At the battle of First Manassas, a young Major Bryan Grimes served on the field and staff of the Fourth North Carolina Regiment under the command of Colonel George B. Anderson. Though Grimes did not participate in the battle, his view of how to treat the enemy was clear: “If my wishes could be consulted and followed I should say, raise the black flag and give no quarter to invading foes.” Witnessing the death and destruction caused by the enemy invasion of a formerly peaceful landscape hardened him to the grim task ahead.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
The Horror and Bitter Cost of War
“The month near the front impressed the major and altered his views on several matters. “Fighting from my opinion, is the least of the soldier’s exposures,” he observed. “The danger of battle is nothing in comparison to the risks from exposure to which he is subjected in camp life.”
His proximity to the July 21st action allowed him to absorb firsthand the grim reality and harsh aftermath of the Manassas battle: “The stench now arising from the putrefaction of the dead is intolerable,” described the North Carolinian in a letter home.
“A [handkerchief] full of whiskey and an extra bottle to keep it full is the only means by which you can visit the severely contested spots on the battleground.”
Taking an interest in where his fellow Tarheels had fought during the engagement, Grimes sought out the spot where Col. Charles Fisher and the Sixth North Carolina was engaged. Fisher was killed during the action and the unit had suffered heavily.
Although the bodies had been removed, “at least fifty horses in an area the diameter of which is perhaps forty yards,” were rotting under the hot July sun. In addition to the flotsam of battle, burial sites littered the devastated landscape. “Near a church I saw eight freshly dug holes and one of the wounded (still at the church used as a hospital) informed me that he counted seventy dead bodies thrown into one of the pits.”
Clearly the aftermath of the fighting at Manassas had deeply affected the young officer. “If only you could visit our hospitals you would feel in all its horror the bitter cost of war. And if one drop of milk of human kindness toward them weren’t permitted to exhibit itself, you couldn’t be a true Southern man at heart.”
(Lee’s Last Major General: Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, T. Harrell Allen, 1999, Savas Publishing Company, excerpts pp. 31-34)