Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    The Battle of Bull Run - a Union view - letter by Hannibal A. Johnson, Co. B, 3rd Maine Infantry. He sends home a "souvenir" from the Marshall House.
    An 8 page letter written in ink on patriotic stationery is headed, "Alexandria, Va. Aug. 22nd-'61". The letter was written by Hannibal Augustus Johnson a resident of Hallowell, Maine. He was mustered in to company B of the 3rd Maine Infantry on June 4th, 1861. Little did he know that 6 weeks later he would be involved in the Union's first embarrassment. According to the book "The Sword of Honor" that he wrote later about the 3rd Maine, "He was captured both at Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863, exchanged, and captured a second time during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5th, 1864. Johnson's second capture was by men of the 12th South Carolina, and Captain J. C. B. Smith. His pistol and a presentation sword were taken from him by Smith. Johnson and others escaped captivity in November 1864 and made their way through the mountains of S.C., N.C. and TN. to their own lines of Knoxville. The escape took seven weeks. In 1875 Captain Smith located Johnson through acquaintances and returned the sword to him. They remained friends until Smith died in 1898. Reads in part:

    "Dear Friend Samuel... One of the first things you mentioned in your letter was about throwing away my Gun and I will answer that I did not although I did not bring the same one back that I took with me for mine was in the engagement broke in to and as there were plenty around me I took one and commenced loading as if nothing had happened for the ground was strewn with guns that the wounded and dead had dropped and on the retreat instead of doing as many done that is throwing away their guns, I instead took another just as the Enemy fired on us on the Bridge just the other side of Centreville..."

    "...Some see me take this rifle and after we got in camp they asked me what in the name of common sense made me take up that gun when the enemy were so near on us. But I thought that if I could get it safe into camp it would be quite a trophy and I would send it home so likens I picked up two canteens full of water for mine had been drank up long before and during the day we all drank water so muddy that we had to suck it through our teeth and glad to get that to."

    "My two guns and canteens were heavy enough I tell you and I had to climb over a good many fences on our retreat and sometimes I could but just get over. They were so heavy and men were passing me with nothing with them, not even their cartridge boxes to aid in the foot race, and after I had carried my extra gun about 8 miles one of my sergeants caught up with me and seeing that I was very much exhausted made me throw the rifle away.."

    "I was sorry enough, but I have got a dirk knife taken from the Rebels, which is a momento of the Battle."

    "...You will never here of my throwing my gun away as long as I have two arms to my body."

    "You said you often wondered what kind of a sensation a man experiences on entering a field of battle, and I do not think I can describe it, but I will tell you my feelings as near as I can. As we were crossing a field about one mile from the battlefield all at once we heard the report of a cannon, and before we could see from what quarter it came from we heard a buzzing in the air and the next was that three of our men were lying at our feet for it was a shell from a battery in the woods that we had run on, and the first sensation was of fright.."

    "...At that time some of our officers deserted us as well as our men, but we kept moving on thinking how soon it would be our turn to be knocked to pieces and then the sensation was delightful I tell you, but when we got into the fighting it began to wear away that is the fear of death and when we were in the thickest of the Fight, we were the most thoughtless..."

    "...As soon as shell and shot came booming from some unknown quarter, it made a fellow think of home, but I think that one battle would be enough for you if you wanted to only to find how you would be affected, for it is enough for me, for it is anything but pleasant to think of going on a field not knowing the result, and as likely as not, to be left on the field dead, if not with an arm or leg gone."

    "...I should think it an honor to lay down my life in gloriously defending my country's Flag for if ever it needed defenders, and able ones, that time is now, for we have got no feeble Enemy to conquer but one that has been preparing for years for this trouble which has been brewing so long between the North and the South."

    "You also speak of the effects of a cannon ball fired into a body of men and you thought that a ball would make a street through a body of men. I can only tell you what little I have seen. The cannon of the Enemy were quite a ways off and we being on a hill they had to elevate their guns so to bare on us, and when they struck us they were on the decent partly and there force partly spent, and coming in such a direction they could not do the execution that they could if they had been in any other position, but as it was I see one Rifle ball kill three men and wound two others as they were forming to make a charge."

    "Most of our troops during the day formed only two deep and marched by the Flank altogether so if we had a shot come directly in front of us it could only kill two men without it was a shell when it would do fear full work but it may seem strange to you but never the less true, when we would here the report of the mortars that through the shell if we see them quick enough, for the shell is surrounded by the whitest smoke that I ever see, I suppose from the fuse, and they make a buzzing in the air loud enough to be heard a mile and when you see them coming drop on your belly to use the term, and you can save yourself in a good many instances as it did on that day."

    "None of us minded the musket balls no more than if they had been as many snowballs for we had larger ones to cope with in the shape of canister and grape the muskets did more damage after all than anything else for a good many of the balls went over our heads and some fell short and when they came most to us you would see most a cart load of dirt and stones thrown in the air and all around you."

    "You also mentioned my sending you trophies if I should chance to have any, but I have nothing as yet but my dirk which I keep in my belt and by its use will try and Get something else and if I do I will think of you."

    "I was down Alexandria yesterday and as I was passing the Marshall House, I thought of you and thought I would get something out of it to send you but could not find nothing and as I came out of the Front door, I took my knife and cut this piece of wood out of the door. That is the house where the noble Ellsworth died. [SMALL PIECE OF WOOD ENCLOSED IN LETTER]"

    Condition: Normal toning with some fold separation. There is a portion of paper missing on the first page right side edge, which affects a couple words, but they can still be made out. The patriotic stationery shows a Union sailor with eagle and flags and the caption, "Our Ambassador to the Southern Ports". The small piece of wood "relic" is mounted with old brown glue on a 2 ½" x 1" piece of paper. A very historic letter from a soldier with an amazing history. From the Calvin Packard Civil War Battlefield Letter Collection.

    Auction Info

    Proxy Bidding Ends
    6th Sunday 9:50 am CT
    Auction Dates
    6th Sunday
    Proxy Bidding Time Remaining
    10 Days 4h 58m 38s
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: 9
    Page Views: 106

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    This lot is in: 1 - Signature® Floor Session (Live Floor, Live Phone, Mail, Fax, Internet, and Heritage Live):
    (Lots 40001-40609) - 10:00 AM Central Time, Sunday, December 6, 2020.
    (Proxy bidding ends ten minutes prior to the session start time. Live Proxy bidding on Heritage Live starts 24 hours before the live session begins and continues through the session.)

    Show All Session Information

    Show Auction Type Info

    Exhibition Viewing Times, Title Page, Floor Session and License Information

    Additional Location Info:
    Heritage Auctions
    2801 W. Airport Freeway
    Dallas, TX 75261

    Current Bid:
    Bid Protection
    w/ Buyer's Premium (BP) : $625.00 Minimum Next Bid: $525 ($656.25 w/ BP)
    Track Item