it foul to be fighting on the holiest day of the week, but aside from his prayers that took him mentally away from the battlefield for a few pure moments, he found himself in all spots of the day’s carnage in pursuit of his duties. Closest to the fighting, he made his travel through woods, for what he said, “one is safer here from the cannon shots for he can hear them tearing through the trees, and often can dodge behind a tree out of the way.”

            With the battle being the first large-scale clash between the two new adversaries of a war just three months old, both sides toiled at times with identifying allegiances of regiments because the apparel from both armies was far from uniformed. They were instead a mixed bag of state militia and federally-issued uniforms (don’t forget the Zouaves!), and flags varied too. So during the course of his errands, Redington exited a tract of woods, only to find himself amidst a group of Confederate soldiers. I’ll let Redington take it from here:

            “They were dressed something like our men from Maine and I did not know who they were, till I had come up and spoken to them. There were twenty or thirty of them filling their canteens. They had no uniforms on, but were dressed in light colored clothes, with hats on. I had on a regular uniform, with lots of United States buttons on it and a regular Government cap. I walked in between them to the brook and took out my cup from my pocket and drank, though I wasn’t very thirsty. While standing there I saw one of their batteries of cannon ahead and heard them belching away. There was another one also at my right… One man had been telling me that he belonged to the North Carolina regiment. If they had mistrusted what regiment I belonged to, I never should have written you this narrative. Now, who took care of me? It was God, who blinded their eyes. It seemed as if half a glance would have caused them to know me, for I was dressed so entirely different from any of them, but they saw me making myself so much at home, that they didn’t give that half a glance and did not discover that I was on the opposite side to them. I walked slowly away from them and met another man, a member of the South Carolina regiment, and had quite a little talk with him. But he did not mistrust, even when he saw me walking toward the Northern troops. I was then behind a line of their troops and could not have escaped if he had given the alarm, or if I had made any noise. No one can doubt that God alone protected me there.”

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The 18th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment History Website

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© 2020 by Ryan A. Conklin